Cabinet making involves techniques such as creating appropriate joints, dados, bevels, chamfers and shelving systems, the use of finishing tools such as routers to create decorative edgings, and so on.
With the industrial revolution and the application of steam and electrical power to cabinet making tools, mass production techniques were gradually applied to nearly all aspects of cabinet making, and the traditional cabinet shop ceased to be the main source of furniture, domestic or commercial. In parallel to this evolution there came a growing demand by the rising middle class in most industrialised countries for finely made furniture. This eventually resulted in a growth in the total number of traditional cabinet makers.
Before 1650, fine furniture was a rarity in western Europe and North America. Generally, people did not need it and for the most part could afford it. They made do with simple but serviceable pieces.
The arts and craft movement which started in the United Kingdom in the middle of the 19th century spurred a market for traditional cabinet making, and other craft goods. It rapidly spread to the United States and to all the countries in the British empire. This movement exemplified the reaction to the eclectic historicism of the Victorian era and to the 'soulless' machine-made production which was starting to become widespread.
After World War II woodworking became a popular hobby among the middle classes. The more serious and skilled amateurs in this field now turn out pieces of furniture which rival the work of professional cabinet makers. Together, their work now represents but a small percentage of furniture production in any industrial country, but their numbers are vastly greater than those of their counterparts in the 18th century and before.
This style of design is very ornate. Objects are often stained or painted leaving the wood concealed. Corners and bevels are often painted with a gold leave or given some other kind of gilding. Flat surfaces often have artwork such as landscapes painted directly on them. The wood used in provincial varied, but was often originally Beech.
Early American Colonial
This design emphasises both form and materials. Chairs and tables are often constucted with turned spindles and chair backs often constructed with steaming to bend the wood. Wood choices tend to be decidious hardwoods with a particular emphasis on the wood of edible or fruit bearing trees such as Cherry or Walnut.
This style of design sometimes called "log furniture" or "log cabin" is the least finished. Design is very utilitiarian yet seeks to feature not only the materials used but in as much as possible, how they existed in their natural state. For example a table top may have what is considered a "live edge" that allows you to see the original contours of the tree that it came from. Rustic furniture is often made from Pine,Cedar, Fir and Spruce.
Mission Design is characterized by strait thick horizontal and vertical lines and flat panels. The most common material used in Mission furniture is oak. Hardware is often visible on the outside of the pieces and made of black iron.
Shaker furniture design is focused on function and symmetry. Because it is so influenced by an egalitarian religious community and tradition it is rooted in the needs of the community versus the creative expression of the designer. Like Early American and Colonial design, Shaker craftsmen often chose fruit woods for their designs. Pieces reflect a very efficient use of materials.
The fundamental focus of the cabinet maker is the production of cabinetry. Although the cabinet maker may also be required to produce items that would not be recognised as cabinets, the same skills and techniques apply.
A cabinet may be built-in or free-standing. A built-in cabinet is usually custom made for a particular situation and it is fixed into position, on a floor, against a wall, or framed in an opening. For example modern kitchens are examples of built-in cabinetry. Free-standing cabinets are more commonly available as off-the-shelf items and can be moved from place to place if required. Cabinets may be wall hung or suspended from the ceiling.
Cabinets may have a face frame or may be of frameless construction (also known as European or euro-style). Modern cabinetry is often frameless and is typically constructed from man-made sheet materials, such as plywood, chipboard or MDF. The visible surfaces of these materials are usually clad in a timber veneer, plastic laminate, or other material. They may also be painted.
Cabinets which rest on the floor are supported by some sort of a base. This base could be a fully enclosed base (i.e. a plinth), a scrolled based, bracket feet or it could be a set of legs.
Kitchen cabinets, or any cabinet generally at which a person may stand, usually have a fully enclosed base in which the front edge has been set back 75 mm or so to provide room for toes, known as the kick space. A scrolled base is similar to the fully enclosed base but it has areas of the base material removed, often with a decorative pattern, leaving feet on which the cabinet stands. Bracket feet are separate feet, usually attached in each corner and occasionally for larger pieces in the middle of the cabinet.
Modern cabinets employ many more complicated means (relative to a simple shelf) of making browsing lower cabinets more efficient and comfortable. Such means include (names may be heavily colloquialised):
Another recent development in cabinet inserts or hardware, often taking the place of the lazy susan, particularly in base cabinets is the blind corner cabinet pull out unit. These units pull out and turn, making the attached shelving unit slide into the open area of the cabinet door, thus making the shelves accessible to the user. These units vary greatly in design and cost, but are very practical in making what was once dead space usable.
Other insert hardware is continuously being designed and includes such items as mixer shelves that pull out of a base cabinet and spring into a locked position at counter height. This hardware makes lifting these somewhat heavy mixers and mechanically helping with the process of positioning the unit for use. More and more components are being designed to enable specialized hardware to be used in standard cabinet carcasses.