Cabinets and Countertops
Casework and Cabinets
Cabinets are built-in storage boxes and tool cases for your kitchen, bathroom, laundry, library and other areas. These are usually fitted with doors, drawers, countertops, and appliances like ovens and dishwashers.
Cabinet boxes and casework are mostly made of plywood or particle board. The quality level for cabinets can range from extremely utilitarian and low cost, to exquisite pieces of furniture. If you have real wood or wood veneer cabinets, expect differences in grain and color between and within the cabinet components due to natural variations in wood and the way it takes stain.
Cleaning products such as lemon oil or polishes that include scratch cover are suggested for wood cabinet care. Only use such products once every 3 to 6 months to avoid excessive build-up. Avoid paraffin-based spray waxes or washing cabinets with water, as they will damage the luster of the finish. If hinges or drawer glides become sluggish, a small amount of silicone lubricant will improve their performance.
Damage to cabinet surfaces and warping can result from operating appliances that generate large amounts of moisture (such as a steamers or crock pots) too near the cabinets. When operating such appliances, place them in a location that is not directly under an upper cabinet.
Cabinet interiors should be completely sealed with no gaps or holes exposed to the subfloor, exterior or framing. Doors, drawer fronts, and handles should be tight, level and even. Any separations or gaps between cabinets and the ceiling or cabinets and the walls should be corrected if the gap exceeds 1/4 inch. If doors or drawer fronts warp in excess of 1/4 inch within 24 inches, this should be corrected by adjustment or replacement.
- Keep the fronts and edges of frequently used doors and drawers clean with good housekeeping using damp cloth and mild soap as needed.
- Prevent steamers, tea kettles and crock pots from delivering steam directly onto the cabinets.
- If your cabinets have glass, spray glass cleaner only on the cleaning cloth to avoid getting overspray on the face of the cabinet.
- 1x per year: Keep all screws and hardware, handles, hinges, pulls and knobs tight and level.
- 1x per year: Inspect, test and lubricate all hinges and drawer guides to work smoothly and quietly.
- 1x per year: Test and inspect the mounts of all appliances to make sure they are securely attached to the cabinets as required.
- Cases: the cases are the boxes that form the outer structure of the cabinet. The best cases are made of multiple layered, furniture-grade plywood. They are built into boxes with sides, backs and a toe kick base. The case front or face-frame is usually a 2” wide solid wood framework. This is applied around the perimeter which stiffens the box and creates solid mounting places for the doors and drawers. Lower cost cases are built with particle board. European style cabinets are sleekly designed so that the cases are made without the face frame. Special hinges and drawer slides are employed, and the doors and drawers are constructed so that there is no visible frame around them.
- Drawers: These can be made from many materials, but the best are constructed using solid wood sides with jointed and glued corner construction and plywood bottoms. Lesser quality drawers are made with particle board and/or stapled drawer construction. If the drawers are to carry considerable weight such as pots, pans, baking bowels etc. it is recommended the strongest material and most durable means of construction be employed to achieve a long useful life.
- Door and drawer fronts: can be had in a multitude of designs, materials and prices. These are usually ordered and purchased from a separate specialty vendor, then attached by the cabinet maker to the drawer and case boxes during installation.
- Handles, hinges, drawer slides, lazy-Susan hardware and pulls can range from simple to exotic. Some of the newer self-closing and soft-closing hinges and drawer slides are very nice improvements and can sometimes be retrofitted in existing cabinets.
Countertops are the work surfaces in your kitchens, bathrooms and laundry areas. Base cabinets and countertops work nicely together as each needs the other to do their job. Countertops were once very utilitarian items but now they have become fashion statements and sometimes even works of fine art in the home. The manufacture of countertops has evolved from simple wood planks, to gorgeously fabricated marble slabs.
Common materials used today are quartz, ceramic tile, butcher block, plastic laminates, granite, quartzite, concrete, metals and synthetic stone. Criteria for good countertop materials include: durability, resistance to water and heat and ease of cleaning.
The proper material chosen for any area must be carefully considered. See below. For instance, white marble is a beautiful material for a countertop, but in the kitchen, where it is subject to many acidic substances that can cause damage to it like wine, citrus, tomatoes etc. It is best to know these things before spending money on installation.
Caulking is used to seal joints between the countertop and the wall, along the joint at the backsplash, and around the sink may shrink. This caulking can shrink or fall out over time requiring repair. Maintaining a good seal in these locations is important to keep moisture from reaching the wood structure of the cabinet or the lower laminates of the top itself.
Porous natural stone tops such as marble should be professionally cleaned and sealed prior to use and every couple of years after (see below). Laminated countertops will have one or more discernible seams that should be well sealed and monitored. Separation of countertops and vanity tops from walls, backsplashes, should be repaired with new caulking.
- Inspect and identify all of the various types of material used for countertops in your home. Each will have a different maintenance protocol. For more information see below.
- For any countertops, it is wise to use a cutting board to protect them when you cut or chop.
- Protect the counter from heat and from extremely hot pans. If you cannot put your hand on it, do not put it on the counter.
- Do not use countertops as ironing boards and certainly do not set lighted cigarettes on the edge of the counter.
- Builders should construct their countertops strong enough for you to sit on them, nevertheless, I do not recommend that you do that.
- When cleaning, avoid abrasive cleaners that might damage the sealer or luster of the surface.
- 1x per year: Inspect the grout and caulking at the backsplash, edge of sink and other areas and replace any failed or missing sections.
- 1x per 2 years: Clean and seal any marble or porous surfaced counter material like concrete or marble.
If you think using natural stone in the kitchen is exotic and new, think again. Natural stone is likely the oldest form of material used by humans to prepare, present and consume food. Communal food preparation evidence left by native Americans can still be found in some wilderness areas. Yosemite National Park has numerous places where grinding areas are found carved out of enormous granite boulders. Flat pieces of rock were also used to make cooking flour. Bowls and flat slabs are formed relatively quickly by grinding grains on them with other rocks. Stone has been a great food preparation surface for thousands of years.
Because of its abundance and durability, stone has been quarried, used and worked by humans for thousands of years on every continent. Natural stone counter materials are created by quarrying large stone blocks and slicing them into 2-3cm thick slabs.
For today’s homeowner, stone slab options available now include marble, quartzite, granite, slate and engineered stone like Caesarstone or Silestone. These slabs can create one-piece countertops as large as 6’x10’ and even larger by joining “book-matched” slabs with precision joinery.
By precision joinery, I am referring to computer aided cutting machinery that can essentially finely cut and shape stone like butter. Hard butter that is. Once in place, a stone countertop is an installation with very long life.
To reduce maintenance, sealers are recommended for most natural stone countertops to prevent stains from getting into the pores of the material. To determine if a sealer might be rquired, place a rag soaked with water overnight on the stone. If there is a dark moist spot on the stone when the rag is removed the next day, you need sealer. A glass top can also be used on very porous stone like marble to help protect it from damage.
1) Do not place any placemats or similar covers over sealed surfaces for about 48 hours. The sealer is airing and still needs to completely cure. However, you may begin using the surface for light daily use immediately.
2) Remember, your stone is protected but not bullet proof! The sealer helps delay penetration of liquids that could cause serious damage. If you spill wine, orange juice, etc., instead of having seconds, you now have minutes or hours to clean it up without worry.
3) We recommend using neutral stone cleaners for maintaining your stone. You may purchase such cleaners called Revitalizer by Stonetech -OR- Crystal Clean by Stonepro from most local stone retailers I recommend that you order them here. Use these cleaners weekly on average, but can vary more or less depending on usage of the stone. It won’t harm the stone.
How to select your stone
In selecting stone for use in your home it is good to know the characteristics of each type:
- Marble: Marble is gorgeous and silky in appearance and its attractiveness makes it highly sought after for luxury living. Unfortunately, marble is also softer than other stone materials making it easy to damage. It is also porous and will absorb staining liquids. Its composition is calcium rich and etching by acidic foods like citrus fruits, tomatoes and juices is a problem. Marble must be sealed to help prevent stains. The sealer treatments are expensive, short lived and require frequent reapplication to be effective. Because of these characteristics, marble is recommended for bathrooms, showers and tabletops that are not subject to cutting and cooking.
- Granite: Granite is a grainy appearing igneous rock formed by the slow crystallization of magma within the earth’s crust. It is very hard and massive with few cracks. In the commercial world of countertops and stone features, granite is a rock with visible grains that is harder than marble. Gabbro, basalt, pegmatite, schist, gneiss, monzonite, anorthosite and diorite are all considered “granites”. Granite is scratch resistant, polishes to a high gloss and is not affected by food acids. Most granites are non-porous yet all can benefit from a sealer to prevent stubborn stains that might occur during the cooking process. Granites come in an unending array of natural colors and patterns making every installation unique and one of a kind.
- Quartzite: Quartzite is an extremely hard, metamorphic rock that was once pure quartz sediment. These sediments were subjected to extreme pressure and heat from within the earth’s crust through tectonic forces. Quartzite material has a sandy, fine grained appearance with glassy/shiny areas embedded in the structure. Many quarry’s have found attractive versions of this material with striking colors and veins. This produces unique and gorgeous patterns that are ideal for architectural applications. Resistance to abrasion, low porosity and acid resistance make this material highly suitable for kitchen use. Quartzite surfaces also accept “honing” or “leathering” treatments that add a soft and unique feel to their surfaces. Treat these countertops with sealant as you would granite.
- Engineered stone: This material is widely known in the industry as “Quartz”. Improperly named, it is called quartz because the primary ingredient is crushed quartz. Engineered stone is manufactured by combining crushed quartz pieces with a resin to strongly bind them together. The resulting material is hard, durable and can be made in large formats with extremely uniform appearance. Depending on the resin used to bind this material together, it’s resistance to heat and UV light can be variable. Check with the manufacturer for warranties on heat resistance and the effects of UV light over time. Quartz tops are durable, scratch resistant and not subject to normal kitchen stains. Slabs of quartz can be made in a stunning variety of colors and patterns.
- If you have stone countertops, determine what kind of stone material it is made from.
- 1x per year: Clean, hone and seal marble countertop materials and inspect and re-caulk around joints, sinks and other dissimilar materials.
- Every 2 years: Re-clean and seal granite and quartzite counter top materials and inspect and re-caulk around joints, sinks and other dissimilar materials.