What are RTA cabinets? 
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What are RTA cabinets? The quick definition: RTA cabinets are “ready-to-assemble” cabinets. That is, cabinets that are shipped to you unassembled. You are responsible for assembling them before installing them in your house
What are RTA cabinets? An overview
So what are RTA cabinets? The widespread use of RTA cabinets is a relatively new development. In the past, most cabinets came pre-assembled by their manufacturer.
A typical buyer would be a contractor, who would come out to your house, do the measuring for the cabinets, and then have the cabinets delivered — assembled — to your house. The contractor would then install the cabinets. In this case, you may pay the cabinet manufacturer, although generally you would pay the contractor, who would then pay the manufacturer for the cabinets.
RTA cabinets are a more DIY option. The most important thing about RTA cabinets is that you (or your contractor) must assemble them yourself — before they are installed.
RTA cabinets come in many different shapes and sizes, but they have a few main properties: First, they are flat-packed, like IKEA furniture. And second, they contain all of the hardware (but not necessarily the tools) to put them together — again, like IKEA furniture.
It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that IKEA is one of the largest sellers of RTA cabinets. Some others are Lily Ann Cabinets, and The RTA Store.
How difficult is it to assemble RTA cabinets?
RTA cabinets are generally not difficult to assemble. You definitely don’t need to be an expert carpenter or craftsman in order to assemble them. In fact, you don’t even need to be particularly handy.
It helps to be familiar with an electric screwdriver and feel comfortable using a hammer. if you have ever assembled furniture (especially IKEA furniture), you are totally capable of assembling RTA cabinets.
One thing to understand: it’s easier to assemble RTA cabinets than to install them. So even if you don’t feel capable of hanging cabinets on the wall, you are likely capable of assembling them.
How much time should I budget to assemble RTA cabinets?
Depending on the cabinet type, assembly time can range from minutes to over an hour.
When I began assembling my first RTA cabinet, it took me well over an hour to assemble a simple 30″ wall cabinet. However, after assembling several, I was able to complete each new wall cabinet in under 30 minutes.
Base cabinets generally take longer than wall cabinets, given that they have a platform at the bottom which needs to be assembled. And drawers generally take longer than cabinets, since each drawer needs to be assembled piece by piece.
The most difficult to assemble RTA cabinets tend to be the full height ones. These are unwieldy, and can way as much as 100 pounds. In order to assemble these, you will need space, and you may need a friend to help you turn them over without damaging them.
In each of the reviews of different cabinet sellers’ products, I provide information on the time it took me to assemble their cabinets. You can look at each review page for that specific information.
What do you need to assemble RTA cabinets?
Generally, very few tools are needed to assemble RTA cabinets. All parts and hardware are included in the box, and sometimes manufacturers include some assembly tools.
Here is a list of the most basic tools required to assemble RTA cabinets:
- A screwdriver — preferably electric — with different sized screw bits
- Wood glue
- A rubber mallet
Here is a list of additional tools that make the job easier:
- A drill (with bits)
- Needle-nose pliers
- Scrap wood (to help hammer parts together easily)
- A level with angle readouts
- A square
Often, you will use an electric driver which can double as a drill. The driver is used for screwing cabinet parts together. Generally, the manufacturer will drill pilot holes where the screws should go; however, it helps to have a drill so that you can drill your own, if the ones provided are in the wrong place or missing.
The rubber mallet and scrap wood are used to fit slide fit or press fit parts. Many RTA cabinets are manufactured with tongue and groove or dovetail joints. These need to be coerced into place.
Using a regular hammer can damage these parts. A rubber mallet is softer and safer to use. If you’re trying to hammer a larger area, the scrap wood helps. You can place the scrap wood against the cabinet, and use the mallet to hit the scrap wood. This distributes the force of the hammer over a larger area.
Wood glue is especially important in order to build cabinets that last. You will want to glue every joint to ensure that they don’t come apart with time.
Finally, a level and a square are useful to ensure the cabinets are square, and that adjustable parts like the drawer slides are level.
Should I buy RTA cabinets?
Whether you should buy RTA cabinets depends on how much time you have, how much money you want to spend, and whether you’re comfortable getting your hands dirty. Today’s RTA cabinets use the top materials and hardware, so their quality when complete easily compares (and sometimes even surpasses) that of top cabinet makers.
So the real question is: are you willing to do some work in order to save a significant amount of money? If so, RTA cabinets are for you.