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Straight Talk: Ready To Assemble Cabinets

Monday, January 28, 2019 4:53 PM

RTA cabinetry can be a great solution that offers good quality and value for the do-it-yourselfer. The RTA cabinetry sold at WoodCabinets4Less all features soft-close doors & drawers along with a plywood cabinet box. 

There’s a lot of information out there about ready to assemble cabinets; some good information and some not so good. The information here covers some of the most frequently asked questions we get and is not meant as complete information and is written based on the experience and opinion of the writer.

As I put together this information I want to share with you that we installed RTA cabinets in our kitchen approximately 5 years ago and we're happy with them and have had no issues with the performance or quality. We did have a difficult delivery because the truck driver dropped a full pallet off of the lift-gate which created a lot of damaged parts.

RTA cabinetry comes with a variety of assembly systems such as cam lock, pocket screw, steel cleat or locking plate and clip. Our USA made RTA cabinetry has a spline assembly system. 

Overall, RTA cabinetry has come a long way from just a decade ago and is a great solution for a budget conscious DIY’er. Remember that all cabinets start as parts, just like the parts in an RTA cabinet pack. Most RTA cabinets are CARB2 Compliant and most retailers will be able to tell you if they offer anything that is not.   

It’s  important to keep in mind what it is you are buying. When you’re buying an RTA cabinet you’re not getting, or paying the price for high-end showroom cabinetry that arrives fully built and ready to install. RTA cabinetry offers a limited selection of sizes and styles and more often than not doesn’t offer specialty pieces. It’s a great product for a budget conscious DIY’er that wants something better than big box cash and carry cabinets. 

Know your own expectations and if those expectations are not a fit for RTA cabinetry do not buy RTA cabinetry. If you're really on the fence about what is a best fit for your project we advise that you order a single RTA cabinet that is one of the pieces in your design. This way you can see it, assemble it, and know exactly what it is before ordering an entire kitchen or bath. Ask questions of any retailer or showroom where you want to buy your cabinets; they should be able to answer your questions and help you find a style of cabinetry that is right for you.  

RTA cabinets are typically imported from China. Factories in China that make most RTA cabinetry are equipped with state-of-the-art machinery that produces precision cuts and very consistent parts. That being said, there can always be an occasion where some part may be less than perfect for any number of reasons and quality control missing the imperfection before packaging is usually how that piece ends up in someone’s cabinet order. We also see RTA imports from places like Vietnam, Mexico and Malaysia.

 RTA cabinets are typically received by the distributor pre-boxed and are not usually opened or inspected before they are shipped to the customer. No one knows the actual condition of what’s in that box until the customer receives and opens it. More often than not things are fine, but sometimes there can be damage that occurs from the pieces in the box sliding against each other or if the box is dropped, tipped, or “set” down in rough way. 

For many years, it has been less expensive to import these items than make them within the USA. While we cannot speak for other cabinet retailers, we do offer a line of RTA cabinetry made in the USA that is available unfinished or with a wide variety of finishes and wood species. This line of cabinetry is almost double the cost of the imports but offers high quality finishes and a superior assembly system. There are a number of cabinet makers and builders who use these for home remodels because they like the quality for their clients. 

Finishes are always important and some of the most common questions we get are about glazing. Hand applied glazing in RTA cabinetry typically means hand applied paint pen only in bevels or crevices; be sure to clarify this when looking at a glazed style.  It may not mean the entire door or decorative item is a full body glaze. Full body glazing is expensive and this is why most RTA lines do not offer a full body glazed style. Discrepancies in the application of the glaze pen are not considered defects because they’re hand applied and every single one can be slightly different. The pressure used in holding the pen, the tilt of the hand, where one person lifts their pen and touches back down again versus how another person does this,  all have an effect on the end result. If you’re planning to order a decorative item such a as an acanthus corbel we recommend ordering an additional one or getting a sample if available. Pen glaze detailing is not the same as full glaze that covers the entire door or decorative item so some of these can look lightly done and some can look down right messy. General finishes are often pretty good but there are some that can start to look dull after a year or so and we avoid selling these finishes but they are out there. 

The climate of your home and kitchen can also affect the performance of the finish. Never use harsh chemicals, detergents or any cloth or rag that has ever been exposed to oils like cooking oil, butter, fabric softener, etc. Do not use your trusty dish cloth to clean your cabinetry. Once you impart an oily substance that is not meant for cabinetry cleaning you will forever battle finish issues, from streaks you cannot remove to dull or shiny spots. Be sure to know and follow the manufacturer recommendation for cleaning. 

BEST ADVICE: Order a sample door. Never order cabinetry until you’ve seen a sample door. 

Warranties on RTA cabinets help protect the customer from being stuck with defective parts. These warranties can range from 1 year to limited lifetime. The most important issue when we discuss warranties is really the construction of the cabinet. As a customer assembling your cabinetry, it’s really important that you take time, care, and no shortcuts. The warranty does not and can not cover the overall assembled item; it only covers the parts individually. We recommend never letting children assemble RTA cabinetry, always use a good quality wood glue, and if available, use nails and staples. Ultimately when you build the cabinet, you take on the responsibility for how it performs and the overall strength of the piece. While this is not the place to go into installation, keep in mind that the cabinetry must be properly installed to last and perform optimally. 

Shipping damage is the number one problem issue with all online cabinetry whether RTA or otherwise. Most showrooms and big box stores don’t build the cabinetry on site so regardless it is almost always freight delivered. Sometimes we hear customers are upset because they ordered their cabinets from "XYZ" company and instead of 4 weeks it took 7 weeks. Sometimes your cabinetry dealer will have the initial delivery brought to their facility where they will inspect it for shipping damage or defect. If they find an issue they’ll have it replaced, more often than not, before they deliver those items to you. This is normally the cause for that delay. If the piece that needs replacing would stop or delay the installation they will change it out up front. At this stage they may also touch up scratches or nicks and make sure things are ready for customer delivery. This is why it often costs more to order cabinetry from a local showroom.  The extra steps involved add to expense. 

When you order cabinetry online it goes straight from the distribution center to you and you will then have to determine shipping damages and get in touch with your retailer to replace things or determine what can be a repaired on site or not. Best advice here is to make your delivery appointment as soon as the freight company can bring it out to you. NEVER leave your cabinetry sitting in a freight terminal environment for any extended period of time. You can end up with storage fees and a lot of damage. Freight terminals are busy places with forklifts zipping around and I cannot tell you how many times we find that damage is from a fork on a forklift being driven through a pallet of cabinets. It’s sad to say it but freight companies move freight and they don’t always take as much care with that freight as we would hope. Take your delivery as soon as possible. 

If you run across a part in your cabinet box that is damaged or warped beyond your ability to properly use that part,  it’s  important to send in a photo of that part within the replacement time window to get a new one. Replacement time windows may vary from company to company and is typically about 5 calendar days. While parts don’t usually leave a factory warped they can end up that way due to the trip they make between the factory and your front door. RTA cabinets are stacked and shipped many miles. Occasionally the weight of the cabinetry stack, climate, and handling can cause warping. Never assemble a cabinet that has defective or damaged parts unless you plan to keep it and make it work. Once assembled it is impossible to tell when or how the damage/defect occurred so be sure to send in a photo of the affected part before making any attempt to use it to assemble the cabinet. 

We see the most warping in items like solid maple or birch crown molding where it is a long 8-10 foot piece of solid wood because wood reacts to climate and can bow or warp. (This is why plywood versus solid hardwood is recommended for side panels in building cabinets). Sometimes it is a back panel or side panel that is warped but most often, depending on the degree of warping, it can still be used successfully in the building of the cabinet. Always contact your retailer with clear photos of the issue so they can help determine if the piece is something that can still go into the cabinet without causing future issues. 

Sometimes we get calls from customers several weeks after they have received their order which is far exceeding our replacement time window. Our best advice to protect you as a customer, whether you are buying from us or anyone else, is to take the time to inspect your cabinetry on time. You’ve made an investment and it’s important that you make time to check things over so you don’t end up paying more to replace items that could have been replaced at no cost to you had they been reported on time. If you’re working with a contractor or any other third party be sure you still take time to look over your cabinetry because if they fail to do so, or do so improperly, you will likely be left with the expense of replacement. If you are not planning to personally check your order after delivery be sure to have a clear understanding with your third party as to whom will do what, where and when and WHOM will be responsible for replacement costs should they miss something.

As an aside note keep in mind that when you buy cabinets from anywhere and they arrive pre-built it is always possible that one of the parts may have been warped and was either successfully straightened or was not warped enough to compromise the cabinet build. With RTA cabinets you see everything up front with no filter and no other party before you straightening, touching up or fixing things.  

Lastly, Always, always …ALWAYS Understand return or cancellation policies AND order your cabinetry ahead of time so that if anything needs to be replaced you’re not in a time crunch with a countertop measure or other situation. Expect that things can go wrong during any type of remodel whether it is cabinetry or flooring or drywall, etc. and prepare yourself for this and plan accordingly. Not to be negative….things can also go very well.

Posted in RTA Cabinets