Ins AND Outs of RTA Cabinets

By Sean Walsh


At Walcraft Cabinetry we ONLY provide our customers with cabinetry that meets the specific details you will read about in this article.


All cabinets either are, or have been, RTA (Ready to Assemble) cabinets at some point.

When I owned my custom cabinetry business, I used a program that would design all the parts and pieces that I would need to build a specific cabinet. I would then cut and stack the parts and pieces that were destined to become fully assembled cabinets.

So, essentially I made RTA cabinets and assembled them before delivery as fully assembled custom cabinets.

Do not fear! RTA kitchen cabinets as a whole are not inferior to fully assembled cabinets. They are simply not assembled yet. This is of great benefit to you, since assembling the cabinet is the easy part, and it allows you to save the money for the cost of labor.

BUYER BEWARE: Not all RTA cabinets are created equal. A small handful of RTA manufacturers take great care to build cabinets that, once assembled, compete in every way with fully assembled and even custom cabinets. Others cut every corner they can find: They use the cheapest methods, hardware, and finishes possible. The market is flooded with these cheaper alternatives.

How can you learn to spot the difference? Read on!



What to Look for in Quality RTA Cabinetry

When I began searching the world for the best ready to assemble cabinets to provide our customers with, I knew what to look for thanks to my extensive experience building cabinetry. Here are five important criteria that I look for in quality RTA cabinets that often go overlooked by the average homeowner:

1. Joinery

The assembly process determines if the cabinet is truly comparable to a custom cabinet, or at least a high quality manufactured cabinet. After all, factories and custom cabinet makers rely on joinery that takes a little more time to assemble, but is known to last.

Many RTA manufacturers use cam locks and metal clips to assemble their cabinets. This would never be done by quality cabinet makers or manufacturers outside of the RTA world. Instead,

they would rather rely on time tested joinery methods such as dovetail joinery, dowels and glue, dado joinery, or mechanical fasteners such as screws.

There are only a few select RTA cabinetry builders who have forsaken these inferior methods of joinery, and hold fast to traditional methods. They have my support.

The materials used for the joint components tells us valuable things about its builder as well. For example, plastic is cheaper and less structurally sound than metal. When you see plastic components, it’s a red flag in terms of quality. You can bet they have cut corners elsewhere too. For example, they are most likely sourcing plywood, hardwood, finishes, and hardware that is all from the bottom of the barrel as well. No thank you!  

2. Species of Wood

The wood species is the most misunderstood feature when it comes to choosing quality cabinets. After all, the word “hardwood” does not necessarily mean it is hard wood. It may be harder than some woods and softer than others. But you need to know the exact species before you can assess for quality.

Most imported RTA cabinets are built using Russian Birch, which is technically a hardwood. This is an affordable wood, but it is not as durable as others. So yes, many RTA cabinets made with Russian Birch do have a label that says “solid hardwood cabinets,” but what does that really mean in terms of the cabinet’s ability to withstand abuse? It means that these cabinets are prone to dents and dings that will not be covered under their warranty! After all, it is “common wear and tear.”

On the other hand, Maple is the better choice because it is much more durable. It is able to withstand everyday use and resist dings, dents and scratches much better than Russian Birch. Although a popular choice in custom cabinetry, it is used by very few RTA manufacturers since the cost is higher. This does, however, speak volumes about the manufacturer’s desire to achieve a higher level of quality for their customers.

3. Finish

When it comes to the long term durability of your cabinets, the finish used is very important. It is well known within the cabinet making trade that the best and most practical finish for cabinetry is Conversion Varnish (CV). This finish is known to be very durable, chemical and water resistant, and even UV resistant.


By FAR the most important element of “quality” cabinets is the finish.

CV finds its strength through a chemical hardening process. This means it uses a two component system where a hardener is added to the finish prior to application. When done right, a well applied hard finish such as CV can even compensate for softer woods.

Lacquers, on the other hand, like household paints, are just air cured and will never be even close in durability as CV. They may be less expensive and faster to apply, but the difference will come into play in terms of how long your new cabinets maintain their beautiful finish.

So again, product descriptions may say “we use an 8 step finishing process,” but what does that mean? Eight layers of inferior is still inferior. Are they using CV, or..? What brand? How much Formaldehyde (a really nasty chemical) is in it?

4. Dovetail Drawer Boxes

Some people think that if they look and see dovetail joinery in the drawers it is automatically a sign of quality. However, I am here to say, it’s not.


What type of wood is used for the dovetail drawer boxes? Some manufactures take a bunch of small pieces of “Finger Jointed” wood and glue them together. Yes, it is still considered a “hardwood drawer box,” it is just a cheap hardwood drawer box.

Some manufacturers have sloppy dovetail joinery on their drawers, and drawer bottoms that are too thin and flimsy. Others do not.

A true high-quality drawer box will be made out of clear straight grained hardwoods, will have tight dovetail joinery, and at least a ⅜” thick plywood bottom.

5. Hardware

I already covered hardware when talking about joinery, but it is also important to look at the hardware used all around. Shelf pins and angle brackets should be metal. Are they plastic?

The best brand of “import” hardware for doors and drawers is DTC. Do they use those, or are they relying on a cheaper brand?

Some use cheaply made—destined to fail—plastic. Others use metal. Again, plastic components are a sign of poor quality and a manufacturer that doesn’t mind cutting corners.

Save money WITHOUT sacrificing quality

At Walcraft Cabinetry we only provide our customers with the best quality imported RTA cabinets the internet has to offer. ALL of our cabinetry is manufactured according to the specifications above. Give us the opportunity to introduce you to quality, affordable cabinets!

In conclusion, do not dismiss RTA Cabinets if they are from quality cabinetry builders who choose to be the best. You can actually have the best of both worlds if you start by choosing well-made RTA cabinets that let you save big money by assembling yourself. You can have new cabinetry in your home at a fraction of the cost of custom cabinetry of comparable quality.

Hopefully, this article gave you the information you need to know how to spot the cheap stuff from the good stuff when it comes to RTA cabinetry.

Sean Walsh

CEO/Cabinet Maker/Custom Woodworker – Walcraft Cabinetry

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