Ready-to-assemble (RTA) cabinets, also known as flat pack or knockdown cabinets, are a widely popular option for kitchen and bathroom remodeling projects. As the name implies, RTA cabinets come unassembled and require some installation work before they are ready to use. Despite the assembly requirement, RTA cabinets offer several benefits that make them an appealing choice for many homeowners and remodelers.
What are RTA Cabinets?
RTA cabinets are shipped as individual cabinet components that must be put together to form the finished cabinet box. The cabinet parts consist of:
- Pre-cut wood or composite side, top, and bottom panels
- Cabinet doors and drawers
- Hardware such as hinges and drawer slides
- Assembly instructions and hardware such as screws and connectors
The cabinet panels, doors, and drawers come with pre-drilled holes and are designed to fit together using simple tools like a screwdriver. Some assembly is required to join the cabinet parts together into a finished cabinet. The amount of assembly can vary based on the specific RTA cabinet brand and style selected.
Once assembled, RTA cabinets are structurally the same as pre-assembled cabinetry you would purchase from a home improvement store or custom cabinet maker. The main difference is RTA cabinets ship disassembled in a flat box to save on shipping costs and to make them easier for homeowners to transport and install on their own.
- RTA cabinets ship disassembled with all the necessary parts and hardware included
- They require assembly to join the cabinet components into a finished cabinet
- When assembled, RTA cabinets function just like any other cabinet box
Benefits of Choosing RTA Cabinets
RTA cabinets have grown in popularity in recent years, accounting for over 50% of cabinet sales in the US. There are several reasons homeowners and remodelers choose RTA cabinets over other options:
One of the biggest advantages of RTA cabinets is the cost savings compared to custom or pre-assembled cabinets. Since RTA cabinets ship disassembled, manufacturers are able to save on shipping and packaging costs. These savings are passed on to the consumer, making RTA cabinets up to 40% less expensive than other cabinetry.
RTA cabinets are especially budget-friendly for small kitchens and bathrooms. The cost per cabinet is lower than custom cabinets, even when you factor in the assembly labor.
Material and Style Options
Another benefit of RTA cabinets is the wide range of materials and styles to choose from. Many RTA brands offer cabinets in wood species like oak, maple, and hickory as well as trendy painted finishes. Door styles run the gamut from simple shaker to elaborate raised panels and inset cabinetry.
With the variety available through major retailers and online outlets, RTA cabinets can mimic the look of custom cabinets at a fraction of the price. Options for cabinet storage and organization features like roll out trays and spice pull outs help maximize kitchen and bathroom functionality.
Easy Transport and Installation
The knocked-down format of RTA cabinets makes them much easier to transport and install compared to bulky, pre-assembled cabinets. The disassembled cabinets fit into standard vehicles for transport from the retailer. Lightweight cabinet boxes are easier to lift and install than heavy, fully assembled cabinets.
Homeowners comfortable with basic tools can usually handle RTA cabinet assembly on their own. For those who want assistance, third party cabinet installers can be hired just for the cabinet assembly and installation labor. The end result is custom-looking cabinets without the hassles and high cost of working directly with a cabinet maker.
Key Takeaways on RTA Cabinet Benefits:
- Lower cost than custom or pre-assembled cabinets
- Wide selection of materials, finishes, and organizational features
- Disassembled format simplifies transport and installation
What to Look for When Buying RTA Cabinets
While RTA cabinets offer clear price and convenience benefits, it is important to choose carefully when buying. Paying attention to cabinet construction, hardware, and finish will help ensure your RTA cabinets stand the test of time.
Wood Species and Materials
For painted cabinets, composite wood products like MDF and melamine provide a stable, consistent base for the painted finish. Solid hardwood species are preferable for stained RTA cabinets. Look for cabinets made from durable woods like oak, maple, hickory, or cherry.
The wood should show minimal signs of defects on the exposed cabinet parts. A plywood cabinet box will be stronger than particleboard or MDF. Dovetail joinery on drawer boxes indicates quality construction.
Cabinet Doors and Drawers
Check that doors and drawers align properly when installed and open/close smoothly without rubbing. Quality drawer slides should allow drawers to open fully and support heavier contents.
Look for full overlay cabinet doors that fully cover the cabinet face frame for a seamless, built-in look. The door hinges should provide enough adjustment to properly align and space doors.
Soft-close hinges are worth the upgrade to prevent slamming and give a luxury feel. Durable finishes on doors and drawers prevent chipping, scratching, and fading.
Hardware and Accessories
Look for cabinets with fully integrated hardware. Drawers and cabinets should have integrated pulls or provide matching hardware options.
Accessories like roll out trays, tip out bins, and other storage organization features add functionality. Try to choose cabinets with matching interior finishes and organization options.
Packaging and Instructions
Carefully packaged cabinets show attention to quality and arrive undamaged. Look for clear labeling of cabinet parts, detailed instructions, and all hardware/fasteners accounted for. Carefully go through the instructions before beginning installation.
Online customer reviews can provide feedback on the packaging, instructions, and ease of assembly for specific RTA cabinet brands.
RTA Cabinet Shopping Checklist:
- High quality materials and joinery
- Alignment, fit, and smooth function of doors and drawers
- Sturdy hardware and matching accessories
- Quality packaging and detailed instructions
How to Assemble RTA Cabinets
Assembling RTA cabinets is a project a home DIYer can tackle with proper planning and care. Follow these tips for a smooth RTA cabinet assembly process:
- Power drill/driver, hammer
- Detailed assembly instructions
- All provided hardware and fasteners
- Tools like screwdriver, wrenches, wood glue
- Level, stud finder, pencil
Take inventory of all the cabinet parts and hardware against the instructions before starting. Carefully read through all the steps before beginning.
Set up a clean, spacious work area with good lighting and access to outlets for tools. Lay out parts in order and group hardware. Open the boxes as you need them so you don’t mix up parts from different cabinets.
Keep the assembly area neat and organized. Having adequate workspace makes the process much easier.
Start by assembling each individual cabinet box before attaching any doors or drawers. Follow the instructions precisely, using clamps as needed to hold pieces flush and stationary.
Drill pilot holes to prevent splitting, pre-drill for hardware, and avoid overtightening screws. Let glue fully cure before stressing joints.
Doors and Drawers
Once the cabinet boxes are together, attach any drawer slides, shelves, hinges, and other hardware. Add doors, adjusting as needed for proper fit and smooth motion. Confirm drawers slide freely without rubbing.
Set cabinets in place, shim as needed to level, and anchor to wall studs. Use filler strips and caulk for clean transitions between cabinetry and walls. Add end panels, toe kicks, and molding for a built-in look.
- Study instructions thoroughly before starting
- Use spacious, organized workspace
- Assemble boxes fully before adding doors/drawers
- Adjust hardware for proper fit and smooth motion
- Anchor securely to walls at stud locations
Finishing RTA Cabinets
Many RTA cabinets have a durable finish applied at the factory. But unfinished cabinets allow you to apply your own custom stain or paint for added personalization. Follow these finishing steps:
Prep Unfinished Cabinets
Wipe down with mild detergent and sand lightly with fine grit sandpaper. Fill any holes or imperfections with wood filler and sand smooth. Thorough surface prep results in better adhesion.
For stained cabinets, apply wood conditioner before staining for more even absorption. Carefully apply stains in the direction of the wood grain using a brush or cloth. Allow proper drying time between coats.
Finish with a protective sealer or topcoat like polyurethane varnish for enhanced stain protection.
For painted cabinets, use primer specially formulated for laminates and wood. Apply with a high-quality brush and along the wood grain. Sand lightly between coats for a smooth final finish.
Use cabinetry paint in a satin, eggshell, or semi-gloss sheen for easy cleaning and durability. Carefully follow the paint manufacturer’s instructions for best results.
- Proper prep work allows stains/paints to adhere uniformly
- Apply stains and paints in direction of wood grain
- Allow proper drying time between finish coats
- Protect stained cabinets with a sealer or varnish
- Use cabinetry paint in a durable sheen like satin or semi-gloss
Pros and Cons of RTA Cabinets
RTA cabinets offer homeowners an affordable cabinet option that can still deliver style and functionality. But are they right for your kitchen or bath remodel? Consider these pros and cons:
- Significant cost savings over other cabinet options
- Convenient home delivery with easy installation
- Wide selection of sizes, materials, and configurations
- Can mimic custom cabinets for a fraction of the price
- Ideal for small kitchens or bathrooms on a tight budget
- Require time and effort for assembly
- Variability in quality between different brands
- Limited customization compared to true custom cabinets
- Can’t see and inspect prior to purchase
- Still requires careful installation for proper alignment
For many homeowners, the upfront cost savings outweigh the assembly and installation effort required. But carefully inspect RTA cabinets prior to purchase and factor in your DIY skills. RTA cabinets offer the biggest value for more basic kitchen or bath remodels.
Are RTA Cabinets Right for Your Project?
Ready-to-assemble cabinets provide a budget-friendly option to replace worn kitchen or bath cabinetry with minimal professional installation required. Here are a few signs RTA cabinets may be the right choice:
- You have basic DIY skills and tools
- Your existing layout doesn’t require significant modification
- You want to update cabinet finishes or storage functionality
- Your budget is limited for a kitchen or bath remodel
- You want convenience of home delivery and installation
However, RTA cabinets may not be the best option for extensive remodels requiring complex cabinetry or high levels of customization. If maximizing storage in unique spaces is critical or you want truly custom-built cabinetry, RTA cabinets likely won’t provide the specialized solutions needed.
Carefully measure existing spaces and develop an installation plan before purchasing RTA cabinets. Confirm you have the skills, time, and workspace to tackle assembly and installation. With proper planning and effort, RTA cabinets can help create a beautiful, functional kitchen or bath without breaking the budget.
Frequently Asked Questions About RTA Cabinets
RTA cabinets provide a versatile, affordable cabinetry option for homeowners and remodelers. But you may still have some questions if you’re considering RTA cabinets. Here are answers to some of the most common RTA cabinet FAQs:
Are RTA cabinets low quality?
While some low-end RTA cabinets do exist, many major brands offer high-quality construction and finishes. Carefully inspect materials, joinery, hardware, and packaging when buying. Top brands like Kraftmaid, Hampton Bay, and Ameriwood make durable RTA cabinets. With good care, quality RTA cabinets can last 15-20 years.
How difficult is RTA cabinet assembly?
RTA cabinet assembly does require some DIY skills, tools, time, and workspace. But most major brands design cabinets for simplified assembly following detailed instructions. With proper planning, organizing hardware, and taking care not to force parts, RTA cabinet assembly can be manageable for an experienced DIYer. Be sure to set aside ample time.
Can I get RTA cabinets customized?
RTA cabinet options are more limited than fully custom cabinetry. But many brands offer customizable elements like:
- Door styles
- Stain/paint colors
- Storage accessories
You can also often adjust cabinet dimensions and add decorative trim and hardware. Just know that extensive customization can diminish the cost benefit of RTA cabinets.
What size cabinets are easiest to assemble?
Base cabinets and smaller wall cabinets are easiest for RTA assembly. The lighter weight allows easier handling of parts during assembly. Larger cabinets like full-height pantry cabinets take more time and effort. Consider hiring help for assembly if your kitchen uses numerous large RTA cabinets.
How are RTA cabinets for bathrooms?
Bathroom vanity cabinets are an ideal application for RTA cabinetry. Smaller bathroom cabinets simplify the assembly steps. The cost savings help stretch tight bathroom remodel budgets. Just be sure to buy high moisture-resistant finishes to withstand humidity. Confirm vanities will fit existing plumbing locations before purchasing.
Do I need professional installation?
One of the benefits of RTA cabinets is the ability to install without hiring professionals, saving on labor costs. But some choose to hire help for part or all of the process:
- Assembly – Assistance putting cabinets together
- Installation – Hanging cabinets, leveling, and integrating moldings
Even just hiring help for installation can be worthwhile for those lacking DIY experience. Home improvement stores may offer installation services packaged with cabinet purchases.
RTA cabinets provide a versatile option for maintaining storage functionality at a reasonable price point. Taking the time to properly assemble and install RTA cabinetry enables creating a beautiful, personalized kitchen or bath remodel. With realistic expectations about the work involved, quality RTA cabinets can be a smart choice for many homeowners.
RTA or ready-to-assemble cabinets provide an affordable, customizable cabinetry option ideal for home DIYers. Major benefits like lower costs and easier installation make RTA cabinets a popular choice for kitchen and bathroom remodels, especially when working with tight budgets or smaller spaces. With proper selection of durable, quality components and adequate planning for assembly and installation, RTA cabinets can deliver beautiful finished results indistinguishable from more expensive cabinetry.
Carefully following the manufacturer’s instructions for assembly is critical, along with setting up a spacious, organized workspace. While some level of DIY skill and effort is required, RTA cabinet assembly is manageable for most homeowners when they have the right tools and patience. Finishing options like staining or painting allow for further personalization.
For those lacking the skills or time for assembly and installation, hiring professional assistance just for those project phases remains far more economical than fully custom cabinetry. With the wide selection available through home improvement retailers and online sellers, RTA cabinets make it easier than ever to affordably rejuvenate your living spaces with updated, functional cabinetry.