Leah Dean | Budget & Design Team | Dean Cabinetry
By Leah Dean

A common question we hear from clients regarding their cabinetry is “Will my cabinet doors develop slight cracks where the pieces of wood come together?” The answer is a resounding “yes”. We call these hairline cracks, also known as witness lines. 

Witness Line in Corner Cabinet
Witness Line in Corner Cabinet
Image: Home Talk

Witness lines may, at some point, show up in your cabinet doors, drawer fronts, and cabinet frames (if you have a framed cabinet). Whether you’ve purchased custom, semi-custom, or stock cabinets, they are unavoidable in wood cabinets, and are not a result of poor quality. They are a result of changes in humidity. 

These witness cracks occur where pieces of wood are joined together, when the grain is running in different directions. This can happen in the joints between the stiles, and rails on the doors, or in the face frames that are part of the cabinet box (FYI, stiles are the pieces of wood that run up and down, and rails; think “railroad”, are the pieces that run horizontally). 

Witness Line Cabinet Door
Witness Line Cabinet Door
Image: Quality Craft

With changes in humidity, wood expands and contracts at different rates. Since wood movement is more visible across the grain than along with it, a painted finish just can’t keep up. This is true of your highest quality custom cabinets to your lowest end stock cabinets. 

These cracks will be more noticeable on cabinets with a light finish than on dark ones, and more noticeable on a painted cabinet than on a stained cabinet. With a stained cabinet, there is more “activity” going on visually (with the different grain patterns), so these cracks tend to be less visible. They may very well be there, you just won’t notice them as much.

What are Witness Lines
Witness Line Brown Cabinet Door
Image: Home Talk

On a painted door or drawer front, especially on a cabinet with a white or light colored finish, you will notice these cracks much more easily. 

Some cabinet companies will even have their customers sign a waiver that some cracking in the finish is normal; that it is not a warranty issue or defect in the cabinets. 

In Connecticut during the winter months, when your heat is on and the air is dry, you may notice that cracks are more visible, as heat causes everything to dry out.