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Why Spend More Money On Custom Made? Part 2

Part Two: How Well Does It Work? As I pointed out in part one of this series; custom-made cabinets and furniture typically cost from 60% to 100% more than their mass-produced counterparts. I'm referring to items found at specialty retailers here, as opposed to the big-box discount stores. Why is a custom-made piece a better investment, even with that additional cost?

Part Two: How Well Does It Work?

First let's look at the materials used. Almost all mass-produced cabinet and furniture pieces are made with either medium density fiberboard, also called MDF, or particleboard. These products don't take fasteners or adhesives as well as solid wood or cabinet grade plywood. That means that they have to be assembled using special fasteners, which take into account the fact that they are relatively soft and crumbly materials. Usually the pieces come ready to assemble using these fasteners. That means there is no real structural joinery involved in their construction, they will not remain rigid over time and doors and drawers will stop fitting. They also have inferior structural properties. That means that shelves and other horizontal surfaces will sag.

With the choice of materials comes the finishes that are appropriate to it. In the case of all but the highest-end kitchen cabinetry and the furniture found at furniture retailers and home furnishing stores, most of the MDF and particleboard is covered with a wood grain printed plastic layer. The facing on the piece and the doors and drawer fronts are most likely wood that is finished to match, but not always. As a cost saving measure some of the better mass-produced furniture and cabinetry is made with wood veneered MDF, allowing a better quality finish. Even though these are cosmetically superior to the wood grained vinyl products, they are still not structurally sound. Custom-made furniture and cabinetry will have a broad range of finishes, depending on the wishes of the consumer and the skills and experience of the woodworker. The primary difference is that these pieces will be finished more thoroughly and with greater attention to detail. That's just a matter of finishing a single or small number of pieces at a time as opposed to standing at a machine which is processing dozens of pieces a day.

There are standards of quality for woodworking. The most widely accepted source of these standards is the Architectural Woodworking Institute. These are the standards used worldwide by architects and designers. For most people who make their living producing custom-made woodwork, these standards are a minimum guideline, so they aren't terrible stringent. The standards are also multi-tiered allowing for the fact that not all woodwork needs to be built and finished to the very highest standard of quality available. They do however serve to create basic guidelines ensuring that the consumer receives a fair deal. None of the furniture and cabinetwork you will buy, with the exception of some higher-end kitchen cabinetry, is built or finished to these standards.

Next let's look at the hardware used. In particular door hinges and drawer slides are an essential mechanical component of a cabinet or furniture piece. In the case of kitchen cabinets, where european concealed, adjustable hinges and metal drawer slides are the standard, that quality has a direct bearing on how long the cabinet functions before it needs repairing. There is a wide range of cabinet hardware available on the market. Some of it will last for life, and some of it will last for three to five years. So, you can spend two dollars for a light weight hinge, and five dollars for single extension drawer slides, or you can spend five dollars for easier to adjust longer lasting hinges, and twenty-five dollars for self closing full extension drawer slides. Since these are the working part of the cabinet, they are often the first to wear out. Over the life of the kitchen cabinet, the extra money is worth it. With furniture the options are even more diverse, with hinges often being butt hinges or pivot hinges, and drawers sometimes traveling on wood slides that are built-in to the case.

Again, what I'm saying is that these are factors we all have to take into account when making the decision about how much to spend on any consumer product. My experience has always been, both as a consumer and someone who is called upon to repair or replace poorly made work, that you pay more now, or you pay even more later.