Cabinet Tips, Tricks, and Fair Warnings

"Understanding all the little details up front helps avoid big surprises down the road."

Jim Coshow


When it comes to cabinets, our very own Eric Jaeger is one of the best resources out there. A former contractor, Eric has experience on both the installation and design sides of cabinet projects and offers a unique perspective to both homeowners and professionals. In this series, we sit down with Eric to learn more about the cabinet ordering process from design to project completion—and the do's and don’ts in between.

In the final episode of our cabinet series with Eric, we’re talking about the little details in a cabinet project that can cause big surprises if and when they arise. From the nuances of cabinet materials to finalizing your design, our discussion will help you set the proper expectations for your next cabinet project.

Minor paint cracking

Cabinets naturally expand and contract over time with changes in temperature and humidity, and this can cause hairline cracks in the paint and stain used on wood cabinetry, most notably doors. These cracks are not considered defects—they are simply part of normal cabinet wear and tear.

If your cabinets are painted, you may notice these small cracks more than you would with a stain finish—with a stain, they’ll just be less visible alongside the grain and natural color variation of the wood.

If you want the look of painted cabinets but are concerned about cracking, high-density fiberboard (HDF) may be a good option to consider. With HDF, your cabinet doors will be cut as a single piece (with no joints), so you won’t experience cracking paint. While HDF creates a beautiful paint finish, be aware that it can be more susceptible to water damage over time. And because it’s a softer material, it’s more prone to denting and scratching and has a bit less holding power for hardware.

Color and grain consistency

Consistency of color can be a concern depending on your aesthetic preference, so it’s good to know what to expect from different wood species. In general, regardless of the species, the darker the stain the more uniform the color will appear, as the stain hides the natural features of the wood.

Here’s a brief explanation of what to expect from some of the more common cabinet materials:

  • Hickory has the most variation in color, which is unappealing to some and desirable to others. As with all wood species, finish and color won’t be uniform across different pieces.
  • Maple has a much more uniform grain. This is a tight-grain hardwood with minimal color variation.
  • Cherry is a bit softer, making it slightly easier to scratch or dent. This wood has a lot of color variation and can range from very light and white to deep red. You should also be aware that cherry changes color over time—as it ages, it gets darker and redder (it takes about two to four years to reach its final color).

It's important to remember that wood is a natural material that fluctuates in appearance and character, and there will always be color variation. If you want absolute uniformity in your cabinet aesthetic, we recommend considering a manufactured material—this will give you more control of the overall look of your cabinetry.

Using standard sizes

Stock sizes of cabinets can be a more budget-friendly option for cabinetry, and we always use as many standard sizes as possible when designing our projects. Semi-custom cabinets come in standard sizes, typically in three-inch increments in width and height. It’s not always possible to build out a design entirely with standard sizes, so be aware that depending on your space, you may need to include a custom cabinet or two, which comes with an additional fee.

Don’t rush to place your final order

Before you place your order, be absolutely sure you’re happy with the design—once it’s paid for, the manufacturer starts producing the order with the receipt of Dunn Lumber’s purchase order. We advise waiting to place your order until you’ve had a couple of days to sit with your finalized design. This gives you time to mock up any new elements in your space or take a sample door home to confirm you’ve made the right style and color selections. Delaying your final delivery a few days is worth the peace of mind it will afford you.

Getting a feel for your new design

If you’re introducing new structures to a space (such as a kitchen island), it can be difficult to get a tactile feel for the effect they’ll have on your physical space. We always recommend creating a simple cardboard mockup cut to the actual dimensions of your design. To do this, cut a piece of cardboard (plywood works, too) to the dimensions of the countertop on your new island and set it on a card table in your space to see how your space will physically change.

Successful cabinet projects come down to more than numbers and dollar signs—they depend on you feeling confident in your design. We’re here to help you understand all the details—big and small—to help you create cabinets you’ll love for years to come. To learn more about cabinets and our design process, check out our other interviews with Eric: What to know about cabinet design process and cost and what to know about cabinet options and quality.

Ready to find the right cabinets for your home? Make an appointment with one of our cabinet design specialists.