Modular Vs Custom Cabinets

29 MAY, 2013 BY JIM HILL
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 on the far east.

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 if 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 Cabinet 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.

In summary, the differences between Custom and Modular Cabinets are visible in appearance, obvious in quality, and the difference in expected lifetime is triple, with Custom Cabinets often being kept in the home and simply refinished after generations of useful service.
Cabinet Doors 101: measure openings, install hinges, hanging and alignment.

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