Cabinet Lingo

February 17, 2017

In addition to their functionality, cabinets play a major role in the style and visual appeal of your kitchen, bathroom, or living room. All the component of a cabinet, doors, drawer fronts, and side panels, are available in a diverse range of styles and prices. Here is a simple breakdown of the basic kinds of cabinets, what makes them different, and why their cost varies.

Cabinet Door Types

There are three basic styles of doors and drawer fronts available: inset, partial overlay and full overlay, also known as Euro style. They all differ slightly from each other when it comes to appearance and function.

Inset cabinet doors:

Built-in cabinets in homes built in the early 1900s usually have inset doors. Typically, the hinges are mounted on the face frame, which is the part of the frame around the cabinet’s opening, or right inside it. You can generally see the hinges when the door is closed.

The front panel of an inset cabinet door or drawer is in the same plane as the leading edge of the cabinet box. This very a traditional look that can be replicated today, but it can often be a bit pricier than other options. The inset also limits drawer and hardware space a bit, as it requires extra blocking in the box.



Partial overlay cabinet doors:

A slightly updated version of the inset style, partial overlay doors and drawers are attached to the face of the box. This covers the opening completely and covers part of the finished face frame. The construction of this style makes installing more functional hardware possible, though the face frame still crowds the useable space inside the cabinet.

The drawback to partial overlay, from a visual standpoint, is that there can be excessive visible face frame making the doors look like an add-on rather than a definitive element.

Full overlay or Euro-style cabinet doors:

The most modern door style is a full overlay, which means that the door or drawer face overlays the entire box — it covers not just the door opening but the whole front surface of the box. These doors give a minimalist look with no visible face frame when the doors are closed. Hinges are mounted to allow the doors to open without making contact with neighboring doors and drawers.
The biggest advantage of the overlay door style is that the absence of visible frame gives a unified appearance that flows.

This type also allows the most access possible to the cabinet box, allowing you to use larger drawers, smaller drawer guides, and ultimately giving you more storage space. The only concern is that a little extra care must be taken to make sure the doors and drawers do not hit each other when opened, especially in corners and with drawer pulls or knobs. Every bit of surface area down to fractions of an inch is crucial with full overlay doors, so an expert carpenter or cabinetmaker is a must.

Details for All Types

Edge banding:

When you open the doors and drawers of any style, you will see the edge band. This is the material used to cover each cut end of the plywood on the boxes, drawers, and shelving. Edge banding can be made of thin PVC plastic, melamine or real wood veneer. Thicker banding material is more durable, but also more expensive. Edge banding typically matches the species of wood, stain, or color of the rest of the cabinet. The cabinetmaker must keep a large variety of banding in stock and ready to use. The banding comes in long spools and is attached to the plywood’s edges with an edge-banding machine. After the edge banding is attached, it is sanded for a smooth, finished edge.


Cabinet face construction:

The cabinet’s face can be made of solid wood, engineered and veneered plywood, MDF (medium-density fiberboard), or particleboard.

Flat faces are usually made with a sheet of material with a wood veneer overlay, fabricated veneer such as Thermofoil, or an easy-to-paint veneer surface like maple, poplar or MDF. Veneer is a thin material, typically wood, glued and pressed onto a thicker base material. It then becomes the top surface of the material.

Raised panels, as opposed to flat faces, are made from milled wood, assembled with square or 45-degree corners and a middle panel that creates a finished face.

Shaker-style faces have more linear details, which are often made with square cuts and panels in the middle.

In designing your cabinet doors and drawers, it’s important to understand the limits of their stability and the wood’s dimensions. A solid wood door manufactured from a single wood species can’t be made without assembling it from pieces. Wood tends to warp over time which needs to be considered with large doors. This can be remedied by splitting one large door into two smaller, more stable doors. An experienced cabinetmaker will give you size limits for each material you wish to use.

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