Ready-to-assemble (RTA) cabinets, also known as flat pack cabinets, are a popular option for homeowners looking to remodel or reface their kitchens on a budget. As the name suggests, RTA cabinets come packaged with all the individual cabinet parts and require assembly before installation. Compared to custom or semi-custom cabinetry that is pre-assembled at the factory, RTA cabinets offer significant cost savings. However, it’s important to understand what RTA cabinets are, their pros and cons, and how to choose high-quality ready-to-assemble cabinetry to get the best results for your kitchen remodel.
What Exactly Are RTA Cabinets?
RTA cabinets, or ready-to-assemble cabinets, come as individual pieces that require assembly before installation in your home. The cabinets are manufactured at the factory but shipped unassembled in a flat box. All the cabinet parts – the sides, tops, bottoms, shelves, doors, drawer fronts, etc. – will be included along with screws and cams to join the pieces together.
RTA cabinets offer a more affordable alternative to fully custom cabinetry. Because they ship disassembled, RTA cabinets cost less to produce and require lower shipping costs. These savings are then passed on to the consumer, making RTA cabinets a budget-friendly option for kitchen and bathroom remodeling. Many home improvement stores exclusively stock RTA cabinetry brands for the great value they offer to DIY-minded homeowners.
While assembly is required, RTA cabinets are designed to be simple to put together, using either cam locks, screws, or dowels. Detailed instructions with diagrams are included, and most homeowners can assemble their new cabinets with basic tools and DIY skills. However, you may wish to hire a carpenter for assistance if you are unsure about taking on large-scale assembly yourself. The time investment for assembly is the main tradeoff with RTA cabinets versus preassembled cabinetry.
Pros and Cons of Choosing RTA Cabinets
Ready-to-assemble cabinets offer many benefits for homeowners:
Affordability – The biggest pro for RTA cabinets is the cost savings. Preassembled custom cabinets can cost tens of thousands of dollars, while RTA cabinets are priced anywhere from a few hundred to a couple thousand dollars depending on style and size. RTA allows homeowners to refresh their kitchen on a reasonable budget.
Wide Selection – RTA manufacturers offer a huge range of styles, from modern to traditional to rustic. There are options to suit every home design and color scheme. Materials like wood, laminate, and thermofoil are available.
Customization – While not fully custom, many RTA brands allow for custom cabinet sizes, modifications, and storage accessories. This allows a semi-custom look that suits your unique space.
Easy Assembly – Assembly with cam locks, screws, or dowels is designed for DIYers. Instructions and diagrams are provided for putting the cabinet boxes and faces together.
However, some downsides exist as well:
Time Investment – Putting cabinets together yourself means a significant time investment. While DIY assembly is straightforward, it can still be time-consuming with large kitchens.
Inconsistent Quality – Quality ranges dramatically with RTA cabinets. Cheaper big box store brands often have laminate or thermofoil finishes that seem cheap. Stick with solid wood doors and drawers from reputable brands.
Can’t Modify Post-Assembly – Once assembled and installed, RTA cabinets cannot be easily tweaked or modified like a custom creation. Measure carefully to get sizing and placement right on the first try.
Not for Perfectionists – Minor flaws in assemblies may bother perfectionists. Seams or uneven doors are more common with DIY assembly versus factory finishing.
What to Look For in Quality RTA Cabinets
Focus on several factors to choose high-quality ready-to-assemble cabinets that will give you a beautiful, durable kitchen:
Quality wood materials are ideal. For cabinet boxes, look for plywood or solid wood construction. For doors, solid hardwoods like oak, maple, and cherry are attractive and sturdy. Thermofoil or laminate finishes tend to seem cheap, while real wood offers natural beauty and depth.
Look for indications of strong cabinet construction like wood corner blocks, glued assemblies, full-extension drawers, concealed or soft-closing hinges, and sturdy adjustable shelves. High-end RTA uses techniques similar to custom cabinetry. Cheaply made cabinets won’t withstand years of kitchen use.
Real wood stained, painted, or glazed finishes are preferable to plastic-y laminates. The finish should appear smooth and consistent, with attractive visible wood grain. For painted cabinets, the coat should fully cover edges and joints.
Sturdy hardware like full-extension gliding drawers, soft-close doors and drawers, and adjustable shelves increase functionality. Look for solid drawer glides that enable smooth access to the full contents of the drawer.
Wide ranging design options for doors, woods, storage configurations, colors, and finishes allow an RTA system to suit your personal style. More customization options equal a more customized, high-end look.
Established companies like KraftMaid, CliqStudios, and Barker Cabinets have proven reputations for quality and service after the sale. Choose a manufacturer known for making homeowners happy with their RTA cabinets.
How Are RTA Cabinets Constructed?
Understanding how ready-to-assemble cabinets are constructed can help guide your buying decisions. Look for brands that use quality materials and sturdy manufacturing methods. Here are the main elements of construction:
The cabinet box forms the base structure. Quality boxes use 3⁄4 inch thick plywood or solid wood for the sides, tops, bottoms, and shelves. Lower priced brands may use thinner particleboard or lower grade plywood, which is less durable for the constant wear-and-tear of kitchen use. The cabinet components should be glued and screwed together at all contact points for maximum strength.
Doors and Drawer Fronts
Doors are commonly constructed from solid hardwoods. Options like oak, maple, and cherry not only look beautiful but also hold up well to daily kitchen use. Painted finishes involve multiple layers of primer and paint for consistent coverage. Stain colors allow the natural wood grain to show through.
Drawer fronts match the cabinet door style and are also commonly made from sturdy hardwoods. They attach to the drawer box system that slides in and out of the cabinet on glides or tracks.
Adjustable shelves allow you to customize storage. Quality shelves are 3⁄4 inch thick, with either a natural wood finish to match cabinet interiors or a laminate coating for easy cleaning. Metal pins fit into pre-drilled holes to hold shelves firmly in place at your preferred height.
Concealed cabinet hinges create a clean, seamless look on the door fronts. They attach to the interior side of the cabinet box and door. Upgrade to self-closing or soft-closing hinges for added functionality and a high-end feel.
Quality drawer slides enable smooth operation that lasts. Full extension slides allow you to access the full contents of the drawer. Soft-closing dampers prevent noisy slamming. Ball bearing glides and sturdy construction ensure years of durability.
Once all the components are assembled correctly, you have a complete ready-to-install RTA cabinet set for your kitchen or bathroom remodel. Carefully follow the included instructions for flawless do-it-yourself assembly.
How Much Do RTA Cabinets Cost?
RTA cabinets cost a fraction of custom cabinetry, making kitchen remodeling or refacing more affordable. Here are some averages costs to budget for:
- RTA stock cabinets cost $80 – $200 per linear foot.
- RTA semi-custom cabinets are $200 – $600 per linear foot.
- Fully custom can be $600 – $1,000+ per linear foot.
Of course, many factors impact the total project cost like layout, number of cabinets, brand, custom upgrades, and local labor rates. Generally expect to pay 20-50% less for RTA versus custom cabinets.
The quality of materials and construction play a big role in cost. Simple big box store cabinets with laminate finishes start under $100 per foot. For medium-grade RTA expect to pay around $125-$250 per linear foot. High-end real wood RTA with premium features lands in the $300-$600 per linear foot range.
Your total budget will also need to factor in the design, delivery, installation, countertops, and any other kitchen remodeling expenses beyond just the cabinet cost. Carefully estimate your complete budget before beginning your RTA cabinet project.
How Long Does It Take to Assemble RTA Cabinets?
Assembly time varies dramatically based on your kitchen size and cabinet count. However, you can estimate approximately:
- 1 hour per base cabinet – Standard 36-inch sink or cooktop base cabinets take about 1 hour for assembly by an experienced DIYer.
- 2 hours per wall cabinet – Wall cabinets require more time to assemble all the components and install the hanging rail.
- 4 – 10 hours total per kitchen – The average 10 x 10 kitchen can have 10-15 cabinets, meaning a total timeline of 1-2 full weekends for assembly.
Working with an assembly partner helps speed up the process considerably compared to doing it solo. Having great organizational skills to keep cabinet pieces and hardware clearly labelled cuts down on confusion and mistakes that can slow you down.
Paying an experienced carpenter for help is advisable for sprawling kitchens with tons of cabinets. They can get through assembly much faster than the average homeowner. However, the basic RTA system is designed for homeowners to realistically tackle assembly on their own. Just carve out ample time for this crucial step. Rushing through assembly often leads to headaches down the road.
What Tools Are Needed to Assemble RTA Cabinets?
Assembling ready-to-assemble cabinets is designed to be relatively straightforward for DIYers. You likely already have most of the basic tools needed:
- Power drill – An electric drill/driver with a selection of drill bits is essential for driving screws to join cabinet parts. Having a cordless version makes maneuvering easier.
- Level – A small bubble level confirms cabinets and rails are evenly level during assembly. A 2+ foot long level also helps during final installation.
- Clamps – Clamps temporarily hold cabinet components in place while driving screws. Look for bar clamps or C-clamps.
- Screwdriver set – Both a Phillips and flathead screwdriver will be useful.
- Hammer – A hammer helps tap pieces flush and knock cams into place. Use a rubber mallet on wood surfaces to prevent dents.
- Utility knife – For cutting out supplied parts during assembly.
- Pencil – Mark measurements, drill points, and parts with a pencil. Avoid ink that may bleed into wood.
- Safety equipment – Safety glasses protect eyes from flying debris while drilling. Work gloves also help grip hardware and protect hands from sharp edges.
Having an assembly partner makes the process much easier. Two sets of hands help manage the cabinet pieces and alignment during assembly. Investing in quality tools also makes the assembly process smoother. Following all safety practices while using sharp or powered tools prevents accidents.
Tips for Successfully Assembling RTA Cabinets
Succeeding with ready-to-assemble cabinetry depends heavily on the assembly stage. Follow these top tips for smooth, frustration-free assembly:
- Carefully read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for each step. Missing key directions can ruin cabinets.
- Check that you have all the required parts and hardware before starting. Contact the company to replace any missing pieces immediately.
- Work on a large, clean, flat surface with space to organize parts. A spare room works better than your garage floor.
- Have helpers on hand for assembly – at least two people make cabinet building easier.
- Use painter’s tape to label like parts to avoid confusion. Keep hardware bags separate.
- Tighten screws just until snug – overtightening can split wood.
- Drill pilot holes before driving long screws to prevent splitting.
- Double check measurements and leveling. Precisely follow cut lists and markings.
- Work slowly and patiently. Rushing leads to mistakes that compromise sturdiness.
- Let glue fully dry as directed before moving assembled cabinets. Don’t skip glue steps.
- Sand down any rough edges on assembled cabinets for a smooth finish.
- Touch up scratches or joints with finish paint/stain after assembly as needed.
Invest the necessary time and care during assembly, and your installed RTA cabinets will look terrific and function flawlessly for years to come in your remodeled kitchen. Pay close attention to details as you work. Precision assembly is crucial.
How to Install Assembled RTA Cabinets
When your ready-to-assemble cabinets are all assembled, you can move onto installation. This involves carefully measuring and leveling to attach cabinets securely and accurately. Follow this general process:
Prep the Work Area
Remove existing kitchen cabinets if renovating. Then ensure the floor and walls are clean and level. Fill any uneven areas that could throw off cabinet placement.
Map the Layout
Use a layout map from your plans to mark cabinet locations on the floor and walls with painter’s tape based on measurements. Outline each individual cabinet.
Install Base Cabinets First
Set the base cabinets in place, shimming beneath if needed to ensure they sit level. Attach to studs in the wall by predrilling and driving 3” screws through the cabinet back every 16”.
Hang Wall Cabinets
Hang wall cabinets by fastening a hanging rail anchored into studs. Lift each cabinet and screw to the rail through pre-drilled holes. Use shims to level.
Scribe and Trim (if needed)
For gaps, use a scribe to trace the wall outline onto the cabinet. Remove the cabinet and trim along the line with a jigsaw for a perfect custom fit.
Secure and Reinforce
Drill pilot holes and drive screws through the cabinet sides into adjacent cabinets and corner blocking to join everything tightly. The result is a reinforced “cabinet box.”
Install Decorative Trim
Nail on desired trim pieces like crown molding, light rail, or plinth blocks for a built-in custom look. Use decorative hardware for knobs and pulls.
Take an exact measurement for countertops. Install your countertop substrate (plywood, etc) and set the counter on top. Seal any gaps with caulk for a seamless look.
With some patience and attention to detail, you can achieve a flawless kitchen cabinet installation. Built with care, your RTA cabinets will look like high-end custom cabinetry at a fraction of the price.
Are RTA Cabinets Right for Your Project?
Ready-to-assemble cabinets make kitchen, laundry, and bathroom remodeling affordable. But are they the right choice for your specific renovation goals and timeline? Consider the following:
Budget – What is your total renovation budget, and what portion can allocate toward cabinetry? If funds are very limited, opt for RTA over custom.
DIY Skills – Are you highly skilled at woodworking and cabinet assembly? The assembly curve is steep for total beginners.
Kitchen Size – Small kitchens with low cabinet counts assemble faster. Large or complex kitchens with 100+ cabinets become overwhelmingly big DIY projects.
Deadline – When do you want the remodeled space complete? The assembly and installation phase adds time versus buying preassembled cabinets. Plan accordingly.
Design – If you want intricate built-ins or unique sizes, RTA limits customization versus fully custom cabinets. But many beautiful styles are available.
The broad selection of styles and price points makes RTA cabinets suitable for most kitchens. Just be realistic about your timeline, skills, and expectations. With smart planning, you can achieve beautiful results and big savings with ready-to-assemble cabinetry.
Ready to Assemble Cabinet Brands
Many excellent ready-to-assemble cabinet brands exist. Do some research to pick high-quality cabinets within your budget range that suit your personal style. Here are ten top brands to consider:
1. KraftMaid Cabinetry
Known for excellent value and wide range of finishes, styles, and storage solutions. Lots of decorative accessories. Mid to high price points.
2. Hampton Bay
Carried at Home Depot, Hampton Bay offers lots of options at lower price points. Best value for more basic kitchens.
Direct-to-consumer sales model passes savings to buyers. Contemporary and traditional styles. Huge selection and customization.
4. Cabinet Joint
Well-priced solid wood RTA cabinets. Lots of styles and finishes. Known for high-quality wood materials and durable construction.
5. Barker Cabinets
Carries modern, shaker, and traditional styles. Focused on eco-friendly practices and formaldehyde-free products.
Contemporary styled cabinets. Thermofoil and woodgrain finishes. Affordable prices with lots of upgrades available.
7. Ready To Assemble Kitchens
Canada-based company offering affordable styles ideal for condos, rentals, and investment properties.
Specialty is modified partial assembly, with factory installed shelves, doors, and drawer fronts to simplify assembly.
9. Schrock Cabinetry
Well-known for excellent value on high-quality solid wood RTA cabinets. Traditional styling and affordable pricing.
10. Affordable Cabinets
As the name indicates, focuses on very low cost cabinetry. Best selection under $1,000.
With some savvy shopping, you can find discounted RTA cabinets that still offer durability, functionality and beauty for your home. Carefully compare brands’ reputation, materials, and costs.
Frequently Asked Questions
RTA cabinets offer a practical and budget-friendly option for many homeowners. But