Saturday, January 26, 2008

Ikea Kitchen Cabinets, Part 1 of Many

I've had about a year to look at kitchen cabinets, and the prices on some of them make my soil myself. Before you say it, I know the saying "you get what you pay for".

Well, I'm not renovating a $500,000 house here, so I needed a good combination of price, quality, and appearance.

After reading as much as I could find about them, I decided to not only drive the 90 minutes to check out Ikea's cabinets in person, but to also buy one in the style we were most interested in.

There are about 4 different cabinets in the layouts we're looking at which are all 24" wide, so that's the size we got, with three drawers. If we decide to go with different drawer faces in the future we can just buy the new faces and screw them in place easily.

Before I get into the adventure that is building a cabinet, let me say this about the Ikea store we went to: It's fvcking huge! 3 floors packed with just about anything you'd need in a house. I'm not a fan of the style of a lot of stuff there, but the sheer amount of stuff for sale is impressive.

If you've never dealt with Ikea's cabinets before, they are a modular design which you get the "pleasure" of putting together yourself. If it saves me money, bring it on!

So we pick out the style we want and get a print-out of the details from the kitchen department. At the check-out, they point us towards the pick-up area and we go to wait. 5-10 minutes later a girl calls my number and gives me a push-cart filled with boxes and bags (see the first picture below). I sign off on the pick-up sheet without taking inventory of every box and bag. Hey, it's only pieces for one cabinet, she can't screw that up, can she?!?

The big box in the back left is the main "box" of the lower cabinet, which is a generic box used for all the various combinations of drawers and doors. The only option here is one of two finishes. The three boxes in front of it are the three drawers. The front box to the right is the small drawer front, while the big piece in the back right is the wrong fvcking piece that I wasn't smart enough to check before leaving the store. It was supposed to be the door for the lower drawers, but instead looks like a side trim piece for an upper cabinet. If I can't return it I should be able to re-use it later. The bags in front are various hardware pieces which I'll cover in a little bit.

Step one is assembling the "box" of the cabinet. The wood is veneer over particleboard. Depending on who you want to believe, some say this is better than solid wood. It's cheaper, so for me, that's better! The pieces are all in good shape, no ding or dents, and well packaged.

If you've ever assembled a desk or entertainment system, you can do this. The instructions are a little vague in places, but it's easy enough to find your way through the process. I used my cordless drill to make it easier, and made sure to use the clutch set to a light setting to make sure the screws didn't get over-tightened, which would destroy the particle bard. I did the final tightening by hand with a screwdriver. These are the sides of the cabinet.

The back of each cabinet has a couple of metal brackets which will later be used to attach the cabinets to the wall. My Ryobi 18v drill has seen plenty of action and still runs like a champ. (Come on, Ryobi, how about a couple of new lithium batteries for all the promoting I do for you guys?)

The cabinet sides and top/bottom are connected with dowels and screw posts. They don't look very strong, but once the cabinet is in place they'll be plenty strong enough. When I moved a year ago, I threw out a desk which was assembled with the same type of hardware. It had moved with me at least 4 times and even though I beat the hell out of it over the years, it still held together well. The instructions don't say anything about using some glue in here with the dowels. While I don't think it would hurt, I doubt that it's needed.

Hey, we've got a box! The top isn't a full piece like the bottom, because it doesn't need to be. It saves weight and money this way.

The feet are interesting. Instead of building a traditional base for the cabinets there are four feet with can be adjusted to make up for uneven flooring. It's hard to tell from this picture, but each foot assembly can be rotated 180 degrees so that it spans two cabinets. This helps spread the load between cabinets and helps even everything up. They're just held in by gravity, although I will probably put a little silicone sealant in each mounting hole just to help hold everything in place when I'm placing cabinets. The extra hardware shown is to hold the toe-kick pieces in place. I didn't get the toe kicks yet - I'll worry about that when I figure out how many linear feet I need for the final install. Since they're clamped in place with these plastic clips, they aren't as strong as a regular nailed-in piece, but they should be able to handle the limited kicking they'll get.

With the box done and sitting on it's feet, it's time to build drawers. Two drawers will be without a face for now, until I pick up the correct piece. The sides and back of each drawer are metal, while the face and bottom are wood (well, particle board....). Each piece has it's own instruction sheet and hardware.

First up is the bottom drawer. The slider assemblies just screw in place with two screws. Super-easy and quick to do. They have some built-in springs to close the drawers and to keep 'em closed. The instructions tell you which of the pre-drilled holes to use for each slider assembly. This same box could be used for adjustable shelves instead of drawers.

Each drawer also comes with a dampener to make the drawer close slowly and smoothly. If you just give the drawer a push to close it, when it's about 3" from slamming closed it suddenly slows down and slowly closes on it's own. I consider that a pretty nice feature.

Here is the 24" cabinet about as complete as I can build it for now. Each drawer face is adjustable up/down, and the lower ones have an extra brace which helps make sure the face is nice and flush with the other drawers. The lower drawers share one face. I'm not sure how much I like that yet, but we'll see how it goes. I can always easily change that in the future.

As you can see here, the drawers extend fully, giving you access to all the crap that ends up in the back. Once the cabinet is in place, the counter top will over hang the front by an inch or so.

We really liked the handles on the display cabinets in the store. They carry a decent selection of handles, although a lot of people go out and buy something elsewhere. In this case, one-stop shopping for us. The directions don't tell you where to mount the handles and the fronts aren't pre-drilled (different handles need different mounting holes) so I laid down some tape and found the center-line vertically and horizontally. Once I have a lot of cabinets to do I'll either make a template or buy a jig. For now, this was quick and easy, and the handle is centered.

Two holes later, we're happy with the result. I'd be extremely happy if I had bothered to make sure we had all the correct parts to build the cabinet...

So the verdict so far is that the cabinet appears to be a very decent value at $223.00 including drawer pulls. My only complaint is that nothing in the store has a regular English name - it's all Swiss. Cute marketing ploy, but it's irritating trying to understand the documentation, sales tickets, and instructions at times.

When it comes time to build a dozen or so cabinets, the best thing I can recommend to make the job easier is to get an old door and put it on a couple of saw-horses so you can do the work without crawling around on the floor.

This cabinet took about 75 minutes to build. Since it was the first one and a learning experience, the next cabinets should go much more quickly. I expect that if I were to build another on a work bench that I could have it done in 45 minutes.

When it comes time to build and install the cabinets, I plan on only building the boxes and installing them. After they're all in place I can worry about the drawers and doors. That will keep my build area a less cluttered and keep the weight of each cabinet down while I get everything in place.