To a custom cabinetmaker, it's not easy to categorize cabinetwork, since we can build just about anything that can be described for the right price. If any categories exist, they would subdivide into just a few groups. Keep in mind that we're talking about cabinets here, not furniture. The catagories are Cabinet type, construction style, and door style. While technically doors are not part of the cabinet per se, most people think of them as one, I think.
Cabinet type refers to the basic purpose of the finished cabinet. A cabinet designed to sit on the floor is built significantly different from that of an upper (wall) cabinet intended for the wall.
The types, with standard height & depth dimensions, are;
A standard base cabinet (base) usually has a toe kick, fixed mid shelves and an extra-wide top nailer to support the back of a countertop. The usual configuration has one top drawer covered by a drawer front, and a door below covering a bay with one fixed midshelf. Of course, there are a couple of popular variations, the first substituting the door with more drawers (a drawer bank). The second variation eliminates the top drawer and brings the door all the way up (a full door cabinet).
Upper cabinets are usually empty until the adjustable shelves are hung. They have hardwood nailers both top & bottom to fasten them to the wall securely. The bottom is finished, also, since it's exposed. Not many variations with uppers, although you can put many additional treatments inside of one, like plate racks, spice racks & microwaves.
Floor to Ceiling cabinets do just that-sit on the floor & go all the way up to the ceiling. A pantry or an oven cabinet is an example of an FTC. Many, many variations on this one, since there's so much room to do things with. Entire oven/microwave combos, pantries wiith 5 or more roll-out shelves, you name it, somebody's probably made it. You can even build one around a refridgerator.
So, now that you know about the 3 cabinet types, let's discuss the two primary catagories of construction used in the industry. Construction Style refers to the difference, really, between a western style cabinet and a europeon style cabinet. Two easily-recognizable differences distinguish the two.
A western style cabinet uses a hardwood frame to cover the front edges of the sides & shelves that formthe cabinet's carcass, whereas a europeon style cabinet merely glues wood or plastic tape to the front edges. That's why europeon style cabinets have their doors & drawer fronts so close together (1/8"), so as not to expose that tape. Cheaper to make since the face frame of a western cabinet is approximately 15-25% of the material & labor cost, and not nearly as strong in the sheer strength, europeon cabinets require expensive hidden hinges which fasten not to the face frame (there is none), but to the inside of the cabinet wall. Nonetheless, there is a place for euro cabinets in today's market. Some shops produce nothing but euro cabinets. An advantage to euro cabinets is that the design facilitates slightly wider bays (openings) into the cabinet's interiors. You can see examples of both styles any just about any magazine these days, and you can identify the westrn style by the one inch (or better) spaces between the doors & drawer fronts.
Door styles have even more variations than the basic cabinet structure. Still, you can break them down as so;
These catagories are based upon the method of construction for each type, and are usually priced higher moving towards the bottom of the above list.
Slab doors are made from solid pieces of hardwood lumber glued up side to side & sanded smooth. Maybe a routed detail is carved into the front, or possibly a thinner, contrasting piece of hardwood is glued up within the door. A solid-feeling & hefty door, Slab doors don't present many ledges to accumulate dust.
Inset panel doors are made similar to a picture-frame in that they are composed of 4 frames pieces & 1 panel that fits inside the frame (or glues to the back). You can choose to mitre the cornes at 45 degrees, but a stronger joint exists, called a cope and stick joint, which provides not only more glueing surface for the joint, but the side-grain (as opposed to end-grain) that a good glue joint requires. Much more common these days, and important, given the slamming that an average cabinet doors withstands during it's useful life.
Raised panel doors are pricey, mainly because of the labor involved to make the panel. They are made just like Inset panel doors, except for the panel itself. The raised panel is usually 3/4" thick, as opposed to the 1/4" thick panel used in an Inset panel door, and made from solid lumber, not 1/4" plywood, which lets you cut raised facets, or bevels on the panel without exposing the inner plies of a plywood based panel. The 45 degree angle created by these facets makes for a very rich & detailed door. The panel itself takes so much longer to fabricate & sand than simply cutting out a panel from a sheet of 1/4" plywood, that Raised panel doors are cost-prohibitive to the average household in my experience.
Although someone else might devise an entirely new set of catagories than I have, I have seen that explaining these basic differences is something I detail to virtually every cabinet customer I've estimated a job for. They have to be at least semi-accurate! I really have never put these concepts on paper before this, so they might be a bit unpolished. But useful to some, I hope. Otherwise I've wasted a few precious hours of my time, now, haven't I?
Now get out of here. Dinner's probably ready.