A cupboard is a box. Boxes are simple to make.
Drawers are hard. I get along fine with no drawers in my kitchen.
Doors are hard. Buy them from a custom door shop.
Or make simple plywood doors.
So make some boxes. Install them on the wall if uppers
or on a 2X4 frame if lowers. Add face frames.
Cover exposed ends with prefinished paneling.
A house full of cupboards is a lot of plywood.
Bring the plywood home in a pickup.
Slide each sheet out the truck onto some saw horses and
cut it up using a cutting list, straight edge and circular saw.
Many pieces will be similiar so pile the pieces in stacks.
Assemble the boxes. Air tools are nice.
Fine craftmanship is not neccessary.
No need to make small ones. I usually make
one cupboard that fits the entire wall/space.
I would not recommend this as your first project in cabinet construction. It
can be a big job and the end product is usually in a place of high
visisbility. On the other hand, if you have experience in woodworking for
other kinds of furniture grade projects, then you should be OK. The joinery
and finishing is pretty standard. Getting drawers that hold up and fit well
is probably the most challenging part.
Try the rec.woodworking newsgroup. For books, I recommend The Complete
Illustrated Guide to Furniture and Cabinet Construction by Andy Rae. This is
part of a series by Taunton Press that I like.
http://www.cabparts.com/main.html for the cabinet boxes. I'd go with
the 32mm system. Faceframes take up too much room and are a waste of
There are tons of place online that will sell you doors and drawer
fronts custom made to your specifications - species, size, style,
prefinished or ready for you to finish. When you do your search look
for kitchen cabinet refacing suppliers.
I've never used this company, but I like their online quote form for
"Making Kitchen Cabinets" a foolproof system..
Taunton Press 1998
By Paul Levine
On our last house, I got bids from 13.5K to 15K for the cabinets.. 27
cabinets and 32 drawers
I said WTH, bought the book and built the whole works with raised panel oak
doors and European 35mm Blum hinges for under 4 grand and that included
buying a new table saw. The secret is to just build the cases and order the
doors. I got them from Decor-a tive Specialties out of California for $
I could barely buy the OAK for that. They were around $ 10.50 SF then in
1999. Probably closer to $ 15 now but they did a nice job. I had to get
them thru a local dealer so picked a small cabinet shop who marked them up
For the drawer sides and backs, I used 9 ply 1/2" Baltic birch which is very
solid and easy to work with. It comes in strange 5'X5' sheets
The drawer fronts were cut from 1x5, 1x6 1x8 and 1x10 Oak from Home
Depot..cut square and then ran the edges thru the router table for some
definition. Got some very nice Copper hardware knobs and pulls (AZ the
"Copper state) Amerock brand from the same hardware place. HD couldnt touch
them for quality and price..Lowes carries a lot better selection of better
quality hardware BTW.
I used Blum 22" drawer sliders bought by the case (of 25 pair) from a local
hardware distributor that were quality made in Germany or such for about
half the price of the Taiwan Liberty brand stocked by HDepot. For the cases,
I used 3/4" oak A2 plywood instead of melamine. For support, I built the
upper wall cabinets with oak face frame (cut from 1x3 oak) and the lower
base cabinets, I built Euro style with no face frames. The doors were
ordered with close edge tolerance so the 1'4" reveal was the same on both
upper and lower cabinets. Got many compliments on them. The built up
countertops were done with 2" bevelled oak front edge trim cut and stained
to match the finish of the cabinets. The 4' X 6' island top was done in
granite since we saved so much on the cabinets. BTW, I had just retired so
I had plenty of time to finish the job. We were building the whole house
which we contracted out the heavy stuff but did all the inside work other
than hanging the sheetrock, ourselves.
I haven't seen that one... My favorite is "Building Kitchen Cabinets" by
Udo Schmidt, Taunton Press 2003.
I built our own cabinets last year, using 3/4" birch plywood for the cases
and #2 pine for the face frames. We were going for a "rustic" appearance
without looking cheap. The cabinets turned out great! Much nicer than we
I bought 1x6 and larger boards and ripped them into 2" strips. With careful
selection, I ended up with mostly clear lumber for the doors and face
frames, though I did try to leave a few tight knots to enhance the rustic
The cases themselves were fairly easy. Basically just a box. I used 3/4"
birch plywood for the case, except for exposed sides where I glued up pine
panels. For exposed sides on upper cabinets I simply used 1x12's cut to
size. I assembled the face frames using pocket screws (Kreg Jig) which
makes the frames very strong and easy to assemble.
The drawers were made of birch plywood. 3/4" ply for the front and back,
1/2" ply for the sides, and 1/4" ply for the bottoms. I found the 3/4"
front/backs stronger and easier to nail into than the 1/2 samples I tried.
The applied drawer fronts were cut from 1x8 pine boards with a simple
roundover on the edges with a router. The lower drawer fronts had to be 13"
high so I just used pocket screws to edge join a couple of 1x8's and then
cut the front to size. I used 3/4 extension 22" blum slides I ordered from
The doors were definitely the most labor intensive to build, despite being
a simple shaker style. I built the frame with the same 2" strips I made the
face frames with. I made the center panels from 1x6 T&G pine we had left
over from another project. I ripped the tongues and grooves off, glued and
clamped them into panels, then run them through the planer and cut to size.
Then the door was assembled and spent time in the clamps as well. Very time
consuming. We used simple wood knobs on the doors and drawers to coordinate
with the rustic cabin look.
For the finish I applied MinWax wood preconditioner, then Minwax "Windsor
Oak" gel stain, then two coats of oil based satin polyurethane. The
finished result is very warm and attractive. We love it.
If I had to do it again, the only thing I would do differently is stain the
door panels before assembling the doors. After we moved into the house and
fired up the woodstove a few times, the door panels shrunk a little and
left unstained edges around some of the door panels. It's not bad and most
people probably wouldn't even notice, but as the builder it bugs me... :)
We built our own house too, except we did all of the work ourselves. Formed
and poured the foundation, framed the structure, plumbing, electrical,
insulation, sheetrock, cabinets, tiling, finish work, etc. Took almost 2
years of full time work, but a very satisfying accomplishment.
In addition to the kitchen cabinets, I also built cabinets for the
bathrooms, a built-in dresser and closet system for our master closet,
amoires and a window seat (w/drawers) for my daughters bedroom, and a
variety of shelves and whatnot. All made with the same birch and pine frame
All you have to do is watch Norm. The trick to cabinets is tools. You
have primative tools, you get primative cabinets, unless you have
lifetime skills. On the other hand, if you are looking for an excuse
to buy some cool tools and you are willing to make some firewood a
handy guy can make cabinets at about the cost of a kitchen decorator.
... but you get to keep the tools ;-)
No matter how good the tools, if you don't know how to use them or don't
have the skills, you will not get good results. Making the boxes is not all
that difficult, but precision fit and nice doors takes practice and the
right touch of the hands.
I had a lot of hand tools but when I decided to build the cabinets, I
decided I "needed" to buy a Delta 36-800 Unisaw as a retirement gift to
With the biesemeyer fence, it cuts accurate to a 16th and the 52" side
extension and 36" (x 72") rear extension table makes easy work of cutting
whole 4 x 8 sheets. Got a lot of 12,24 and 36" clamps too.
Did the laundry room and other bath cabs first for practice..the kitchen and
ensuite came next, then the biggie:
A corner, 7' high built-in with cabinet above, BI microwave slot, 30" BI
wall oven, then a pot drawer at the bottom.
They all came out really well so I'd have to put the Unisaw in the "great
I've built cabinets in the past using nothing more than a circular saw,
hammer, and nails. They still turned out nice, but it's a lot more work.
A tablesaw, pocket hole jig, and a router make the job much easier and more
Lucky... :) I wish I could have justified the cost of a new tablesaw, but
it was just not in our budget when we built our cabinets.
I built all of our cabinets using a 20+ year old Craftsman tablesaw I
inherited from my Dad. Direct drive, underpowered, small top, and a
horrible fence. :) After building one cabinet, I did splurge for a Mule
"Accufence" (about $180) and upgraded my saw. It made all the difference
allowing my little old saw to provide halfway decent cuts.
Before I built our cabinets, I built a mobile shop cart on wheels that
matched the height of my tablesaw. The top is about 30" x 80" which will
easily support a full sheet of plywood. I just wheel it behind the tablesaw
when I need outfeed support. It works great and makes a nice worktable for
assembling face frames and whatnot as well.
While I can easily rip full sheets of plywood on my little saw, I wouldn't
even attempt crosscutting a full sheet. Instead I use a simple straight
edge "saw board" and a circular saw. Much safer and just as accurate as my
I agree, you can never have enough clamps...
I only have eight 48" bar clamps, and they were almost always filled up
with doors or panels of some sort. The 48" length did allow me to clamp two
doors at once, which helped.
I started with a small bathroom cabinet too. It was small, but had a drawer
and two doors, so it was a good practice project. After building that
cabinet, I did decide to change the way I built the doors for the remaining
Sounds impressive. Congrats! My most complicated cabinet was the built-in
dresser in our master closet. It had 12 drawers and the face frame had to
be scribe fitted between two walls of the niche it fits in. Unlike the
kitchen and bath cabinets, this one has a wood top that had to be scribe
fitted to all three surrounding walls. It was a challenging project, but it
turned out great.
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