Ready-to-assemble (RTA) cabinets, also known as flat pack or knockdown cabinets, have become increasingly popular in recent years for homeowners and contractors looking for an affordable and customizable cabinetry solution. RTA cabinets provide an alternative to traditional preassembled cabinetry by shipping unassembled cabinet components directly to the end user for assembly.
What Does RTA Stand For?
RTA stands for “ready-to-assemble.” RTA cabinets are shipped as individual cabinet parts that require assembly once they arrive at your home. The term RTA is used interchangeably with other names for flat pack, knockdown, or kit cabinets that require assembly.
Key Features of RTA Cabinets
RTA cabinets provide the following key features and benefits:
- Cost Savings – RTA cabinets are generally 20-50% cheaper than comparable preassembled cabinets since the end user provides the labor for assembly and installation. The knockdown shipping also reduces shipping costs.
- Convenience – The disassembled shipping allows the cabinets to fit easily through tight spaces and doorways that might not accommodate fully assembled cabinet boxes. RTA cabinets are lighter and easier to maneuver as well.
- Customization – RTA cabinets can be customized with a wide range of sizes, wood species, finishes, and accessories. Semi-custom or full custom cabinet configurations are available from many RTA retailers.
- Quality Materials – RTA cabinets are typically constructed using quality plywood boxes rather than lower-grade particle board. Many feature solid wood doors and drawer fronts. High-end cabinets have dovetail joinery.
- Easy Assembly – Manufacturers design RTA cabinets for easy assembly by the DIY homeowner or contractor. Cabinets use cam locks, dowels, and other simple fasteners. Minimal tools are required.
What Are the Components of RTA Cabinets?
RTA cabinetry ships as several key component parts that require assembly:
- Cabinet Boxes – The main structural part of the cabinet. Made of plywood or hardwood. The cabinet parts fit together using dowels, cam locks and screws.
- Doors and Drawer Fronts – Front facing parts attached to the boxes after assembly. Doors are attached with hinges. Drawers slide into assembled boxes.
- Additional Parts – RTA cabinets also include shelves, drawer boxes and trays, end panels, toe kicks, crowns, light rails, valances and other accessories.
- Hardware – Cam locks, shelf pins, hinges, drawer slides all allow assembly of components. Hardware is typically included.
Are RTA Cabinets Difficult to Assemble?
Assembling and installing RTA cabinets is a fairly straightforward process for an experienced DIYer. The flat pack cabinets are designed for easy assembly with simple tools like a drill, screwdriver and wrench for tightening bolts. Here are some tips for smooth and successful RTA cabinet assembly:
- Carefully review included instructions before and during assembly. Follow all steps in order.
- Confirm all components and hardware are included and undamaged before starting.
- Use provided hardware like cam locks and dowels to tightly join cabinet parts.
- Attach doors and drawers after the cabinet boxes are secured together. Adjust hinges for proper door alignment.
- Take care when tightening bolts and screws. Do not overtighten.
- Use a helper for large cabinets or when lifting into place. Handle panels carefully during the assembly process.
- Assemble cabinets on a smooth, clean and padded surface to avoid damage.
While RTA assembly takes some time and effort, the quality finished product provides a major sense of accomplishment for the DIY homeowner. Patience and carefully following directions will result in beautiful new cabinets.
What Tools Do I Need to Assemble RTA Cabinets?
Assembling RTA cabinets is designed for the DIYer and requires just a small assortment of basic tools:
- Power drill – An electric drill allows driving screws and bolts efficiently. A cordless drill allows maneuverability. Have charger and extra batteries on hand.
- Drill bits – Included cam locks require specific size drill bits the manufacturer will specify. A drill bit set covers common sizes.
- Screwdrivers – Both a Phillips and flat head screwdriver. Make sure they fit tightly into screw heads.
- Wrench or socket set – For tightening bolts and nuts by hand or on the drill.
- Utility knife – Helpful for opening boxes, cutting dowels or modifying cabinets if needed per instructions.
- Level – Confirm cabinets are level during assembly and after installing. A small level is easiest to handle.
- Tape measure – Essential for measuring for cutting any specialty pieces to fit your specific space.
- Safety equipment – Safety glasses and gloves are recommended when using power tools.
Having the right tools nearby will ensure an efficient and smooth cabinet assembly process. Investing in quality tools makes the installation easier and minimizes frustration.
What Are the Benefits of Choosing RTA Cabinets?
RTA cabinets provide homeowners, contractors, and designers with many attractive benefits:
- The DIY assembly results in significant savings over buying preassembled cabinets. RTA cabinets are 20-50% cheaper than comparable pre-built cabinets.
- Disassembled shipping allows moving cabinets into place in tight spaces. The lighter boxes are easier to handle than fully assembled cabinets.
- Quicker to ship and easier to transport, saving time and delivery costs. The DIY assembly also avoids relying on professional cabinet installers.
- RTA cabinets can be ordered in many configurations with custom sizing, finishes, storage options and hardware. Modify to your exact specifications.
- RTA cabinets feature quality plywood construction and solid wood doors and drawers. Many even have furniture-grade cabinetry with dovetail joinery.
Great for Remodels
- Disassembled cabinets make remodeling kitchens and bathrooms simpler when space is tight. Custom RTA cabinets can create built-ins and unique storage options.
Ideal for Contractors
- Contractors save time and money with quick RTA cabinet installations compared to custom cabinetry. Faster project timelines mean contractors can take more jobs.
RTA cabinetry combines convenience, customization, quality and affordability. The assembling process is a small tradeoff for the many benefits.
What Are the Downsides to RTA Cabinets?
While RTA cabinetry provides an affordable DIY-friendly alternative to traditional cabinets, there are some potential drawbacks to consider:
- Assembly Required – You’ll need to set aside plenty of time and space for assembly, with an attention to detail. Mistakes can happen if instructions are not followed properly.
- Less Sturdy – Pre-assembled cabinets tend to be heavier and more rigid since they use more bracing and stronger joinery in the manufacturing process.
- Particle Board – Lower-priced RTA lines often use more particle board instead of plywood, which is less durable and water-resistant over time.
- Lessened Lifespan – On average, RTA cabinet longevity is about 10-15 years versus 20+ years for pre-assembled custom cabinetry before showing signs of wear.
- Hardware Issues – Improper assembly can lead to doors and drawers that won’t align properly, especially over time as hardware loosens.
- Damaged Pieces – The shipping process and assembling steps increase the chances of nicks, dents or misdrilled holes during the assembly and installation process.
- Missing Pieces – It’s possible to end up with missing hardware, incorrect pieces or shortage of materials if inventories are mismanaged at the factory.
For most homeowners, the minor shortcomings of RTA cabinets are outweighed by the positive benefits, cost savings and convenience of installing your own cabinets. Carefully inspecting and assembling components minimizes many of these disadvantages.
What Should I Look for When Comparing RTA Brands?
Here are key factors to consider when comparing different manufacturers and product lines of RTA cabinetry:
- Quality of Materials – Plywood construction is superior to particle board. Solid wood doors are preferable to veneers. Dovetail joinery adds strength at connecting points.
- Hardware – Look for sturdy European hinges, soft-closing doors and full-extension drawer glides from name brands like Blum. Avoid cheaper hardware.
- Reputation – Choose established RTA brands with many positive customer reviews about their products and customer service.
- Selection – Look for a wide range of styles, colors, storage accessories and cabinet sizes to customize your space.
- Warranty – Opt for at least a 1 year warranty. Several reputable companies offer lifetime warranties on RTA cabinets.
- Certifications – Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association (KCMA) certification indicates standards for structural integrity have been met.
- Price – Compare pricing on similar sized cabinets and configurations. Consider cost versus quality. Cheapest is not always best.
Doing thorough research enables finding the best balance of quality, selection, and affordability when ordering RTA cabinetry for your unique needs.
How Much Assembly is Required for RTA Cabinets?
Assembling RTA cabinets entails several key stages of assembly, though the exact steps can vary based on manufacturer instructions:
- Cabinet box assembly – The cabinet components like sides, front, back, top and bottom are screwed and cam locked together first to create the basic cabinet box structure. Shelves are installed into the box as well.
- Door and drawer attachment – Doors are hung on hinges that are pre-attached to the cabinet box. Drawers are built then slid into place in the cabinet boxes.
- Joining cabinets together – Individual cabinets are screwed into each other through the box walls or into the floor and wall for a seamless row of cabinets.
- Accessory installation – Additional pieces like crown molding, valances, and end panels are measured, cut and attached with finishing nails, screws or glue.
- Adjustments and touch ups – Doors and drawers are adjusted to ensure proper alignment and full closure. Fill any small gaps or holes. Touch up paint if needed.
The assembly process typically takes a few hours per cabinet, not including installation. Having an extra person simplifies the process. Following detailed steps in the manufacturer’s instructions and taking your time results in professional looking finished cabinets.
What are the Different Levels of Assembly?
RTA cabinets are available in different levels of assembly to accommodate the skills and preferences of the end user:
- Cabinets arrive completely assembled, needing only installation. This is closest to having professional installation, but without cost savings.
- The cabinet boxes come assembled and just require doors, drawers and accessories to be attached upon delivery. Minimal assembly.
- Cabinet face frames come pre-attached to the boxes which need to be joined together. More assembly than pre-assembled.
- All cabinet components ship unassembled in a flat box. Must be fully assembled but provides the most cost savings.
- Kits include all the cabinet parts, hardware and instructions but requires cutting and drilling cabinet materials yourself before assembly. Very labour intensive option.
Choosing partial to fully assembled cabinets costs more but requires less expertise and effort during install. Opt for full RTA to maximize cost savings if you are comfortable assembling the cabinets yourself.
Do I Need Cabinet Assembly Services?
Since RTA cabinets ship as unassembled components, many homeowners wonder if they need to hire a cabinet assembly service instead of taking on the DIY project. Here are some factors to help decide:
Skill Level – Assembling cabinets requires using power tools, interpreting instructions, attention to detail and patience. If any of these are concerns, a quality assembly service may be worth the added cost.
Time Requirements – Completely assembling an entire kitchen of RTA cabinets can take 20 hours or more. Factor in your available free time before committing to saving money assembling yourself.
Project Scale – Large projects with multiple cabinets are more complex. Small projects or replacing just a few cabinets is likely manageable as a DIY endeavor.
Physical Abilities – Cabinet boxes can be bulky and heavy. Lifting them requires strength and mobility. Hiring assembly help may be a better solution than risking injuries.
Professional Results – Skilled assemblers and carpenters will pay closer attention to detail to ensure cabinets function and appear professionally installed.
Evaluating your specific scenario helps decide if you should take on RTA cabinet installation yourself or leave it to the professionals. Many find the satisfaction of completing the project themselves worth the demands of assembling RTA cabinets.
Can I Get RTA Cabinets Installed Professionally?
For those wanting the affordability of RTA cabinets but not interested in tackling the assembly and installation, hiring a professional is an excellent solution. Professional installers offer the following services:
- Handle the cabinet unboxing, inventory, organization and inspection of all the RTA components to ensure everything is in order before starting.
- Assemble the cabinets according to the manufacturer’s instructions, paying attention to properly aligning doors and drawers.
- Seamlessly integrate RTA cabinetry with any existing cabinetry using trim pieces and covering any transition gaps.
- Properly install the assembled cabinets securely into place, shimming and leveling appropriately.
- Apply desired finish treatments like paint or stain matching existing cabinet finishes.
- Add final details like crown molding, cabinet hardware or lighting during the installation.
Hiring a trained cabinet installer ensures your RTA investment comes together seamlessly as the beautiful focal point of your kitchen or bathroom. Be sure to see examples of past RTA installation projects when selecting an assembly professional.
How Much do RTA Cabinets Cost Compared to Other Options?
On average, RTA cabinets cost between 20-50% less than comparable preassembled cabinets you would purchase through a kitchen designer or home improvement retailer. Here is a breakdown:
- RTA cabinets – $80 – $300 per cabinet
- Stock cabinets – $200 – $600 per cabinet
- Semi-custom cabinets – $350 – $1000 per cabinet
- Custom cabinets – $500+ per cabinet
Of course, many factors affect actual costs like brand, materials, size, features and more. RTA provides the biggest upfront cost savings, but the tradeoff is investing your own time into assembly rather than paying for expert assembly. Stock or semi-custom pre-assembled cabinets cost more but require much less time and effort to install.
Which Brands of RTA Cabinets Are the Best Quality?
Based on product quality, selection and positive customer reviews, here are some of the best RTA cabinet brands:
- Canyon Creek Cabinet Company – Wide range of classic to contemporary styles constructed from solid wood. Lifetime warranty.
- Barker Cabinets – Offer modern, transitional and traditional collections. Great variety at lower price points.
- Cabinet Joint – Affordable prices with huge choice of finishes and storage accessories. Good for contractors.
- Woodhaven – Traditional styled cabinets known for sturdy all-wood construction and dovetail drawers.
- Kabinart – Modern and clean designs. Known for excellent packaging of components which minimizes damages.
- Schuler Cabinets – Classic to contemporary styles. Known for high-quality materials like solid wood doors and drawers.
- Hampton Bay – Carried at Home Depot. Offers affordable standard sizes, great for small spaces or DIYers on a budget.
Do thorough comparison shopping online to find the best RTA brand meeting your specific kitchen or bathroom needs and budget.
Should I Choose Stock, Semi-Custom or Custom RTA Cabinets?
RTA cabinets are available as stock, semi-custom or full custom designs. Here’s an overview of the differences:
Stock RTA Cabinets
- Limited sizes but offer the most cost savings
- Pre-configured common cabinet footprints can’t be modified
- Limited cabinet door styles and colors
- Good choice for small or simple kitchen layouts
Semi-Custom RTA Cabinets
- Modifiable widths, heights and depths
- Large selection of door styles and finishes
- Add accessories like roll-outs or wine racks
- Ideal balance of flexibility and affordability
Custom RTA Cabinets
- Built fully to your specifications, including unique sizes and layouts
- Personalize with wide spectrum of specialty features
- Greatest cost but ultimate in customization
- Great for complex kitchens and built-ins
The level of customization needed for your space and budget helps determine whether stock, semi-custom or full custom RTA cabinetry is the best fit.many basic home kitchens and bathrooms are well served by affordable stock RTA cabinets.
What Kitchen Projects are RTA Cabinets Best Suited For?
RTA cabinets are a suitable cabinetry solution for many kitchen configurations and circumstances:
- Stock RTA cabinets come in compact footprints to maximize tiny kitchens. Custom sizing also easily accommodates odd nooks or corners.
Budget Kitchen Updates
- The cost savings of RTA makes minor kitchen remodels or freshening up outdated cabinets very affordable.
- RTA cabinets allow improving rental properties attractively without overspending, since cabinets may incur wear and tear from tenants.
DIY Kitchen Remodels
- Homeowners who want to take on kitchen projects themselves appreciate the ability to install RTA cabinets versus hiring a carpenter.
- RTA cabinetry helps keep major kitchen overhauls and remodels within budget compared to custom cabinetry.
Kitchen Cabinets in Basements & Garages