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A cabinet maker is a specialized professional who constructs high class and fine woodwork from exotic and rare types of wood. As the name suggests, a cabinet maker is someone who makes cabinets. But that isn’t all; it is also a generic term for someone who makes fine wood furniture of all kinds.
Before we had machines to produce high accuracy woodworking joints, there was the cabinet maker. He was responsible for the production of fine furniture from its initial idea, through design, producing drawings, liaising with the customer and finally constructing the piece to the highest possible quality
Some famous cabinet makers of whom you might have heard include Thomas Chippendale, George Hepplewhite and Thomas Sheraton. They not only designed and built fine furniture and trained others in their methods; they also wrote books about furniture making and included their many designs into the books.
These four trades are those that deal with household woodworking (there are others who are outside the scope of this article such as shipwrights who build and repair boats, instrument makers who make items such as violins and guitars and wood carvers who produce artistic representations in wood). They are all very skilled trades and even though the ordinary person might think that a carpenter is less skilled than a cabinet maker, they would be wrong; they all have their own specializations and are all skilled in their own fields. Let’s talk about each trade first so you get an idea about what each person does.
Carpenter. A carpenter is a woodworker who works in the construction industry and usually on site. The average carpenter will be skilled in two aspects of the trade although some carpenters only specialise in one:
Joiner. A joiner is someone who produces wooden items for the construction industry such as stairs, doors and windows. The name ‘joiner’ actually refers to someone who joins wood without nails or screws. A joiner has to be very accurate in their work as each item will not only be seen but will rely on tight specialist joints for its structural integrity. There is no room for sloppy joints that will not hold together. A joiner usually works in a workshop at a joinery bench but some may visit site now and again to fit the items they make.
Joiners will also construct fitted furniture such as kitchen units and built in bedroom furniture and go on site to fit them. A joiner will use many hand tools as well as power tools.
Wood machinist. A wood machinist is basically a joiner who specialises in constructing items from sheet materials, such as plywood and chipboard, using powered bench tools. They will build such things as off-the-shelf stock kitchen cabinet carcasses, office furniture and exhibition stands. A wood machinist, although skilful with the machines would probably not be able to use hand tools to produce the same items.
Cabinet maker. A cabinet maker is essentially a joiner who specialises in fine furniture and other joinery that is not necessarily intended for the construction industry. He will work with hard woods as well as softwoods and use wood veneers. Cabinet makers will use a high degree of precision and accuracy in their work and be skilled in finishing skills such as French polishing. Cabinet makers will also have the required skills to produce musical instruments and repair antique furniture.
You will notice that within these four trades there is a lot of overlap. All the woodworkers use the same basic skills and will have learned them in their apprenticeships but the big differences occur as a result of the various applications.
In this article, we intend talking about a cabinet maker. We will discuss the kinds of work a cabinet maker does, where you are likely to find them, how you go about hiring one and how much they are likely to cost.
We touched on the role of the cabinet maker in the previous section. We are now going to talk about the trade in more detail so you can more fully understand what a cabinet maker does and why the items they make are so expensive.
Cabinet makers can be regarded as joiners who focus on the finer details of wood construction and use their skills in precision woodworking to really make a beautiful piece of woodwork.
Cabinet makers use a vast array of tools to shape the wood into the finished article. They are skilled in using the woodworking hand tools but will sometimes use power tools if it will speed things up without losing the final quality. Whereas a carpenter will use mainly a hammer, large chisels, screwdrivers, jackplane, ripsaw, and crosscut saw or their powered equivalents; all relatively large and heavy hand tools, a cabinet maker will use a mallet, chisels, smoothing plane, molding plane, tenon saw or dovetail saw; all smaller scale tools. As their work is mainly finished to a high quality, the cabinet maker will also use sandpaper or sanding machines with various grades of paper.
A cabinet maker’s workplace will be in a workshop. Do not expect him to construct the commissioned piece at your house. He will need his bench and all the tools to hand. The workshop can either be in a commercial setting such as a unit in an industrial estate or can be in a residential setting such as a small workshop built into a remodeled garage or basement.
They can be self-employed, in a partnership, employed by a furniture manufacturing or repair company, construction company or joinery contractor.
Because of their high precision skills, cabinet makers are also sought after for crafting high-class interiors for boats and hotels.
This depends on what you are asking the cabinet maker to build and the budget with which he has to work. Generally cabinet makers will use any material that is needed to construct the piece. For example if he is making a fitted kitchen then he will probably use either plywood or laminated chipboard for the carcasses with hardwood facing and hardwood molded doors. The worktop or counter could be solid wood, stone or stainless steel. If you are having a piece of fine furniture made then he will probably use one of the expensive hardwoods suitable for furniture building such as oak, elm or he may build furniture from a cheap softwood such as deal or pine and cover it with a hardwood veneer such as maple or cherry.
As a cabinet maker, he will know the properties of all these different types of wood and be able to use them to their best advantage.
Cabinet makers can make just about anything out of wood that requires a precise and accurate hand. Examples of the type of bespoke items that can be made include:
Surprisingly, cabinet makers and good quality joiners are not hard to find.
Browse their company websites. If their work is of good quality they will have a gallery of previously commissioned work. On the other hand, don’t be surprised if they do not have a website as they might be so good they don’t need to advertise.
Depending on what item you want the cabinet maker to build, you might have strangers unaccompanied in your home either measuring up the internal space or installing the finished product. If so, find out if the employees have had a police check for a criminal record. If they haven’t then don’t assume that all the company’s employees are criminals, but ask a senior manager why they haven’t had a check.
Make sure that all employees, when they are working in your home, are covered by third-party insurance and have the appropriate license for the state in which you live. Depending on what item you are having made the cabinet maker may not need a license so if there is any doubt, contact your local permit office and find out the local license requirements.
Cabinet makers will have had a full apprenticeship as well as college training so find out what qualifications and other ongoing training they have.
Find out the average amount that cabinet makers charge in your area.
Ask your family and friends if they can recommend someone who can make what you need.
You will be able to see if the piece you commissioned is up-to-scratch or not just be looking, but you don’t want your time and money wasted so ensure they have references you can check. Most good quality professionals will be able to show you photos of their previous work.
Do not even bother with anyone who comes touting for business. Someone who resorts to cold calling, in person or on the phone, is someone who hasn’t got much work lined up for the future. Ask yourself why this is, it is probably because the work quality is lacking.
After finding out the average charges in your area, don’t choose anyone who estimates the work either too low or too high.
Make sure the professional knows that if the item isn’t as good as he says it will be, you won’t be paying for it. If he hesitates then think twice about commissioning this person.
Because the type of work cabinet makers do is so specialised, the only other service they would be likely to perform would be other branches of woodwork such as:
No matter how much we would like to have a brand new custom-made piece of furniture, most of us just do not have the disposable income needed to justify having chairs, tables and other pieces of furniture replaced with new handmade ones. That is why a lot of a cabinet makers’ work comes from being able to repair something in the same style in which it was originally made. For example kitchen cabinets often get knocked or the surface becomes damaged. It is too expensive to replace the whole kitchen as the manufacturer has since stopped producing that style of kitchen so what do you do? Your local cabinet maker will be able to take your damaged cabinet away to his workshop and rebuild or repair the damaged item until it is as good as new.
Typical jobs required for damaged cabinets include:
Repainting. The surface of the cabinet has been damaged and the paint needs to be replaced. The original paint should be prepared by sanding down, and given a coat of primer before the finish coat is applied.
Refinishing. If the cabinets have a wood or melamine laminate finish and the surface has become damaged or worn then the answer is to have them refinished. The old finish needs to be removed and the new finish glued in its place.
Refacing. If the cabinet is severely damaged and you cannot afford to have new ones made then the old wood veneer should be removed and a new veneer put in its place. This sounds expensive but this is actually one of the least expensive methods of having a ‘new look’ kitchen.
Hardware. You may need new handles, drawer pulls or hinges. There is a very wide range of kitchen cabinet hardware available that will match with any style imaginable.
Bad installation. A lot of problems with kitchen cabinets are caused by bad installation. Each floor cabinet must be fixed to the wall or floor so it is perfectly level in every direction and so that the tops of every floor cabinet all finish at the same height ready for a worktop (counter) to be fitted. Each wall cabinet has to be fitted so the top and bottom are level and both sides are vertical. If there is any variation from this then the cabinets will not hang as they should and the doors will not close as intended.
The walls must be strong enough for the cabinets to be hung from them and the fixings should be suitable for that type of wall. Often the problem you have with your cabinets is not because they were made out-of-square or in the wrong way but because they have been fitted poorly. If you suspect this then you should call in a professional who can rectify the problem. Even if the professional does charge a lot for his services it is still less expensive than allowing them to get more damaged and eventually replacing them.
There are so many different kinds of furniture, both free standing and built-in that a cabinet maker would build, that it is almost impossible to name and give a cost for them all, especially as the rarity and cost of types of wood, intricacy of wood decoration and style of design has a lot to do with how much they charge.
For the purposes of this article, we will confine ourselves to a bespoke kitchen. Bear in mind that the cost is indicative only and will vary depending on the type of wood used in the construction, the level of skill used (whether joints are individually cut traditional joints such as dovetails or whether modern fixing materials and methods are used), the ornamentation on the visible surfaces and the size of the kitchen/number of cabinets.
Cabinet makers don’t only build new furniture, they can also repair damaged and old furniture whether it is an antique or ordinary household that is too expensive to replace. For example, there are many different types of damage that can happen to kitchen cabinets that would require the individual cabinet to be repaired rather than the whole kitchen needing replacement. A cabinet could have been knocked, might have loose hinges or maybe the wall fixing has come loose.
Other factors that will affect the cost of your new kitchen include:
Whether the kitchen is:
Stock- Ready made in a factory or flat packed as a factory made product ready to be self-assembled by the customer.
Bespoke- Built to your own custom design and made from specific woods.
Semi-custom- Based on stock products but adapted and altered to your own specification.
|Cost to install bespoke kitchens
|$2,000 to $6,500
|Cost to repair kitchen cabinets
|$150 to $500
|Cost to install stock kitchen cabinets
|$2,000 to $8,000
|Cost to reface a kitchen cabinet
|$4,500 to $9,500
|Cost to refinish a kitchen cabinet
|$1,800 to $4,000
|Detailed cost to build and install kitchen cabinets
|Removal of old cabinets
|$400 depending on the size of your old kitchen and number of cabinets.
|To build new cabinets
|Approximately $500 to $1,500 per linear foot.
|Cost of materials
|Varies depending on type.
|Additional feature such as glass doors, appliance panels etc
|Varies depending on choice.
|About $100 per cabinet carcass.
|Cost of moulding and trim
|About $80 per 8ft length.
|Cost of finished ends
|About $80 to $200 each
|$70 to $100 per hour depending on location, experience and demand.
Cabinet making and joinery, in general, are able to be done by DIY enthusiasts as long as the enthusiast has some experience with woodworking in general and is willing to take their time and make lots of mistakes while learning. Luckily the usual items made by this professional are not structural so it won’t matter too much if they start off with a wobbly chair or a doll’s house that is out of scale.
Many people who enjoy DIY will build something from wood as a hobby project or as a saleable item at a craft market. The big difference between this and being a professional cabinet maker is one of time. A cabinet maker will be working to a deadline to make a profit whereas someone doing a DIY project will take as long as it takes to do the job and is not in it to make money.
We have just talked about whether cabinet making is suitable for DIY and the consensus seems to be that it is possible as long as you are prepared to wait a few years for a quality job. Basic woodwork is something that many people learn in school and if you enjoy doing DIY then you will have some skill using your hands. Although most people can construct something out of wood, it takes a professional cabinet maker or joiner to construct something with a quality of which you would be proud.
There are many reasons for and against hiring a professional and we will be discussing these now.
Professionals save you time. If you decide to build something special for your home, you will probably take many hours or even days planning exactly how you are going to construct it. A professional, because of their specialist training will automatically know the best method. Their knowledge allows them to get on and finish the job while you are still trying to find a supplier for that special hardwood, comparing prices or weighing up the benefits of one wood joint with another.
Professionals have specialist skills. Cabinet makers and joiners have skills that come with many years’ training and experience. They have an artistic flair as well as a basic mechanical knowledge which allows them to build something that will not fall apart and yet looks good with complementary colors, textures, and patterns.
Professionals have the correct tools. Professional woodworkers have the hand tools and power tools and know where to get the correct materials needed to complete a quality job.
Professionals can simplify a project. Cabinet makers and joiners have a deep knowledge of how wood can be shaped and smoothed to produce a beautiful yet practical piece of furniture that will be fit for purpose. They work alongside architects, designers, planners and others in the construction industry to make sure your project runs smoothly. Professionals know how and when to use a cheaper alternative if the original choice of material was too expensive or too difficult to shape, and know how to present the finished article so it looks just as good as one costing many hundreds of dollars. Professionals can identify where problems will occur and be able to fix them before they become insurmountable and so minimise delays and waste.
Before you hire a cabinet maker make sure you know what you want them to make and whether they are able to make it to the required quality at a reasonable cost. If you just want some new kitchen cabinets, go along to your nearest home improvement store to see whether the range of ready-made ones they have in stock will do the job. If however, you want to completely remodel and renovate your house with handmade bespoke fitted furniture then a cabinet maker or a high-class joiner is the person you need. Don’t forget you will need a big bank balance as well.
When you are searching for a professional who can work in wood, don’t forget to get three or four quotations before you decide on the person.
Don’t forget, if you are looking for a suitable professional, you need to make sure they are qualified to do the job and won’t cost you the earth. Have a look online for an appropriate professional association in your country, they will often have lists of members and will be able to help you find a suitable candidate based near where you live who can complete the work.
A good cabinet maker or joiner, if they are competent, will have a portfolio of photographs and satisfied customers who can vouch for their quality of work. Don’t undervalue verbal recommendations; it is often the only method to make sure you find a reliable and reputable cabinet maker.
The answer to this question will tell you how experienced they are. Don’t be worried if the cabinet maker is inexperienced, we all have to start somewhere but make sure you have a look at some of his work. Make sure the rates he charges for his work reflect the inexperience.
If the piece requires installing in your home, find out how many employees will be in your house. Usually, cabinet makers work alone or if they work for a larger company there will be other people around or at least a trainee as well. Usually, most items can be installed by one person but if lifting heavy or awkwardly shaped items is needed then don’t be surprised if two or three people arrive.
You will need time to collect more quotes. Most cabinet makers usually will do most of the work in their workshop, only visiting your premises to take measurements and to install the item. You will need to know when he intends coming to measure everything so that you can ensure someone is at home to let him indoors.
The cabinet maker will know if what you plan will cause any problems. Sorting out a solution to the problem may take a bit longer to accomplish, however.
You need to know how much you are expected to pay. Often when bespoke furniture is being designed and made, the finished price can be almost an educated guess. Make sure the cabinet maker knows there is a limit to the amount you are able to pay and make sure he sticks to it.
You need to know his quality of work and how professional he is. Ask for the contact details of four previous customers and get in touch with them. Ask if you can come to inspect the item yourself.
Ask to see appropriate contractor’s license (if this is applicable in your area) and any documents he might have proving membership of a professional association.
While measuring up, the professional will just need uncluttered access to the place where the furniture will be fitted. Make sure you clear that space. Will you have to provide anywhere for pre-assembly of the fitted furniture? Somewhere like a garage for example. Will he be making a lot of dust and should you seal off the rest of the house?
Although all woodworking trades are a skill in their own right, a cabinet maker is among the elite. The names of Chippendale, Sheraton and Hepplewhite ring down the centuries and their custom-made furniture is as sought after now as it was when it was first designed.
Let’s face it, although all types of woodworking is a difficult skill which takes many years to learn, some types of woodworking are more difficult than others and cabinet making is arguably the most difficult of the lot. The cabinet maker differs from the other woodworking trades in that he is a perfectionist, deals with precision wood joints and uses expensive and rare materials.
A cabinet maker is able to design and construct for you a custom-made piece of furniture that is unique and almost a work of art. But you will pay for the privilege.
Having said that, not everyone has the disposable income which makes it possible to have our own style of furniture made for us by a cabinet maker. This is where he uses his skills to repair damaged furniture and restore antique furniture back to the condition it was when it was originally made.
We hope you have learned something new today. Thank you for reading.