This article will explore cabinet doors, how they are made, the different methods of machining and assembly, the various woods used in different applications, and the types of finish used to protect and extend the life of the doors.
Cabinet doors have existed from the first-time doors were added to the shelves that lined the cabin walls. Early designs evolved from burlap curtains and animal skins, to crude wood planks.
Over time these wood planks began to look more like today's cabinet doors, with design variations starting to appear. Many hundreds of years ago, different designs became signature trademarks of regions or times.
During this evolution cabinet door designs started to take different looks depending on the intended use. Doors for kitchens moved into a functional stage while those for storage of valuables, and furniture became much more ornate. This continues today where doors used on Entertainment Centers often feature a complex design, while bathroom doors are more functional.
But, regardless of world region or specific design, considerations for changes in moisture are always calculated and implemented during the manufacturing process.
How moisture content and changes in humidity relate to cabinet door life. In order to understand the reasons behind cabinet door designs, it's helpful to understand how wood reacts to moisture.
When humidity increases, the moisture content of wood will also increase.
This increase in moisture content will result in the wood expanding.
But the expansion is not equal in all directions.
Wood direction (and expansion) can be identified as "with the grain" (height) shown at left as "A Height Expansion".
And "against the grain" (width) shown at right as "B Width Expansion". The Dash-lines indicate how wood will expand as humidity increases.
For a given increase in moisture, Width will increase by 8-12 times more than length, depending on wood type.
How cabinet doors are designed to allow for moisture changes. These pictures show the components that make up a standard cabinet door and highlights the raised panel.
From the expansion example shown above it becomes clear that if the panel were to expand, the frame of the door would be exposed to expansive pressures from the panel's increasing in width.
Without planning for moisture change, the panel expanding would either push the frame apart, or split the wood in the stiles (the frame's vertical parts).
This is the reason the panel is allowed to float inside the grooves on the frame.
This picture shows two frame parts, a rail (at left) and a stile (at right).
Notice the groove, in both the Rail and Stile, which will hold the panel. The panel is sized to fit within the frame's groove with a calculated amount of space for expansion.
This expansion space allows the panel to grow or shrink with moisture changes. This space allows a well-designed cabinet door to be dependable in all climates and regions of the country.
Mitered cabinet doors, like the Delaware door shown at left, are a completely different frame design, but the moisture expansion compensation formulas still hold true.
- The two "laws of physics" for woods are as real today as they were hundreds of years ago.
- Law #1 An increase in temperature or humidity will cause wood to expand.
- Law #2 A Decrease in temperature or humidity will cause wood to shrink.
Because of these two laws of wood-physics, ALL cabinet doors must allow the panel sufficient space to expand when humidity increases.
Many wood types are used in making Cabinet Doors for Entertainment Centers, and Furniture. The most common woods used are shown below.
Cabinet doors used in closets, garages, and storage rooms are usually low-cost woods, like Paint-Grade and Oak. Kitchens and Baths require a strong, durable finish applied to a dense wood, Like Paint-Grade, Oak Maple, or Hickory. Alder, although classified as a hardwood, is not a dense wood. Entertainment centers and furniture are not subject to the moisture and cleaning seen in Kitchens and baths, so all wood types are used in those applications.
Painted doors are typically made from hardwoods with a closed grain. Examples of woods that paint well are Maple and Poplar. Oak is seldom painted because its open grain produces an "orange peel" look. Panels used in paint-grade doors are usually Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF) because of its hardness, excellent sanding properties, and superior painting quality.
Oak, Alder, Cherry, Maple, & Hickory
These woods are seldom painted, partly because they are attractive with a clear finish and because they are more costly than other paint-grade woods. Oak is usually stained or finished with a clear lacquer. Alder stains poorly and tends to look "blotchy", so it's usually finished with clear coat, and not stained. Cherry can be stained light or dark, or simply finished with clear coat. Maple and Hickory, like Alder, stain poorly and are usually finished with clear coat, and not stained.
Woods that have variations in density across a given board, like Alder, Maple, Hickory, and Pine, tend to develop blotchy patches when stained. The reason is that stain will penetrate deeper into less dense areas of the board while penetrating less deeply into the denser areas. This causes the less dense (softer) areas to produce a darker stained surface than the denser (harder) areas.
Which finishes protect cabinet doors best?
While almost any protective finish will provide better protection than leaving the wood unfinished, some finishes perform much better in harsh locations, like Kitchens and baths. If having the nature of the wood be visible, a Stain and Clear Lacquer is normally used. Oak is often stained, while Alder, Maple, and Hickory are not usually stained. A clear coat of Lacquer or Polyurethane is always applied to stained or raw doors for protection.
Painted cabinet doors require even more protection that stained or raw doors with clear coating. This is because a stained door will tend to hide slight scratches or dings suffered over time. If a frying pan bumps against a stained door the damage will likely go unnoticed. That same accident with a painted-white door will be less forgiving. For that reason, painted doors must receive additional coats of paint and protective clear coating. The additional layers of clear coating are intended to protect the painted surface from damage.
A recent development in paint has provided the painters of wood products with a technical advancement that offers a huge improvement in painted wood protection. This advancement is called Conversion Varnish.
Conversion varnish is lacquer which consists of a high-end solid two-part post-catalyzed application process.
At the time of application, a hardening agent must be mixed in with the lacquer to provide the additional durability.
Conversion varnish is chemical-cured and consists of 40-60% solids.
Conversion varnish does cost more than traditional lacquer, but it is much more durable and easier to clean. It is this characteristic that makes it an excellent option for painted cabinet doors.
Conversion Varnish was first used to provide a superior finish to manufacturers of metal and plastic parts. Automobile manufacturers are heavy users because they require a very-smooth and tough finish.
Using Conversion Varnish for wood products became available a little later, but is now accepted as the most durable finish for cabinet doors used in Kitchens and baths.
Conversion Varnish is by-far the most durable and longest-lasting finish available for cabinet doors. We offer 5-colors of Conversion Varnish finish on every door style we make.
A few examples of doors painted with Conversion Varnish are pictured below.
From left to right, these doors, all finished with Conversion Varnish, are, the Heritage Cabinet Door finished in High Reflective White, the Shaker Door in Antique White, The Delaware Door in Light French Gray, and the Executive door in Folkstone. (Clicking on these doors will show the price, as door sizes are entered)
Because finishing is so critical in slowing the impact of humidity changes on all wood products, I've included a conclusion to the study by Dr. Carl Hagstrom. This excerpt from an article on Moisture-caused expansion in wood was Published in the Journal of Light Construction, by Dr. Hagstrom.
One simple rule of thumb serves as an approximate guide to predicting wood movement: Most species of flat grain material will change size 1% for every 4% change in (Moisture Content) MC. Applying this formula to a situation where the seasonal equilibrium moisture content (EMC) ranges from 6% to 10%, a 12-in. wide board will change dimension 1/8 in.
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.
We offer the Industry-Leading Soft Closing hinge from Blum. This is it! Click here...For more about our Hinges.
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I ordered new cabinet doors for my upper cabinets in my kitchen. They needed to match the bottom doors. Thanks to your very knowledgeable staff, I got perfect doors--the grain matched, the trim matched, and the hardware is outstanding. I am delighted and would recommend this company without reservation. Thank you for an outstanding product. Madge S.
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This was my 4th kitchen re-model with your cabinet doors and, just like before, the doors were perfect. The workmanship is top notch and the sanding was exceptional. My 5th kitchen job is scheduled for August and I'll be ordering from you again. You make a great door.Kent's Kitchens
We ordered replacement doors for our 60-year-old home and were very pleased with the product. The milling was of the highest quality. The joinery was very well done, and the wood selection was obviously done by a professional who cares what the finished product looks like. It is one thing to assemble a project with technical skill, and another thing entirely to accomplish the assembly with an eye toward bringing the best out of the wood being used. Both aspects were accomplished, and at a very high level! The dimensions were absolutely perfect. Each door was correctly dimensioned to within less than 1/16 of an inch. It was very pleasing to see this attention to detail, especially since I took the time to measure my cabinets twice, making sure I had done my part. I had never worked with white birch before, and when I saw the issues with staining the wood (soft grain with blotchy absorption of the stain) I was a bit worried. I had no problems at all because the wood was of a higher quality white birch that had been properly handled at the mill and sanded to a stain-ready finish. A good sanding sealer was applied, and then the stain. The results were EXCELLENT! All-in-all, we received a great product, great advice and excellent customer service from CabinetDoors.com. We would certainly recommend them to anyone looking for cabinet doors. Nice job, everyone! Michael R.
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