Cabinetry Made In The USA vs. China – by Louis A. Benevento
After the 60 minutes’ report on Lumber Liquidators reporting on the high formaldehyde content in their Chinese made flooring (formaldehyde can cause myeloid leukemia and nasopharyngeal cancer at high levels and respiratory issues as well as eye, nose and throat irritation at even low levels) it begs the question, what is the content in other “Carb 2 Compliant” Chinese wood products and cabinets?
It’s not worth the risk to save a few dollars. American made cabinet companies have taken a hit because people perceive the imports and domestic products to be equals. This couldn’t be further from the truth. American made cabinets are better in every way. Quality of wood, quality of construction, quality of hardware (hinges, etc.) and quality of finishes and glues (safer for you). Plus, the fact you are supporting the USA. American made cabinets are a no brainer now, especially with this latest exposure of Lumber Liquidators.
How Chinese Cabinets Are Constructed:
The cabinet box is generally touted as “all plywood” and it is. However, the plywood itself is purchased with low price in mind, so it is common to experience peeling veneers and severely warped panels. Furthermore, the interior coatings used to finish the plywood are of low quality, so the interior generally has a “starved” and coarse look/feel.
Chinese cabinets are manufactured with absolute ease of assembly in mind. Therefore, most of them use a cam lock mechanism where the cabinet face frame and cabinet sides/top/bottom are held together with a hook-type fastener that engages the opposing piece when a screw is turned. A common application of this that we all grew up with can be found in Sauder or Ikea furniture. There are usually some plastic blocks to assist in keeping things square as well. Some manufacturers suggest the use of glue and advise that the client not depend solely on the cam locks.
In an effort to keep things inexpensive, most importers stock a selection of 6-8 cabinet doors and styles/finishes. You can’t mix and match. If you are fond of the “Brighton” door, you had better reconcile yourself to the finish it comes in. The finishes are typically water-based or use atypical solvent properties, so repair can be a problem if you need to touch up a scratch. It’s not uncommon for the finish to wipe right off with rag that has the repair material on it. Stains are always applied with spray equipment as opposed to wiped-on with a rag, an issue which often leads to color drift from batch to batch and different colors from piece to piece (such as a filler compared to a door). Glazes are applied with a marker pen as opposed to true glazing which is wiped on the whole surface and then wiped back off and left to hang in the profiles.
You are generally limited to the 1 or 2 door designs that are in stock and you must take them in the color they come with. There is no allowance for glass doors on any cabinet. You have to choose from a small assortment of wall cabinets that are able to accept glass. Wainscot panels for backs of islands are generally not available, so you must use either standard door panels or plywood.
Doors always come hinged one way. If you want the door hinged on the other side, you need to flip the door over. This is no big deal except with cathedral door designs where there is a distinct left/right. In these cases, the manufacturer supplies plastic plugs to fill the unused hinge holes on the non-hinged side of the door.
Most often, the cabinet face frames and doors are made of solid wood, but it is generally russian birch, even if they advertise it as cherry. some manufacturers offer real hard maple, oak and even cherry, but the quality of the lumber is below our domestic select grade. they are basically using the least desirable cuts of lumber that the domestic cabinetry and furniture markets can’t or wont use. there is nothing wrong with this approach. just be sure that if it’s cherry cabinets you are after, it’s real cherry cabinets you are getting.
What makes cabinetry these days so different than it was 15 years ago is the interior storage items that are now available. Plate storage, spice pull-outs, towel racks, mixer lift-outs, and adjustable roll-out trays have made cabinetry so much more user-friendly and modular. With the imported cabinets, you will be forced to accessorize your storage needs yourself, hoping that the roll-out you bought at Lowes fits the cabinet you bought from China. Any storage items that do come with your cabinet are of lower quality, typically a white coated wire.
While most Chinese cabinets are touting dovetailed drawer boxes, you generally need to assemble the drawer boxes yourself. This often results in rough, unfilled dovetails and out of square drawer boxes—as well as a huge increase in your assembly time. Slides are often marketed as full extension soft-close, but the manufacturer is typically another Chinese low bidder and the quality is quite suspect. Hinges are generally fully concealed, but the hinges themselves are of a cheap stamped metal variety and do not have longevity in mind.
Chinese cabinets install as any other cabinet would, but since they are often out of square and require so many fillers to complete the install, the end result looks fairly rough around the edges if proper care is not taken.
Other considerations Be sure to ask your cabinet retailer about things such as replacements, out of stocks, and damages. For instance, if your son breaks a door after six months and you request a replacement door, do you have to purchase an entire cabinet? Probably. What happens if your sink base cabinet is out of stock and you need everything installed next Wednesday? How long will you need to wait for the replacement?
I want to stress the point that imported RTA cabinets have been a huge success in recent years. They have placed the power of cost control in the hands of the DIY owner and the quality and options seem to get better every year. They fill a special place in the price spectrum for many Americans and in these tough times, this is a good thing.
However, there are other alternatives that owners need to be aware of. In the end, you’ll have a better understanding of what you want in your next cabinet and where to buy it.
Here is why Chinese cabinets are very bad:
1. The 5-ply panel stock is weak and delaminates in under 3 years. Formaldehyde weakens any glue and they use plenty of this dangerous toxin when manufacturing their plywood.
2. The finish almost looks like the cabinets were used. The finish appears dull and thin.
3. They do not use hardening agents in their clear coat. Hardening agents also allow the finish to dry instantly preventing dust to settle on the finish. You could scratch their doors with your finger nail.
4. The drawer guides are stamped a light gauge white metal, not steel and are of such low quality that it is common to see the drawer collapse under just 15 pounds. Any American cabinet company uses Blum or Grass guides and their drawers are rated at 75 to 125 pounds.
5. You will never ever see a warranty on a Chinese cabinet. Little known to the consumer, say you scratch a door 3 months after your new kitchen is installed, with most domestic manufactures you can call up your cabinet supplier and order just the replacement door you need. With Chinese suppliers you have to reorder THE ENTIRE CABINET!! Make sure you ask your supplier about this and if they say you can actually get the part you need without ordering THE ENTIRE CABINET be sure to get that fact in writing!
Another warranty item to consider is that with all the regulatory issues and other nonsense going on with Chinese wood, many of the manufactures are looking to move their operations to other countries, this presents two big warranty problems #1 there is a high probability that the manufacturer will not be around in a year or two when you need the replacement part, and #2 changing wood and manufacturing plants will cause consistency issues with the finish and color, so your Mocha Java Glaze might look more like a Mochafrapuchino Java Glaze when the replacement part comes in!
Furniture made in the USA are built to last and conform to stringent health/material requirements.
American materials are just better period and stand the test of time.
Come to our showroom and see our factory and understand the difference USA based companies put into quality products.