Ready to assemble (RTA) cabinets have become an increasingly popular option for homeowners and contractors looking to save on costs without sacrificing quality. But how good is the quality of RTA cabinets really? Here we’ll take an in-depth look at what makes RTA cabinets tick, their pros and cons, and whether they can provide the same level of quality as their preassembled counterparts.
What are Ready to Assemble Cabinets?
RTA cabinets, as the name implies, are cabinet boxes that come ready for the owner to put together and install themselves. Instead of coming pre-drilled and fully constructed like traditional cabinets, RTA cabinets ship flat-packed with all the individual pieces, hardware, and instructions needed for assembly.
The popularity of ready to assemble cabinets can be attributed to a few key factors:
- Cost savings – RTA cabinets are generally 20-50% cheaper than pre-assembled cabinets since the manufacturer saves on labor and shipping costs.
- Convenience – The flat-packed pieces are lighter and take up less space, making them easier for homeowners to transport and maneuver during installation.
- Customization – RTA cabinets can be modified and adapted more easily compared to pre-assembled cabinets. Extra holes can be drilled, pieces can be cut down, etc.
While associated most often with budget-friendly options like IKEA cabinets, RTA cabinets are now offered by nearly every major cabinet manufacturer at varying price points and quality levels.
Are RTA Cabinets as Good of Quality as Pre-Assembled Cabinets?
The quality of any cabinet, whether RTA or pre-assembled, depends primarily on the materials used and manufacturing process. Higher standards in these areas typically but not always mean higher cabinet quality.
There are a few key factors that impact cabinet quality:
The wood species, finishes, hinges, drawer glides, and other hardware used in cabinet construction affect durability and functionality.
- Plywood vs. Particleboard – Plywood is stronger and withstands moisture better than particleboard. Most budget RTA lines use particleboard while premium RTA and pre-assembled cabinets typically use plywood.
- Solid Wood Doors vs. Veneers – Solid wood doors are higher end than veneers bonded to MDF or particleboard. Veneers can warp or delaminate over time.
- Drawer Glides – Better quality glides like soft-close full extension glides allow drawers to open fully and close slowly. Lower grade glides won’t extend fully or hold as much weight.
- Hinges – Concealed hinges provide smooth opening and closing. They also allow for easy cabinet door alignment and removal. Exposed hinges are clunkier and harder to adjust.
- Hardware – Sturdy, smooth operating hardware is preferable to weak, sticking hardware. Stainless steel and solid brass hardware is best.
Manufacturing and Assembly
The engineering, precision, and care put into manufacturing and assembly impacts the finished quality.
- Joint Construction – High end cabinets incorporate strong joining techniques like doweled or dovetailed joints. Lower quality cabinets use nails, staples, or glue alone which are more likely to loosen over time.
- Precision Machinery – The more precise the cutting machinery, the better the fit and finish of cabinets. Laser and CNC cut parts increase accuracy.
- Sanding, Distressing, Staining – Proper sanding and generating an authentic aged look requires skillful workmanship. The same goes for evenly staining and finishing cabinets.
- Assembly – Factories with skilled workers pay closer attention to properly assembling cabinets and hardware than lower cost production facilities.
- Quality Inspection – All cabinets should be checked for flaws and damage before packaging. Vigilant inspection and repairs increase quality standards.
Are There Downsides to RTA Cabinets?
While RTA cabinets can certainly match the quality of pre-assembled, there are a few potential drawbacks:
- Minor defects may be more likely if inspections are rushed in order to meet lower production costs.
- Improper assembly by DIY homeowners can affect cabinet squareness and appliance fits.
- Cheaper hardware is often used to cut costs, impacting longevity and performance.
- Particleboard construction remains more common in RTA versus plywood for pre-assembled.
- Low grade veneers and laminates over particleboard are subject to chipping, warping, and peeling over time.
However, these downsides primarily apply to low or medium grade RTA cabinets. High end RTA cabinets from reputable manufacturers can rival custom cabinetry in quality when proper materials and engineering practices are followed.
What to Look for in Quality RTA Cabinets
Focus on these features when evaluating RTA cabinets for optimal quality:
- 3⁄4” plywood boxes reinforce cabinet structure. Avoid low density particleboard.
-Solid wood doors and face frames prevent warping. The best are solid maple, cherry, and oak.
- Full extension drawers glides rated for 100+ pounds provide smooth operation.
- Dovetail joinery creates super strong drawer joints that won’t loosen.
- Soft-close hinges prevent cabinet doors from slamming shut.
- Interlocking cabinet construction creates rigid, square cabinets that won’t rack.
- Adjustable levelers allow precise leveling for uneven floors.
- Matched cabinet fronts maintain aesthetic consistency across boxes.
- Modular cabinet and storage systems provide personalized configurations.
- Multi-step finishes involve staining, sealing, and top coating for even color and protection.
- Antique style distressing, glazing, and rub-throughs offer authentic aged looks.
- Environmental tests check durability of finishes such as chemical, scratch, and moisture resistance.
- Joints pre-drilled for hardware allow precise insertion with no guesswork.
- Pre-installed hardware speeds up assembly while ensuring proper installation.
- Numbered pieces and illustrated instructions clearly guide assembly steps.
- Technical support contact info assists with any questions during assembly.
- Generous warranties (lifetime is best) demonstrate confidence in quality.
- Sellers handle any shipping damage claims quickly and conveniently.
- Missing hardware or parts are shipped for free and arrive promptly.
- Local cabinet specialists can provide installation and design services.
Examples of High Quality RTA Cabinet Brands
Many top cabinet brands now offer RTA cabinet product lines while maintaining the same standards as their pre-assembled models:
- KraftMaid – Known for durable finishes and quality hardware, they manufacture RTA cabinets in the same facilities as assembled cabinets.
- Merillat – Promotes green manufacturing and materials like FSC certified wood. RTA cabinets use patented interlocking joinery.
- Hampton Bay – Comes from the reliable Home Depot brand. Offers stylish designs and solid plywood construction.
- Canyon Creek – Includes Basco and Decora brands. Features glazed, distressed, and woodgrain finishes.
- Shaker Cabinets – Focuses on customizable shaker style designs with laminated plywood construction.
- Barker Cabinets – Known for craftsman-style designs and solid birch and maple materials. Made in the USA.
- CODs – A semi-custom line allowing customized sizing and storage options. Best for modern, clean designs.
- Kitchen Craft – Manufactured by Masterbrand like Kemper and Diamond. Touts patented cabinet locks and soft-close drawers.
- Aristokraft – Offers budget-friendly waterfall edge designs and matching cabinet hardware accessories.
While cheaper RTA lines may cut material costs, reputable RTA brands match the engineering and manufacturing quality of pre-assembled cabinets. When solid plywood materials and durable finishes are used, RTA cabinets can be just as good of quality. By following assembly instructions closely and inspecting cabinets thoroughly before installation, homeowners can end up with professional quality cabinets at DIY prices.
Focus on leading RTA brands that emphasize enduring materials, sturdy hardware, intelligent engineering, skilled assembly, and strong warranties. This ensures you can enjoy the budget savings of ready to assemble without sacrificing on long-term quality and performance. With some savvy shopping, RTA cabinets truly offer the best of both worlds.
Frequently Asked Questions About RTA Cabinet Quality
RTA cabinets provide a budget-friendly option for many homeowners, but questions still arise on how their quality compares to pre-assembled cabinets. Here we answer some of the most common questions around RTA cabinet quality.
Q: Are RTA cabinets prone to damage during shipping?
While it’s possible for RTA cabinets to be jostled in transit, reputable brands pack their products securely to prevent shipping damage. Each flat-packed box comes carefully cushioned, with finished surfaces protected by peel-off film. If any damage does occur, brands also quickly replace affected components at no cost. So you can purchase RTA cabinets with confidence they’ll arrive undamaged.
Q: Do RTA cabinets feel flimsy or cheaply made?
Not if you stick with quality brands. While cheaper RTA lines use thin particleboard prone to sagging, the best brands construct with 3⁄4” solid plywood reinforced by interlocking joinery. This creates cabinets as structurally sound as pre-assembled. Sturdy hardware and exact sizing also prevent any wiggle room between parts. Don’t expect a cheap or flimsy feel with reputable RTA cabinets.
Q: Is DIY assembly hard for RTA cabinets?
Advanced engineering by brands like KraftMaid and Aristokraft simplifies assembly with numbered parts, pre-installed hardware, and illustrated instructions. Typical assembly takes 1-2 days with basic tools for an entire kitchen. And should any issues crop up, brands provide troubleshooting contacts for guidance. With some patience and care, homeowners can easily handle RTA cabinet assembly.
Q: How long do RTA cabinets last compared to pre-assembled?
There is no inherent lifespan difference between pre-assembled and quality RTA cabinets. Both can last 20-30 years given proper materials like solid wood doors, plywood boxes, full-extension glides, and durable finishes. Avoid brands using subpar materials like particleboard and lower grade glides or hinges. But with quality components, RTA cabinets are built to last just as long as pre-assembled.
Q: Can doors, drawers, and hardware get loose over time on RTA cabinets?
Not if proper assembly techniques are used. Dovetail joinery on drawers, sturdy door hinges, and joints pre-drilled for hardware keep everything tightly aligned even after years of use. Take care to fully seat hardware during assembly to prevent loosening. Also follow any break-in periods for self-closing hinges and glides to allow mechanisms to settle. When done right, RTA cabinets won’t come loose.
Q: Do RTA cabinets limit customization options?
Not at all. Leading brands design RTA cabinets for easy modifications like adding extra shelving, adjusting heights, or incorporating organizers. Homeowners can handle alterations during assembly. Semi-custom RTA lines also enable picking door styles, finishes, and layouts for a tailored kitchen. RTA cabinets actually provide more DIY customization flexibility than pre-assembled models.
Q: Should I hire professionals to install RTA cabinets?
While not necessary, hiring cabinet installers familiar with RTA products has advantages. Experts can assemble cabinets impeccably straight and level, handle tricky cabinet hanging, modify cabinets professionally, incorporate moldings and trim, and suggest design layout tips. Installers protect your investment by ensuring your DIY cabinets get placed precisely. The small added cost can pay off long-term.
Q: Where can I buy the highest quality RTA cabinets?
Focus on the major cabinet brands carried by kitchen and bath showrooms, home improvement retailers, and specialty designers. Avoid no-name RTA cabinet lines and very cheap options. The best bet is brands like KraftMaid, Aristokraft, Canyon Creek, Shaker Cabinets, or Kemper who manufacture RTA cabinets following the same quality standards as their other products. Shopping showrooms allows seeing products firsthand before purchase.
Key Takeaways on RTA Cabinet Quality:
- Reputable brands engineer RTA cabinets using the same materials and techniques as pre-assembled cabinets, resulting in similar quality when properly assembled.
- Look for solid wood doors, plywood boxes, dovetail joinery, quality finishes and hardware from leading manufacturers.
- Careful packing prevents shipping damage while warranties handle any issues.
- DIY assembly is straightforward when instructions are followed. Help is available if needed.
- Proper construction means RTA cabinets won’t warp, loosen, or deteriorate prematurely.
- RTA cabinets offer customization flexibility for a personalized kitchen design.
- While not required, hiring professional kitchen installers is recommended to fully guarantee results.
- Shop showrooms to see RTA cabinet options firsthand from quality brands like KraftMaid and Aristokraft.
The perceived quality gap between ready to assemble and pre-assembled cabinets has closed significantly thanks to precision engineering by leading manufacturers. When solid plywood, durable finishes and hardware are used, RTA cabinets can perform just as well long-term. While hiring professional installation is always wise, homeowners willing to tackle assembly can reap the cost savings of RTA cabinets without the tradeoffs of past decades. By selecting products from reputable brands, conducting thorough inspections before installation, and properly assembling cabinets, DIYers can successfully utilize quality RTA cabinets to update their kitchens on a budget.