The sound of banging drawers and slamming cabinet doors is one of my pet peeves. Granted, the culprit probably doesn't intend to be so noisy, but it drives me crazy when putting dishes away or making a snack creates sounds reminiscent of a commercial kitchen during the lunchtime rush.

After recently discussing the bells and whistles available in kitchen/bathroom renovations, a friend and I agreed that details may be as important as the choices in finish and layout design. To me, the soft-close feature on drawer slides and door hinges are wonderful.

To be clear, there is a difference between self-closing and soft-closing. Most components that are soft-closing are also self-closing, but not all self-closing components are soft-closing. The "self" element means that the hinge or slide has a built-in element that pulls the drawer or door closed, sometimes with a tap or bang. "Soft"-closing means just that it glides. The drawer or door is pushed and it glides to a certain point and then hydraulics take over. The drawer is eased to the closed position, gently and quietly. Shhhh.

Oddly enough, soft-close drawer glides became a mainstay in the industry about six years ago, while soft-close hinge pieces are only beginning to become a staple in kitchen slide and hinge offerings, according to Kevin Martin, designer for Horizon Kitchens, 1855 Stony Battery Road, Mountville. While Europe is the test bed for such technology, according to Martin, Americans are suspicious and often wait to see if things are going to be a trend or a fad. Once the industry decides that something will be more than a fad, the manufacturers move on and create their line.

DRAWER SLIDES

Drawer slides evolved from the side-mounted, noisy, metal slides - known as Grant slides, popular in the 1950s and '60s - to stamped-steel, epoxy-coated slides with simplified ball bearings, designed in the 1980s, according to Martin. The epoxy-coated slides are inexpensive and quiet and have really been the mainstay in America for 30 years.

With both the side-mount, ball-bearing and the stamped-steel slides, a 1/2-inch clearance between the drawer box and the cabinet opening is needed on each side to accommodate the mechanisms.

Many drawers continue to operate with one of these two types of glides, and, according to Dennis Shenk, general manager at Horizon Kitchens, manufacturers have made upgrades and the glides have undergone many innovations over the years. There are generics that are sometimes "noisier and may include some plastic components, which could wear out more quickly," said Shenk, so he and Martin caution homeowners to check the quality of the slides when replacing one or more pairs.

Shenk said he intentionally tests different manufacturers' components on the drawers and doors of the Horizon showroom, as well as in his house, so he can see what he likes, what holds up and what he feels comfortable endorsing.

If a drawer needs new slides, understand that the 1/2-inch clearances will accept the two side-mount types of glides. Some of the side-mounted slides have a spring for self-closing and a piston for soft closing. Back in the day, the original pistons were oil-driven and presented some problems, while modern pistons are air-driven and work great, according to Martin.

There also is a "tug" element built into slides, which refers to the small amount of force needed to open a drawer against the small force that keeps it closed.

"The slides used to have too much tug or resistance," said Martin. For the most part, that bug has been worked out but it's worth remembering when testing a slide. And remember, the slides will perform slightly different when the drawer is filled.

When a cabinetry layout is designed to use a soft-close, concealed, under-mount slide, the drawers are slightly wider, only requiring about 1/8-inch clearance on each side of the drawer since the slide component is under the drawer. The trade-off is that the bottom of the drawer needs to be recessed to receive the slide. Martin said that most under-mount slide manufacturers offer the same guarantee for their component as they do for the cabinetry itself.

Martin said that the under-mount slides are not intended to be retrofitted onto a drawer that has been built for the two side-type slides. Even if the homeowner is fine with the excess space on the sides of the drawers, any attempt to modify the bottom of the drawer becomes cost-prohibitive as well as "compromises the joinery of the drawer box," he said. In most cases, the side-mount drawers are a four-piece drawer with the face being the front of the drawer. The under-mount boxes most often are considered five-piece drawers because the front is independent of the box and is attached to the front of the box.

There are after-market components that can be added to get the soft-close feature. The soft-close component is added to each side of the drawer and inside each side of the cabinet. The inside of the cabinet might need to be packed out with a filler piece of wood so that the cabinet part of the soft-close component is flush with the opening of the drawer.

Some manufacturers have evolved their side-mount, ball-bearing slides to incorporate the soft-close feature, and replacing the old with the new is relatively easy. "Also, the epoxy type of slide is very forgiving for DIYers to work with," Martin said.

DOORS AND HINGES

The three common hinges used with cabinet doors are a knife hinge, where just a small section of the hinge is visible from the outside and a spring makes it self-closing; an exposed barrel hinge, with which the whole spine of the hinge is visible and it makes the door free-swinging and in need of a magnetic catch; and the European cup hinge, which is not visible at all from the outside and self-closes by an internal spring.

A soft-close mechanism with a piston can be added to the cabinet to make it soft-closing. Additional blocking may be required to position the mechanism flush with the cabinet opening. The location of that component determines when the piston will engage, which in turn, determines how much of the swing will be softened. Some of the cup hinges have a soft-closing feature built into the hinge itself, while there are add-ons that can be snapped onto some models of the cup hinges.

When soft-close slides, hinges or add-ons are incorporated into a rooms' cabinetry, slamming and banging is eliminated. The room seems quieter and the residents more considerate.

But maybe it's just me.

rmcroberts@lnpnews.com

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