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Common Kitchen Cabinet Terminology

Common Kitchen Cabinet Terminology

While it may not seem so at first glance, understanding the most commonly used cabinet terms can put you in the best position when dealing with a cabinet manufacturer. Not only does knowledge of specific cabinet terminology allow you to shop more confidently, but it also means you can more effectively personalize exactly what your cabinet will look like.

In this brief guide, we will go over what many of these terms are and why it’s so important that you know them.

Cabinet Terminology

Why Should I Learn Cabinet Terminology?

As mentioned earlier, your knowledge of these different terms allows you to more confidently make a purchase when dealing with a cabinet maker or manufacturer. It’s the same as understanding the different aspects of a car when getting a new car or getting repairs. Understanding what a carburetor is will instantly put you in a better place when negotiating the price of its repairs or replacement. The same is true for cabinet terminology. By knowing what “Cabinet Overlay” or “Toe Kick” is referring to, you aren’t going to be confused over why they matter for your cabinet overall. This protects you from paying for things you may not really want for your cabinets.

In addition to keeping you from being charged too much or for things you aren’t actually interested in, understanding the different terms also means you have greater control when customizing your cabinets. Not only can you more confidently ignore things you aren’t interested in, but you can also add in the things you are.

While you can certainly do an “ok” job if customizing your cabinets “blind,” you’re undoubtedly going to be making compromises in areas where you simply wouldn’t need to.

Basic Terms

The first terms that you need to understand are the fundamental ones surrounding cabinets and cabinetry.

Firstly, what even is a “cabinet”?

A Cabinet is a storage structure that may or may not have shelves. While the size of a cabinet can vary, they are generally no larger than around 48 inches in height. They can be installed and hung on walls or along the baseboard. While people often think of cabinets as kitchen exclusive, they are often in bathrooms as well as some basements and cellars.

Base Cabinets are standard cabinets that are mounted along a baseboard. These are the cabinets people are most often familiar with, as they are the ones that run along your kitchen and bathroom walls. In order to run flush with the counters and be at a reasonable stooping height, these cabinets are almost always several inches above the floor and are propped up by base.

Cabinet Boxes are also known as “cabinet carcasses.” They are the full shape of the cabinet, including its top, bottom, back, and sides. Its internal space is used for storing items and is covered with a cabinet door.

Cabinet Faces are the visible face of a cabinet box. This is where the door is stationed as well as its surrounding frame.

Cabinet Overlays are the amount of the frame that that the cabinet door covers.

Drawer Boxes act as drawers to a cabinet box and run the cabinet’s width and depth while being the size of a drawer. They are made up of two side panels, a front panel, and a back and bottom panel and are generally used to hold smaller and more readily accessible items.

Drawer Faces are similar to cabinet faces in how they look and function. They are the finished front of a cabinet box and often contain an exposed or concealed handle in which to open.

Hinges act as the pieces of hardware that allow the cabinet door to swing open and close. There are exposed and concealed hinge options based on your personal preference.

Wall Cabinets are cabinets that have been attached to the wall. They are generally stationed above the base cabinets and will require you to stand up in order to reach them. In an attempt to optimize space in a room, wall cabinets are often either right above a base cabinet or other areas that are already occupied, such as the refrigerator or the oven.

Face Frames are the front-facing frame for the cabinet box. The cabinet door is attached to the face frame. The frame consists of two vertical and horizontal sections and can be concealed per individual request.

Frameless Cabinets are specific types of cabinets that use their doors to completely conceal their face frame. This is usually due to a larger cabinet door and will result in the hinges attaching to the inside of the cabinet rather than the outside.

Frameless Drawers are similar to frameless cabinets, with the exception that they deal with the cabinet drawers rather than the cabinet door and face frame.

Full Insets are something of the opposite of the cabinet overlay. They are completely flush with the face frame so that no gaps are present or seen.

Paint, when it refers to cabinetry, is meant to describe a layer of colored protection for the unfinished wood. Not only does this improve the longevity of your cabinets, but it is the one form of protection that you have complete control over its appearance.

Rails are the horizontal sections of the cabinet door and face frame.

Stains are a form of waterproofing for wood and a form of finished protection. There are several types of stains, including solid, transparent, and semi-transparent.

Stiles are the vertical alternative to rails and are used for the cabinet door and face frame.

Unfinished wood, also simply known as “unfinished,” is a term used to describe a cabinet that is made up of wood that has not been covered, sealed, or protected and is thus quicker to deteriorate over time.

Wood Species refers to the type of wood used to make the cabinet. There are a variety of wood species available, each with its own appearance, texture, woodgrain, and weight. The most common include Alder, Ash, Bamboo, Beech, Birch, Cedar, Cherry, Chestnut, Maple, Oak, and Pine.

Woodgrain refers to the swirling rings and lines found in the wood species used to create the cabinet box. Each species has its own woodgrain design and can vary from product to product based on the age of the tree.

Additional Accessories

Just as it is important to know the general and basic aspects of cabinetry, it is also worth noting many of the potential accessory upgrades that you can offer your cabinets.

These different and additional options are what will truly make your cabinets stand out as being more than a stock or standard option anyone can purchase. As such, knowing these different terms is definitely worth your time.

Adjustable Shelves are shelves that are completely adjustable based on the individual person and their own specific storage needs. These shelves are numerous grooves made along the cabinet box’s vertical sides. There, a person can place the block of wood shelves in whatever order or spacing that they want.

Concealed Hinges are, as the name implies, hinges that are completely hidden from view. Rather than have the hinges on display outside of the cabinet door, concealed hinges are built inside the cabinet frame and thus completely hidden from the outside. They are a great option for those looking for a more aesthetically pleasing and consistent tone for their cabinets.

Exposed Hinges are the more standardized option when compared to the concealed hinges. These are displayed on the outside of a cabinet door. While most people prefer concealed hinges in order to maintain a more aesthetically pleasing look, for others, exposed hinges offer a sense of character and design to a potentially sterile cabinet frame. Currently, many people are showing an interest in hinges that have a bit of personality. Some are opting for hinges that are a bit more rugged and rustic, while others are investing in the more refined and elegant. Whether you choose concealed or exposed largely depends on the particular style you are going for.

Fixed Shelves are the alternative to adjustable shelves. As the name implies, these shelves are fixed in a specific location and cannot be moved. In most instances, the shelves are built into the cabinet box as early as the initial construction process. Because of this, while they are less customizable when compared to their adjustable alternatives, they are also able to bear more weight and are more durable.

Toe Kicks are the recessed part of the base cabinet’s door. This is meant to give a person more foot room when walking towards a cabinet, essentially allowing a portion of a person’s foot to sit right underneath the cabinet without hitting the base. Base cabinets that don’t have a toe kick are likely to result in their owners constantly banging their feet whenever coming to get something.


There are a lot of different and vitally important pieces of terminology that you should know before attempting to purchase a cabinet. By understanding these different terms, you can have a pretty clear understanding of your customized cabinet’s end result. Will it have exposed or concealed hinges? Will the wood be unfinished or fully protected? Will it have fixed shelves and toe kicks or adjustable shelves and no paint?

If you understand what those options were, congratulations! You’re now on the road to having your perfect cabinet made.