Ready-to-assemble (RTA) kitchen cabinets have become an increasingly popular option for homeowners looking to remodel their kitchens on a budget. RTA cabinets come packaged with all the parts and hardware needed for assembly and installation. But one question that often comes up is: are RTA cabinets predrilled?

The short answer is: some are, some aren’t. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about RTA cabinet construction, predrilling, and what to look for when shopping for ready-to-assemble kitchen cabinets.

What Are RTA Cabinets?

RTA cabinets, also known as ready-to-assemble cabinets, come packaged flat with all the pieces needed for assembly. The parts are typically made from materials like particle board, MDF, plywood, or solid wood.

Benefits of RTA Cabinets:

  • Cost savings – RTA cabinets are generally 20-50% cheaper than custom cabinetry
  • Convenience – All parts and hardware included for easy assembly
  • Customization – RTA systems available in a range of sizes, finishes and configurations
  • DIY-friendly – Designed for homeowner assembly and installation

Potential Drawbacks:

  • Quality – RTA cabinets range widely in quality and durability
  • Assembly – Putting cabinets together takes time, skill and often extra tools/help
  • Limited customization – Modifications like extra shelves usually not possible

While RTA cabinets were originally considered a lower-cost alternative, major manufacturers like IKEA have helped make them a mainstream choice today. Many home improvement stores now carry their own exclusive RTA lines as well.

RTA Cabinet Construction

RTA cabinets feature a modular, DIY-friendly construction. The flat-pack parts typically include:

  • Side panels, backs, tops and bottoms
  • Doors and drawer fronts
  • Shelves, roll-out trays and interior fittings
  • Assembly hardware like screws, cams/dowels and corner braces

The parts are cut to size and pre-drilled at the factory based on each cabinet’s design. Edges are usually finished as well.

This means that the bulk of assembly involves joining the sides, top and bottom of each cabinet box and adding doors, shelves, etc. Minimal cutting or modifications are required.

The quality of materials and manufacturing can vary drastically between budget and premium RTA cabinet lines. Factors like:

  • Wood quality (particle board vs. plywood)
  • Joinery method (cam lock, dowel, screw, etc)
  • Hardware quality
  • Finish durability

All impact the durability, ease of assembly and long-term performance.

Are RTA Cabinets Predrilled?

Now let’s get back to the key question – are RTA cabinets predrilled?

The answer depends on the specific manufacturer and style of cabinet:

RTA Cabinets with Dowel Construction

Many RTA cabinets use interlocking dowels to join parts together. The dowels are inserted into pre-drilled holes on the cabinet sides, top and bottom. This creates a strong mechanical joint.

With dowel construction, predrilling is necessary. The dowel holes must be precisely aligned for assembly. So dowel-style RTA cabinets always come with predrilled cabinet parts.

Popular RTA cabinet brands like IKEA, Barker and Canyon Creek use dowel construction extensively.

RTA Cabinets with Cam Locks

Cam lock fasteners are another common joining method. The round metal cams insert into holes on the cabinet edges. When tightened with a screwdriver, the cams press against the cabinet sides to create a tight joint.

Cam lock cabinets are also always predrilled. The cam holes must align perfectly for proper assembly.

Many RTA lines from big box stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s rely on cam lock joinery.

Screw-Together RTA Cabinets

Some very basic RTA cabinets use screws alone to join parts. Screws can be driven directly into particle board or MDF sides without predrilling.

However, predrilling is still recommended even with screw assembly. It allows for easier screw insertion and reduces the risk of splitting particle board.

So while screw-together RTA cabinets can sometimes get by without predrilled holes, they generally include them.

Other Joint Methods

Pocket screws, corner braces, tongue and groove joints and glue are other less common methods for connecting RTA cabinets. Predrilling requirements vary.

In general, any joint method that relies on aligning parts or joining them with hardware will call for predrilled cabinet parts. RTA manufacturers want assembly to be as easy as possible for DIY homeowners.

Benefits of Prefabricated Cabinet Construction

The fact that RTA cabinets come with predrilled parts is a key benefit of this style of cabinetry:

Quick, Easy Assembly

With predrilled dowel holes or cam locks, RTA cabinets can be assembled into boxes in minutes. No measuring or drilling necessary!

Consistent Fit

With parts precut to size and holes predrilled in the factory, RTA cabinets can snap together uniformly. This prevents sloppy dimensions or misaligned edges.

No Tools Needed
For dowel or cam lock models, the only tool required is usually a screwdriver to insert the fasteners. Some systems even allow tool-free assembly by hand.

Minimal Skill Required
Assembly of most RTA cabinets is simple enough for novice DIYers. The prefabricated parts make installation a breeze compared to building custom cabinets from scratch.

So while the question “are RTA cabinets predrilled?” may seem minor, keep in mind that this consistent precision manufacturing is what makes ready-to-assemble cabinetry such an accessible product for homeowners.

What to Look for When Buying RTA Cabinets

Now that you know what RTA cabinet construction entails, here are some tips for choosing predrilled ready-to-assemble kitchen cabinets:

  • Check joinery method – Dowels, cam locks and screws are common. Look for tightly-fitting, durable hardware.
  • Review wood quality – Plywood boxes cost more but are far superior to particle board. Solid wood doors add beauty and value.
  • Evaluate finish – Continuous finishes like thermofoil perform better than rough melamine. Look closely at door/drawer edges.
  • Weigh pros and cons of integrated organizational parts – Rollouts, utensil trays, spice racks etc. simplify storage but limit customization.
  • Make sure all accessories are included – Items like filler strips, trim and molding should come standard or as an option.
  • Consider ordering extra hardware – Having spare cams, screws and drawer glides allows for easy replacement and adjustments down the road.

The quality of materials and engineering is just as important as the predrilled design. Focus on finding durable RTA cabinets from reputable brands that match your budget and style.

Installing RTA Cabinets: Dos and Don’ts

Once you’ve purchased quality predrilled RTA cabinets, proper installation is key. Here are some top tips:


  • Review all instructions before starting
  • Organize hardware packs by cabinet
  • Work on a soft, clean surface to prevent scratches
  • Have help lifting large cabinets into place
  • Level cabinets and use shims where necessary
  • Secure cabinets to wall studs with long screws
  • Follow a logical assembly order


  • Overtighten fasteners like cam locks and screws
  • Force misaligned parts – this can strip hardware holes
  • Install cabinets before finishing the flooring
  • Skip suggested safety gear like gloves and eye protection
  • Assemble cabinets in place – this makes alignments very tricky

By following the manufacturer’s instructions and getting all cabinets aligned and mounted plumb and level, you’ll get a professional-looking RTA kitchen installation.

Customizing RTA Cabinets

A common concern with ready-to-assemble cabinets is lack of customization options. Is it possible to modify RTA cabinetry to meet your unique needs?

To some degree, yes. Here are some DIY customizations that are possible:

  • Adjusting heights – Cabinet boxes can be cut shorter. Filler strips or moldings can build sides back up.
  • Adding trim – Colourful trim pieces can change the look of cabinet fronts and sides.
  • Replacing doors and hardware – New doors, knobs and pulls allow for totally different styles.
  • Modifying interiors – Shelves, drawers and trays can sometimes be reconfigured or added.
  • Applying new finishes – Refacing RTA cabinets with paint, laminate or veneer transforms the look.
  • Filler cabinets – Custom slim cabinets can be created by cutting down wider RTA cabinets.

Major modifications like moving or adding doors/drawers are not usually practical. And alterations can impact the structural integrity and warranty coverage. But modest customizing is certainly possible for creative DIYers.

RTA Cabinets: An Affordable, User-Friendly Choice

The wide availability of pre-drilled, ready-to-assemble kitchen cabinets has made kitchen remodeling more accessible than ever. With some careful shopping, you can find quality RTA cabinetry that fits your budget and matches your needs.

While no cabinet is totally customizable, RTA systems strike a great balance. They provide a framework to design a personalized kitchen efficiently and affordably. And thanks to smart dowel, cam and screw construction, RTA cabinets can be installed by amateur DIYers with great results.

So take the time to understand the different types of RTA cabinet construction and hardware. Look for leading brands that use quality materials and durable finishes. And don’t be afraid to make minor modifications like adding trim or adjusting cabinet heights to give your new kitchen exactly the look and function you want.

With the right combination of prefabricated convenience and custom touches, RTA cabinets offer homeowners a key to kitchen remodeling success. Now that you know whether RTA cabinets are predrilled, you can shop for ready-to-assemble cabinets with confidence!

Frequently Asked Questions About RTA Cabinet Construction

RTA cabinets provide a versatile and wallet-friendly option for kitchen remodeling. But questions about the quality, customization and installation of ready-to-assemble cabinetry often come up. Here are answers to some of the most common queries:

Are all RTA cabinets predrilled for assembly?

Most are, but not always. High-quality dowel, cam lock and screw-construction RTA cabinets will be predrilled at the factory. This ensures an easy, precise assembly. But lower-cost or smaller manufacturers may skip this time-saving step.

Can RTA cabinets be customized?

While large-scale modifications are limited, small DIY customizations are certainly possible. Adjusting cabinet heights, adding trim, replacing doors and reconfiguring interiors allow some personalization of RTA cabinetry. But structural changes are not recommended.

How difficult is it to install RTA cabinets?

Thanks to the prefabricated construction, RTA cabinet installation is designed to be DIY-friendly. Clear instructions and optimized hardware make assembly straightforward. But some skill with tools, attention to detail and patience is required. Professional installation is recommended for complex projects.

Are RTA cabinets lower quality than custom cabinetry?

RTA cabinets range widely in quality and price. Top brands like IKEA actually utilize premium materials and durable finishes. The convenience of RTA comes more from efficiencies in modular construction and distribution rather than the use of inferior components.

How long do RTA cabinets last?

With quality materials and proper care, RTA cabinets can last as long as traditionally built cabinets, over 20 years. Opt for plywood construction and robust surface finishes for the greatest durability. And be sure to follow all manufacturer care and cleaning guidelines.

Should I hire a contractor for an RTA cabinet installation?

For a smooth installation process, especially for larger or more intricate kitchens, hiring an experienced kitchen contractor is advisable. They have the expertise to handle any surprises, modify cabinets if needed and ensure proper alignment, plumbing and electrical. DIY is possible for smaller projects if directions are followed closely.

Can I return RTA cabinets if I don’t like them after assembly?

Unfortunately, once RTA cabinets are assembled they cannot be returned. It’s important to carefully review all details like color, sizing and configuration prior to starting construction. Consult the retailer’s return policy as some partial refunds may be provided for unopened boxes.


Ready-to-assemble cabinets provide an accessible, affordable option for any homeowner looking to tackle a kitchen refresh or remodel. Thanks to smart dowel and cam lock designs, RTA systems feature precisely predrilled parts for easy DIY assembly.

Focus on leading brands using quality joinery methods and materials. Look for versatile cabinets that allow for minor customizations to make the space your own. With good planning, helpful tools and patience, RTA cabinets can be installed successfully as either a DIY or professional project.

Now that you know what to look for in terms of predrilled cabinet construction, you can shop RTA cabinets with confidence. Let the cost savings and convenience of ready-to-assemble cabinetry start you on the path to your dream kitchen!