built in vs built to fit

  • Advertise with us

« back to Designing Woodworking Projects forum

Forum topic by shelly_b posted 05-09-2014 08:00 PM 1412 views 0 times favorited 13 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View shelly_b's profile


850 posts in 2080 days

05-09-2014 08:00 PM

This may be a stupid question(I find myself saying that alot when I am asking questions on here lol), but what is the difference between built in, and being built to fit the space? Is there a difference? I had a women ask me to make her a cabinet, but she wants it to be built in…If I make it the exact size of the space and screw it in, then put up trim does that qualify as “built in”? Because I would prefer to do all the building in my shop.

13 replies so far

View JAAune's profile


1786 posts in 2279 days

#1 posted 05-09-2014 09:41 PM

It just means it is intended to become a part of the house in the same manner that kitchen cabinetry is a part of the house. The woodwork is attached to the walls and trimmed out as needed.

Ask yourself if it’s something that can easily be moved and installed in a different house. If the answer is no, then it’s a built-in.

Whether you do the build in the shop or onsite is a judgement call on your part. In most circumstances you want to fabricate, finish and assemble everything in the shop first since it’s almost always more efficient. Just be sure you can break it down into small enough components to transport and install. Pay close attention to stairwells, doorways, halls and tight corners. If building floor to ceiling remember that the cabinet has to somehow get tipped up into position and must be built short or in a couple sections that stack.

Trim is usually (not always) finished in the shop but cut to fit and install onsite.

Making things to exact size is risky. Usually you build under-sized then trim out the gaps.

-- See my work at and

View kdc68's profile (online now)


2649 posts in 2239 days

#2 posted 05-09-2014 09:50 PM

+1 JAAune….

Making things to exact size is risky. Usually you build under-sized then trim out the gaps.

The likelihood that the space for which your built-in will go is perfectly plumb, level, and square is low…...

-- Measure "at least" twice and cut once

View NoThanks's profile


798 posts in 1492 days

#3 posted 05-09-2014 10:01 PM

I always build the whole unit in sections so that you can assemble the sections on site, but I build the unit bigger than the hole/space it’s going into and scribe the frames to fit the walls. I always figure a cabinet with no molding has a cleaner more custom look to it. Crown molding at the top would be an exception.
Of course it is harder than making a cabinet an inch smaller than the opening and using trim, but that is what makes it custom cabinetry. Trim is for amateurs! LOL

-- Because I'm gone, that's why!

View SamuraiSaw's profile


515 posts in 1927 days

#4 posted 05-09-2014 10:07 PM

I try not to do much site work anymore, but prefer to do all I can in the shop and then just complete the finish details onsite. We do a lot of entertainment center built-ins. A lot of new homes around here have a large niche in the family room intended for the tv. But the holes are never sized to accommodate a standard entertainment center you can buy at a furniture store. We build the entire unit in the shop, disassemble it, and reassemble/install it at the client’s home. Most of the time all we have to cut is the trim used to finish out the cabinet.

”Trim is for amateurs!”

Hmm…. I’ll have to keep that in mind

-- Artisan Woodworks of Texas....

View Woodknack's profile


11475 posts in 2343 days

#5 posted 05-09-2014 11:25 PM

Traditionally built-in cabinetry was literally built in place using different construction methods as opposed to built in the shop and transported to the site. Built-ins cannot be moved and are cheaper in materials but higher in labor since you cannot take advantage of a production environment. The original cabinets in my kitchen were built-ins and when we tore them out there was nothing left but 2×4s and plywood, not individual boxes. In modern terminology “built-in” usually means “looks built-in” as very cabinet makers actually build in place these days. There are cabinetry books that show you how to do the traditional built-ins, it’s fairly simple construction.

-- Rick M,

View mantwi's profile


312 posts in 1859 days

#6 posted 05-10-2014 02:01 AM

I’m building a custom kitchen and bath for a customer who wants it to be built in. To save time I constructed all of the carcases in the shop minus the face frames. After installing them in the home I added the face frames giving the long run of cabinets a built in look with top and bottom rails that run the length. I had already trimmed out the doors and windows in the house and matched the trim details on the cabinet with the crown and other elements incorporated and flowing into the cabinets to enhance the custom look. If I figure out how to post photos I’ll take a couple of shots to give you a better idea what I’ve done. Have fun.

View Shawn Masterson's profile

Shawn Masterson

1325 posts in 1911 days

#7 posted 05-10-2014 03:12 AM

”Trim is for amateurs” Thats crap. Trim is for customers Who don’t want to pay for perfect. I have the skills to fit perfect builtins, but if the client doesn’t want to pay for it, then they aren’t going to get it. 80% of clients I have dealt with don’t know or care if the units fit perfectly without trim, and most don’t care.

View NoThanks's profile


798 posts in 1492 days

#8 posted 05-10-2014 04:14 AM

Shawn, I said that jokingly. No need to get upset. LOL

I do high end work and whether the client knows the difference or not I provide quality installs because it’s my reputation. When I bid a job that’s the way I bid it. I don’t have to quarrel over a couple of hours to properly fit a unit to the wall. It doesn’t take long to scribe the side of a face frame.
It’s up to you on what you want to give YOUR client.
Trim molding makes a job look like low quality to me.
Like I said…Amateurs….LOL

-- Because I'm gone, that's why!

View Ted's profile


2838 posts in 2174 days

#9 posted 05-10-2014 06:49 AM

Built in means it’s attached and becomes part of the house. Built to fit means it is built to specific dimensions to fit into a particular space.

Iwud, I get what you’re saying but I have to disagree. Most of my work is in older homes where the trim is an integral part of the design—without it, the built-in would look out of place. Using trim is neither low quality nor amateur. However, amateurs do often depend on trim as a short cut or to compensate for a less accurate fit. There is a difference.

-- You can collect dust or you can make dust. I choose to make it.

View NoThanks's profile


798 posts in 1492 days

#10 posted 05-10-2014 01:43 PM

in older homes where the trim is an integral part of the design

I can understand that, even in newer homes!
BUT, when somebody puts a 1/4×3/4 stick of molding down the side to cover the gap it looks cheap..
at least TO ME it does.

There’s an argument for everything, so I’ll just leave this as my opinion.

-- Because I'm gone, that's why!

View mantwi's profile


312 posts in 1859 days

#11 posted 05-10-2014 01:47 PM

The trim I’m talking about is not filler or molding to hide gaps. Like Tedster said it’s used to tie the build into the existing design elements of the house. The windows on my job are not picture framed, they have large sills and aprons and a three layer crown treatment at the top incorporating bead and crown elements and there’s large crown in every room. Applying the same bead and crown elements to the cabinets maintains the integrity of design found in the rest of the house. Minus these touches an installation no matter how well made will look like something picked up at the borg and screwed together on site. The idea is to have the finished product look like it grew out of the house and is an extension of the surrounding room instead of just boxes screwed to a wall. Adding custom valances and range hood covers with raised panels that match the doors are not child’s play. It’s painstaking, precise, one off work that can’t be found in any other house and that’s what makes it custom. Is a car fitted with available options from a factory custom? Neither is a cabinet built from a generic design with little tweaks on it’s dimensions to make it fit.

View Knothead62's profile


2584 posts in 2924 days

#12 posted 05-10-2014 06:04 PM

The only stupid question is the one not asked- Dad.

As for cabinets. I worked for a business that sold both custom and factory cabinets. I never saw a square on a jobsite in over two years! For built-in cabinetry, I was told to measure the wall front and back. I have seen as much as one inch difference in about 24 inches front-to-back.

View shelly_b's profile


850 posts in 2080 days

#13 posted 05-11-2014 05:27 AM

Thanks everyone! This clears it up:) Then I guess I have done built-ins, I just didn’t call them that. It is definitely easier to build as much as possible at home in the shop. Mantwi, pics would be great! When you reply, there is a button that says “img” right above where you are typing. Click on that then you can browse your computer…or if you have them posted on your page maybe I can track them down. Thanks!

Have your say...

You must be signed in to reply.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics