When renovating or building a new kitchen, one of the biggest decisions is choosing the cabinets. Stock, semi-custom, and fully custom are the main options, but many homeowners are now considering RTA (ready-to-assemble) kitchen cabinets as a budget-friendly alternative with decent quality. But how good are RTA kitchen cabinets really?
RTA kitchen cabinets offer convenience, lower prices, and plenty of style options. However, they aren’t equal to custom cabinetry in quality and have some limitations. Understanding the pros and cons of RTA cabinets can help you decide if they align with your kitchen design, budget and preferences.
What are RTA Kitchen Cabinets?
RTA kitchen cabinets come packaged with all the parts and hardware needed for assembly. RTA stands for “ready-to-assemble,” meaning you put the cabinets together yourself. The cabinets ship disassembled in flat boxes, reducing shipping costs.
RTA cabinets typically consist of three main components:
- Box or case – This is the main body of the cabinet. It may be made of plywood, particleboard or MDF.
- Doors – Doors attach to the front of the cabinet box. They come in a range of materials and styles.
- Hardware – Hardware includes hinges, drawer slides, knobs and pulls. Hardware comes packed with the cabinets.
You assemble RTA cabinets by joining the components together with tools like a screwdriver and drill. Most RTAs use simple cam locks, dowels or nails to connect parts. Assembly instructions are included.
Pros of RTA Kitchen Cabinets
RTA kitchen cabinets have gained popularity for several reasons:
One of the biggest advantages of RTA cabinets is affordability. Since you assemble them yourself, you avoid paying for professional installation labor. This can save 20% or more compared to custom or stock cabinets.
RTA cabinets also ship directly from the manufacturer instead of going through a middleman. Removing distribution and retailer markups cuts costs further.
Buying RTA generally costs:
- 50-70% less than custom cabinets
- 20-50% less than stock cabinets
- 10-30% less than home center cabinets
Of course, prices vary by manufacturer, style and material. But you’ll typically pay $50-150 per linear foot installed for quality RTA cabinets, while custom runs $200+ per foot.
Having cabinets shipped directly to your home is convenient compared to making multiple trips to home centers or showrooms. You also don’t need to coordinate professional installation or wait weeks for cabinets to come in.
With RTA cabinets, you control the timeline. Once the boxes arrive, you can assemble them on your own schedule.
Another perk is getting to pick materials and styles while browsing online versus being limited by local inventory. RTA manufacturers offer a huge range of options to choose from.
While not fully custom, RTA cabinets offer personalization options beyond basic stock cabinets. Many companies let you customize door styles, finishes, storage solutions and hardware.
Semi-custom modifications commonly available with RTA lines include:
- Mixing and matching door designs
- Choice of wood species and stains/paints
- Optional cabinet hardware
- Drawer inserts and roll-outs
- Glass, wire and panel door inserts
- Appliance garage units
- Variety of molding/trim and accents
You may also upgrade to soft-close hinges, undermount glides, extra adjustable shelves, spice pull-outs and other functional add-ons.
Having flexibility to get the look you want at a reasonable price is a major plus for RTA kitchen cabinets.
Cons of RTA Kitchen Cabinets
Despite the perks, RTA cabinets also have some downsides to consider:
RTA cabinets typically use engineered wood products like particleboard, MDF and melamine instead of solid wood. These cost less but don’t have the same quality or longevity.
Plywood boxes are an upgrade over particleboard but aren’t as sturdy as moisture-resistant plywood. Doors may be solid wood or have vinyl or thermofoil finishes prone to chipping or peeling over time.
Hardware is usually decent but doesn’t match the heft of Blum or Salice mechanisms in custom cabinetry. Expect a lifespan of 10-15 years rather than 20+ for RTA cabinets.
Putting cabinets together on your own saves on labor fees but requires tools and DIY skills. The assembly process can be challenging if you lack carpentry experience or patience. Misaligned doors, visible screws and sloppy finishes are signs of poor assembly.
Having another person help makes the process easier. Some basic carpentry competence is preferable. You’ll also need an array of tools – drill, screwdriver, clamps, level, etc.
Be prepared to devote a full weekend or longer to assembling a full kitchen’s worth of cabinets. Rushing through assembly increases errors, so allow plenty of time.
RTA cabinets come in set dimensions, usually 3” increments for width and height. This gives less flexibility versus fully custom sizing. Odd-sized spaces may require filler panels or other adjustments.
If you have non-standard kitchen layouts, be sure to choose an RTA company that caters to a wide range of sizes. Many offer cabinets as small as 9” wide or up to 48” wide now.
You can work around RTA sizing restrictions with planning. Carefully measure your kitchen and select cabinet sizes to best fit the space.
One common complaint about RTA cabinets is inconsistencies in quality. Materials, construction and finish quality may vary noticeably between cabinets.
There’s more risk of damage during shipping and flaws in manufacturing. Replacing a defective cabinet can be a headache. So inspect every component closely before building.
Sticking with an established, reputable RTA brand helps minimize risks of receiving poor quality cabinets. Read customer reviews to aid your selection.
Are RTA Cabinets Right for You?
RTA kitchen cabinets offer a middle ground between stock and custom options. Deciding if they’re a smart choice depends on your kitchen design, skill level, budget and expectations.
Kitchen Size and Layout
RTA cabinets are ideal for standard kitchen layouts like L-shaped or galley designs. For kitchens with lots of corners, angled walls or unique sizes, semi-custom may allow better customization.
Make sure your kitchen’s measurements align with available RTA cabinet sizes before ordering. Watch for protruding pipes, outlets or other obstructions too.
If you’re keeping your existing kitchen footprint, verify it’s compatible with RTA sizing. For new construction or full remodels, designing around RTA makes the most sense.
What’s your overall kitchen remodeling budget? RTA cabinets provide big savings over custom, but you still need a healthy budget to purchase everything.
Keep in mind costs for countertops, flooring, appliances and labor for those. Factoring in all expenses will determine if RTA cabinets fit within your finances.
If choosing between RTA and stock cabinets, price and features offered become the main considerations. Go with RTA for better materials and customization at a small upcharge.
RTA brands provide an impressive range of door designs from traditional to modern. If you have a very unique style in mind that requires fully custom work, RTA may not suffice.
For most popular looks like Shaker, Craftsman or contemporary, you’ll have many style and finish options. Just verify your preferred door type is available from the manufacturer before ordering.
Also check that cabinet heights, depths, accessories and moldings coordinate well together to achieve your desired aesthetic.
Assembling cabinets yourself requires decent DIY abilities, strength and tools. If you can build IKEA furniture, RTA assembly is very similar but on a larger scale.
Being methodical and detail-oriented helps prevent mistakes. Having a woodworking background allows flawless finishing touches.
Realistically, the quality of professional installation is hard to match. If cabinet assembly seems daunting, consider paying for installation help or hiring a contractor.
RTA Cabinet Construction
Understanding how RTA cabinets are engineered gives insight into their quality and durability. Here are typical specifications and materials used by major brands:
The cabinet box or case makes up the main structure. Common materials include:
- 3⁄4” thick plywood – Most durable option but costs more
- 5/8” particleboard – Budget choice but prone to sagging over time
- 1⁄2” or 3⁄4” MDF – Compromise between plywood and particleboard
Moisture-resistant treatments such as melamine lamination help combat swelling and warping. Upgraded boxes may have dovetail joinery and additional corner bracing too.
Doors and Drawer Fronts
Options for cabinet door construction are:
- Solid wood – Typically 3⁄4” to 1” thick oak, maple or cherry
- Plywood or MDF – With veneers, laminates or thermofoil finishes
- Acrylic or PVC thermofoil – Durable plastic-like coating
Hinges are usually concealed soft-close plated steel. Full extension drawer glides allow access to the entire depth.
RTA cabinets come finished or ready for painting/staining. Finishing options include:
- Laminate – Melamine or thermally fused plastic/vinyl
- Wood veneer – Thin sheets of natural wood adhered to core
- Stain/Paint-grade – Unfinished wood prepped for coloring
- Painted – Factory-applied coat of enamel or latex paint
Stains, glazes and decorative finishes can be added post-assembly. Durability and ease of repairs/touch-ups vary by finish.
Top RTA Cabinet Brand Reviews
The quality and value of RTA cabinets depends largely on selecting the right brand. Here are reviews of ten top manufacturers:
1. Barker Cabinets
Barker offers affordable RTA cabinets constructed from North American hardwood veneers and plywoods. Their Classic Series features solid wood face frames while Tradition has framed recessed panel doors.
Moderate pricing starts around $170 per linear foot. Barker provides good quality for the cost but limited customization compared to other brands.
This subsidiary of J&K Cabinets supplies stylish, affordable RTA cabinetry. Their line includes modern, Shaker, traditional and cottage looks to suit any kitchen.
Standard features include soft-close drawers, adjustable shelves, full overlay doors and matching valances. Fair prices range $100-300 per linear foot. Quick shipping and helpful customer service are big pluses.
3. Cabinet Joint
As a specialty RTA cabinet supplier, Cabinet Joint focuses on durable construction and quality engineering. Their cabinets consist of 3⁄4” solid wood boxes, dovetail joinery, soft-close mechanisms and multiple finish options.
higher-end features and materials justify the above average cost of $200-500 per linear foot. The expanded customization is a major perk.
4. KraftMaid Cabinetry
Known for excellent value, KraftMaid’s RTA selection includes hundreds of style combinations. Mid-priced at $150-300 per linear foot, their cabinets come with sturdy finish construction andtons of storage accessories.
Founded in 1969, KraftMaid’s proven reputation and support make it easy to recommend them for an RTA upgrade over home centers.
5. Ready to Assemble Cabinets.com
This company lives up to its name with every variety of RTA cabinet you can imagine, including laundry and garage models. They import affordably-priced cabinets direct from manufacturers.
With prices ranging $70-200 per linear foot, expect imported wood materials and construction. The value is excellent for basic cabinets without fancy options.
6. Ready Made Cabinets
The specialty of this woman-owned company is modifying stock RTA cabinets to semi-custom specifications. Available upgrades include sizing, storage options, bench seating, backsplashes and more.
Their affordable pricing of $100-250 per linear foot includes free sink bases and shipping. The Ready Made line balances customization and reasonable quality.
Another leader in ready-to-assemble cabinetry, cabinets.com sells luxury quality cabinets at factory direct prices. Their Carmichael line comes with all-plywood construction, soft-closing mechanisms and adjustable shelves.
With various styles from traditional to contemporary, expect to pay $200-500 per linear foot. Their cabinet configurator makes design easy. Excellent warranties provide peace of mind.
8. Kitchen Cabinet Kings
This family-owned company offers mass-produced RTA cabinets at rock bottom prices. Their Classic Series features solid wood doors, plywood boxes, concealed hinges, and choice of stains or paints.
Starting around $60 per linear foot, they’re the most budget-friendly RTA option. Opt for upgrades like dovetail drawers and soft-close mechanisms for best quality.
9. RTA Store
With fast shipping directly to homes or job sites, this online retailer carries RTA brands like Sunny Wood, Fast Cabinet Doors, and Cabinets To Go.
Their everyday low prices ranging $95-200 per linear foot make it possible to transform a kitchen on a tight budget. Opt for their premium lines for thicker plywood construction.
Known for affordability and simplicity, IKEA offers several RTA kitchen cabinet lines including Akurum, Bodbyn, Sektion and more. Their budget prices around $100 per linear foot match the basic materials and construction.
Assembly of IKEA cabinets is simpler than other RTA but still requires careful planning and precision. Overall, excellent value for the cost.
RTA Cabinet Pricing Factors
Several variables impact the price of RTA kitchen cabinets:
- Brand – Leading manufacturers charge more for better materials and quality control.
- Door style – Simple slab cabinet styles cost less than intricate raised panel or inset cabinet doors.
- Wood species – Oak, maple and cherry are generally pricier than particleboard and thermally fused laminate.
- Finish – Custom colored paints or stains add expense over pre-finished options.
- Construction – All-plywood boxes, dovetail joinery and commercial grade hardware increase cost.
- Accessories – Roll-outs, spice racks, glass cabinet doors and other upgrades add cost.
- Order size – Per unit price decreases with larger orders, especially over $3000.
- Shipping – Built-in shipping fees vary by location and fuel surcharges.
Are RTA Cabinets Worth It?
For many homeowners, RTA kitchen cabinets strike the ideal compromise between cost and quality. Assembling cabinets yourself saves thousands over custom cabinetry while allowing style personalization.
Compared to stock or semi-custom lines, you’ll sacrifice some long-term durability and meticulous construction. But the price difference usually outweighs those factors.
If keeping within budget is your top concern, RTA cabinets are certainly worth consideration. Just be sure to choose a reputable brand and allow plenty of time for assembly.
With good planning and reasonable DIY skills, you can install an attractive, functional RTA kitchen tailored to your needs for much less. Finding that balance of affordability and customization makes RTA cabinets a worthwhile investment.
RTA Cabinet Materials
RTA cabinets consist primarily of the following core materials:
High-end RTA cabinets use furniture-grade plywood for the box construction. Plywood offers the best stability and prevention against warping. The thin wood veneers are layered in alternating grain directions for strength.
Moisture-resistant treatments such as melamine and urea formaldehyde help improve water resistance. Fully exposed cross-grain plywood edges should have veneer tapes applied.
Look for names like maple, oak, birch and hickory which indicate solid wood veneers rather than generic “wood” plywood. Opt for the thickest 3⁄4” plywood possible for maximum durability.
For budget-friendly RTA lines, particleboard is the most common material. It consists of wood fragments bonded together with resins and glue then compressed into panels.
Particleboard costs significantly less than plywood but lacks the same strength. It’s prone to expansion and sagging when exposed to moisture. Never leave particleboard unfinished.
To improve stability, opt for cabinet-grade particleboard which is heavier, smoother and more moisture resistant. Avoid brands using lower-density generic particleboard.
Medium density fiberboard (MDF) has an extremely fine wood fiber texture. It machines well for detailed profiles. MDF has good screw-holding abilities but swells badly when wet.
MDF provides a step up from particleboard thanks to advanced moisture resistance treatments. It machines well for detailed door profiles.
MDF is often used for cabinet doors along with wood veneers and laminates. Full MDF construction costs more but resists warping better than particleboard.
Thermofused melamine laminate consists of decorative paper bonded to particleboard or MDF using heat and pressure. The plastic resin makes melamine more resistant to impact, moisture and scratches.
Laminates come in various woodgrain finishes. Neutral colors like white, beige and grey are also popular. Matching cabinet interiors to exterior laminates allows an integrated look.
Certain RTA lines use solid wood for door fronts and face frames. Durable North American hardwoods like maple, oak, alder and hickory are preferred. They withstand knocks and wear better than laminates.
The grain patterns of solid wood give a warm, upscale look. Stains and finishes enhance the natural beauty. Expect to pay more for intricate styles milled from solid wood.
RTA Cabinet Construction
Understanding cabinet construction helps identify quality brands worth investing in. Here are key components that make up RTA cabinets:
The cabinet box or case forms the underlying structure. Dovetail joinery