Ready-to-assemble (RTA) kitchen cabinets have become an increasingly popular option for homeowners looking to remodel their kitchens on a budget. As the name implies, RTA cabinets come packed flat in boxes, with all the parts and hardware needed for the homeowner to put them together themselves.
Here is an in-depth look at what RTA kitchen cabinets are, their pros and cons compared to other cabinet options, and what to consider when deciding if RTA cabinets are right for your next kitchen remodel.
What Are RTA Kitchen Cabinets?
RTA kitchen cabinets, sometimes referred to as flat-pack or knockdown cabinets, come disassembled in flat packs that can easily be transported. The homeowner then assembles the cabinets on-site using the included instructions and hardware.
The cabinets typically consist of four main components:
- Cabinet box – This is the main frame of the cabinet, often made from medium density fiberboard (MDF) or plywood.
- Doors and drawer fronts – These are attached to the cabinet after assembly.
- Shelves and interior fittings – RTA cabinets include shelving, drawers, and other interior fittings.
- Hardware – All the hinges, screws, and other fasteners needed to assemble the cabinet.
Many supplies also include decorative molding and trim that the homeowner can install to customize their look. The components fit together using a combination of cam locks, dowels, and screws. Most RTA cabinets can be assembled with simple household tools like a screwdriver, with installation taking a few hours to a few days depending on cabinet quantity and complexity.
Pros of RTA Kitchen Cabinets
There are several advantages that make RTA kitchen cabinets an attractive option:
- Cost savings – RTA cabinets are up to 50% cheaper than custom cabinetry. There are no middleman markups since the homeowner assembles them.
- Convenience – The boxes ship directly to your home. No need for an installer to visit and assemble.
- Customization – Homeowners can choose their own layouts, finishes, and modifications.
- Quick installation – DIY assembly means you can install them much faster.
- Easy to transport – Flat packs fit easily into small spaces and are easier to handle.
- Reconfigure and reuse – RTA cabinets can be more easily changed, reused, or resold than permanent cabinetry.
Cons of RTA Kitchen Cabinets
There are also some potential downsides with RTA cabinets:
- Lower quality materials – They typically use thinner wood and cheaper finishes than custom cabinets.
- Inconsistent quality control – There can be huge variances between brands. More checking of reviews is required.
- Need for DIY skills – You will need some basic carpentry skills for proper assembly.
- Can’t inspect before purchase – You select cabinets without seeing final constructed product.
- No professional installation – Mistakes are on you, rather than a carpenter.
- Less durable – If not assembled correctly, they may warp, crack, peel or fall apart quicker.
- Limited sizes – RTA cabinets come in set sizes, so custom work is not possible.
What to Look for in RTA Kitchen Cabinets
Focus on these factors when selecting RTA cabinets:
- Solid wood frames – Avoid brands using particle board or plastic. Durable wood withstands moisture better.
- Plywood boxes – Look for plywood side panels rather than MDF for enhanced strength.
- Soft-close hardware – Doors and drawers should close gently with buffers.
- Dovetail joinery – Dovetail joints on drawers are stronger than staples or glue.
- High-quality finishes – Look for thick finishes that resist scratching and peeling. Thermally fused laminate works well.
- Modular components – Cabinets that use interchangeable modular parts allow for more customization.
- Warranties – Better brands offer warranties against defects of 1 year or longer.
- Packaging – Should have detailed labeling and part diagrams. Parts packaged separately prevents damage.
- Easy assembly – Look for cam lock joinery and minimal use of nails, glue and complicated steps.
- Positive reviews – Check reviews and talk to people who have installed the brand.
Are RTA Cabinets Right for Your Kitchen?
RTA cabinets offer an affordable DIY solution, but weigh the pros and cons carefully before choosing them. They work best for:
- Homeowners on a tight budget that still want custom cabinets.
- DIYers with the skills and time for assembly.
- Those wanting to reconfigure or upgrade cabinets regularly.
However, they may not be the best choice if you want:
- A high-end luxury kitchen with premium materials.
- Unique customized cabinets and storage solutions.
- A seamless installation without the headaches of assembling yourself.
- Maximum durability from cabinets that will last decades without wear and tear.
If going the RTA route, thoroughly research brands and quality before purchasing. Pay close attention to construction, materials, warranties, and reviews to get a good product that looks great while also being affordable. Take time assembling and installing properly to maximize their lifespan and performance.
Frequently Asked Questions About RTA Cabinets
What tools do I need to assemble RTA cabinets?
You’ll need basic tools like a drill, screwdriver, level, hammer, wood glue, and clamps. Many brands also include special installation tools. Ensure you have helpers for large cabinets.
How long does it take to assemble RTA kitchen cabinets?
With 1-2 helpers, allow 2-3 days for 20 cabinets. Complex cabinetry with shelves and drawers will take longer than simple boxes.
Can RTA cabinets be made to custom sizes?
Most RTA cabinets cannot be cut down or customized beyond their manufactured sizes. However, filler and decorative panels can help fill gaps.
Are RTA cabinets lower quality than custom cabinets?
On average RTA uses cheaper materials like MDF instead of solid wood. But higher-end RTA brands rival custom cabinets in quality and durability.
Can RTA cabinets be painted or stained?
Yes, with proper preparation and high-quality primers and paints, RTA cabinets can be painted, stained, or re-finished.
RTA kitchen cabinets offer an affordable and customizable solution perfect for DIY-minded homeowners. Just be sure to research specific brands thoroughly and invest time into careful assembly. With smart shopping and diligent installation, RTA cabinets can provide beautiful, functional storage for your kitchen at half the cost of traditional cabinetry. Paying attention to construction, finishes, warranties, and reviews will help identify durable RTA cabinets that match your unique taste and kitchen storage needs.