Ready-to-assemble (RTA) cabinets are a popular option for many homeowners looking to remodel their kitchens or bathrooms on a budget. As the name implies, RTA cabinets come packaged with all the components and hardware needed to assemble them yourself. This allows you to customize your cabinetry while avoiding the high cost of hiring professionals for installation.

What Are the Benefits of RTA Cabinets?

There are several key advantages that make RTA cabinets an attractive choice:

Cost Savings

One of the biggest perks of choosing RTA cabinets is the cost savings. Since you’ll be assembling them yourself, you avoid paying labor fees for installation. RTA cabinets are inherently more budget-friendly than custom cabinetry as well. You can often find quality RTA cabinets for 25-50% less than custom-built alternatives.


Another big advantage of RTA cabinets is the ability to customize. You can choose from a range of sizes, finishes, and configurations to perfectly fit your space. More versatile than stock cabinets, RTA cabinets let you select detailed features like door style, drawer type, and adjustable shelves.


The ready-to-assemble format makes the installation process manageable for DIYers. RTA cabinets come with all the cabinet parts, hardware, and instructions for assembling them. You don’t need to source different components and materials on your own. The assembly process is relatively straightforward too, using basic tools like a drill, screwdriver and wrench.

Quality Materials

Don’t let the DIY format fool you – many RTA cabinets are constructed with quality materials like solid wood frames and plywood drawer boxes. Durability and aesthetic details are comparable to custom cabinetry. Opting for RTA doesn’t mean compromising on looks or longevity.

What Are RTA Cabinets Made Of?

RTA cabinet construction includes several key components:


The cabinet frames form the basic structure and are typically made from solid hardwoods like oak, maple, or hickory for durability. Pine wood frames provide a more economical option. Custom upgrades may use moisture-resistant engineered woods.

Doors and Drawer Fronts

Doors and drawer fronts are commonly made from decorative plywood with a laminate or veneer finish. Pricier RTA cabinets may have solid wood doors and fronts. Glass, metal inserts, or carvings can add style.


Adjustable shelves are often particleboard or plywood. Solid wood or tempered glass shelves upgrade the quality. Sturdy shelf standards and clips allow flexible shelf positions.

Drawer Boxes

Quality drawer boxes make use of plywood sides rather than particleboard for strength. Full-extension drawer glides provide a smooth open/close motion.


Classic brushed nickel knobs and pulls are standard, but many styles and finishes are available – satin nickel, chrome, bronze etc. Upgrade to soft-close hinges/drawer glides.

What Are the Different Cabinet Construction Methods?

RTA cabinets fall under one of three main construction types:

Particleboard Construction

The most affordable construction uses particleboard for cabinet sides, frames, shelves, and drawer boxes. Particleboard is made of wood fragments pressed together with resin. Pros are low cost and uniform sizing. Cons are susceptibility to moisture damage over time.

Plywood Construction

A step up, plywood cabinet construction provides greater structural strength. Plywood panels consist of thin wood veneers glued in alternating grains. Plywood sides, backs, floors, and shelves resist warping better than particleboard.

Solid Wood Construction

Top-tier cabinetry uses solid wood pieces for the sides, frames, and drawers. Although expensive, solid wood offers unmatched strength and beauty. These cabinets can become heirlooms. Common solid woods are oak, hickory, maple, and cherry.

What Are the Different RTA Cabinet Brands?

Many retailers offer competitively priced RTA cabinet lines:

  • IKEA – renowned for affordable, contemporary RTA cabinets made with a particleboard core and acrylic doors/drawer fronts.
  • CabinetDirect – made in the USA, they provide both economy and premium RTA cabinets with solid wood doors.
  • Barker Cabinets – focuses on premium quality with dovetail drawer boxes and furniture-grade finishes.
  • Cabinets To Go – large selection including laminate and wood veneer RTA cabinets. Sophisticated door styles.
  • Ready To Assemble Cabinets – huge choice of RTA cabinets across all budgets. Known for speedy shipping.
  • At Home – in-store brand offering low-cost RTA cabinets in many sizes and configurations.

What Tools Do I Need to Assemble RTA Cabinets?

Assembling RTA cabinets is a relatively straightforward DIY project. Having these essential tools will make the process easier:

  • Power drill and drill bits – for drilling cabinetry pieces and driving screws. A cordless drill allows more flexibility.
  • Screwdrivers – Phillips and slotted screwdrivers to turn screw heads and tighten hardware.
  • Wrench or socket set – for tightening bolt connectors and leveling feet.
  • Level – necessary for checking cabinet boxes are plumb and level as you build. Look for a large, easy-to-read level.
  • Carpenter’s square – ensures cabinet frames meet at proper 90 degree angles.
  • Utility knife – for cutting away packaging and opener cabinet panels.
  • Pencil – mark drill points and where pieces interconnect.
  • Safety gear – gloves, eye protection, knee pads make DIY assembly more comfortable.

What Are the Steps to Assemble RTA Cabinets?

With the right tools and attention to detail, these fundamental steps will lead to successfully assembled cabinets:

1. Review Instructions Thoroughly

Before starting, read the assembly manuals front to back while reviewing the cabinet pieces. Understanding the process from beginning to end will make DIY installation smoother.

2. Prep the Installation Space

Ensure the installation area is clean and empty. Check for level flooring. Address any problem areas beforehand that could impede cabinet fitting.

3. Organize Hardware and Supplies

Separate all fasteners, connectors, drawer glides and shelf pins. Arrange according to the instructions so components are easily accessible when needed.

4. Assemble Cabinet Boxes

Start by constructing the individual cabinet boxes. Affix side panels, top and bottom frames, back panel and face frame. Check each box is square.

5. Install Drawers and Shelves

Mount drawer glides then slide in drawers. Position shelf pins and insert shelving at desired heights in wall and base cabinets.

6. Hang Cabinets Plumb and Level

Using a helper, mount cabinets on the wall securely. Verify they are level side-to-side and front-to-back. Use shims as needed.

7. Join Cabinets Together

Connect cabinets with gables, filler strips and/or screws. The face frames should be flush to form one unified set.

8. Add Doors, Drawer Fronts and Hardware

Attach hinges and hang cabinet doors. Insert drawer fronts and attach knobs/pulls. Test opening and closing. Make any hinge adjustments.

9. Seal and Finish Cabinets

Use silicone caulk to seal edges and gaps. Wipe away excess. Finish with desired paint, stain or glaze. Install end panels and molding.

How Long Does It Take to Assemble RTA Cabinets?

On average, expect RTA cabinet assembly to take 2-3 full days for an entire kitchen. Bathroom vanity cabinet installation is quicker – usually 4-6 hours total. Exact timeframe depends on:

  • Cabinetry ordered – more cabinets mean more assembly time needed.
  • Helper assistance – a second set of hands speeds up the installation.
  • Skill level – beginners may require more time reading directions and fitting pieces.
  • Tools on hand – proper tools like drill, wrenches and level aid efficiency.
  • Prep work – addressing flooring, electrical or plumbing issues adds hours.

Working at a steady, detail-oriented pace allows DIYers to complete most cabinet sets over a dedicated weekend. Avoid feeling rushed during the assembly process.

What Mistakes to Avoid with RTA Cabinet Assembly?

These common missteps can negatively impact your finished cabinets:

  • Forcing pieces together – parts should fit without excessive pressure. Take time to align them properly.
  • Over tightening connectors – tight enough to hold is ideal. Overtightening can strip screw holes.
  • Not checking for level/plumb – letting cabinets sit out-of-line will throw off the entire installation.
  • Wrong hardware usage – be methodical to ensure you use the hardware specified for each cabinet area.
  • Skipping reinforcement – metal corner gussets and L-brackets strengthen the box structure.
  • Misaligned doors – adjusting hinges helps doors hang straight within the opening.
  • No backing support – wall-mounted uppers need attached backing along studs for adequate support.

Staying organized with cabinet pieces and hardware while carefully following the steps in the instructions will help avoid these all-too-common DIY mistakes. Ask for help lifting and fitting cabinets to prevent damage.

Do RTA Cabinets Need to Be Sealed?

Sealing RTA cabinets after installation provides extra moisture protection and a more attractive, cohesive look:

Caulk Gaps

Caulking with silicone minimizes moisture penetration. Carefully run a bead along seams where cabinets meet walls, ceilings and floors. Fill any gaps between adjoining cabinets.

Anchor Backing

Adhering water-resistant backing along the top of wall cabinets adds another barrier layer. Helpful if water seeps through ceiling material above.

Fill Exposed Edges

Filling and sanding any visible raw cabinet edges gives them a polished, finished appearance. Use wood filler that matches your cabinet stain or paint color.

Apply Protective Top Coat

A clear polyurethane or primer/paint coats the cabinet surfaces fully. This seals out external moisture sources from steam, sinks, dishwasher etc.

Install End Panels

For enclosed cabinet ends, cut panels from matching cabinet-box wood and attach. Open box ends can stay unsealed but are less aesthetically appealing.

Proper sealing techniques keep moisture from compromising the structural integrity of your DIY finished cabinets over time.

Can You Change the Layout of RTA Cabinets?

One advantage of RTA cabinets is the ability to alter the original layout. With care, you can modify them to better suit your specific space constraints and storage needs:

  • Remove interior dividers in base cabinets to create wider openings for appliances, shelves etc.
  • Resize doors by trimming their length or width. Maintain even gaps between doors.
  • Add or delete cabinet doors to balance layout appearance. Fill unused hinge holes.
  • Adjust drawer size by cutting drawer box sides, fronts and backs. Keep all parts square.
  • Reposition fixed shelves to accommodate taller/shorter storage. Fill old pin holes.
  • Swap standard hinges for specialty hinges like self-closing or 110° opening.
  • Combine two smaller units to form one larger cabinet section by removing common side panels.

Take measurements, sketch plans, and use power saws to carefully execute desired changes. Minor layout tweaks make DIY RTA cabinets uniquely yours.

Can RTA Cabinets Be Painted?

Absolutely! Painting is one of the simplest ways to change the entire look of assembled RTA cabinets. follow these recommended steps:

1. Remove Doors and Hardware

Detaching the doors, knobs and hinges allows full access to the cabinet boxes for painting. Number pieces to reattach properly later.

2. Clean Surfaces

Wipe down cabinetry with a degreasing cleaner and sand lightly to help paint adhere. Fill any holes/gaps with wood filler.

3. Apply Primer

For best results, use an oil-based primer or one formulated specifically for cabinets. Allow to fully dry.

4. Paint Cabinets

Use a premium quality acrylic latex paint in your desired sheen – satin and semi-gloss are common. Do thin coats allowing drying time between each.

5. Cure Paint

Let painted cabinets cure for several days so paint fully hardens before rehanging doors.

6. Seal with Protective Topcoat

Optional polyurethane or clear enamel layers protect the painted finish from scratches, food splatters and grease.

With good prep work and painting technique, even inexpensive RTA cabinets can take on the upscale style of custom cabinetry.

Can You Add Molding to RTA Cabinets?

Applying trim molding transforms basic RTA cabinets with these aesthetic benefits:

Hides Gaps

Trim strips adjoined at cabinet tops/bottoms and where they meet walls neatly hides any unsightly gaps.

Provides Visual Depth

Molding adds shadow lines and dimensional detailing compared to flat cabinet faces.

Enhances Style

Elegant crown molding atop wall cabinets and decorative trim along base cabinets updates the overall look.

Finishes Edges

Edging end panels and open cabinet sides with coordinating trim gives them a refined, built-in appearance.

Unifies Separate Pieces

Running trim across disparate sections makes them cohere into one premium custom kitchen.

With minimal cutting and fastening, moldings integrate easily on RTA cabinet surfaces to amplify the high-end visual appeal.

Are RTA Cabinets Right for You?

RTA cabinets offer the perfect combination of affordability, customization, and style for many homeowners. If any apply to you, DIY ready-to-assemble cabinets are likely an ideal choice:

  • You’re renovating on a tight budget
  • You don’t want the cost and wait of custom cabinetry
  • You have basic DIY skills and tools
  • You’d like to personally customize cabinets
  • Your kitchen or bath layout is standard size
  • You appreciate the quality of solid wood over veneers
  • You want better cabinets than stock options offer

Carefully ordering, assembling and installing RTA cabinets results in beautiful, functional cabinetry tailored to your space and needs! You avoid overpaying while learning new hands-on skills. Just be sure to realistically gauge your DIY comfort level before committing to large-scale RTA cabinet projects. With realistic expectations about the work involved, almost any homeowner can reap the rewards of ready-to-assemble cabinetry.

What is an RTA Cabinet? – Final Thoughts

RTA cabinets provide a versatile, budget-conscious upgrade option for kitchens, baths, laundries and more. Choosing ready-to-assemble over custom cabinetry cuts costs significantly without sacrificing quality construction and materials. More size, style and finish selections exist than with off-the-shelf cabinetry as well. With proper tools and patience, most homeowners can self-install RTA cabinets with gratifying results. If the idea of DIY cabinet assembly feels daunting, many retailers also offer expert installation services for your RTA purchase. Either route, you wind up with stunning custom-fitted cabinetry for thousands less than traditionally built and installed cabinets.

So if saving money and personalizing cabinets matter for your next remodel, say yes to RTA! Assembling cabinets yourself takes time and elbow grease, but the payoff is beautifully upgraded cabinetry that suits your home ideally. RTA cabinets put custom quality within reach, letting you become designer and installer wrapped into one. When planning a kitchen refresh, be sure to research the ready-to-assemble cabinet options available. Perhaps RTA cabinets are the perfect solution for achieving your dream cabinets on a down-to-earth budget!