The Basic Glossary of Kitchen Cabinet Lingo

Giving your kitchen cabinets a makeover is a huge endeavor. If it’s your first time doing it, working with contractors and suppliers can be very overwhelming. Chances are, they will be throwing around a lot of buzzwords and asking you all kinds of questions in regards to materials, design preference, and much more.

Before you reach out to a professional with your project, you are wise to educate yourself on the basic lingo of the industry. This is to ensure you get the exact result you want without any guesswork. Moreover, you also need to make sure that the theme or the style of the cabinets match with the rest of your kitchen and your home.

Without further ado, here’s the basic glossary of terms associated with kitchen cabinets, which will make it easier to communicate with the industry pros and guide your decision making.

1. Materials

The materials you choose for your kitchen cabinets are the governing factor of the finished product after design.  At the same time, it will also determine the durability of the cabinets. Each of the materials will have their own benefits. Here are the specifics of the common kitchen cabinet materials, which include but are not limited to:

a. Wood

Kitchen cabinets are often designed with solid wood because of the durability. Categorized as hardwood and softwood, woods offer a classy look and feel to the cabinets, and ultimately, the rest of the kitchen. The end-result of wooden cabinets are warm and pleasant. They are chic, classy, timeless, and exude luxury. If you want a highly customizable and durable material for the cabinets, solid wood is the answer!

b. Plywood

A common material in many modular kitchen designs, plywood, or engineered wood, is made by using special wood panels or sheets of wood veneers. The veneer boards are securely pressed and bonded together. The finished product looks like one solid piece that possesses great strength.

There are several variables of plywood grades. These are based on the type of the wood ply, the adhesive, the thickness, and the manufacturing process. However, only high-grade plywood is used for kitchen cabinets and shelving. They are less prone to water damage and can be stained or painted, which are their major selling points.

c. Particle board

A particle board, or a low-density fiberboard (LDF), is a waste-wood product. It is made by using heat pressed sawmill shavings, wood chips, or sawdust and glue/resin mixture (or any other suitable binder). Sometimes, more ingredients are added to the mix in order to make it fireproof, water-resistant, and insect-proof.

An important part of the process is to warrant that the weight of the wood chips is evenly distributed. The surface of a particle board is generally given a finishing of a thin layer of laminate or veneer, as it enhances the appearance.

d. Medium density particle board

Medium density particle board, or medium density fiber board (MDF), is a costly alternative to particle boards. These are made from small wood fibers instead of wood dust and can resist chipping and tearing. You can also mold or shape them using power tools or paint them without absorption and warping.

e. Wood veneers

Veneers are thin layers of material covering another layer of thicker materials. Wood veneers are thin sheets of wood that are bonded to form a reconstructed wood product and can be applied to any other piece of wood, such as a particle board or plywood.

f. Laminate

Laminates are popular materials for countertops, but they also serve as a covering for kitchen cabinets. A HPL, or High Pressure Laminate, has a better impact resistance and are available in various grades.

g. Melamine

Melamine is a plastic-like product used in cabinet making. It is characterized by a smooth and easy-to-clean finish. It can also be used to replicate wood tones for solid colors.

h. Thermofoil

Thermofoil is another name for melamine veneers. It is a thin layer of plastic or a vinyl film used as a cover for cabinet doors, boxes, and drawers. It also offers amazing versatility to the cabinets.

2. Face frame

In cabinet making, the face frame refers to frames that are attached to the front of a cabinet and hides the edges. It is the fixing point for the doors of the cabinet or any other external hardware.

a. Full overlay

A full overlay covers the entire face of the cabinet box so all you see is the door. Two such overlay cabinets side-by-side helps create a neat, seamless look. It is easier to store larger items in these cabinets. The catch here is that you’ll need hardware for a full overlay in order to open them.

b. Standard overlay

Standard overlay cabinets are less expensive than full overlay cabinets. The major difference is that these have enough finger space on the side to open the door without hardware. This is because the frame is more exposed with at least 1 ¼ inch on each side.

c. Partial overlay

Partial overlay is a cross between a full and a standard overlay. It makes some of the face frame visible. The doors are mounted on the face of the frame and cover the opening. However, they partially cover the finished face frame, with only a small part showing. When you want a vintage look for your kitchen, this is the best style!

d. Inset

Inset cabinet doors are set inside the face frame, leaving it completely exposed. Inset cabinets are popular with homeowners and are great for providing a nostalgic and heritage touch.

3. Door types

Doors of kitchen cabinets are usually available with raised or recessed central panels. Apart from these, there are also variations of slab style and beaded panel doors. The style of the doors plays a significant role in setting the tone for your kitchen. Therefore, you want to choose a cabinet door only when you’ve finalized your decision for the style of your kitchen or home, not before!

a. Slab

Slab style cabinet doors are made from a solid panel without a face frame. If you want to settle for a modern kitchen with a minimalist touch, this is the best bet.

b. Recessed panel

Recessed panels are also referred to as Shaker Style panels. These have a center panel lower than the rest of the door. A higher outer edge of the center panel is what defines this style. These are excellent choices for simple and clean lines in a modern kitchen.

c. Raised panel

Raised panels are the exact opposite of a recessed panel door and has the central panel raised from the rest of the door. The contoured edge of the panel lends it a distinct identity and is perfect for traditional kitchen settings.

d. Beaded panel

These offer a decorative wood paneling that include vertical grooves. If you want to create a homey, cozy, and cottage-type feel in your kitchen, a beaded panel door is a great option!


Revamping your kitchen cabinets requires a lot of research and planning.  With some of the basics terms covered, we hope you will be able to make more informed decisions when it comes to planning the design and structure of your kitchen cabinets!

Over the past three decades, we at San Diego Kitchen Pros have seen cabinet projects of all kinds. If you have any questions or need any clarification in regards to kitchen cabinets, we are happy to help.