The world of cabinet hardware can be surprisingly complicated. Between different types of pulls and knobs and kitchen and bathroom cabinet styles that range from vintage to modern, there’s a lot to think about.
In this article, we’re starting with the most basic functional decision: whether you should go with a pull or a knob on your cabinet. We’ll talk about the advantages and disadvantages of pulls and knobs, the various kinds of each, and explore the backplates that can go with them. We’ll talk about how (and where) to install your cabinet hardware and the best ways to achieve certain looks.
First, let’s break down the differences between pulls and knobs.
Which is better, knobs or pulls?
The two main kinds of cabinet hardware are pulls and knobs. Both can be beautiful and functional, and they have different advantages and disadvantages. In general, pulls are considered best for cabinet drawers, while knobs are more strongly suggested for cabinet doors.
Pulls are easier to use when drawers are heavy, and can be less likely to catch on clothing than knobs, provided they don’t have any open “arms” that might hook onto fabrics.
For cabinet doors, knobs tend to be easier to install than pulls, and they’re generally cheaper, so if you’d like to change out your cabinet hardware more often to lightly update your kitchen from time to time, they can be a good choice.
|Best for cabinet drawers||Best for cabinet doors|
|Best for heavier cabinetry||Better for lighter cabinetry|
|Better for under the counter||Better for above the counter|
|Best horizontal on drawers, vertical on doors||Generally same, but sometimes only have one orientation|
|Available in a variety of sizes||Relatively similar in size|
|Usually two mounting points, necessitating redrilling if new pulls aren’t the same length as the old ones||One mounting point (single post) that can be used for almost all knobs|
|Generally easier on hands||Can be harder to grip for some|
|Pricier, on average||Cheaper, on average|
Types of cabinet handles (pulls)
Cabinet pulls are a great option for many people and many cabinets. They tend to be easier to grip than cabinet knobs and work well for heavier drawers. No matter how modern or how classic you want your kitchen or bathroom to be, there are cabinet pulls that will fit the decor.
When choosing cabinet pulls, it’s important to keep in mind what, if any, hardware has already been installed on your cabinets. Unlike cabinet knobs, which almost always have one mounting point, cabinet pulls usually have two. There’s no real standard for center-to-center distance (that is, the distance between the mounting holes), so make sure you measure carefully if you don’t want to have to drill new holes.
Bar pulls and appliance pulls
Bar pulls are the classic type of cabinet pull. Attached to the cabinetry at either end of the bar, these pulls can be square or rounded. The bar can be one contiguous piece, or it can extend past the mounting points. These differences change the look of the bar pull, of course, but they also affect their ease of use. Sharper edges and protruding bar pieces can be frustrating for some, so if you’re worried about catching clothing on your drawers, consider solid, handle-like bar pulls. These are also some of the easiest cabinet pulls to clean!
Very versatile stylistically, bar pulls can look vintage or modern depending on design. They work especially well paired with t-knobs, giving a kitchen a uniform look, top to bottom, without using the same piece of hardware on everything. Bar pulls are also the easiest to pair with assistive devices, like drawer pull straps for service dogs, as well as with child (and pet) proofing devices. Like other pulls, bar pulls should at leastbe wide enough to fit four fingers.
Appliance pulls are another kind of cabinet hardware. They are basically larger, sturdier bar pulls. They work especially well with panel ready appliances, which are appliances, like fridges and dishwashers, that have been designed to match existing cabinetry.
Cup pulls (pin pulls)
For the widest versatility and range of styles, consider cup pulls. Like the name suggests, a cup pull is a cup-shaped pull. You simply reach underneath and get a grip. Cup pulls are popular in farmhouse kitchens and with more contemporary designs, so you have a lot of options. They have a very understated profile, making them unlikely to get caught on clothes. One downside of the cup pull is that it can be difficult to clean the hidden underside of the pull without removing it from the cabinet.
Cup pulls are considered one of the most ergonomic options in cabinet hardware. Their edges are smooth and won’t pinch, and you don’t have to grab onto any potentially finicky hanging bars. But they can be hard on the wrist, especially on lower and heavier drawers. Like other kinds of cabinet pulls, make sure the cup pull you choose is wide enough for four fingers if you’re concerned about ease of use.
Finger pulls (edge pulls)
Finger pulls are a more modern option for cabinet pull. They’re most like cup pulls, except instead of a cup shape, these pulls have a much flatter look. A thin piece of material, straight or slightly curved, juts outward from the door or drawer. A narrow lip on the edge provides the grip.
Like cup pulls, finger pulls are considered ergonomic for anyone with grip problems, though they can be hard on wrists. Finger pulls are much easier to clean, though, since they’re often made of a single, contiguous piece. These cabinet pulls are a great option for a minimalist, contemporary design.
The bail pull is a classic cabinet pull often associated with Queen Anne and Victorian styles. Bail pulls consist of a curved handle that rests against the face of the cabinet or a base plate. This handle is hinged. Just lift the bail and pull. Bail pulls with base plates may require one or two mounting points, so be sure to keep that in mind if you’re replacing hardware.
While bail pulls often have a vintage and ornate look, there are simpler (and more modern) options available. Bail pulls can often be used with assistive devices. If they’re large enough to fit four fingers, they are a reasonably ergonomic option. However, the hinges on a bail pull can break, and their multiple surfaces may be more difficult to keep clean. Consider a smooth sided bail pull for best ease of use.
Drop (or hanging) pulls, as the name suggests, have a handle that drops down. This handle is lifted and pulled to open the cabinet. Drop pulls are available in both classic and modern styles, with the classic tending to be more ornate. Unlike other cabinet pulls, many drop pulls are single post (they only have one mounting point), so they can easily replace cabinet knobs in a variety of applications.
Hanging pulls may break more easily than other kinds of pulls, since these have a hinge or other part that connects the pull itself to the base. Like bail pulls, they may also be a little trickier to clean. Ease of use depends on the shape of the pull itself. Ring pulls are easier and interface well with accessibility devices. Pendant pulls may be harder to grip. Keep in mind how low a drop pull hangs to make sure it won’t interfere with other cabinets.
Types of cabinet knobs
While cabinet knobs may seem simple, they’re actually available in a variety of designs to fit any style. And while the look of the knob is the most important aspect for many people, it’s good to keep in mind that some knobs are easier to use and clean, while others are easier to install.
There’s a cabinet knob for any style, be it classic and traditional or modern and sleek.
The round knob is a classic knob style. At its most basic, a round knob is circular in profile, but they can be smooth or ridged in multiple ways. Totally smooth round knobs might be difficult to get a grip on, especially if they’re small, but otherwise this style of knob is very easy to use for most people.
Round knobs can be simple or ornate, classic or modern. The simplest styles are great for keeping a room from being too busy, while more decorative round knobs can be a statement all on their own. Available in a wide variety of materials, finishes, colors, and patterns, you can’t go wrong with a round knob.
For a real contemporary feel, consider a square knob. Square knobs are modern, easy to use, and fit into many styles. Their unobtrusive profile keeps them from getting in the way and provides a sleek, professional look.
Some square knobs can have relatively sharp edges, however, and may be uncomfortable for some people to use. Make sure you pick a square knob with a decent bevel (curve along the edge) if you’re concerned. For others, though, square knobs are easier to get a grip on than round knobs.
T-knobs (bar knobs)
Looking for a middle ground between knobs and pulls? Bar knobs, also called t-knobs for their shape, have very short bars and are generally pulled with one or two fingers. In simpler styles, they can be very unobtrusive, or pick bright colors and patterns for a bit of flair.
T-knobs provide a sleek, contemporary look and fit well into modern-styled kitchens and bathrooms. They’re great for anyone who has difficulty gripping a traditional knob, and many accessibility devices can be used to help leverage them open. Best of all, t-knobs fit well with many styles of bar pull and can really bring a sense of cohesion to a space.
Rectangular knobs are another type of knob whose appearance straddles the line between knob and pull. They can be oriented both horizontally and vertically depending on where you’re mounting them. Unlike most pulls, though, these knobs still have a single mounting point. Since these knobs are not symmetrical, care must be taken to align them properly during installation.
A great choice for modern kitchens and bathrooms, rectangle knobs can give a contemporary feel or even provide a classic touch, depending on other style elements. Their small profile keeps them out of the way when you’re not using them, but they’re also often easier to grab onto than round or square knobs. Depending on design, however, the corners may be sharp, so keep that in mind if that’s a concern.
Oval knobs combine the benefits of round knobs and rectangular knobs. Smooth and unobtrusive, their oblong shape allows an easier grip. Like rectangular knobs, oval knobs are not symmetrical, giving you more mounting options, but requiring you to line them up properly. This might be more difficult for DIYers since there’s no straight edges to align with your cabinets.
Available in both simple and ornate designs, the oval knob can fit into almost any style and is a great compromise between aesthetic and substance.
Novelty knobs can bring a lot of fun and even a touch of whimsy to your kitchen or bathroom, and they can really contribute to more elaborate styles. But they can be a bit much, especially in a small space. Think about how many of these knobs you need and what other styles of knobs and pulls you could pair them with.
Also think about the shape. Narrower pieces may be more likely to break, and finely-textured details can be harder to clean. Some may be unpleasant and even uncomfortable to use, especially with a heavier drawer. Overall, these cabinet knobs may be designed more for style than substance, but why not have some fun with your cabinets?
Types of cabinet hardware backplates
Cabinet backplates are another great way to accessorize your kitchen or bathroom. A plate behind the knob or pull that is installed flush against the cabinetry, cabinet backplates can breathe new life into old knobs or pulls or match perfectly with new ones. Plus, it can hide unused drilled holes from previous cabinet hardware and even provides an easier surface to clean. There are two main types of cabinet hardware backplate.
nob backplates have a single hole for a knob’s single mounting point. This means that these backplates also work for single post pulls that only require one screw. Knob backplates can be a number of shapes, from square to oval to long and rectangular, but most knob backplates are circular and only a little wider than the knob itself. Combined with a classic-styled round knob, this provides a very traditional look, but there are many options available.
Pick a backplate shape that mirrors the knob you want to pair it with for a more streamlined look, or mix and match styles for something more eclectic and modern. Knob backplates are available in a wide variety of materials and finishes to match (or contrast) almost any knob.
Pull backplates have two holes for most pulls’ two mounting points. You’ll need to make sure your backplate’s center-to-center distance is the same as your chosen pull. For the easiest installation, consider purchasing pull and backplate from the same company. This also makes material and finish easier to match, though, like knob backplates, pull backplates are available in many different styles.
Most pull backplates are long and rectangular, designed to fit under many kinds of pulls. They work especially well with bar pulls, providing continuity between the handle and the cabinet. Pull backplates may not work with all pulls, especially drop and bail pulls, since these often have backplates integrated with the rest of the hardware. For a unique look, consider using two smaller knob backplates at either end of a pull.
Cabinet hardware Q&A
Still have a question that we haven’t answered above? Check out these answers to some of the most common cabinet hardware questions on the internet.
How do I know what size cabinet knobs to buy?
1 ¼” to 1 ⅜” diameter is standard. For especially large cabinets (more than three feet or so), consider 1 ½” inch knobs or larger. Bigger sizes are also good for statement piece knobs.
Knobs less than 1″ in diameter may be appropriate for especially small drawers. In general, small hardware can be great for minimalist styles, though, as always, make sure your cabinets remain easy to open and use.
How do I know what size cabinet pulls to buy?
The general rule of thumb is for a cabinet pull to be one third the length of the drawer (or one third the height of the door). For longer drawers more than 18″ wide, consider either an especially long pull (more than 6″) or two smaller pulls, mounted side by side.
Another consideration is the weight of the drawer and the estimated weight of what you’re likely to put in it. The heavier the drawer, the larger the pull should be. Regardless of size or weight, however, it’s suggested to make sure you can fit four fingers comfortably in any pull you buy.
Can you mix knobs and pulls on kitchen cabinets?
Short answer? Yes. Long answer: It depends on the type of cabinet style you’re going for.
Picking one type of cabinet hardware for all doors and drawers can give you a very streamlined look, but you don’t have to choose just one. In fact, it’s very common to use a set of similarly styled pulls and knobs, with the pulls intended for the drawers and the knobs intended for the doors. This gives a kitchen or bathroom a very traditional look.
Or mix it up! Combine styles and types to make your own unique look. Though if you pick the same exact material for your knobs or your pulls, consider choosing the same finish. A polished nickel may look strange paired with a weathered nickel, but you’ll have an easier time combining one metal with another.
You can even buck conventional wisdom and pair knobs with knobs and pulls with pulls. This works especially well on kitchen islands or if some of your cabinets have a different style from the others. Just remember that no matter how nice your cabinets look, you still have to use them. Ease-of-use and comfort of use should be the most important criteria.
If you’d like more cabinet hardware ideas and to learn more about everything from rustic to modern cabinet hardware, check out our cabinet styles guide.
What cabinet pulls are in style right now?
As with the previous question, it really depends on what style you’re going for. Minimalistic and other modern/contemporary styles, which love bar pulls (and more recently in warmer colors), remain very popular and have high resale value, but there’s no reason why you can’t go with a more classic look. For something in-between, consider the transitional style.
Should my kitchen cabinet pulls match my faucet?
They definitely don’t have to! For some styles, like eclectic, it’s very common to mismatch hardware and fixtures. In many more traditional styles (and in many minimalist designs), cabinet pulls will have the same material and finish as faucets.
If you do decide to match hardware to your faucet, make sure they’re exactly the same. Nothing clashes more than similar finishes that aren’t quite identical.
Cabinet knob and pull tips
Not sure how to handle this? We’ll help you pull it off.
- Try knobs on cabinet doors and pulls on cabinet drawers for a very traditional style.
- Pair knobs with knobs (or pulls with pulls) for a fun, modern design, or consider a single piece of hardware throughout a space for a minimalist look.
- Think about which kinds of hardware will be best for your household, especially if you have kids or pets.
- Keep ergonomics in mind, but try to have some fun with it.
- Consider backplates to really bring a look together.