Ready-to-assemble (RTA) cabinets have become an increasingly popular option for home renovations and new construction projects. As the name implies, RTA cabinets come packed flat in boxes, with all the pieces and hardware needed for assembly. Compared to custom cabinetry built on-site, RTA cabinets tend to be more affordable due to lower material and labor costs. However, some homeowners have worried that choosing RTA means compromising on quality. So, have RTA cabinets improved in quality over the years?

How RTA Cabinet Construction Has Evolved

In the past, the reputation of RTA cabinets was not always stellar. Early versions were made from lower-grade materials like particle board, with limited selection and customization options. However, as RTA cabinets have gained market share, competition among manufacturers has driven innovation and better quality:

  • Thicker cabinet sides: Cabinet sides were once as thin as half-inch particle board. Today, many RTA brands use 3⁄4-inch plywood sides for durability and warp resistance.
  • Solid wood doors: Hollow or membrane-covered doors are giving way to solid hardwood doors that resist warping. Popular species include oak, maple, and cherry.
  • Dovetail joinery: Some premium RTA lines use interlocking joints traditionally seen in custom cabinetry. Dovetails drawers and cabinet boxes together for superior strength.
  • Soft-close hardware: Smooth running full-extension drawer glides with integrated soft-closing mechanisms are now standard for most RTA cabinet lines.
  • Thicker finishes: High-quality stains, glazes, and multi-step finishes result in richer wood looks compared to the thin veneers of old.
  • More customization: From multiple door styles to mix-and-match finishes, homeowners can customize RTA cabinets to suit their needs.

So while early RTA cabinets catered to the low-budget end of the market, shifting consumer expectations have pushed manufacturers to upgrade quality while keeping costs relatively affordable.

How Assembly Factors Into Quality

For RTA cabinets to deliver their best performance, proper assembly is critical. Cabinets that are not adequately secured can loosen over time. Here are some assembly tips to get the most out of RTA cabinets:

  • Carefully follow all included instructions for assembly order and placement. RTA companies engineer systems to install smoothly when directions are followed.
  • Use a high-quality wood glue formulated for cabinets to reinforce joints. Apply glue liberally during assembly.
  • Secure cabinets both to each other and to walls studs to prevent tipping. Consider using mechanical fasteners in addition to adhesives.
  • Take care not to over-tighten screws, which can strip the wood. Tighten just until snug, checking with a manual screwdriver.
  • Use shims to level wall-hung cabinets and fill any gaps behind them. Shimming creates a stronger mounting surface.

With proper assembly and care, RTA cabinets made from quality materials can perform equally well compared to site-built cabinetry, while saving significantly on cost.

Current Quality of Leading RTA Brands

Top manufacturers of RTA cabinets include Merit Kitchens, Barker Cabinets, Kitchen Craft, Hampton Bay, and NuTone’s Designer Series. While offerings vary, all provide cabinet lines built from plywood boxes, solid wood doors and drawers, and durable finishes. Higher-end options boast furniture-quality finishes and soft-close hardware.

Of course, as with any cabinetry, attention to detail is important when choosing RTA cabinets:

  • Examine in-store samples closely for materials, joinery, and finish. Open and close doors and drawers to check fit.
  • Buy doors, drawers, and hardware all from the same manufacturer to ensure uniform quality and appearance.
  • For painted cabinets, opt for thermofoil or polyurethane sealers over laminate for enhanced durability.
  • Work with knowledgeable kitchen designers to select appropriate cabinet grades and options for your project’s style and budget.

While entry-level lines still exist, RTA cabinet quality from most major brands now rivals custom cabinetry in aesthetics, functionality, and longevity. For homeowners seeking beautiful cabinets on a budget, RTA merits strong consideration.

Have RTA Cabinets Improved Quality?

In summary, RTA cabinet construction and quality has improved dramatically over the past decade or two. Thanks to consumer demand and manufacturing innovations, RTA cabinets can now deliver the look, feel, and functionality of custom-built cabinets for less cost. Staples like solid wood doors, plywood boxes, furniture-grade finishes, and soft-close hardware are now the norm from quality brands. While low-end options still exist, homeowners focused on value and quality can be confident choosing RTA over traditional cabinetry. With good materials, proper assembly, and maintenance, today’s RTA cabinets provide quality and performance that competes with any site-built products.