23 Ways to Get Cheap Kitchen Cabinets

Need cheap kitchen cabinets for your remodel?
Here are 23 ways to save:

Cheap kitchen cabinets can be had numerous ways, whether buying new or refurbishing the old.  Here are just a few ideas to start:

Keep your current cabinetry and...

1. Paint (or repaint) them yourself

2. Hire someone to paint them

3. Refinish them

4. Change the drawer and door fronts in an updated style, but match the current finish

5. Order new doors and drawer fronts in a solid paint color, then paint the cabinet boxes to match

6. Pay someone to reface the cabinets completely

See how a difference in drawer styles and color changes the whole look of these cabinets? The boxes behind them are nearly the same.  You can keep your cabinet boxes and just change the doors and drawer fronts... refacing is just one option to get cheap kitchen cabinets.

Classic flat panel drawers in cream works with many kitchen styles.
A lighter color in maple combined with more rustic iron drawer pulls makes this traditional style drawer less formal.
Recycle! Find free or exceptionally cheap kitchen cabinets (from Craigslist, Freecycle, Habitat for Humanity, a friend of a friend) and...

7. Paint

9. Use as-is

The cheapest kitchen cabinets have rectangular or square boxes.  Non-standard sizes and shapes cost more per cubic foot for storage than a regular stock cabinet.   

Corner cabinets can be great for ergonomics- you're less likely to bump in to them.  But the cost of cabinets in special shapes is higher per cubic foot.

Buy new kitchen cabinets and save...

10. Design the layout yourself

11. Price shop one layout with several vendors

12. Put together unassembled cabinets

13. Install them yourself

14. Get a simple discount (sale!)

15. Choose clearance/closeout/surplus cabinets

16. Use standard stock cabinets

17. Finish unfinished cabinets

18. Make an island yourself

19. Use a cheaper cabinet box

20. Select a cheaper door style

21. Choose a less expensive wood

22. Pick cheaper hardware (do without soft-close doors and designer knobs)

23. Forget about glazing and distressing, or do it yourself (try on a sample door first)

Want more ideas for cheap kitchen cabinets?

Got an even better idea to share?  Let me know about it! 

What makes a cheap kitchen cabinet... well, cheap

There are really only a few things that normally affect the cost of cabinets:

1.Materials cost
2. Assembly (construction) cost
3. Finishing cost
4. Supply and demand

To get cheaper kitchen cabinets, you need to either find those with cheap materials, low construction costs, low finishing costs, and/or low demand relative to a high supply.

Cheap materials in kitchen cabinets

I wouldn't recommend materials that aren't durable. It's a kitchen after all.

However, just because some materials are cheaper than others, doesn't mean they aren't durable.  And you can certainly avoid expensive woods like mahogany and cherry.

Genuine cherry wood is quite expensive, even more so if the pieces are matched for color uniformity (sometimes called "premium" cherry).

Genuine cherry cabinets are quite expensive, but the grain pattern has a delicacy and richness that is hard to compete with.

Some materials are inherently cheaper, such as MDF under thermofoil.  Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF) is simply ground up sawdust with glue.

It's incredibly strong, but the thermofoil over it looks plastic-y. It might be moisture resistant, but it's certainly not waterproof.

If MDF does get wet or filled with moisture, your cabinet is ruined.

Usually cabinet boxes are made of MDF or plywood.  Get the plywood if you can afford it.  Plywood is the material of choice here (even over solid wood) because it is more dimensionally stable (it moves less), and it doesn't swell up like a sponge if it gets wet (like MDF).

However, I have had builder grade Merillat MDF thermofoil cabinets with maple doors and drawer fronts that were quite respectable in terms of quality. 

I added more shelves to mine with white laminate shelving cut to fit from one of the Big Box stores and it worked great... except all the shelves sagged eventually, even the Merillat shelves!

So try to get plywood or solid wood shelving if possible (plywood is stronger but needs an edge treatment to hide the layers of wood laminated together).

Make sure whatever cabinet box construction you choose can hold the weight if you want heavy countertops like granite- especially for frameless cabinets.

Assembly and construction costs

There are essentially two aspects to putting together cabinets.

Cabinet box assembly costs

Cabinet boxes need assembly.  If it's a complicated cabinet, like a super cabinet, you probably aren't going to be doing it yourself.  You probably won't be doing it for cabinets with face frames, either.

The manufacturers don't offer these types of cabinets unassembled, and for good reason.
Assembly and cabinet construction costs go up for cabinet boxes with superior joinery and thicker wood.

This is not a cabinet you would assemble yourself.

Dado cabinet construction, seen here, is far superior in strength to a butt joint.  Three surfaces to hold glue are better than one.

But for simpler cabinets, it's possible to find a manufacturer that will sell them unassembled.  Ikea is famous for doing flat packs for everything, but there are many other cabinet manufacturers that will sell them this way, especially online.

Usually there is a cam assembly that makes building boxes a snap (but if you have a larger kitchen you may be assembling awhile!).

These cams are one of the cheapest ways to join the boxes together, but after the cabinets are screwed together and to walls, they're pretty stable.

Just because you can assemble them does not mean they're always the cheapest kitchen cabinets, however.  Individual suppliers have their own reasons for discounting things or not, so don't rule someone out because their cabinets are only sold pre-assembled.

Door construction costs

The other aspect to putting cabinets together is the door assembly.

The cheapest doors are slab doors, with no ornamentation or detail at all.

These can look brilliantly modern, country and cute, or just ugly and cheap, depending on the wood type, whether it's solid wood or plywood, the thickness, finish, and other details.

Here's a great candidate for just replacing doors and drawer fronts.  This is the wrong way to do slab doors.  These are solid wood cabinets, but the plywood slab doors make it look like a cheap kitchen.

Plywood cabinet doors can be replaced or trim added to mimic shaker style doors for a cheap kitchen update.

Mortise and tenon construction with raised panel doors or fancy glass insets are the most traditional and expensive.  This is how antique doors were made. 

Cope and stick construction mimics mortise and tenon, but the joint is made differently and is cheaper to do.  (They're done with a router instead of a saw and a chisel.) 

Many (if not most) cabinet doors are made with cope and stick construction these days.
People still argue about whether cope and stick is as strong as mortise and tenon (I believe they aren't), but they are usually strong enough to last decades, and I say that's good enough.

Lastly, the newest wood door types are mitered, which allows more detailed door fronts (basically extra molding), but is not traditional construction. 

They are put together somewhat like picture frames.  I have heard of mitered doors looking new after decades, and some separating in the corners after just a few years. 

Like cope and stick construction, there are ways to add biscuits or dowels to the joints to make them stronger.  But they don't have the history to prove their durability.  Unless you are set on a door that can only be done with mitered construction, I'd avoid it if possible, especially for a painted finish.

Finishing costs

Cheap kitchen cabinets and extra labor costs don't mix.  Labor just isn't cheap.  Whatever you can do to decrease the work others do on your cabinets will save you money. 

Interestingly, staining cabinets is usually cheaper than painting- the stain is more forgiving and commercially painted cabinets are sprayed on with some precision, and sometimes curing.  It's just harder to get a nice smooth finish with paint.

Staining can be done by a do-it-yourselfer.  I have stained a paneled cabinet, glazed it, and coated it with two coats of polyurethene and it wasn't that difficult.  However, it was only one cabinet.  A whole kitchen may be a little too daunting for most folks.

I've also painted an unfinished cabinet, and had less than professional results with a brush, so I would leave painting to the pros for new cabinets.  Unless you are handy with a sprayer, of course!  Spraying is how the pros do it.

So for cheap kitchen cabinets that are new, prefinished for you still gets my vote.   Finishing them yourself is pretty darn messy!

If you want to keep costs down in finishes, don't add extra steps such as distressing or glazing to your order.  Leave them off, or you can try it yourself on a pre-finished cabinet (test your technique on a test piece first).

The door back shown on the left under the KitchenCabinetsU.com is unglazed.  You can barely tell where the molding is... due to the uniform color. The cabinet door fronts to the right are glazed, defining the molding well.  After moving into a new home with a plain maple kitchen, I decided I wanted a more Tuscan feel and I glazed the cabinets myself.  

Glazing cabinets yourself is possible.  Glazing from the manufacturers can significantly raise the cost of cabinets.

Supply and demand

What does supply and demand have to do with cheap kitchen cabinets? 

Well, if the supply of a certain cabinet is too high relative to demand, you can get a good deal.  It costs money for suppliers to store cabinets, and at a certain point it makes sense for companies to sell them cheap rather than pay for a building and air conditioning to store unsold merchandise.

However, if the demand for bamboo cabinets, for example, is higher than the supply, the seller can demand a fortune... and get it.

So to save money on kitchen cabinets, avoid trendy cabinet styles that are too new to have enough supply to satisfy demand.  Also, avoid cabinets that inherently have a very low supply, such as tiger maple.  They will always cost a fortune!

Cheap Kitchen Cabinets: So many options!

I hope you've found a few ways here to help you in your search for cheap kitchen cabinets.  Learn more about the cost of kitchen cabinets.

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