Custom vs. Modular Cabinets: The Benefits of Each
The demand for new cabinets in new housing and remodeling is addressed by two very different manufacturing approaches.
One approach is to optimize manufacturing efficiency by limiting the sizes manufactured and maximizing employee productivity. This approach is referred to as Modular Cabinets.
The Modular Cabinet manufacturer usually makes the cabinet boxes with widths starting at six-inches and increasing in two-inch steps. This maximizes employee productivity by manufacturing one cabinet box size one shift and another size the next shift.
While working on an assembly line making 10,000 of the same thing might not be the most challenging or rewarding of jobs, productivity certainly increases and labor costs are reduced.
The modular manufacturer simply adjusts his schedule to maintain a readily available inventory of cabinet boxes in his warehouse.
Modular Cabinet Manufacturers usually offer a selection of Cabinet Doors to give the finished Modular Cabinet a more Custom look.
Entry-level home builders typically install Modular Cabinets. These cabinets are also stocked and sold by all the Big Box Stores across the country.
For the past several years, Modular Cabinet manufacturing has been moving to Asia, with China becoming the largest manufacturer. American manufacturers have been finding it impossible to compete with the lower labor and regulatory costs found in Asia. Outsourcing manufacturing overseas may be good for the companies that sell modular cabinets. However, aside from keeping costs low (for now), outsourcing does little to ensure quality or produce innovation. Keep those potential drawbacks in mind when debating modular vs. custom built cabinets.
Custom vs. Modular Manufacturing
The second approach to manufacturing cabinets is referred to as Custom Cabinet Manufacturing.
Unlike Modular Cabinets coming in 2-inch increments, Custom Cabinets are manufactured to the actual size needed.
Also unlike Modular Cabinets, Custom Cabinets are made in the United States by thousands of Custom Cabinet Shops. These shops typically have between ten and fifty employees who design and build each cabinet to the exact size requested in the design plans. If the architect requires cabinets in 1/16″ increments, that is what the Custom Cabinet Maker builds. Cabinet Makers in Custom Cabinet Shops tend to be highly skilled, and well paid, professionals with years of experience mastering their profession. These Cabinet Makers are not tied to an individual workbench, but tend to move between many skilled positions within the manufacturing process. The Custom Cabinet Shop uses a creative approach which utilizes the skills and experience of the Cabinet Maker, as opposed to an assembly line which stresses repetitive action to compensate for the lack of motivation and inexperience of the minimum-wage workforce.
Most high-end Home Builders and Furniture manufacturers utilize Custom Cabinet Makers because of the large difference in overall quality of the cabinets.
The quality differences are usually visible and include differences in workmanship, wood grain and color matching, sanding and finish quality, overall appearance, and reliability.
Custom Cabinet Makers purchase woods harvested in the United States, and almost 100% of American woods are grown and harvested using sustainable processes.
This is not usually the case with woods harvested in Asia or South America.
Another major difference between Modular and Custom Cabinets is with the doors installed on the cabinets. Modular Cabinets from Asia have doors made in Asia. These doors should be expected to show the same levels of quality as the cabinets.
Modular Cabinet Door quality levels are generally lower, sanding and finishing are less stringent, an unskilled or under-aged workforce is commonly recruited, and no importance is given to the sustainability of the woods used or the harvesting methods.
American Custom Cabinet Shops, on the other hand, typically purchase Kitchen Cabinet Doors from a few large manufacturers, or the hundreds of smaller manufacturers.
These dedicated Custom Cabinet Door Manufacturers offer Cabinet Doors and Drawer Fronts and Replacement Cabinet Doors in dozens to thousands of cabinet door styles, built in every sustainable wood type that grows in the United States or Canada.
Major Cabinet Door Manufacturers are producing thousands of doors per shift using skilled labor and most use computerized machinery to guarantee accuracies modular manufacturers simply cannot match. Modern American door manufacturers will measure door size tolerances with accuracies within 15-thousandths of an inch. Door thickness will be uniform across the door within 5-thousandths of an inch, and sanding quality is considered by cabinet makers to be stain ready.
Thanks to advances in technology and woodworking techniques, custom cabinetry has never been a more compelling option. Not only are they more precise than the custom cabinets of the past, ensuring an exceptional fit wherever the doors hang, they are also less expensive than before. Custom cabinet makers can now produce high-quality, highly-customized cabinets at such speed and scale that they often rival the cost of modular cabinets.
Selecting Your Cabinets
Should you choose modular cabinets or custom cabinets? Without a doubt, custom cabinets are the nicer option, but that doesn’t mean they’re ideal for everyone. Some contractors, designers, and homeowners are looking for something cheap, simple, and straightforward, which does a pretty good job describing the benefits of modular cabinets. Don’t expect to be impressed, but don’t expect to be inconvenienced either (unless you can’t find the right size).
Realistically, cost is the only thing keeping everyone from ordering custom cabinets. But they may be far less expensive than you expect, especially if you’re only ordering custom doors. Custom doors on top of existing cabinets makes everything look new even if most of the cabinet remains the same. Custom doors empower you to change and upgrade the look of cabinets for a price even lower than what new modular cabinets cost.
At The Door Stop, we make custom cabinet doors both affordable and accessible. Browse online now to get a sense of the savings and selection we offer. Take some time to learn about our easy ordering process as well. Finally, drop us a line if you have questions about anything.
Here is a video with tips on Measuring cabinet openings, Finishing and Hanging your doors, and using hinge adjustment for final alignment of the doors. Cabinet Doors 101: How to measure openings, install hinges, hang and align doors.
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