Cabinets. I built… cabinets. It’s still a little hard to believe, because I’ve always been so intimidated. We needed them, but we needed them to maximize efficiency in our laundry/pantry/tool storage utility room. So ikea wouldn’t work (too small) and the prefab at Home Depot wouldn’t work (too big/bulky). Instead I figured out how to build the frames using 1 sheet of 3/4 inch MDF and 2 2x3s.
The countertop isn’t very sophisticated, but it’s a surface 👍
The doors aren’t completed yet, but stay tuned.
I learned so much and there are some things I would do a little differently next time. And there will be a next time. But I have to share what I did because they turned out so good and deserve a place here.
- power drill
- kreg jig
- a saw (I used a miter saw and table saw, but a circular saw could’ve done the whole job)
- nail gun (optional)
- 4×8 sheet of 3/4″ MDF or plywood (frame)
- 2 2x3x8 boards (foundation)
- 2″ wood screws
- 1 1/4″ coarse thread [kreg] screws
- wood glue
Minimizing scrap materials
Like all of my projects, I spent a good long while fantasizing about options & configurations. But to make things a little more challenging, I strive to minimize scrap material. I’m still figuring things out (read: screwing stuff up) and I don’t like wasting money.
Part of the whole pretty passive thing is to not feel my hobbies hitting my bank account.
Also, we don’t have the storage space. In the house or in the car.
So my plans are always accompanied by two sets of cut lists: one for the store and one for the house. With the ultimate goal to make as few cuts as possible and the least amount of remainder material.
For this one, I determined I could cut one 4×8 MDF sheet into 3 32”x48” sheets (which would fit in my car) and then make 2 equal size cabinets from those.
I’m going to be honest and let you know that it was not easy to come to this conclusion. I know the space I wanted to fill, and the max depth, etc. But I spent a ton of time drawing out rectangles and “cutting” it in my head and with pencil marks. That’s my process. It’s tedious and feels like a brain workout every time 🏋️♀️
Cheap DIY Cabinet Plans
I’ve been learning how to use SketchUp, the free drafting software, and it’s a steep learning curve. I’m still strongest when I’m working with a paper & pencil (my bullet journal makes straight lines and scaled sketches so easy & fun). I’m pretty sure even the most legitimate creators always start their rough drafts on paper, right?!
Here are a couple of my initial sketches:
I knew that I could make 2 cabinets out of one 4×8 sheet, so then I had to figure the smartest order of the cuts to fit it in my car and not exhaust the poor dude I catch near the saw at home depot.
And this is what I ended up deciding on for the cuts:
These cuts are intended to be used with my favorite jig and the reason why I have gotten so ambitious with my woodworking – the kreg jig. Everything was designed to use pocket holes, but they are not necessary. However, they give me a warm fuzzy *secure* feeling with my woodwork joints.
And here’s what I would do if I had to do it again (without a kreg jig!):
They both result in the same size cabinets. The only difference with the kreg-free version is that the shelf is an inch more shallow and that missing inch is used as a support ledge. Make sense?
I’ll divulge regardless!
Since I drive a standard mom car/crossover SUV and not a truck or mini van, all of my larger materials need to be cut down to fit. In this case, the 3 48″ x 32″ segments were leaned up against the back seat and made it home to my saw for more cuts.
Sideshow: How to cut large sheets of plywood at Home Depot or Lowes
Making cuts at one of those two big box hardware stores is so easy and almost always unavoidable for me, so I’ll share how the process usually works in my experience.
The saw is massive and usually tucked away amongst the lumber (gofigure). If you’re unfamiliar with the store, any employee should know which direction to send you in!
You need an employee to make the cuts. Unfortunately you can’t avoid human contact here! Only an employee can make the cuts, but thank god because these saws are commercial (of course) and massive (like I mentioned). I wouldn’t know where to start. Once I’ve picked out my materials, I usually just stand around the saw and scour the nearby aisles for an unoccupied employee.
They might want you to pay first, but I always ask for the cuts anyway. More often than not, they just cut it. The issue is that they don’t want you to leave scrap behind and try to only pay for what you take. It makes sense, but you’ll need to get a barcode scanned at the register so it would be silly to leave part of your material there! I’ve never had an issue. If anything, they’ve made the cut and then reminded me of the “pay first policy”. The thought of paying and then lugging it back to where it came from drives me nuts.
Building cabinets, step by step
Step 1: Build the foundation
I bought 2 2x3s and cut them to the width of the cabinets, 67″ (but actually 66″ because I didn’t account for the width of the material with my math 🥴)
From the scrap of that, I cut enough wood to account for a 1.5″ toekick under the cabinets AND the width of the front and back of the foundation. Which equaled 11.5″ (1.5″ toekick, 1.5″ for the 2×3 times 2 = 4.5 subtracted from the depth of the cabinets, 16″).
I made as many braces as I thought I needed using the leftovers, which was 4. So each cabinet got a brace supporting the bottom center.
After it was all screwed together, I put it in place and used shims to get it level with the wonky utility room floor. The retro stiky tiles are staying for a future owner or wrecking ball to find.
Step 2: Cut the material to size
At this point I still have the 3 32″x48″ segments ready to go, but had to cut those down into 8 identical 16″x32″ segments.
Each cabinet will need two for the sides, one for the bottom, and one for the center shelf.
It’s worth noting that the MDF is actually a little bigger than 4×8 exactly so there will be an inch or so to cut off from the last segment. I always keep the scrap and it can be used as a cleat for the shelves!!
Step 3: drill pocket holes
I built these with pocket holes because I am always looking for an excuse to use my kreg jig. It is one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever gotten.
There are at least 2 pocket holes on each side of the top and back joists that connect to two sides, and I used 6 pocket holes to attach the shelves as well. They create very strong joints especially with the added strength of wood glue, but if I had to do it again I would simply use cleats to hold up the center shelf.
This is the pocket hole placement I used:
Step 4: attach the pieces with wood glue and screws
Of course I did not take great pictures making this happen, and it was honestly pretty tough to get that center shelf installed first. That was poor planning on my part! But I laid the side down flat on an even surface and did my best to prop up the shelf along a line I made in pencil. It was not easy!! And actually tore the screws out a couple times 😬
It was one of those things that I was happy there was no footage of. Not my proudest DIY moment…
But marking the top of the shelf on both “sides” was very helpful. Since everything is 16″ and 32″, naturally the center shelf sits 16″ high. The easiest way to assemble it all is to have another person. Sounds so simple, and it is. Unless you’re a loner like me.
This is the desired end result in SketchUp plan form:
But my order of attachment went something like this…
- lay one side on a flat surface.
- glue & screw the 4″ back support with the screws facing the back of the cabinet (i.e. the wall)
- glue & screw another 4″ strip perpendicular to the back support, but at the front of the the cabinet with screws facing the top of the cabinet (away from the side laying down)
- glue & screw the shelf at my marked shelf line (16″ from the top)
- glue & screw the other side to the cabinet, starting with the front support and then lining up the shelf.
- After leaving the glue to dry (about an hour or more), lift & place the cabinet on the foundation.
- Lay the remaining 16×32″ sheets at the bottom of the cabinets (mine are still unattached, but gravity is working in my favor)
You can attach them all in any order as long as there is someone or something there to keep it all propped together. I did this amongst the mess that inspired me to build the dang things. I used various bits of junk as props. Whatever. See below.
I tried to stagger the placement between the two back pieces to so I could use extra long kreg screws to attach the boards and attach the cabinets WITH them. It was a mess, but whatever I just wanted to feel extra secure!
I had to pull out the whole cabinets to do this.
Step 5: attach the back supports to the walls/studs
Now that they’re assembled, it’s time to install them. I placed them on the leveled foundation, and used 2 1/2” screws to attach the cabinets to the wall behind them.
Steps 6: countertop
This step deserves its own post, but since I haven’t completed the doors at this point then I’ll include it!
I used 1/2” plywood for the countertop and quickly decided it was way too thin so I doubled up around the edges to get a 1” countertop vibe.
Here it is upside down. I only layered it on the areas where it met the frame, for budget reasons as well as weight. If it’s too thick then I need extra hands 🤷🏼♀️
Once the fit felt right I wrapped it all in super cheap black marble contact paper. The process takes a little bit of skill, but it was easy enough!
Lots of smoothing out and making cuts with the razor to make it taut and smooth. I used liquid nails to glue it to the frames and weighted it down with a full jug of detergent lol
It was an exciting first draft and it’s incredibly installed/stuck/never coming off by my hands so that’s that.
What I’d do differently
Use cleats to hold up the cabinet shelves
The packet holes + glue is incredibly strong, but assembling it was very difficult to do solo. Then again, I’ve made similar shelves and it was easier. I think the width of the cabinets is what made it so hard. Cleats would make assembly much simpler.
To make the cleats, you can shave an inch (or more) off the shelves’ 32″ side to make them 15″x 32″ and then cut that 1×32″ piece in half. The shelf could sit an inch deeper into the cabinet, which would leave an inch of the cleat exposed or it could sit flush with the front of the cabinet leaving a gap in the back.
Personally I prefer to have the gap at the back to minimize dust & dirt collecting corners in the back of the cabinets! Also, there would be no need to trim the cleats!
Assembled everything in place and not worried about connecting the cabinets via the screws in the back support.
It was pretty hard to lift and move the cabinets around, and I don’t regret doing it that way with the hidden screws, but as a beginner/amateur it would’ve been way easier. I think the thing that made this extra hard was how wide they are and how much heavier they got once they were attached (and needed to be placed back on the base).
Let’s just say I wouldn’t have been surprised if I broke the cabinets while hoisting them back up.
Actually follow the steps I outlined above.
I was truly winging it, and only outlined those cabinet assembly instructions after realizing how poorly I planned that part out the first time around! I can’t wait to try again for the uppers!
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