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Build Your Own Wall Cabinets – Building cabinets for your kitchen, bath or built-in sounds like it should be difficult, but it’s not! Most cabinets are just simple boxes. And the joint can be hidden on the outside of the cabinets, which is then hidden when the cabinets are installed.
Last year I took on the task of building all the cabinets for our DIY kitchen renovation. I saved thousands of dollars making high quality cabinets with basic tools. You can read all about the inexpensive tools I used to build my cabinets here.
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So if you want to learn how to build cabinets for your own remodels, I’ll break down all the information for you.
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There are many reasons why building your own cabinets is far better than buying pre-made cabinets or paying exorbitant prices for custom cabinets.
There are two main types of cabinets you’ll see when looking to buy or build: frame-front cabinets and cabinetless (or Euro-style cabinets). Both of these cabinet styles can be built by you.
Which one you choose is up to the style you are looking for. Each has their own set of advantages and disadvantages. Choose which one you prefer based on these and the style you are going for in your space.
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Face frame cabinets are cabinets that have a frame that covers the front of the cabinet box. The box is made of plywood and then the front frame is made of solid wood (typically 1x2s) and attached to the front to cover the edge of the plywood. Face frame cabinets are more traditional in the US and the ones we used in our kitchen remodel.
The face frames are made with rails and are styled around the perimeter and additional rails for framing around drawer openings. When choosing drawer slides, be aware that the face frame will typically be in the way and must add blocking to the sides to bring the drawer slide even with the face frame or use special slides for face frames.
You can use overlay cabinet doors (they sit on top of the face frame) or inset cabinet doors (they sit inside the face frame and flush with the front). Overlay cabinet doors can leave a large reveal of the face frame or a smaller reveal for a more modern look, based on the hinges you choose.
A frameless cabinet is a cabinet made only of plywood. The plywood edges are covered with edging to finish them off. They are sometimes called European-style cabinets and were made very popular by Ikea. It is a very simple, modern design for cabinets.
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One of the challenges with frameless cabinets is keeping the cabinet box perfectly square. If it’s not square, you may struggle with installing a row of cabinets and with hinged doors to get an even reveal.
You can also use either overlaid or inset cabinet doors for a frameless cabinet. The only overlay option for frameless is a full overlay, which covers the entirety (to about 1/8″) of the case sides.
Since there are so many different types of cabinet boxes, this post will be a general overview of how to build cabinets. I will try to cover all aspects of all types of cabinets. If I’ve missed something, leave a comment and I’ll answer there.
To start, let’s take a look at the different parts of a cabinet box. These parts vary slightly depending on whether you are making a face frame cabinet or a frameless cabinet.
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Each cabinet hook will have two sides made of 3/4″ plywood. If you are building cabinets for a kitchen, all of your lower cabinet sides will be exactly the same size, and all of your upper cabinet sides will be exactly the same. You can make deeper cabinets for above the fridge and pantry , if you want.
The back of a cabinet can either be made of 3/4″ plywood or use supports (3-4″ pieces of 3/4″ plywood) to keep the box square and sturdy, then cover the back with 1/4″ plywood. This is especially useful for cabinets that require drilling plumbing holes through them. You can also save a lot of money by using 1/4″ plywood for the back on large cabinet projects.
The bottom is the bottom shelf in the cupboard. For the base cabinets, it sits flush with the top of the toe kick. For face frame upper cabinets, it sits flush with the top of the lower front frame rail so you don’t have a lip on the shelf.
Base cabinets typically have a toe-kick to raise the cabinets slightly off the floor. The toe kick can be cut into the cabinet side. Or for larger sections of cabinets, you can build a 2×4 box on the floor as a toe kick and then put the cabinets on top. This is useful when making large span cabinets because you can get more sides cut out of a 4’x8′ sheet of plywood when using the standard cabinet height, saving money. And you can easily level the 2×4 box before installing the cabinets.
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Top: Upper cabinets will have a top, but typically base cabinets that are topped with a worktop do not have a top. Instead, supports are used to keep the cabinet box square and robust, so the cabinet is closed when the worktops are installed. If you make a built-in without a worktop, you can add a top instead.
Supports are smaller pieces of plywood (typically 3-4″ wide and the width of the cabinet body) used to keep the cabinet square and sturdy. You will use 1 or 2 instead of the top piece on cabinets that will have a table top on them For frameless cabinets, use a support in between to separate the drawer sections.
Face frame: If you are building face frame cabinets, you add the face frame to the front of the cabinet body. The face frame consists of stiles (at the full height of the cabinet face frame) and rails (running horizontally between stiles).
The cabinet body is the plywood that makes up the box. If you are building frameless cabinets, this will be the entire building. If you are building face frame cabinets, build your face frame next and then attach the two.
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If all your pieces are square and cut at perfect 90 degree angles, you will have perfect cabinet boxes. Then the only challenges you have to overcome during installation are your uneven walls.
When making a lot of cabinets, take the time to lay out how you will cut each piece from the sheets of plywood. You typically want the plywood fibers to run vertically on the side piece. For horizontal pieces, the grain should run from side to side, not front to back.
To use a guide slot circular saw to cut plywood, lay a 2″ piece of rigid foam on the ground or your work table and lay the plywood on top.
Make sure the plywood is square, if not, start by cutting the short side to square with the long side. Then cut out your pieces. Label them along the way to make it easier to assemble later.
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Set up your pocket hole jig to drill holes in 3/4″ thick material. I love the Kreg Jig K4 system and use it on almost every woodworking project.
Drill pocket holes in both sides of the bottom piece, the top piece and the support pieces. How many pockets you need depends on how far you are. You want them to be at least every 4-5 inches. For the support pieces, make sure you have 2 at each end.
For face frame cabinets, you will also need to drill pocket holes in the front of the bottom, top and side pieces to attach the face frame later. It is much easier to drill the pocket holes before mounting, so don’t forget this step.
If you are cutting the toe kick out of the cabinet sides, cut these out now. You can use a jigsaw to easily cut the toe kick to any size you want, typically they are about 4″ tall and 2-3″ deep.
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All the joints need wood glue to give your cabinet box strength to hold. If you are using pre-treated plywood, regular wood glue will not work. Use a melamine glue instead (I love this RooClear Glue).
Lay one of the side pieces down on your work surface so that the outer side (the side with the pocket holes) is facing down. Apply glue to the side of the bottom piece and clamp it to the side piece.
For base cabinets, make sure it is level with the bottom of the toe kick or the bottom of the side (if there is no toe kick). For upper cabinets, make sure it is set up so it will be level with the top of the lower front frame
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