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Factory Made vs. Local Custom Cabinets:
Which kind of kitchen cabinets should I buy?

Over the past 40 years, the kitchen cabinet industry has been transformed by modular, factory-made cabinets. These cabinets are constructed in a factory and shipped to the jobsite instead of being built onsite by a local cabinet maker. Traditionally, the cabinet frames were cut and assembled onsite, while certain parts, such as doors and drawers were manufactured in the shop. Kitchen cabinets built onsite have no separating side walls or back, unlike modular cabinets, which are essentially individual boxes. The interior cabinet space is open across the entire run of cabinetry. Today, many local custom cabinet makers offer modular units in addition to site-built cabinets.

Factory Made Kitchen Cabinets

Factory made kitchen cabinets have become extremely popular for several reasons. One of the primary reasons is that many cabinet companies make their wood cabinets with a baked-on factory finish. This chemical baking process creates a highly durable finish that resists staining and breakdown from most foods and liquids and therefore holds up well over time.

In contrast, finishes applied onsite by local custom cabinet shops often never fully cure. They react with all the grime and food and become gummy over time. The finish can break down to the point that you can even accidentally strip the finish while cleaning the cabinets.

Another advantage of factory-made cabinets is superior quality control. Mass-produced cabinets have uniform construction and materials, as well as individual cabinet sizes. Many larger cabinet manufacturers offer long-term or limited-lifetime warranties and their products are also endorsed by the Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association (KCMA), a professional trade organization that tests cabinets rigorously for the kind of wear and tear typically found in bathrooms and kitchens.

Additionally, cabinet manufacturers provide 3-D computer programs to cabinet dealers, allowing them to show you various layout possibilities and automatically generated prices. Some local custom cabinet shops also have this technology, but it is more common in cabinet showrooms that sell factory-manufactured cabinets.

Local Cabinet Makers

Sometimes hiring a local cabinet maker can be preferable. Custom cabinet shops can help you match architectural details to unique features in your house and when adding to existing cabinetry, these shops can do a better job of replicating the cabinet style and color. For some special-order customizations, a quote from a custom cabinet maker is recommended since it may be cost-prohibitive to accomplish the desired level of customization through a factory. However, keep in mind that, unless the cabinet shop is equipped with a baking booth, they will not be able to achieve the same quality as the factory-finished cabinet.


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