Remodeling? What To Know About Kitchen Cabinet Box Construction

Greater Madison WI Kitchen cabinet construction

What to Look for When Buying Cabinets for a Kitchen Remodel

One of the key components of a successful kitchen design your kitchen cabinets are a major focal point that is not only functionally important as one of the most used elements of the kitchen, but they are also crucial in establishing your aesthetic style. While choosing kitchen cabinets is not as exciting as picking the perfect granite countertop or the ultimate stove, kitchen cabinet construction is one of the most important choices you will make in the usability of your kitchen over the long haul.

Kitchen cabinet construction runs the gamut when it comes to price. Understanding what goes into constructing quality cabinetry regarding material and construction techniques used can help you to understand the range of prices. Let's explore kitchen cabinet boxes, what they are, how they are made, and the materials used.

What is a Kitchen Cabinet Box?

A kitchen cabinet box is the physical infrastructure of the cabinet, minus the doors, hardware, and trim. A floor cabinet consists of a toe kick, floor, shelves, sides, back, top rail. Hanging cabinets consist of these same elements along with a top, minus the toe kick.

How cabinet boxes are constructed varies between manufacturers, but they only come in two styles, framed and unframed. While they are built in similar ways, the only real differences are the look and the accessibility to the inside of the cabinet box.

Framed Cabinets

Framed cabinets include a wood frame around the front outer edge. They tend to be more traditional looking. Style variations are achieved using one of three different types of door overlays. Full overlay cabinet doors completely cover the frame. Partial overlay cabinet doors mean the frame is only partially covered, while full-inset overlays mean that the doors and drawers are milled to fit within the frame.

Frameless Cabinets

Frameless cabinetry provides more accessibility. The cubic feet of storage is slightly greater because the drawer box is not limited by the front frame. This style is also referred to as “European” style and typically support full overlay doors.

Materials Used To Construct Kitchen Cabinet Boxes

There are three types of engineered wood used in the construction of kitchen cabinets. All have their uses and depending on the material used can vary widely in price. When it comes to kitchen cabinets, you do get what you pay for. Better materials make better, more durable and longer lasting cabinets so spend your money on the best cabinet boxes you can afford within your budget.

From highest to the lowest price, the materials used in kitchen cabinet construction are:


Plywood is the most expensive choice. When your kitchen designer refers to “solid wood” cabinets they talking about cabinet boxes that are constructed using plywood. It offers the most sound construction and is made of thick wood veneers glues together in contrasting grain patterns to add strength. The quality of plywood is determined by the thickness of the wood, the grade of the wood used in its construction and impacts the quality of the box.

Plywood is easily painted, easily stained and accepts wood veneers or laminated extremely well. In areas of the country prone to high humidity, solid wood cabinets are susceptible to warping so using marine grade plywood in these situations is an excellent choice. Plywood manufactured in the US and Canada complies with offgassing standards, to minimize any health risks from formaldehyde used in the adhesive. If you are concerned about offgassing, it is important to know where your cabinet company sources its materials, as well as discussing the stain and finish or paint used.

MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard)

The MDF boxes in this custom kitchen are strong enough for everyday use, and were customized with features including roll-outs and a built-in paper towel dispenser. Click through to see the full project, including a custom herb growing cabinet.

MDF is another “engineered” wood that is solid, structurally sound, and takes veneers well. You will often see high-quality products that list MDF blended with solids and veneers. MDF is often used in children's furniture because it is a durable material that can stand up to kids. It is made by gluing wood fibers together. Due to its construction, there is some concern about off-gassing of the formaldehyde used in resin glues. Make sure your contractor uses low-VOC emitting MDF in their kitchen designs like those produced in the US and Canada.

Particle Board

If you are working with a limited budget, particle board is the material for you. Particle board is mostly made up of sawdust and wood scraps bound using resin instead of being constructed using wood fibers. It also has higher VOCs (volatile organic compounds) than MDF or plywood. Because of the construction, sing screws can be difficult, and if you need to disassemble and reassemble your cabinet boxes, they may not survive.

Particle board and MDF are susceptible to damage from moisture which can cause expansion of the materials. The both hold veneers well, but MDF is the better constructed of the two. Particle board is the most likely product to contain high levels of VOC’s. Plywood and MDF produced in the Us and Canada are more environmentally friendly kitchen cabinet construction materials that emit lower levels of VOCs available. Talk to your contractor about your options is this is a concern.

The Construction Methods Used To Assemble Cabinet Boxes

The methods used to construct cabinet boxes varies by manufacturer, but again you get what you pay for regarding quality. Make sure whatever cabinets you choose, whether they are stock cabinets, semi-custom or custom, that the manufacturer you choose uses proper joinery techniques. Sound joints make for durable cabinets. Good joinery techniques involve parts locking together, like mortise and tenon construction or glued dovetail joints supplemented by nails and screws for the strongest construction.

Your cabinet boxes are an important element of your overall kitchen design, your personal satisfaction and the usability and functionality of your kitchen. Here at Degnan Design-Build-Remodel, we are experts at working with our clients to help them choose the perfect cabinetry to meet their storage needs, style, and budget. If you are considering a kitchen remodeling project, give us a call! Our primary cabinet supplier uses only MDF and plywood that are sourced in the US and Canada! Our designers have been helping our clients to create their dream kitchens, and we would love to help you too!

This article was updated by Abe Degnan on 2/14/2018.

About Degnan Design Build Remodel
Since 1981 Degnan Design Build Remodel has provided home improvement and construction services to customers throughout Greater Madison, Wisconsin. Our goal is to WOW you with a "Designed For Your Life" solution using a process that will transform your home into a beautiful living space, delivered on time, and on budget. We are known for our communication, respectfulness, and a commitment to our customers and our community. Contact us to speak with one of our designers about your home improvement project.