Selecting the right kitchen cabinets for a project is a matter of getting the best quality cabinet for the budget.

Thinking you know quality when you see it is not your best guide. Knowing what to look for is key to making that assessment.

There are three main things to look for in judging a cabinet’s merits, says Home Depot’s cabinet expert Justin Brown: construction materials, assembly materials, and depth of the manufacturer’s catalog of options.

The material options for cabinet boxes include solid wood—typically on face frames—plywood, and particle board. While plywood is generally considered the best choice for cabinet boxes for its moisture resistance and sturdiness, Brown notes that for all but the most humid areas of the country, like Florida, “particle board on the interior is fine, and you will never know the difference.” Plywood boxes are typically the material of choice for custom and semi-custom cabinets.

MDF is a good option for painted cabinets. It’s denser than particle board—and heavier—with no voids in its surface giving it a smooth surface for paint and veneers, and it is cheaper than plywood.

Thermofoil (vinyl fused to particle board or MDF) cabinets are another option for a painted look. Home Depot’s Brown is a fan of the product for its value and utility, especially as the technology has improved making delamination of the vinyl from its substrate a rarity.

“I have twin three-year-olds and my painted wood cabinets are really showing their age with a lot of chips and dings from toys run into them. If I had to do it over again, I’d do a foil.”

How a cabinet is assembled is another measure of its quality. Are the joints dovetailed, doweled, or glued and stapled, or some combination. Dovetailed joint are the highest quality, followed by doweled, then glued and stapled. Thicker panels on the sides and floor of the cabinets are more durable. When it comes to corner braces, beefier is better.

Drawer slides can be made of metal, plastic, nylon. Metal slides that use ball bearings in their roller mechanism will be more durable than their plastic and nylon counterparts. Added features, like a soft close mechanism, will add to the cost of the product.

When it comes to shelves, look for adjustability. Metal clips are sturdier than plastic ones.

“The last piece in considering the value proposition of kitchen cabinets is how many sizes are available in the line, from 30 box sizes up to an infinite number,” says Brown. “That’s what drives the cost of the set. Most boxes are in three-inch increments, but if you want (customization) every inch, there is a lot more cost built into it.”

“The more cabinet sizes in the line, the more flexibility you have, but that comes with a cost. If you can stay with standard sizes, you can select a line of cabinets that will cost less, but not sacrifice quality.”

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