Are cabinets too big of a leap?

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Forum topic by Bill615 posted 08-02-2011 04:35 PM 1801 views 0 times favorited 20 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View Bill615's profile


12 posts in 2688 days

08-02-2011 04:35 PM

Topic tags/keywords: cabinets

This is my first post here and I am looking for some honest advice. We are in the process of finishing 2/3 of our walkout basement. We would like to add some cabinets/built-ins in three areas. 1. 5 foot section of kitchen cabinets 2. 14 foot section for a desk area with upper cabinets, 3 file cabinets supporting a desktop, and a pantry style cabinet for a printer 3. Entertainment center/bookshelves 15-19 foot long.

Very basic pricing with mid range cabinets at the local home improvement stores results in $8-10K for the cabinets with me installing everything. Obviously, I could build these for less myself.

My previous experience includes smaller projects like toy boxes and finish carpentry. We built our first house ourselves (contracting out the bigger jobs like foundation, concrete work, framing, etc.) and did most of the finish work ourselves. I did the entire basement in that house after we moved in, but it was a pretty simples design without cabinets or built-ins.

I have most of the tools required. Other limitatons :I will need to upgade to a better table saw, get a planer, and the proper equipment for a decent finish on the cabinets. There also doesn’t seem to be a decent woodworking shop around here, so I may need to drive a couple of hours for lumber/parts or use mail order companies.

I know that time is a big factor and would normally be a big part of the equation. However, there is no rush here to complete the job. My thinking is that even with buying the tools, I could still save some money, have the tools for the rest of my life, and gain some great experience.

The question to all of you is, am I biting off more than I should? Are cabinets too big of a leap for a guy that has built a few toy boxes and trimmed out a dozen rooms?

20 replies so far

View Ollie's profile


146 posts in 3473 days

#1 posted 08-02-2011 04:48 PM

Go for it. You say you have built toy boxes and done trim carpentry.
Well you could say that building cabinets is just a combination of the two.
As far as equipmet goes , I have made built-ins with a combination of veneered mdf and solid timber using mainly a skill saw, battery drill and planer.
It seems to me you easily have the skills, anyhow whats the worst that can happen!!

-- Ollie, UK.

View tyskkvinna's profile


1310 posts in 3184 days

#2 posted 08-02-2011 04:52 PM

Are you sure you can actually build it cheaper?

I’m not trying to discourage you- I am in the process of doing a major home remodel myself and I am expecting to build the cabinets (when we get that far) on my own, as well. But when I research it, for my particular specs, it will end up being a little bit more expensive than the HD pre-built cabinets. The upside, for me: I can have them look exactly how I look, in exactly the sizes I want. This is a good factor for me because I’m not overly fond of the look of the pre-builts and I’m leaning towards some kind of unusual sizes.

A couple of years ago, in a different house, we gutted the kitchen and put in new cabinets. It was a strictly shoestring budget operation and I looked into building everything myself to save cash. At the time, with the resources I had available to me, it was going to be significantly cheaper to just use the HD cabinets. $50-80 for a full built cabinet unit made out of a decent grade plywood with fronts I could stain—I couldn’t even begin to match that price on my own. The trade off, of course, is that I ended up making a kitchen I never particularly liked.

Skill wise I don’t think it’s that big of a leap. Just pace yourself, start with some simple things, like perhaps the bookshelves. Do lots of planning and take baby steps. I may suggest coming up with a few things to make first that could be paint-grade rather than putting the pressure to also finish it perfectly.

-- Lis - Michigan - -

View Lee Barker's profile

Lee Barker

2170 posts in 3049 days

#3 posted 08-02-2011 05:12 PM

One part of the equation is quality. In my view, a successful cabinet is more dependent on its moving parts than anything else. Cheap boxstore cabinets have substandard hardware. Though you may save some money in the short term, in the long term you’ll be saving even more.

(I wish I had a sawbuck for every person who has walked into my shop holding a busted hinge or a collapsed drawer or a twisted drawer slide, looking for replacement parts.)

I like Lis’ idea of starting with bookshelves.

Maybe even before that, build a pair of identical night stands. Each one has a door, a drawer, and a carcase. Go from start to finish so that, once you start the big project, you’ll have no anxiety about an unknown next step.

I like your view of tools as investment. As a homeowner, you’ll learn the meaning of understatement as you accumulate tools and skills.



-- " his brain, which is as dry as the remainder biscuit after a voyage, he hath strange places cramm'd with observation, the which he vents in mangled forms." --Shakespeare, "As You Like It"

View pintodeluxe's profile


5798 posts in 3011 days

#4 posted 08-02-2011 05:19 PM

If you add a jointer to the tool list, you can buy rough cut lumber and save 60% off of finished wood costs.
As far as your question – I always tell people “If it scares you, run. If it excites you, then dive in.” I totally agree on the quality issue. I’m sure you wouldn’t build cabinets with the cheap particle board found on so many pre-fab cabinets.
Study the finishing process. An otherwise perfect cabinet job can be ruined by a poor finishing job.

And do you honestly think this is the last time you will use a nice tablesaw?
Best of luck on the project!

-- Willie, Washington "If You Choose Not To Decide, You Still Have Made a Choice" - Rush

View Cosmicsniper's profile


2202 posts in 3357 days

#5 posted 08-02-2011 05:20 PM

HD cabinets will be cheaper. But the reason why you should build your own cabinets is because you can build what you want in the size you want…with the quality you want. Comparing the price to true, professional custom cabinets, it’s much cheaper to build them yourself…even if you have to buy the tools to do it.

This is the way we do things…we pick a project that challenges us, we learn the skills to do it, we buy the tools to get it done, and we use lots of wood…some becomes part of the project, some becomes firewood!

You can do this. Cabinets are just big boxes. Cabinet doors and drawers are just picture frames.

-- jay,

View Bertha's profile


13551 posts in 2891 days

#6 posted 08-02-2011 05:38 PM

Brother, you can do it. Like others have mentioned, you’ll never do it as cheaply as the big box guys can supply them. There’s a reason why custom cabinetry is so expensive: it’s simply head and shoulders above what you’ll find prefab. If you have a reasonable selection of tools that cut clean and straight, you should be able to manage with only a few hiccups. My only piece of advice would be to buy the best shaper blades/router bits you can afford if you’re doing raised panel doors. You can do this, man.

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View crank49's profile


4032 posts in 3169 days

#7 posted 08-02-2011 05:40 PM

You haven’t said where you are. Someone might be able to direct you to sources for “lumber / parts” if we knew your city, or at least, the region of which state in which you are searching.

I am working toward a very extensive remodel of my kitchen along with a basement shop build. I am working in stages; doing my basement shop first, then adding a utility/laundry room, I have added a structural truss in the attic so I can remove some walls. When I get to the kitchen proper, I only plan to build the island cabinet because I know my wife will not tolerate not having a kitchen for the year it would take me to do it alone.

Since you don’t have a time constraint, why don’t you do it in stages. Do the 5 foot section of kitchen cabinets first. See how that works, how well you can stay with your budget, how much time it takes, etc. Then decide whether to bite off the next part.

You can still get your saw and stuff cause you will have “your tools the rest of your life” anyway.

View pierce85's profile


508 posts in 2761 days

#8 posted 08-02-2011 05:46 PM

And if you do decide to take the leap – you should – take pictures along the way and post your progress here.

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 3846 days

#9 posted 08-02-2011 07:10 PM

Making that many cabinets is hard work if you’ve never done it
before and you aren’t set up for it. Don’t hurt your body trying
to rush the job – it’s not worth it.

The things that will challenge you most will probably be getting
your crosscuts square if you try to do the whole job on an
American-pattern table saw, and working out the assembly process.

If you are planning to make frame and panel doors or do the
face frames yourself, you may be surprised to find out the
popular portable planer don’t always thickness the wood consistently,
so plan on doing a lot of sanding of joints. You’ll be tempted
to use pocket screws throughout, but I don’t recommend
it – dowels are less forgiving, but alignment of parts with dowels
is superior to most other methods.

If you build the cases with ply, tongue and grooving many of the
parts can make alignment and assembly easier. Doesn’t work
as well with melamine, where dados and dowels work best.
Pocket screws are weak in melamine but confirmat screws
work well.

View Bill615's profile


12 posts in 2688 days

#10 posted 08-02-2011 08:47 PM

Thanks everyone for the encouragement! I am pretty sure on my numbers. I have a detailed spread sheet and came up about $2000 cheaper for the kitchen cabinets and desk sections. Adding in $2000 for the tools and I am even with the cost of pre-built with similar features. Then, when I move to the entertainment center, I come out ahead again.

Of course, none of this factors in time. Which, from a purely economic standpoint, would definitely sink the idea. However, an investment in learning something new and doing something you enjoy is like paying yourself. My question was more to the scale of the project than the economics anyway.

I plan on using quality hardware similar to what is on the cabinets in the rest of the home (full extension, undermount drawer slides, blum hinges, etc.) and plywood construction for the boxes.

For the location, I am half-way between Des Moines and Chicago in Davenport, IA. Plenty of home improvement stores, but no Rockler, Woodcraft, Woodsmith, etc. type stores around here. The couple of lumberyards that stock hardwoods have a pretty limited supply.

I was planning on using pocket screws for some of the joints. But that’s why I joined here, to get advice from others.

I will post pics and videos as the project moves on.

View Brandon's profile


4152 posts in 3150 days

#11 posted 08-02-2011 08:47 PM

You can make one cabinet and see how it turns out. If it works out well and you enjoy it, then go for it. My first real woodworking project was the bathroom cabinets. I told my wife I wanted to build them and she said that if the first one looks good, she’ll allow me to build the vanity too. If it didn’t turn out well, then we’ll just stick it the garage. In the end, she really liked the cabinet I built and I found woodworking a bit more enjoyable and addicting.

-- "hold fast to that which is good"

View helluvawreck's profile


32087 posts in 3065 days

#12 posted 08-02-2011 08:54 PM

If you want to do it and are determined to try to do a good job I would say go ahead and do it. It will give you a lot of experience and will help you justify the cost of some basic shop equipment. Get you a couple or three basic books on cabinet construction. I have only built three kitchens so I’m certainly no expert. However the first was obviously the first that I ever built. I made a few mistakes that cost me a little time but they turned out ok and I learned a lot. If you do a little thinking and know exactly how you’re going to build them ahead of time you will save a little time and prevent some mistakes. Different people build kitchen cabinets their own way. On certain aspects I came up with my own way of doing it.

-- helluvawreck aka Charles,

View KayBee's profile


1083 posts in 3444 days

#13 posted 08-02-2011 09:53 PM

If I came out that much cheaper than the big box, I’d wonder what I forgot. lol Just make sure about the quality of the materials, availability and current pricing. With something this big, the price creep can really get out of hand-fast.

Read what Loren says about how much hard work is involved.

-- Karen - a little bit of stupid goes a long way

View Howie's profile


2656 posts in 3121 days

#14 posted 08-02-2011 10:48 PM

Pocket screws will work just fine.
Why not go to the local library and scrounge up a book or two or get on the web and do some “homework” before diving in. You will do just fine and like someone else said, you will have what you want. The more you do,the better you get at it.

-- Life is good.

View B0b's profile


104 posts in 2888 days

#15 posted 08-02-2011 11:17 PM

It is a far drive, but check out Deppler in WI if you are looking for rough cut hardwood. I would recommend using baltic birch plywood for the body of the cabinets, and whatever hardwood you like for the doors / face frames.

-- Time to get started

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