By Monte Leper

Q. We were looking for real wood kitchen cabinets, and they really run the gamut from semi-reasonable to very expensive. A salesperson told us that well-made cabinets and doors cost more because they are better made, with more pieces assembled instead of single panels. He told us we would regret choosing the cheaper doors, saying they wouldn’t last. I know that over the years our closet doors get stuck due to changes in humidity, but is that really a big cause for having to buy more expensive cabinets?

A. Yes. The most important factor when selecting materials for any type of construction, be it a building or a cabinet, is to keep in mind that everything has movement, both internal and external. As I have written many times, wood was once the center of a tree, never intended in nature to be cut and displayed. Once wood is extracted from the heart of a tree, it begins to change shape depending on temperature and moisture content.
Lumber intended for structural use, such as a common 2×4 wall stud, is typically seasoned to about 19% moisture content. This is done by laying the wood outside in a covered area. Interior wood products are kiln dried to around 8% to balance with indoor humidity, but the wood will not just stay at that humidity level. Over the seasons, wood products continue to adapt to the humidity to which they are subjected.
Previously, craftsmen let trim moldings sit indoors, on site, to accommodate their final interior installation. Unfortunately, most people are in a rush to get the job done and move on so the wood doesn’t have a chance to acclimate. From time to time, I am asked to explain why there are cracks in the plasterboard at the corners or around the doors. Most of the time people suspect it is a structural problem when it is actually the twisting and expansion or contraction of the wood which always has a level of humidity different from that of the building. Dynamic movement can split wood and crack walls easily.
The same type of movement can occur in cabinet doors, so to accommodate this internal movement doors are often configured with what are known as “tracks and styles” surrounding the center panel. A well-designed cabinet door will move if you place your hand on the center panel and move it up or down or side to side. The movement allows the door panel to expand or contract without binding, twisting or warping. Many doors mimic the look of multi-piece doors, but are routed panels made from a single board. This type of door can warp from typical humidity changes in a kitchen, boiling water on a stove, a cross breeze on a summer day, or when the heat comes on and the house becomes dry. Good luck!

© 2022 Monte Leper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to [email protected], with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, Architect.