10 Questions to Ask Your Cabinet Maker

Cabinet Inset Doors

Cabinets can make or break a space.  They have infinite options, endless design possibilities, and can easily cost more than the car you drive.  So I believe you would want to know the how and what of your cabinets.  Before going forward, I am going to give some definitions.

1. Case: The inside box of your cabinets.  The carcass can vary in quality and finish and can be easily overlooked.

2. Face Frames: Face frames attach to the front of cases and can range in size.  Most cabinet doors attach to these face frames.  There is also a chance that your cabinet will  have anything more than edge banding (a thin veneer) on the front of your cases.

3. Toe Kicks: The space under the cabinet that allows room for your toes as you stand at the cabinets.  There are different styles and they can house a variety of items.  Heat registers, drawers for step ladders, or even central house vacpan’s.

4. Hinges and Slides: The necessary hardware used to operate your doors and drawers.  These can greatly affect the quality feeling behind your cabinets.

5. Doors and Drawer fronts: Covering all or most of the openings in your cabinetry, these are the main visible aspect of the cabinets. Material and style are of utmost importance.

6. Finish: The coatings that protect your investment.  Much like the paint on your car, finishes give style and protection.  Stain, paint, and top coats are all in for consideration.

7. Knobs and Pulls: One of those items that usually doesn’t make the first or second round of discussions, knobs and pulls can be vastly important not only to the look of the cabinet but to their function.

these are a few terms that you will want to know when designing and ordering cabinets.  They should reflect your personality, but be of a quality grade that will yield many years of use.  My rule is, if the budget is tight, build fewer and allow for future expansion.  A few really well organized cabinets are infinitely better than many cheap cabinets that you will want to remove in the future.  The greenest build is building to last!

So here are 10 Questions to Ask Your Cabinet Maker:

1. What materials will you use in making the cabinets? Poplar core sheet goods (plywood) for the cases and solid hardwood for the face frames are a must for longevity.

2. How are the cabinets being assembled? For the norm, dadoes (a groove in the side of the case to accept top or bottom) for strength and pocket screws for face frames will suffice.  Cheaply stapled cases without glue will readily fall apart.

3. What are the finishes and will they be finished on site or in shop? Personally as a builder I prefer Shop finished cabinets.  For some historic homes,  site brushed oils look timeless, but there are many conditions on a job site that can lead to adverse finishes.  A sprayed conversion varnish or lacquer are both good finishes.  I prefer clear drawer boxes and interiors unless visible through glass doors or the absence of doors.     Quick note, sheet goods for cases can be bought finished such as a UV Maple plywood.  These assemble quickly with no need for spraying interiors.  Nothing is worse over the long run than with a painted interior that gums up with use.

4. How are the drawers and slide out shelves made? Dovetailed drawers are the standard of strength, but material and an alternative type of mechanical connection are the most  important.  Solid wood sides are best, but please no stapled MDF.  In fact, please no MDF at all in cabinets.  MDF is not a structural material when attached perpendicular with like materials.   I have seen a few painted shelves that turn out okay in MDF, but I still prefer quality sheet goods.

5. What Hardware will you use? Under mount soft close are my favorites.  Blum has a spectacular line and are a delight to use.  With good hardware you will find that you open and close cabinet doors just for fun or to show your friends.  Ask to see a sample and slide if back and forth or open it.  For the doors, there are soft close features that will keep them from banging. Quality hardware will last much longer.

6. What are my doors made of and what will the style be? Raised panel, Shaker, are all types of style.  Inset or Overlay refer to cabinet positioning.  Inset doors are  inline with the face frame.  Overlay doors overlaps the face frames.  If you are confused of style, there is a good chance a consultation with a cabinet designer will help. As for material, solid wood will lend itself to a long life.  Remember in design, the taller and wider the door, the more chance the door has to warp.  It is one of the beauties of wood that being a natural material it will move.

7. Will you provide the design and shop drawings or will I need to? This is one aspect where cabinet design can make or break the feel and usefullness of your kitchen.  I would highly recommend input by a professional on this subject.  Where to place pots and pans, linens, silverware, the dishwasher, sink etc can be exciting and overwhelming.  You can be as detailed as you want!  Find out who needs to supply and approve this information before the wrong cabinets are made.

8. What is behind the doors? This is a tricky one because when you approve drawings, many times the number of shelves, slide out drawers, trash bin recievers, and many other items can be left out of the conscious.  This is a great time to tackle expectations on what is included.

9. How long will the cabinets take to make and install? This is a simple question that can change everything.

10. Is the installation included? Installation is a big factor, and I prefer that the cabinet maker installs.  That way any mistakes or adjustments are their responsibility. Also ask if the knobs and pulls will be installed as well.

So on your next cabinet purchase, relax, and enjoy the process.  The work will be well worth the usefullness and beauty of an amazing set of cabinets.

What questions would you add to the mix?



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14 Responses to 10 Questions to Ask Your Cabinet Maker

  1. Dan April 8, 2009 at 12:04 PM #

    Next question: “How many weeks past your estimate will you REALLY be finished with the job?”

    • chriscrimmins April 8, 2009 at 9:33 PM #

      Definitely a good follow up question for timing. Its nice to check on a few past jobs they have completed and its always okay to ask for a date within a contract. Thanks for the comment

  2. Brad Smith April 8, 2009 at 3:45 PM #

    Hi Chris, I came to your site from a Twitter post by @MichaelHyatt.

    Mate, I have to say I read your post here and it took me back to my days as a cabinetmaker. I’ve been a cabinetmaker since I was 18 (am now 41) and have to say it is fantastic to see your site here. I cant no longer work in the industry but I still like to knock the plane and chisels around every now and then.

    Thanks for sharing everything you have here. You now have another new reader. All the best to you and I look forward to reading more.

    • chriscrimmins April 8, 2009 at 5:43 PM #

      Thanks Brad. Anyone who has been in your shoes before knows the absolute joy in creating something beautiful. Thanks for your kind words.

  3. Scoti Springfield Domeij April 8, 2009 at 5:54 PM #

    I’m a single mother and remodeled my kitchen myself. After washing dishes in the bathtub for nine months, I thought I better finish what I started. I don’t know how anyone hangs cabinets without the aid of cookbooks and encyclopedias. I stacked cookbooks on the base cabinets, placed the upper cabinet on the cookbooks, then screwed them into studs. I also don’t know how anyone remodels without using red nail polish.

    • chriscrimmins April 8, 2009 at 9:39 PM #

      I am smiling because I personally have experience in making it happen with what you have. Ingenuity is really the key to any successful project. It becomes annoying when there is no imagination from a worker or sub on a project. Thanks for the story!

  4. Scoti Springfield Domeij April 8, 2009 at 5:54 PM #

    Oh, I came to your site from Michael Hyatt’s tweet.

  5. Scoti Springfield Domeij April 8, 2009 at 9:59 PM #

    I love the name of your blog “Measure Twice.” I always measure twice, but usually have to cut THREE times. I still haven’t figured out where the saw blade goes.

  6. Terry April 24, 2009 at 10:23 PM #

    Hi i am a Cabinetmaker and a person wants me to build and install a kitchen . How much do i charge them and how do i figure out how much

    • chriscrimmins April 26, 2009 at 4:11 PM #

      That’s a big question with a multitude of answers. When I pre-bid a project, I will give allowances of 175-200 a linear foot for either uppers or lowers. If there is both along a linear foot of course it is double. Obviously you need to ask about finishing, installing, hardware selection, door styles etc. Let me know if you need further clarification. Thanks for the questions!

  7. Julia April 26, 2009 at 11:17 AM #

    Dear Chris, I found your article here by way of ConstructionDeals.com. And I read a couple others you have here too. My grandfather was a master carpenter and I just really appreciate your knowledgeable approach! Unfortunately I can’t draw upon his expertise anymore. I’m out and about this morning on the internet looking at kitchen and home ideas. We live in an older (1954) small home that we need to fix up and move from (only two bedrooms and not enough room). Unfortunately, it’s been an expensive first home due to many needed major repairs. Anyhoo, thanks for providing this place of info. I have bookmarked your site. And thanks to Scoti’s insight on using cookbooks and encyclopedias to help install cabinets. I will definitely remember that. While my husband was deployed, I had to do a lot of things alone on little money. Great idea!

    • chriscrimmins April 26, 2009 at 4:08 PM #

      Thanks for the comments. You are welcome to ask any question at any time. My goal is to provide great information to educate, but also encourage participation on different topics. So thanks. So as for your house, you took the right approach my fixing major problems instead of glossing over them. In the end, the knowledge obtained by doing the right thing will only be returned to you in the future. Look forward to hearing more from you.

  8. Dale November 1, 2009 at 7:49 AM #

    Hey Chris,
    I recently retired and want to install cabinets to supplement my income and give something to do. My problem is I don’t know how much to charge to install.


    • chriscrimmins November 1, 2009 at 9:17 AM #

      There are a few questions to ask when pricing cabinets.

      1. What kind of cabinets are being installed? Custom with crown and narrow tolerances?

      2. Do you have to demo other cabinets to install the new ones?

      3. The obvious question is amount of cabinets.

      Typically, we have the cabinet makers install the cabinets they build so that any necessary modification can be handled. My guess is that you are installing semi-custom cabinets with some fill panels. In that case, 20-30 dollars a linear ft should do it. That would give you about 300-400 for a 9 by 9 kitchen.

      My input would be start there. Focus on a high quality install with perfect cleanup, and the demand will present itself. Introduce yourself to smaller custom cabinet companies. Typically when they get busy, they need an installer and will start to call on you time and time again.

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