Before You Buy Ready-to-Assemble Kitchen Cabinets

Female home improvement store customer examines wooden cabinets

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Ready-to-assemble (RTA) kitchen cabinets offer homeowners an option to save money on kitchen remodeling. The cabinets are delivered in a flat pack along with all the hardware needed for assembly. Because you do the assembling yourself, you can cut costs significantly.

Before you start shopping for new kitchen cabinets, it pays to take some time to learn more about RTA cabinets.

What Are RTA cabinets?

The ready-to-assemble name explains these products in a nutshell. When you order RTA cabinets, all of the parts have been cut to size, holes have been drilled where they needed, and any finishes you requested have been applied. Then the parts are stacked and wrapped. You can bring them home from the store or have them shipped to your home.

You then face the job of assembling and installing the cabinets. They should have instructions included, but these may be mostly drawings, diagrams, and steps with minimal or no written explanations. Some also have a link to watch online videos on how to assemble your cabinets.

Where to Buy RTA Cabinets

You can find RTA cabinets at some big-box stores (IKEA, Home Depot, Lowe's, and Costco), but a much broader selection, including some of better quality, is available online. Buying at a store allows you to interact with the staff, who may be able to help explain the difference in the cabinets available and give advice on your layout. These types of services may also be available at online stores, with some sites having the ability to create a custom layout and see photorealistic renderings of the room.

Getting Good Quality RTA Cabinets

Like pre-assembled cabinets, ready-to-assemble cabinets cover the full spectrum of quality, from poor to very good. You can buy RTA cabinets that are every bit as strong and attractive as anything you find in a kitchen showroom. But you also need to be able to recognize inferior quality. Avoid stapled particleboard drawers, integrated rail drawer guides, and doors made of veneered particleboard or medium density fiberboard (MDF).

The features of a quality cabinet include:

  • Solid wood drawers with dovetail joinery
  • Full-extension drawer guides
  • Doors that have a solid wood frame, with panels either of solid wood or plywood
  • Finishes and coating applied by brush rather than sprayed on

While you can check these in person at a store, you can also request a door sample when buying online. You may have to pay a small refundable deposit and shipping, but this ensures you know what you will be getting if you place an order.

Cost Factors for RTA Cabinets

You can save a substantial amount of money with RTA cabinets as opposed to custom cabinets or assembled cabinets. The savings come in two ways. First, because they come to you disassembled, RTA cabinets can be shipped for less than fully assembled cabinets (they take up less room). Second, because you are taking care of assembly and installation, you will save on labor charges.

Your costs can vary significantly depending on such factors as materials, finish, complexity, and degree of completion. At the low end of the cost spectrum are cabinets with white melamine-coated particleboard cabinet boxes and drawers, flat panel doors, and unfinished elements that you paint yourself.

More expensive options will include veneered plywood cabinet boxes, hardwood face frames, solid wood doors, and dovetailed drawers. Cabinets in odd sizes and with angles can cost more, as can accessories like crown molding.

Kitchen cabinets are often priced by the linear foot, which is simply the horizontal distance along the wall that will be filled with cabinets. The linear foot cost typically includes both upper (wall) and bottom (base) cabinets in one price. Depending on the mix of low-cost and expensive options you choose, kitchen cabinets for a full kitchen can range from roughly $250 per linear foot to $750 or more.

Get price quotes from Ikea and from two or three other suppliers. You might have to price different suppliers for the cabinet boxes, doors, and hardware. RTA cabinet suppliers are usually helpful in suggesting sources for the other materials, and you should be able to do this work online.

Check for the availability of replacement parts for your cabinets. If something breaks or is damaged in assembly, awaiting a replacement part might delay the contractors you are using for the rest of your kitchen remodel job. If it breaks years down the road, you will want to be able to replace a part easily.

Assembling RTA Cabinets

Ready-to-assemble cabinets have become so popular in part because they are so easy to put together. Most products need nothing more than glue, wood dowels, and screws, all of which should be supplied with the cabinets, along with clear instructions. Cabinets, drawers, and doors are predrilled for attaching hardware and hinges. Often the only tool you will need for assembly is a screwdriver.

However, you may want to refer to online videos showing how your cabinets can be assembled. A review of these can help prevent common assembly mistakes.