Defining “Custom” in Custom Cabinetry

February 20, 2011

In life, they say, you get what you pay for. And that’s certainly true when it comes to custom cabinetry.

But, what exactly, defines custom cabinetry? Does custom mean it’s built by a “local guy,” or can custom cabinetry truly be built by a manufacturer – who isn’t necessarily in the next town over?

Custom cabinetry is defined as cabinetry that is built to the particular specifications, wants (such as color of finish) and needs, of the homeowner. That can be done locally or not so locally, as cabinetry is constructed based on plans and drawings, not on how close in proximity the people who are to you who are building the cabinetry. Many homeowners, however, aren’t aware that—in addition to the integrity of construction—the outer finish of a cabinet is what truly distinguishes its quality, value and longevity. And despite popular belief, a “local guy” doing the building and finishing most likely cannot provide the quality custom product and lasting value.

It’s all about the kiln drying. The secret in a cabinet’s longevity and ability to hold up to daily wear in tear lies in its manufacturing process. The kiln drying is the defining line for both the construction and the finish. Because kilns are large, expensive machines, they are afforded by large manufacturers.

Taking a step back, Wood-Mode cabinetry’s longevity begins with selecting only the most premium woods. The wood is specially dried in kiln ovens multiple times to remove or add moisture as needed, which later prevents your cabinetry from shrinking or expanding, respectively. How can you tell if wood has not been properly kilned when you look at a cabinet? A common example is an expanded center panel within a cabinet door frame. You’ll note a completely stained or painted door, but there will be a line of the natural wood showing on the center panel. What has happened is the wood has expanded, causing the center panel on the cabinet’s door to pull away, and leaving you with a thin line of unfinished wood, on an otherwise stained or painted cabinet.

What else does proper drying ensure on your cabinetry? It ensures that the finish will apply correctly and not deteriorate. Wood-Mode cabinetry is known by designers in the kitchen and bath Industry for having the most durable and long lasting finishes.

“It’s the multi-step finishing process Wood-Mode employs that really makes all the difference,” said Dave Robinson Jr., CKD, regional representative for Krengel and Associates, which represents Wood-Mode and Brookhaven cabinetry dealers in the Midwest. “This is particularly true for stained finishes, which undergo up to a 25-step technique—although opaque and painted finishes receive many of the same procedures.”

Most “local, custom cabinet builders” and even other manufacturers, follow a finishing process that involves sanding a piece of wood, staining it once, applying two coats of top finish and drying it before the piece is assembled to the rest of the cabinet. But the problem with such a simplified technique is that the finish of the wood can easily flake off, scrape, dent and stain, no matter how intricate the wood details or carvings are, and despite what could be a rich, colorful and visually appealing exterior. Considering the fact that cabinetry has to endure so much wear and tear in a typical home, the durability of the finish is no trivial matter.

Wood-Mode custom cabinetry however, is built to provide a tough-as-nails yet esthetically exquisite finish on your cabinets that is guaranteed to last a lifetime. In fact, Wood-Mode comes with a limited, lifetime warranty.

“I’ve sold cabinetry built by a ‘local guy’ and cabinetry built by custom cabinet manufacturers and I know for sure there are major advantages to choosing Wood-Mode, which is a family owned-and-operated cabinet manufacturer. Locally, I’ve been designing and selling cabinetry for a long time. I’ve been around the block in our industry and I tell my clients they can rest assured that the finished product is not only intricately detailed and imbued with fine workmanship, but the look and finish of your cabinets will be impeccable. Now that’s custom,” said Curt Mavis, CKD, CBD, ASID, NCIDQ, owner of Thumbs-Up Designs LLC, a Rochester, Ill.-based dealer of custom Wood-Mode and semi-custom Brookhaven cabinetry.

Amazingly, Robinson Jr. said, “most of these steps at Wood-Mode are performed painstakingly by hand by a craftsman. Many other cabinetry manufacturers don’t employ human beings in a lot of their finishing techniques, but Wood-Mode knows that it takes the careful, patient hands and steady eyes of experienced professionals to make a superior product.”

During finishing, the wood is hand- and machine-sanded and oven-baked multiple times. Then, extensive hand-sanding is performed following each sprayed-on application. Up to eight hand distressing options—which create dents, nicks, worm holes, rub-throughs, splits, rasping, joint cracks and wear-aging—can be used to give the wood an antiqued character and flavor if desired. The wood is then wetted to enhance the grain and promote deeper colors, followed by applying a hand-wiped stain. Uniform color is achieved by toning and spray-staining the wood. To add further character and a furniture-like appearance to the wood, hand-padding, cow tail whipping and hand-burnishing is employed.

Next, the wood is baked again before a catalyzed sealer is applied, a hand-sealer is sanded on, spec distressing is done, and matte or standard sheen varnish is sprayed on to create lasting durability and beauty. Next, a catalyzed oven-baked varnish top coat with ultraviolet screen inhibitors is put on to provide maximum resistance to scuffing, moisture, dents, fading from UV rays and most household chemicals. Surfaces are cleaned, an optional glaze is hand-wiped on, and a final finish coat is administered. The wood is baked one last time to seal everything in, followed by a final coat of finish. Lastly, a meticulous hand-buffing process is followed to create the smoothest, richest patina imaginable for your custom cabinetry.

“This extensive practice creates the hardest, toughest and yet most lovely finish there is. ‘Local guys’ building cabinets typically warranty the finish of their cabinets for one year. Wood-Mode, by contrast, provides a limited lifetime warranty on their finishes,” said Mavis. “The more that human beings are involved in the creation of the cabinetry, the greater the end results. Colors will be consistent, sheen will be uniform, and fine detail will be preserved. You can’t get that kind of high caliber finished product strictly from a machine.”

Mavis added that he knows from first-hand experience that other manufacturers are building cabinets in a more uncontrolled environment “where, for example, dust particles can land on and be fossilized into the cabinets and epoxy chemical coatings may be used, which can produce volatile organic compounds.”

In addition to yielding an impressive finished product, Wood-Mode’s manufacturing practices are environmentally conscious, Robinson Jr. added. Wood-Mode uses a regenerative thermal oxidizer (RTO) system integrated into their finishing system to destroy emissions generated in the cabinetry finishing process. The RTO equipment currently eliminates 99.4% of captured volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and does not require any fuel when operating under optimal sustainable conditions. What’s more, over the past 25 years, sawdust and wood scrap generated during the cabinet manufacturing process are ground into particles. These particles are used as fuel to heat Wood-Mode’s 1.4 million square feet factory and office complex and also provide steam to operate its dry kilns, which are so key to your cabinetry’s finish and integrity.

“Beyond the fact that Wood-Mode does an exceptional job of ensuring that its factory atmosphere is clean and efficient for cabinetry production,” Mavis said, “homeowners can also rest assured that their cabinets aren’t going to smell like the chemicals in a factory once they’re installed – or worse yet, have the finish to the cabinets actually sprayed on in their own home.”

In 2012, Wood-Mode Fine Custom Cabinetry will have been in business for 70 years. And in those years, they’ve been the manufacturer providing cabinetry to many designers who’ve established kitchen and bath design firms in their own towns, across the United States, because they’ve had a product they could sell with confidence and a company that would support them.

The moral to this story? The next time you shop for new cabinetry for the kitchen or other area of your home, think outside of “the box,” say the experts. Consider the integrity of the finish itself, which can tell you a lot about the expected lifespan of one of the most significant home improvement investments you’ll ever make.

For more information on what to look for when shopping for cabinetry, plus the latest designs and trends, visit www.Wood-Mode.com. For a full list of local designers using Wood-Mode cabinetry throughout the Midwest, phone Krengel & Associates at (312) 644-4466 or visit www.WoodMode.com.

Categories: Remodeling

About The Author

Read All Stories By Walsh Communications

Lynn Walsh is the President at Walsh Communications, LLC. Walsh Communications is a full-service public relations, marketing and advertising agency for home builders and real estate-related industries.

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