Ready-to-assemble (RTA) cabinets offer a convenient and affordable way to get new kitchen cabinets or update your existing ones. With some basic tools and a little bit of handiwork, you can install RTA cabinets and transform the look of your kitchen. But with so many options on the market, how do you choose the best RTA cabinets for your needs? We’ll walk you through the key factors to consider when selecting RTA cabinets.

Determine Your Cabinet Construction Needs

RTA cabinets come in a wide range of constructions, from basic particleboard boxes to solid wood frames and doors. Consider how you’ll use the cabinets and your budget to help guide your construction choices.

Particleboard vs. Plywood

Particleboard is the most affordable construction type. It’s made from wood fragments glued and pressed together. Particleboard won’t withstand moisture well but is fine for low-wear cabinets in dry areas. Plywood offers more durability at a slightly higher price. It’s made from thin sheets of solid wood glued together and can stand up to some moisture. Plywood is a good choice for heavily used cabinets.

Solid Wood vs. Veneers

Solid wood doors and frames are the highest quality but also the most expensive. They’re made from natural wood pieces for beauty and durability. Veneers offer the look of solid wood at a lower cost by sandwiching a wood veneer between other materials. Consider solid doors for frequently used cabinets and veneers for sporadically accessed spaces.

Joinery and Assembly

Look for cabinets with interlocking joining systems, like dowels, shelves with support pins, and back panels that slide into grooves. These signs of quality help cabinets hold up during the installation process and years of use. Avoid cabinets with low-quality staples or nails holding components together.

Drawer Construction

Well-made drawers should feature dovetail joinery and drawer slides with steel ball bearings for smooth opening and closing. Cheaper drawings may have simple glued joints and plastic slides. Assess your needs to determine if you can get by with basic drawers or want higher-end ones.

Choose a Door Style

RTA cabinets come in a range of door designs to fit any decor. Consider the look you want before selecting a style.


Slab cabinet doors feature a simple, flat panel design. They create a minimalist, contemporary look. Slab doors easily match with various hardware styles. They’re typically the most affordable door option.


Shaker cabinets offer a recessed center panel bordered by a frame. The subtle but characteristic styling has a timeless appeal fitting both modern and traditional kitchens. Shaker doors work with numerous accessories and offer a cost-effective classic choice.

Raised Panel

Raised panel doors have a prominent central panel that sits higher than the surrounding frame. The dimensional design provides elegant detailing. But because of the extra material, raised panels cost more than flat slab or recessed shaker doors.

Glass Insert

Glass insert doors feature a glass panel set into a wooden frame. The glass lets you showcase decorative dishware or add lighting inside the cabinet. While gorgeous, these doors do cost more and require some upkeep to clean smudges on the glass.


Credentialed doors have an ornate, heritage-inspired look with applied molding details. Often crafted from solid wood, credentialed cabinets bring traditional sophistication to a space. The handcrafted details do come at a premium price.

Select a Door Material

Along with the door style, you’ll want to pick a material based on the look you want and your budget.


Wood remains the most popular choice for cabinet doors thanks to its attractive, natural look. Oak, maple, cherry, and hickory are common wood species used. Pine provides a rustic, cottage look. Alder offers an affordable but attractive finished look. Solid wood doors are premium options, while wood veneers help reduce costs. Keep in mind that natural wood shows wear at touch points.


Thermofoil consists of wood fibers or medium-density fiberboard (MDF) covered with a thin plastic film. The durable material resists chipping, peeling, cracking, and moisture. Thermofoil offers extensive color options from matte neutrals to glossy bold hues. The seamless surface also hides fingerprints and cleans easily.


Laminate cabinets feature a plastic resin film fused over a substrate like plywood or particleboard. Formica is one common brand of laminate. The protective plastic coat resists scratches, moisture, and daily wear-and-tear. Laminate comes in a wide selection of colors and patterns for an affordable price.


Painted finishes provide a smooth, uniform look and endless color choices from bright whites to deep bold hues. Painted doors work with many kitchen design aesthetics, from modern to cottage. Painted cabinets need some maintenance to touch up scrapes or chips over time.

Stained or Glazed

Staining brings out the natural wood grain patterns and colors beneath the surface. Glazing adds another accent color over stain for more depth and dimension. Both options allow you to customize shades to suit your style. Keep in mind color variations in natural wood can affect the uniformity of custom stains.

Choose Cabinet Hardware

Don’t overlook the importance of cabinet hardware like knobs and pulls. Hardware provides a way to personalize cabinets and tie together your kitchen decor.

Knobs vs. Pulls

Knobs offer a decorative focal point. Pull handles make opening cabinets easier with a natural handhold for drawers and doors. Mix knobs and pulls together for variety and function.


Popular finishes like chrome, bronze, nickel, and antique brass allow you to accessorize for different aesthetics from modern to traditional. Black hardware makes a sophisticated style statement. Match finishes on lighting, faucets, and other metals for a cohesive look.


Consider scale and ergonomics when selecting hardware size. Oversized hardware makes a bold statement. Standard sizes around 1.5 inches feel comfortable for most people to grasp. For heavy doors or deep drawers, larger pulls around 3 inches provide more leverage to open.


Traditionally, knobs are placed 2 to 3 inches from the top corner of the door or drawer front. Pulls align horizontally in the middle. You can break design rules and place hardware creatively for visual interest. Ensure pulls align across drawers and doors for a seamless look.

Factor in Cabinet Dimensions

Picking standard cabinet sizes ensures your RTA cabinets properly fit your kitchen’s footprint.

Base Cabinets

Standard base cabinet depths are 24 inches deep with heights of 34 1/2 inches tall. Opt for lower 30-inch heights for ergonomic access if you don’t need the storage space. Custom sizes let you accommodate specific spaces or needs.

Wall Cabinets

Average wall cabinet heights are 30 to 36 inches. Make sure to measure your existing wall space first. Depth is usually 12 to 13 inches for standard single wall cabinets. Bridge units extend further for more storage.

Drawer Dimensions

Standard kitchen drawers have 3-, 6-, 9- and 12-inch heights and widths in common increments from 12 to 24 inches across. Consider your kitchen tools and organizational needs when selecting drawer dimensions.

Interior Cabinet Dimensions

Pay attention to the interior dimensions of shelving and cabinet boxes, not just the external frame size. Make sure your dishes, cookware and other items will fit without issue.

Choose Specialty Storage Solutions

Take advantage of RTA cabinet options designed to organize kitchen items for optimal efficiency.

Lazy Susans

Lazy susan corner cabinets with spinning shelves provide easy access to items in blind spots. A basic lazy susan offers two tiers of storage while others have three or more for increased capacity.

Tray and Roll-Out Dividers

Use roll-out trays, shelves, and racks to neatly store items from pots and pans to spices. Tray dividers also allow you to double stack similar items.

Deep Drawers

Extra deep drawers are perfect for large appliances and cookware. Look for drawers with height of more than 6 inches to hold stand mixers, bread makers, and other specialty tools.

Wine Glass Holders

From inserts to hang stems upside down to full tilt-out storage, specialized wine glass storage keeps glasses secure and prevents shifting. No more jammed stems or chipped rims.

Wastebasket Cabinet

A wastebasket cabinet with a pull-out holder keeps trash neatly tucked away but easily accessible for quick clean up during meal prep. Find models with recyclable sorting bins to promote sustainability.

Appliance Garages

Hide small appliances like stand mixers inside a cabinet with lift-up doors. Not only do garage cabinets streamline counterspace, they also protect appliances from dust.

Compare Brands and Reviews

The brand can impact the quality, construction, selection, and price point of RTA cabinets. Research different brands thoroughly before deciding.


Some brands like Ready To Assemble Cabinets and Barker offer cabinetry exclusively. Others like IKEA sell RTA options as part of a broader furniture line. Look for extensive choices from standard to custom sizes.


Review construction like dovetail joinery, plywood materials, and solid wood. Brands like Barker take pride in fine woodworking details. Others like IKEA focus on functionality and affordability.


Look for at least a 1-year manufacturer’s warranty on cabinets and hardware. Top brands like Ready To Assemble Cabinets provide a limited lifetime warranty. Extended coverage ensures you’re covered if issues arise.


Ikea sells affordable RTA cabinets perfect for those on a very tight budget. Middle-tier brands like Barker range from $100 to $300 per cabinet. Higher-end semi-custom brands like Ready To Assemble average $400 to $700 per cabinet.


Check reviews on independent websites and forums to get unbiased feedback. Look for brands with largely positive feedback and those that respond appropriately to resolve rare issues.

Order Accurate Measurements

To ensure your RTA cabinets properly fit, carefully measure your existing layout before ordering.

Use a Laser Measuring Tool

A laser tool allows you to accurately measure existing cabinets and walls since lasers account for small irregularities better than measuring tape. Take notes of all openings, corners, ceilings and floors when measuring.

Account for Moldings and Trims

Make note of any trim or molding depths on floors and ceilings. These can impact cabinet heights and depth allowances. Also factor in if you plan to remove existing moldings or install new.

Note Appliance Measurements

Measure refrigerator, stove, and other appliance depths and heights. Make sure new cabinets accommodate these fixtures. Also look at appliance specs to see if any require specific clearance space.

Consider Potential Obstructions

Do you have plumbing or electric lines to work around? Make sure to avoid interference issues when laying out cabinet dimensions.

Leave Wiggle Room

Build in an extra 1/8 to 1/4 inch clearance into your measurements. The small gap allows room for adjustments during installation.

Prepare for Installation

Installing RTA cabinets takes some work but saves on labor costs. Follow these tips to prep for a smooth installation.

Read Instructions Thoroughly

Before starting, carefully read all installation manuals and instructions. Planning helps avoid mistakes or damaging cabinets during assembly.

Have Helper

Recruit a helper to assist with holding cabinets, providing extra sets of hands for large units, and acting as a second set of eyes to get everything installed correctly.

Gather Tools

Have all necessary tools like levels, screwdrivers, drills, saws, and clamps ready to efficiently assemble cabinets. A few specialty tools like cabinet jacks also helps.

Clear Space

Remove everything from installation area and clear sufficient workspace. This allows room to spread out parts and safely assemble cabinets.

Install in Correct Order

Install base cabinets first before adding wall units. Completing sections systematically helps the process go smoothly.

Enjoy Your New RTA Kitchen

As you can see, there are many factors to weigh when selecting RTA cabinets. Taking the time to carefully research and measure ensures your new kitchen comes out looking fabulous. Invest in quality materials and sturdy construction for long-lasting durability. Style choices like door design, hardware, and finishes let you customize the aesthetic. And opting for smart organizational features streamlines your storage needs. With the right RTA cabinets in place, you can enjoy a gorgeous, functional kitchen for years to come.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What are the advantages of RTA cabinets?

RTA (ready-to-assemble) cabinets offer several advantages over custom cabinetry:

  • Cost Savings – RTA cabinets are up to 50% cheaper than custom cabinets.
  • Convenience – RTA cabinets ship quickly and can be assembled at your own pace.
  • Customization – Many RTA manufacturers offer customizable options like finishes and storage solutions.
  • Quality Materials – Brands use quality materials like solid wood, dovetail joinery, and sturdy hardware.
  • Easy Installation – RTAs include detailed instructions allowing homeowners to self-install.
  1. What tools do I need to assemble RTA cabinets?

Some essential tools for installing RTA cabinets include:

  • Drill/Driver – For driving screws to assemble cabinet boxes and hang them on walls.
  • Stud Finder – Finds studs in walls for secure mounting of wall-mounted cabinets.
  • Level – Ensures cabinets hang plumb and even for proper installation.
  • Clamps – Holds cabinets boxes and face frames squared as you assemble.
  • Pry Bar – Helpful for adjusting cabinets during installation.
  • Jigsaw or Circular Saw – For modifying cabinetry around obstructions.
  • Hammer – Used along with various nails and pegs to assemble cabinets.
  • Tape Measure and Pencil – For taking measurements and making installation marks.
  1. What are the best tips for installing RTA cabinets?

Top tips for smoothly installing RTA cabinets include:

  • Review all instructions before starting.
  • Work in careful stages from base to wall cabinets.
  • Ensure wall surfaces are clean and level before mounting.
  • Take precise measurements and account for obstructions.
  • Use shims when needed to level and plumb cabinets.
  • Pre-drill holes before driving screws to prevent splitting.
  • Tighten screws gradually to pull cabinets flush together.
  • Fill nail holes and touch-up paint for a finished look.
  1. How much do RTA cabinets cost compared to custom cabinets?

RTA cabinets cost between 50-70% less than custom or semi-custom cabinetry. Here’s a typical price comparison:

  • RTA Cabinets – $80-$300 per cabinet
  • Semi-Custom Cabinets – $400-$700 per cabinet
  • Custom Cabinets – $800-$2000+ per cabinet

The affordable cost of RTA cabinets makes them an ideal choice for budget kitchen projects. Their quality is also on par with many semi-custom options for a fraction of the price.

  1. What are some of the best RTA cabinet brands?

Some top-rated RTA cabinet brands include:

  • Ready To Assemble Cabinets – Offers wide range of styles, materials, and organization features.
  • Barker Cabinets – Known for solid wood craftsmanship and dovetail joinery.
  • Cabinet Joint – Very budget-friendly cabinets made from plywood.
  • IKEA – For very affordable basics backed by intuitive instructions.
  • Timberlane – Focused on classic shaker-style cabinetry with wood veneer options.
  1. Should I install RTA cabinets myself or hire a contractor?

Handy homeowners can install RTA cabinets themselves and save significantly on labor costs. But if you don’t feel up to the project, consider hiring a kitchen contractor experienced in cabinetry installation. They can ensure your new cabinets are perfectly fitted and functional.

  1. How long does it take to assemble and install RTA cabinets?

Plan on the following timeframe as a general estimate:

  • Assembly – 1-2 Days
  • Installation – 2-4 Days
  • Total Time – 3-6 Days

The total time will vary based on kitchen size, complexity, and if you do it alone or have help. Take things slowly and don’t rush the process. Correct installation is crucial.

  1. Can RTA cabinets look as nice as custom cabinetry?

Definitely! Well-made RTA cabinets rival semi-custom cabinetry at a fraction of the cost. Choosing quality materials like solid wood doors, sturdy plywood boxes, and strong joinery results in cabinets that look professionally installed. Attention to hardware and decorative details like glazed finishes also lends to a high-end built-in look.

  1. What mistakes should I avoid with RTA cabinet installation?

Avoid these common RTA cabinet installation mistakes:

  • Skipping the instructions – Always read thoroughly first.
  • Forgetting to pre-drill holes – Prevent splitting wood.
  • Over or under tightening screws – Damages material.
  • Not leveling or plumbing – Leads to alignment issues.
  • Working too quickly – Rushing leads to damage and mistakes.
  • Not cleaning surfaces – Ensure adhesion to surfaces.
  • Forgetting rollout trays – Hard to add once installed.
  1. How long do RTA cabinets last compared to other options?

With proper care and quality construction, RTA cabinets typically last:

  • RTA Cabinets – 15-20 years
  • Semi-Custom Cabinets – 20-25 years
  • Custom Cabinets – 25-30 years

The biggest factor in longevity is the material quality. Opt for plywood over particleboard, solid wood over veneers, and strong joinery for best durability. Good storage, cleaning and avoiding excess moisture also extends cabinet lifespan.