Kitchen Cabinets: Stock, Semi-Stock, Semi-Custom or Custom?

by Owen Sechrist

When discussing kitchen cabinets there are typically three basic types of cabinets discussed:  stock (also referred to as modular or economy), semi-stock and custom.  Some (myself included) would add a fourth category: semi-custom. Let's talk about what these terms mean.

Stock Cabinets

Stock cabinets are the type of cabinets sitting in a box ready to sell on your local big box store's shelf.  They come either pre-finished or unfinished.  You can't walk up to the counter and request a slightly different size or a different drawer construction; what you see is what you get.  Some companies offer stock cabinets that are only partially assembled.


Both stock cabinets and semi-custom cabinets can be referred to as "modular", they typically are made in widths varying in 3 inch increments. Most companies offer a wide range of options: door styles, type of construction, and finishes. This allows you to mix and match features to fit your desires and budget. The cabinets are then manufactured to fill your order.


If you want to stir up a bunch of custom cabinet makers at a fondue party start talking about "semi-custom" cabinets.  You're likely to get an earful about how there is no such thing, cabinets are either custom or they are not.  I think semi-custom is an important and necessary distinction since these cabinets offer almost endless choices to consumers.  While it's true the layout is usually still built around 3 inch increments they are typically offerend in an infinite combination of heights, depths, door overlays, box material, drawer construction, drawer mounting, stains/paints/glazes..... and so on. Some manufacturers will even make a cabinet with extended styles that extend past the side of the cabinet box, which allows you to eliminate fillers and in some cases achieve one of the benchmarks of custom cabinet designs: wall to wall cabinets with no fillers.

Custom Cabinets

Custom cabinets are just that: custom.  They are built to fit the exact design, layout and specifications for a specific project.  They typically do not have a filler piece between a cabinet and the wall, rather the cabinet against the wall is scribed to it.  Anything and everything about the cabinet can be specified by the customer.  Usually when you see doors that are flush with the cabinet frame rather than laid on top of the frame it is a custom cabinet. Often the lines between these levels of distinction get blurry. From a marketing standpoint there are pros and cons to identifying your product with any of the distinctions above. Often times a semi-custom manufacturer will call themselves a custom manufacturer, or a semi-custom manufacturer who doesn't want their product to be perceived as a a high budget item will call themselves a semi-stock company. Let's be clear about one thing: custom does not denote quality.  I have seen very high quality semi-custom cabinets and I've seen very poor quality custom cabinets. back to Kitchens Page

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