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Wood Bath Vanity Cabinets – How To Spot Quality

Bath vanity cabinets come in many shapes and sizes and can be made from several types of materials. This would include wood, glass, metal, and synthetics. However, the most popular styles of vanities tend to have wooden bases.

So I’m going to focus on wood vanities and tell you what you should be looking for in a quality product. You’ll want to make sure you’re getting quality no matter what price you pay. And if you decide that a particular vanity is too expensive, you’ll know which elements are less important when picking out a more affordable version.

If you examine the construction of most bath vanity cabinets, you should not find any visible nail holes in the wooden base. That’s a good thing and it’s an important sign that the vanity isn’t a complete piece of junk. But let’s not jump too far ahead.

Wood Bath Vanity Cabinets: Overview

Wood bath vanity cabinets are constructed in essentially the same manner as your kitchen cabinets. There are two major components of the vanity base:

1) The skeleton, frame, carcass or box
2) The doors and drawer fronts

The carcass or skeleton is the part of the bathroom vanity cabinet that defines it’s shape and holds the whole thing together. In higher-end vanities, the box may be made of solid wood or quality plywood. For moderate to lower-end bath vanity cabinets, the carcass will probably be made of plywood, particle board, or some other engineered wood product.

Many people are under the impression that plywood means low quality, but this is not true. In fact, quality plywood is stronger than most hardwoods. It’s also often preferred by manufacturers because it will resist warping, cracking and shrinking, and it’s more affordable.

Plywood is made by gluing or bonding several thin layers of wood (called veneers)together. And the way this process is done is what makes it a tough product. There are several grades of plywood, with A-C being the most widely used. Naturally, grade A plywood is deemed best because this means it is free of all defects.

The reason that I don’t get overly concerned about whether the vanity box is made of quality plywood or all hardwood is because the eye-catching part of the vanity is the front. So if the carcass is going to be very sturdy to begin with, why pay a lot extra to have it made of solid wood?

By the way, you can often find plywood that has it’s outer layers made of a particular hardwood that you like, e.g., oak, birch, ash, mahogany, etc. Just ask the vanity seller. Also inquire about the grade of the plywood, if it’s used.

Construction Of Wooden Bath Vanity Cabinets

The carcass of wood bath vanity cabinets are made by milling, sanding and cutting the wooden boards into the desired sizes. Then it just a matter of screwing together the planks and boards into the desired shape. The top of the box is left open because that’s where the sink and countertop will go. And the front is left uncovered because that’s where the doors and drawers will eventually go.

Vanity Doors And Drawer Fronts

For a quality wood vanity, you’ll want the doors and drawer fronts to be made of solid hardwood (or premium veneers). This is what people will see and what will give your vanity it’s warm, elegant look and feel.

What makes doors and drawer fronts look so good is not only their design, but it’s also how they are finished. To bring out the natural beauty of the wood and to protect it, the cabinet maker will first apply oil (such as a combination of linseed and tongue oil) all over the surface of the sanded wood. When it dries, they will apply a coat of polyurethane varnish to provide additional protection and to give them a nice shine.

The vanity doors should be attached to the box using quality soft closing hinges. And the drawer faces should be attached to the drawer boxes using dovetail joints. Don’t worry, I’m way ahead of you.

When you slide open a cabinet drawer, there is a point where the drawer front and the drawer box connect on their sides. The connecting edges of the wood will be cut so that they fit together like two jig-saw puzzle pieces. This is called a dovetail joint. It’s one of those woodworking tricks for joining two things together to make a super strong connection without the use of nails or screws.

There are two options for adding doors and drawer fronts to bath vanity cabinets. It can be done with a face frame or it can be totally frameless. I’ll explain.

As previously mentioned, when the cabinet carcass is completed, it’ll look like a wood box with the top and front left open. So, some manufacturers will add a face frame to the front of it. The face frame serves a similar purpose as a picture frame or door frame. And it will usually be made of the same solid wood as the doors and drawer fronts you choose, but it doesn’t have to be.

To create the face frame, holes are drilled at an angle in some of the planks. This allows them to be screwed together during assembly, without the screws being visible. Wood glue is applied to the edges of the boards for added re-enforcement.

The vanity maker will also use mortise and tenon joints to join certain pieces. Without getting too technical, the simplest way to envision these joints is to imagine putting a square peg into a square hole and having them fit together tightly. The hole is the mortise and the other end that goes into it is the tenon.

<===Check out this short video for a demonstration of mortise and tenon joints.

With a face frame in place, the cabinet doors may be a little smaller than those used with the frameless design. And there will be a tiny bit more space between the doors to show off the face frame. The drawers will also be narrower. This is the traditional look of North American cabinets.

For frameless cabinets, the doors will be larger since there is no frame and there will be less space between them. The drawers will also be wider. This look is generally associated with European style cabinets.

Whether you decide to go with face-framed or frameless bath vanity cabinets has nothing to do with quality. It’s really just a matter of personal taste. When looking at them, the differences between the two cabinet styles are often very subtle.

In summary, when evaluating the quality of bath vanity cabinets, do the following:

-- Look for a carcass made of solid wood or high-quality plywood

-- Check for the use of dovetail joints, and mortise and tenon joints

-- Inspect the exterior of the vanity for cracks and gaps

-- Make sure the doors and drawers open and close smoothly and effortlessly

-- Ensure that the inside of the vanity has a smooth professional finish

-- Verify that the sink is fitted properly with a tight seal

-- Confirm that the drainage system is adequate and that there is a water overflow hole

-- If possible, give the sink vessel a run-through to see if there will be any restrictions or limitations when you bend over to wash your face

Bath Vanity Cabinets -- Choices And Selection

I’ll keep this section brief….

-- Discount bath vanity cabinets -- if you’re searching for cheap discount bath vanity cabinets, it’s really just a matter of looking around. All major sellers of vanities will periodically have clearance and seasonal sales. The cost of vanities can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand. But make quality and value the primary determinants for your purchase, and not just price.

-- Custom bath vanity cabinets -- if you are having a tough time finding a maker of custom vanity cabinets, contact the manufacturers of kitchen cabinets. Many of them may not actively advertise this type of work, but can and will do it.

- Bath vanity cabinet colors -- you can find white bath vanity cabinets, black bath vanity cabinets, and every color in between. Just make sure that it meets the quality guidelines discussed above.

Now that you know how to spot quality, it’s just a matter of sorting through the plethora of bath vanity cabinets to find one that matches your decorating and design style.