Ready-to-assemble (RTA) cabinets have become an increasingly popular option for homeowners looking to remodel their kitchens or bathrooms on a budget. As the name implies, RTA cabinets come packaged with all the components needed to assemble them yourself, saving on installation costs associated with pre-assembled cabinetry. But what exactly are RTA cabinets made of? Understanding the materials and construction of RTA cabinetry can help you determine if this affordable solution is right for your next remodeling project.
Materials Used in RTA Cabinet Construction
RTA cabinets are typically constructed using many of the same materials that you would find in pre-assembled, custom cabinetry, but manufactured in a way that allows for easy transport and DIY assembly. Here are some of the most common materials used in RTA cabinet construction:
The cabinet box or carcass of RTA cabinets is most often made using particle board or plywood.
- Particle board – This engineered wood product is made from wood chips, sawmill shavings, and sawdust that are glued and pressed together into sheet form. The small wood particles are bonded together with resins or glues. Particle board is an affordable and stable material that provides a smooth surface for laminates or veneers. However, raw particle board is prone to expansion and disintegration when exposed to moisture.
- Plywood – RTA cabinets may also be constructed using sheets of plywood laminated together and pressed into large panels. Plywood is generally a more expensive but higher-quality material made up of multiple thin sheets of real wood veneer. The layers are glued and pressed alternating the wood grain direction to create a stable, strong sheet. Plywood is more resistant to warping from moisture than particle board.
- Medium density fiberboard (MDF) – Some inexpensive RTA cabinet lines may use MDF, which is made of softwood fibers glued together with resins and wax. MDF has a very smooth, consistent surface but lacks the strength and moisture-resistance of wood or plywood.
- Solid wood – While the cabinet boxes are usually made of engineered wood for affordability and stability, solid wood is sometimes used for door and drawer fronts, face frames, and trim pieces. Hardwoods like maple, cherry, oak, or hickory are commonly used for these visible components.
The engineered wood used to construct RTA cabinet boxes is then covered with laminates to give the cabinets a more finished appearance and protect the core material.
- Plastic laminates – These laminates consist of sheets of paper infused with melamine resins and fused together under high heat and pressure. Formica is one well-known brand of plastic laminate. Plastic laminates provide an affordable, durable, and stain-resistant surface that can replicate wood grains or solid colors.
- Wood veneers – Thin sheets of natural wood veneer may also be applied to engineered wood products to give the appearance of solid wood at a lower cost. Maple, oak, birch, cherry, and walnut are examples of popular veneer options. Veneers provide a richer, natural wood look compared to laminates.
- Thermofoil – This is a vinyl film laminate glued to particle board or MDF substrates under heat and pressure. Thermofoil provides consistent coloring, resists scratches and dents, and is waterproof. However, cutting or drilling thermofoil can cause chipping or peeling at edges.
Hardware connects all the pieces of an RTA cabinet together and enables the adjustable shelves, doors, and drawers to operate smoothly.
- Cam and dowel assembly – Many RTA cabinets use simple cam locks and wooden dowels that fit into pre-drilled holes to align and fasten cabinet components together. No tools are required for assembly.
- Shelf pins – Adjustable shelves are supported by small, metal pins that fit into pre-drilled holes spaced along cabinet uprights. This allows shelves to be arranged or removed as needed.
- Hinges – Concealed European-style hinges, usually with integrated soft-close mechanisms, are commonly used on RTA cabinet doors. Hinges are pre-attached to doors at the factory.
- Drawer slides – Steel or plastic drawer slides mount to the cabinet box and drawers to support smooth opening and closing. RTA cabinets typically feature side-mount or bottom-mount slides.
- Handles and knobs – Decorative hardware is an easy way to customize the look of RTA cabinets. Choose knobs, handles, pulls, or grips based on your preferred style.
RTA Cabinet Construction
While RTA cabinets feature many construction elements similar to custom cabinetry, assembly methods and hardware choices allow for simplified DIY installation. Here are some key differences in how RTA cabinets are constructed:
RTA cabinets are designed in a modular way so that all components neatly fit into flat packs for shipping. Pieces connect together by means of a simple pin, cam, and dowel system, rather than nails, screws, or glue. This enables easy DIY assembly but may compromise long-term durability if not properly reinforced.
Instead of fully customizable sizing, RTA cabinets come in a limited range of standardized width and height options to contain shipping costs. Filler panels may be needed to adjust for any gaps.
To keep costs low and reduce weight for shipping, RTA cabinets tend to use thinner engineered wood and laminate materials. While more prone to damage, thinner materials are adequate for most kitchen and bathroom uses.
Limited Finish Options
RTA cabinet finishes are restricted to laminates that can be pre-applied under factory conditions. Custom stains, glazes, and paints usually can’t be applied to RTA cabinet materials.
RTA cabinets typically come with generic, economy-grade hardware including hinges, slides, and handles that simply get the job done. Upgrading hardware can help improve performance and aesthetics.
Reduced Interior Storage Features
To simplify installation, RTA cabinets usually have fewer adjustable or specialized storage components inside. Features like roll-out trays, spice racks, and adjustable drawer dividers may need to be added separately.
While RTA cabinet construction differs from custom cabinetry, the streamlined assembly and budget price point make these DIY-friendly cabinets appealing to many homeowners. The quality and durability of RTA cabinets can vary widely however, so do your research to find the best options for your needs and budget.
Pros and Cons of Common RTA Cabinet Materials
RTA cabinetry is affordable and accessible largely thanks to its use of cost-efficient engineered woods and laminates during construction. But each material has its own unique set of pros and cons. Here is a closer look at how common RTA cabinet materials compare:
- Pros – Most affordable option. Consistent quality. Provides smooth surface for laminates. Stable if kept dry.
- Cons – Prone to swelling and disintegrating if exposed to moisture. Susceptible to damage from impact. Heavier than plywood. Contains formaldehyde resins.
- Pros – Made from layers of real wood veneer for durability. Resists warping from moisture. Easy to drill holes and attach hardware.
- Cons – More expensive than particle board. Heavier to ship. Contains formaldehyde glue between layers.
- Pros – Very smooth, uniform surface. Takes paint and laminate well. Does not warp easily.
- Cons – Low strength and density. Heavy weight. Susceptible to moisture damage. Contains formaldehyde. Difficult to cut cleanly.
- Pros – Provide protective, stain-resistant surface. Available in wide range of finishes. Low cost.
- Cons – Prone to chipping on cut edges. Can peel over time. Plastic laminate lacks natural wood look.
- Pros – Provide natural beauty of real wood at lower cost. Allow for consistency in grain patterns.
- Cons – Thin veneers are easily damaged. Veneer edges prone to peeling. Expensive compared to laminates.
- Pros – Seamless, waterproof surface. Highly resistant to wear and scratches. Easy to clean.
- Cons – Can crack or bubble when cut. Plastic appearance lacks depth. Peels away from substrate if damaged.
Consider how each material aligns with your design priorities, from budget to aesthetics to durability needs. Consulting RTA cabinet reviews for specific brands can also help identify which achieve the ideal balance.
Typical Pricing for RTA Cabinets
One of the biggest appeals of RTA cabinetry is the cost savings compared to custom or pre-assembled options. Here is an overview of typical price ranges you can expect from RTA cabinets:
- Economy – $50-$150 per cabinet. Thinner particle board or MDF boxes with plastic laminate surfaces. Stock sizes and configurations only. Basic hardware. Allen + Roth (Lowes) or Sauder (Amazon) are examples.
- Mid-Range – $150-$300 per cabinet. Thicker plywood or wood veneer construction. More customizable sizing and storage options. Durable laminate or thermofoil finishes. Soft-close hinges and drawer slides. Brands like KraftMaid or Hampton Bay (Home Depot).
- Premium – $300+ per cabinet. Solid hardwood door and face frame options. Full extension drawer slides. Wide range of finishes from laminate to stain-grade wood. Spice racks, roll-outs, and other storage accessories. Brands like Poggenpohl or Canyon Creek.
Of course, the total cost of an RTA kitchen or bathroom makeover depends on factors like the number of cabinets needed, chosen accessories, and complexity of the installation. Investing in higher quality RTA cabinetry can pay off in the long run with increased durability, storage efficiency, and customization potential.
What to Look for When Buying RTA Cabinets
Focus on these key criteria to identify durable, well-constructed RTA cabinets suitable for your purposes:
Inspect the materials used to construct both visible and hidden components. Higher quality plywood boxes resist moisture damage better than particle board. Real wood veneers offer richness. Avoid MDF or thin plastic laminates if possible.
Look for name brand, soft-close hinges and slides that enable smooth operation. Test that drawer glides and door hinges open and close evenly without sticking or rattling. Sturdy cam lock systems make assembly easier.
Look for reinforcements like corner blocks, braces, and back panels that stabilize cabinets during shipping and after assembly. Joints should fit tightly once assembled. Inside surfaces should be laminated to prevent interior wood swelling.
Ensure finishes have uniform color and grain patterns without chips or cracks. Edges should be finished to prevent moisture infiltration. Thermofoil and plastic laminate provide the most durable surface protection.
Modular cabinet components, adjustable shelves, flexible drawer configurations, and interchangeable doors maximize customization possibilities down the road.
Seeking out independent RTA cabinet reviews can provide additional insights into quality and durability that may not be apparent from product images alone. While saving money upfront, low-quality RTA cabinets may need frequent repairs or replacement that diminish their value over time.
Are RTA Cabinets a Good Choice?
RTA cabinets offer an affordable way to remodel your kitchen or bath to get an updated, custom look. However, are they ultimately a good choice? Here are some pros and cons to consider:
- Cost effective. Much more budget-friendly than custom cabinetry.
- Convenient.Cabinets ship directly. No need for professional installation.
- Customizable. Modular sizing, storage, and finishes allow some customization.
- Quick. DIY assembly is much faster than custom cabinet fabrication and installation.
- Variety. Many styles and configurations to fit your tastes.
- Quality concerns. Cheaper materials and hardware may fail prematurely.
- Limited sizes. Difficult to fit small spaces precisely. Fillers/spacers may be needed.
- Complex installation. Leveling and securing many cabinets in proper alignment can be challenging.
- Can’t see quality. Hard to inspect materials and construction thoroughly until after purchase.
- Resale value. DIY installs generally don’t increase home value as much as custom cabinetry.
The convenience and cost savings of RTA cabinets make them a smart choice for many homeowners wanting to update their spaces within tight budgets and timelines. Just be sure to do your homework researching brands and quality before purchasing. Investing in durable RTA cabinetry tailored to your space can provide beautiful results and lasting value.
Typical Kitchen Cabinet Dimensions
Standard cabinet sizes are a key factor when designing and laying out an RTA kitchen. Here are some of the most common exterior cabinet dimensions to keep in mind:
- Base cabinets – 34.5” tall x 24” deep. Widths range from 9” to 48”.
- Wall cabinets – 30” or 36” tall x 12” deep. Widths range from 9” to 48”.
- Full height pantry – 84” tall x 12” or 24” deep. Widths range from 18” to 36”.
- Upper cabinets – 42” tall x 12” deep. Widths range from 9” to 48”.
- Island and peninsula – 34.5” tall x 24” or 36” deep. Widths range from 18” to 60”.
Within those exterior dimensions, standard interior sizes include:
- Drawer boxes – 5” high x 24” deep
- Door access – 48” high x cabinet width
- Adjustable shelves – 31.5” wide x 14” deep
Of course, one benefit of RTA cabinets is that smaller brands may offer more precise sizing options than these industry standard measurements. Just be aware that going fully custom with each cabinet’s dimensions can increase both cost and assembly complexity. Careful planning of interior cabinet layouts based on available sizes is advised.
RTA Cabinet Installation Tips
Installing your own RTA cabinets can save thousands in professional labor costs. Follow these tips for successful DIY installation:
- Review instructions thoroughly before starting. Organize hardware and components.
- Take exact room measurements. Check for square and plumb walls.
- Start with a level base cabinet row. Use shims and braces to ensure stability.
- Follow cabinet order in instructions. Don’t tighten fasteners fully until the end.
- Pre-drill holes for screws whenever possible to prevent splitting.
- Use filler panels between uneven wall widths for consistent spacing.
- Use careful, gentle force when joining cam lock pieces to avoid breaking interlocks.
- Secure tall cabinets to wall studs for safety, not just to drywall anchors.
- Go slow and double check with a level frequently during assembly.
- Follow any post-assembly reinforcement steps like adding corner gussets or extra screws.
- Allow sealants and adhesives to fully cure before using installed cabinets.
Some amount of cutting, drilling, shimming, sanding, and patching is to be expected for a perfect fit. Taking your time with the process and following cabinet-specific tips can lead to many years of quality performance from your DIY RTA cabinetry installation.
Maintaining and Protecting Your RTA Cabinets
Once installed, proper care and maintenance is required to keep RTA cabinets looking their best while avoiding damage. Here are some tips:
- Use soft cloths and gentle cleaners. Avoid abrasive products on finishes.
- Seal any cut edges or drilled holes with laminate edgebanding to prevent moisture damage.
- Limit direct heat exposure from appliances that may cause laminates to delaminate or discolor.
- Repair chips, gouges, or peeling surfaces right away to prevent moisture infiltration issues.
- Tighten loose hinge and pull screws as needed to keep hardware secure and functional.
- Remove dust and grease buildup regularly. Degrease cabinet interiors at least annually.
- Consider adding cabinet door bumpers to prevent knob damage to door fronts over time.
- Check drawers for rubbing or sticking issues and adjust slides as needed.
- Use cutting boards and mats to protect cabinet surfaces from knives, pans, and spills.
- Avoid overloading shelves, drawers, or hardware beyond rated capacities.
- Evaluate sealants, caulking, and finishes annually and reapply as needed, especially around sinks.
With proper care and maintenance, quality RTA cabinets should provide 20 years or more of reliable performance. Putting in place protective measures helps safeguard your investment and keep your kitchen or bathroom looking pristine.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the main material used to construct RTA cabinets?
Particle board is the most common material used to construct the cabinet boxes and interior components of ready-to-assemble cabinets. The wood particles and resins are pressed into sheets, providing an affordable and stable substrate that can then be coated in laminates or veneers.
How much cheaper are RTA cabinets compared to custom cabinetry?
On average, RTA cabinets cost 50-70% less than comparable custom-built cabinetry. Semi-custom cabinets with some standardized sizing fall in the middle price-wise. The DIY assembly and economical materials of RTA cabinets provide major cost savings.
Can RTA cabinets support granite or quartz countertops?
Yes, provided proper reinforcement and installation, most RTA cabinetry can support natural stone countertops. Some assembly tips include adding corner gussets or metal brackets at stress points, securing cabinets to studs, and using plywood over particle board for heavy counter spans.
What are the shipping costs for RTA cabinets?
Most RTA cabinet sellers include standard ground shipping costs within the project estimate or cabinet pricing. Larger orders, expedited shipping, remote locations, or special delivery requests may incur an additional fee, so factor this into your budget.
How difficult is it to assemble and install RTA cabinets?
Basic RTA cabinet installation is generally manageable for committed DIYers with some carpentry skills and tools, but can be challenging.