Advice for first cabinet making endeavor

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Forum topic by dpop24 posted 07-27-2011 01:22 AM 2978 views 1 time favorited 14 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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115 posts in 1992 days

07-27-2011 01:22 AM

My wife and I just bought a new house and are going to do a pretty extensive remodel prior to moving in. This means we are currently paying two mortgages – yikes! Our original plan was to paint the 1990’s contractor grade cabinets and purchase new drawers and doors. However, we are being slowed by some financing issues and I now have some extra time to do things a little nicer.

I’ve got my wife convinced that I can make all new cabinets even though I’ve never actually made a cabinet. This is where you guys come in! HA HA.

I want to concentrate on building nice quality boxes and probably go with simple door/drawer designs since I can always come back and make new raised panel doors later. The plan is simply to make identical cabinets to replace what’s there, just with better materials this time. I also am not opposed to making some sample cabinets out of lesser quality wood just to practice because I can use them in my new shop.

Because of my limited experience, I’m happy to go with pocket hole joinery rather than trying to learn some more complicated technique that might complicate my results.

What resources out there are best to get a quick intro to basic cabinet building? I noticed that Kreg actually produces a cabinet making instructional DVD and I wouldn’t be opposed to starting here. I’d also love a recommendation on a solid easy to follow book – CABINET MAKING MADE EASY with Marc Sommerfeld maybe? I read a nice review of this book that complements its thoroughness.

Any and all advice is appreciated! Thanks!

-- If it ain't broke, take it apart and find out why

14 replies so far

View dpop24's profile


115 posts in 1992 days

#1 posted 07-27-2011 01:49 AM

Great point – I actually have considered a reface as our cabinets in our current home are refaced and look just fine. I’m 100% confident in my abilities to reface and also to replicate the doors and drawers since I have considerably more time to get those done. So, I certainly haven’t ruled out refacing but figured since we are going with granite counters that this is my one opportunity to do it right since I won’t be ever taking the granite out to replace any of the lower cabinets.

Upper cabinets however, could be refaced now and rebuilt later….. I do have options for sure, but think I want to give a shot at doing at least the lower cabinets prior to granite.

-- If it ain't broke, take it apart and find out why

View joey bealis's profile

joey bealis

177 posts in 1929 days

#2 posted 07-27-2011 01:57 AM

if you have the basic understanding of woodworking the rest should be easy. the biggest thing you will need is plans and cut lists. you will start with your floor plan, then a front view then a cabinet by cabinet picture with your cut list. if you need any help just give me a post.


View reggiek's profile


2240 posts in 2693 days

#3 posted 07-27-2011 02:05 AM

Unless you have a desire to build alot of carcases….I would go for the reface. Since most cabinets are just a box of similar proportions with a raised panel door and a face frame, The hard work is in the doors and face frames. The carcases are usually just pine, plywood or MDF. I would recommend finding a face that you like….make a template for cutting it out….get a raised panel with back cutter router set….and go to town. It would be nice to be able to do a remodel and have time to do it really well….most of the time folks are breathing down your neck to get them done.

-- Woodworking.....My small slice of heaven!

View Moron's profile


5032 posts in 3316 days

#4 posted 07-27-2011 02:39 AM

K.I.S.S…………rings a bell.

Experience is a tough teacher as the lesson comes after the test.

Good Luck

-- "Good artists borrow, great artists steal”…..Picasso

View tblank's profile


57 posts in 2393 days

#5 posted 07-27-2011 03:24 AM

Cost out the hardware first! Drawer slides and hinges can get quite pricey in numbers. The cost may control design, as in number of drawers and soft close vs. standard. All the trick hardware is real convenient (lazy susans, Heavy drawer full extensions) but they come at a cost.

View Moron's profile


5032 posts in 3316 days

#6 posted 07-27-2011 05:14 AM

I just re-read your post

you are delusional if you think you can build a kitchen for less then you can buy one, if you have relatively ZERO woodworking skills. and ZERO tools.

cant be done unless you dont mind an unhappy wife.

habitat for humanity sells complete kitchens, at least a “baseline” for saving money and learning curves shortened.

Happy wife, Happy life. Check out Ikea first…………seriously. I like their “seconds”………..”deal” section. Cheap shit but it works in a pinch. Two mortgages can be a tough pill to keep swallowing.….

-- "Good artists borrow, great artists steal”…..Picasso

View bunkie's profile


412 posts in 2570 days

#7 posted 07-27-2011 05:15 AM

Buy a good book. There are several that have cutlists and detailed plans. The one I used was written by Danny Proulx.

I recently completed the cabinet project in our weekend house. Working when I felt like it, it took two years to complete the entire kitchen. Think about that.

My wife went so far as to make a couple of funny videos about the project:

Viking Master 3000 trailer


Viking Master 3000 The Movie

The videos are really about the installation of the cabinets I built.

A few suggestions:

Pocket screws are awesome. They are plenty strong. However, invest the money in the specialized clamps, they are worth the money. Invest in a second drill so that you can drill and drive without rechucking.

Don’t bother with building toe kicks into the lower cabinets. Instead, make the cabinets straight boxes whose height is three inches shorter. When you install them, build a frame on the floor for the cabinets to sit on. the frame should be three inches tall and 21” deep to the back wall to provide the toe kick space The advantage of this is that you can easily shim the frame to make it perfectly level. This make the installation incredibly easy. I got this tip from a pro and it worked so well I almost couldn’t believe it.

If you are going to make Euro-style (flat panel) doors, avoid cheap Chinese plywood. It warps. It also has the thinnest veneer your have ever seen. You can easily sand through it. Be sure to apply a finish to both sides of a panel cabinet door. This will help cut down on warping.

Use inexpensive euro-style hinges for all of the regular doors. They work just fine and will save you a bundle. Spend money on the specialty hinges (for corner cabinets).

Finally, consider making all your lower cabinets drawer cabinets. I made this decision because I’m the cook in the family and I detest bending down and searching in the backs of cabinets for the things I need. With everything in drawers, the items I want come to me. I have much more usable space than I did before. The adjustment is that you have to sort things by size rather than function (for example, the box with the garbage bags is in the same drawer as my stockpot because they are the same height), but you quickly memorize where everything is .

-- Altruism is, ultimately, self-serving

View Loren's profile


8168 posts in 3071 days

#8 posted 07-27-2011 05:36 AM

I like the Jim Tolpin cabinet making books. He’s got 2 or 3 but
one of them focuses more on the business end of it.

Paul Levine’s methods are very good too, and requires not
many tools to get good results. I haven’t looked at his videos
but the book I have is insightful. He has 1 or 2 newer ones.

View lanwater's profile


3111 posts in 2357 days

#9 posted 07-27-2011 07:06 AM

Sommerfeld videos about his pocket hole set and his othervideo about his tong and groove set deal with quite a bit with cabinets.

A litle self advertising but the info is there.

-- Abbas, Castro Valley, CA

View live4ever's profile


983 posts in 2433 days

#10 posted 07-27-2011 08:32 AM

I like the Complete Kitchen Cabinetmaker by Rob Lang. Fantastic book on cabinetmaking…

-- Optimists are usually disappointed. Pessimists are either right or pleasantly surprised. I tend to be a disappointed pessimist.

View dpop24's profile


115 posts in 1992 days

#11 posted 07-27-2011 09:19 AM

Thanks guys for the mostly constructive advice.

Reggiek and CR1 – thinking harder about refacing since the cabinets are structurally sound, just ugly. You guys are making a lot of sense!

Bunkie – if I do end up building carcasses and if I go with your tip of building a 3 inch frame, how did you go about hiding the frame after installing the cabinets on top?

Moron – I never said anything about not having any woodworking experience or tools, only that I didn’t have any cabinet making experience, but I do see how my ”this is where you guys come in” joke could lead you to think that. I’ve got tools, smarts, and desire which to me makes this sound like an exciting project to take on. I also didn’t mention that I wanted a cheap solution or that I could make it myself cheaper. My thought was that I could make NICE cabinets out of quality materials rather than putting cheap Ikea garbage in my house.

-- If it ain't broke, take it apart and find out why

View bunkie's profile


412 posts in 2570 days

#12 posted 07-27-2011 07:43 PM


I made the frames out of 3/4” stock (a mix of pine and 3/4” plywood. I used the pine on the exposed face of the frame. I left it unfinished. You don’t really see it so it’s not an issue.

Jim’s comment about the door opening is important. For most cabinets, it’s not an issue as the depth is just under 24”. But the corner cabinets are typically 8 inches deeper. This is another argument for pocket screws and no glue: you can always disassemble a cabinet and reassemble it on the other side of the door.

Just as important as cabinet size is weight. Better-quality materials means heavier cabinets. It was a chore muscling the cabinets around.

-- Altruism is, ultimately, self-serving

View Loren's profile


8168 posts in 3071 days

#13 posted 07-27-2011 08:01 PM

I usually put white 1/4” markerboard backing in cabinets because
it reflects a lot of light into the cabinet. Something to think about.

View Cosmicsniper's profile


2202 posts in 2581 days

#14 posted 07-27-2011 08:13 PM

I’m currently doing this myself. The difference is that I’m living in it as I do it. Make a vow to yourself, “I promise to NOT move in until the cabinets are finished.” It is very difficult and time consuming otherwise.

Use the existing boxes. Boxes are boxes. Put new wood on areas to cover bad wood. Take the opportunity to put your time saved (by not building new boxes) into trim them up. DO consider rearranging or relocatIng some of your boxes though. For example, I put a 2×4 behind the box over my stove and raised it 3 inches. This gives a custom dimension to them. I would have done the same for the box under the sink and stove, but I really didn’t want to jack with the lower cabinets because of the headaches involved.

Add onto your island and build new boxes to increase cabinet space or to take advantage of wasted space, like above the oven or over the refrigerator. Contractor cabinets are normal dimensions, and the builders will not hesitate to put an 11” deep cabinet in a space that is 30” deep.

Do it this way and you will have your custom look at a fraction of the cost of purchasing new…put that money into nicer appliances.

-- jay,

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