5 Things No One Tells You About Getting New Cabinet Hardware

published May 20, 2018
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(Image credit: Marisa Vitale)

If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a million times. Editors and designers love to tell people to switch out their cabinet hardware for a low-effort, high-impact change in the kitchen. They call knobs and pulls “jewelry for the kitchen” and talk about it like it’s as easy as changing your, uh, necklace.

I’m not saying it’s complicated or anything — just that there are a few things no one really talks about when they suggest changing out your hardware. I’ve done it in a few different kitchens and even in some bathrooms, and here’s what I’ve learned — including some lessons from a very recent hardware project.

1. There are so many options.

A simple search just on Amazon reveals more than 10,000 results for “cabinet knobs” and that’s not even counting draw pulls or bins. Some of them are probably not going to be your style, but you still have to look through them!

Some places to look: 10 Sources for Knobs and Pulls

I just swapped out my kitchen’s light fixture — with an option from the very splurgy Portland-based shop Schoolhouse Electric — and decided to get knobs from the same place (to make sure the finishes matched exactly). Even with the store narrowed down, I had more than 40 options to choose from. And I ended up buying two options to test at home, only to return them both and go with a third option!

(Image credit: Schoolhouse Electric )

2. Size matters.

There is no one-size-fits-all knob option. Of the two I returned, one was a quarter-of-an-inch too small and the other was a quarter-of-an-inch too big. And the one I thought I originally wanted — a whopping one-and-a-half-inches in diameter! — would have been huge! I Googled to see if there was a magic formula for figuring out the best knob size. There isn’t! One site simply said that if the knobs detract from the cabinets, they’re too big. Thanks, site! Too small, though, and the knobs will just look silly. (If you’re curious, I ended up going with the small version of these.)

3. Good knobs are more expensive than you want them to be.

Compared to, say, a kitchen renovation, the price of hardware is nothing. But it’s not something that can really be done super well for less than $100. I have a relatively small kitchen and I still needed 18 knobs! And these things add up. The ones I got were $10 each, so that’s $180. My husband strongly objected — he didn’t understand why I couldn’t get less expensive knobs from, say, Target or Home Depot.

My reasons: Those stores didn’t have options I really liked (remember, I wanted the finish to match my new light exactly) and we have some cheaper knobs on our bathroom vanity and the finish is already starting to wear off. I wanted to invest in solid pieces that would last us a lifetime. And hey, at least I didn’t pick the option that was $14 per knob!

4. There will almost always be a screw issue.

Your knobs will most likely come with screws. And most likely, there will be some sort of issue. For example, some of my drawers are extra thick, so even the longer screws didn’t reach. In an old rental, I painted my own knobs (wooden ones I got from Home Depot) only to realize that the screws didn’t fit in the existing cabinet holes and I couldn’t bring myself to drill into cabinets we didn’t own. On a related note, if you’re going with pulls, make sure the screws will line up with the existing holes!

5. They’ll be harder to get used to than you’d think.

Once you pick out and install your knobs, you still have one last job to do: getting used to them. After years of mindlessly reaching for the knobs we had, we knew how they’d feel in our hands and how to grip them. Now, we fumble around a little before we can successfully open a cabinet or drawer. We know we’ll get used to them, but it’s just a funny reminder of how muscle memory works!

Have you ever replaced your cabinet hardware? What else did you learn? Tell us in the comments below!