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The Complete Cabinet Making Guide

Updated on October 26, 2014

Build Custom Cabinetry like A Pro

This is the complete guide to Cabinet Making, it covers the woodworking skills, and material used to produce custom cabinetry. This lens is for the curious woodworker, for a better understanding of cabinet making, so dig in, and try it out.

Building custom cabinetry seems like a tremendous task at first, but if you take one step at a time you will be surprised at how quickly it goes. Become familiar with the techniques by reading books on woodworking and cabinet making before jumping in. Knowledge goes a long way in this trade.

Woodworking Tools

If you want to learn how to build cabinetry, you should already know about Woodworking Tools. Purchase the finest tools you can afford, low cost tools generally break down faster leaving you with a replacement cost. Use this list to make sure you have the basic tools necessary to build cabinetry.

Tape Measure




Miter Saw



Circular Saw

Table Saw


Nail Gun


Cabinet Dimensions - .

Custom cabinets are built to fit any location; however some dimensions stay the same for all cabinets. Here is a list of common proportions used for most cabinetry.

Working Surface Cabinet Height (including countertop thickness)

Kitchen Base Cabinets: 36"-38" People taller than 6'2" find 36" height to be a bit short.

Vanity Base Cabinet: 32"-36"

Desk: 28"-32" leave 24" from floor to top of knee space

Cabinet Depth

Kitchen Base Cabinets: 24"

Kitchen Wall Oven Cabinet 25"

Kitchen Wall Cabinet: 12"-16"

Vanity Base Cabinet: 21"

Bathroom Linen Cabinet: 22"

Desk: 28" -30"

Distance Between Base & Upper Cabinet 16"-18"

Create a Box Parts Cut List

Draw your cabinet on a sheet of paper and write the dimensions on the sides they relate to. Then start a box parts cut list using these formulas. My cabinets feature ¾" plywood box construction, ¾" solid wood face frames, and ¼" plywood backs. Determine whether the end of the cabinet is finished or butts a wall, we will refer to these as Finished Ends and Wall Ends. Toe kicks generally go under the finished ends and butt the wall on wall ends. I always assume counter tops are ¾" thick when drawing my cut lists, however most of the time granite is 1" or thicker. I will use examples from a standard kitchen base cabinet, Height 36", Depth 24", Width 36", Toe Kick Height 4 ½", Toe Kick Depth 3 ¼", with a wall end on left and finished end on right.

Finished End Side Panel ¾" plywood

Height -subtract the toe kick height and the thickness of the counter top from finished height.

Depth -subtract 1" (thickness of ¾" face-frame and ¼" back) from finished depth.

Example: Height 30 ¾"X Depth23"

Wall End Side Panels ¾" plywood

Height -subtract the thickness of the top from finished height.

Depth - subtract 1" " (thickness of ¾" face-frame and ¼" back) from finished depth.

Example: Height 35 ¼" X Depth 23"

Bottom Shelf ¾" plywood

Length -subtract the thickness of the side panels (3/4") from finished width; subtract ¼" on wall end side for a scribe.

Depth - subtract 1" (thickness of ¾" face-frame and ¼" back) from finished depth.

Example: Length 34 ¼" X Depth 23"

Shelves ¾" plywood

The length will be the same as the bottom shelf unless you have partitions separating the inside cavity.

Spacing between shelves should be around 10" plus or minus an inch or so.

Example: One shelf -Length 34 ¼" X Depth 23"

Mounting Cleat ¾" plywood

Length -same as bottom shelf

Depth- Base Cabinets 3" (3 cleats total, one vertical across back at top and two across top )

Wall Cabinets 2" (2 cleats total, one under top shelf and one under next to last shelf)

Example: Three Cleats-Length 34 ¼" X Depth 3"

Toe Kick ¾" plywood

Front Toe Kick-Length- same as finished cabinet width if the cabinet meets a wall at both ends. For finished ends subtract 3 ¼" from finished width for each occurrence, which allows a toe kick on the finished end. Finished end toe kicks must be mitered on a 45 degree angle and a side toe kick must be cut as well.

Side Toe Kick-Length-Depth of cabinet minus 3 ¼"

Example: Front Toe Kick-Length 34 ¼" X Depth 4 ½" Side Toe Kick- Length 20 ¾" X Depth 4 ½"

Back ¼" plywood

Width -same as finished cabinet width, subtract ¼" for wall ends

Height -subtract the toe kick height and the thickness of the top from finished height.

Example: Width 35 ¾" X Height 30 ¾"

Rockler's Free Catalog - Everything a woodworker needs for the shop.

The Rockler Woodworking and Hardware catalog features over 150 pages of the best products mailed directly to your door. You should receive your catalog in 1 to 2 weeks, depending on your location. In the meantime, you'll find all of the products in the catalog at the website.

Search from over
9000 products!

Face Frame Parts Cut List

The face frame consists of stiles (vertical) and rails (horizontal), which are joined together using pocket joinery. Start your face frame parts cut out list using these formulas. My cabinet's feature solid wood face frames.

Face Frame ¾"x 2" solid wood

Side Stiles -subtract the toe kick height and the thickness of the top from finished height.

Top and Bottom Rail -subtract 4" from finished width. Base cabinets get a 3/4" bottom rail and a 2" top rail, while upper cabinets get a 2" bottom rail and a 4" top rail.

Inside Stiles and Rails -vary depending on doors, drawers, knee spaces etc. Draw the openings you want in your cabinet separating them with 2" stiles and rails.

Create a Doors & Drawer Fronts List

Make a door and drawer list; it should look something like this

Doors & Drawer Fronts ¾" hardwood

1/2" overlay doors and drawers measure 1" bigger than the opening height and width

You can order raised panel doors from your local cabinet shop, just make sure your measurements are correct.

Doors & Drawer Fronts ¾" plywood

3/8" overlay lip mold doors and drawer fronts are ¼" smaller than the opening with a hardwood lip mold nailed onto the outside edges, giving it a picture frame look.

My Door & Drawer List

Qty Height Width

4 -24" x 12"

2 -6" x 25"

1- 4" x 25"

Create a Drawer Box Cut Out List

Begin your drawer list using this formula

Two Sides ½" plywood

Height -subtract 1" from the height of the opening

Length -subtract 2" from the depth of finished cabinet

Front & Back ½" plywood

Height -subtract 1 ½" from the height of the opening

Length -subtract 2" from the width of opening

Bottom ½" plywood

Width -subtract 2" from the width of the opening

Length - subtract 2" from the depth of finished cabinet

You will end up with 5 pieces for each drawer.

Putting It All Together

Grab a Nail Gun and a bottle of glue and start the assembly process. Use the cut out lists to guide you on what goes where. Good Luck.

Wood Species

Here is my list of wood species used in cabinet making.

Knotty Alder A red hardwood with a fine straight grain that is sometimes referred to as rustic alder. Mostly stained very dark.

Select Alder A red hardwood with a fine straight grain. Mostly stained very dark.

Ash A white hardwood with a prominent coarse grain. Best results are clear finish or a touch of brown.

Beech A pale brown to deep reddish-brown hardwood with tight grain. Often a substitute for cherry or oak.

Birch A light yellow to reddish-brown hardwood with a grain similar to oak. Stains can vary from clear to dark brown.

Cherry A light to dark reddish-brown hardwood with a fine grain. Mostly stained very dark.

Gum A deep reddish-brown to nearly white hardwood with a fine grain. Frequently finished in imitation of other woods.

Hickory A dark brown to white hardwood with a tight prominent grain. Staining can be difficult is the color variations are to be blended.

Maple A white to light tan hardwood with a straight-grain, sometimes curly, wavy, or bird's eye grain occurs. Staining can range from clear to very dark.

Oak A rich golden color to light reddish-brown hardwood with a pronounced open grain. Stain can range from clear to dark.

Poplar A yellowish-brown hardwood often tinged with green, grain is fine and straight. This is a paint grade material.

Walnut A light to dark chocolate brown hardwood with a moderately prominent straight grain. Stain can range from clear to dark.

Pine A white to pale yellow softwood with a fine straight grain. Stain can range from clear to dark.

Knotty Pine A white to pale yellow softwood with a fine straight grain. Stain can range from clear to dark.

Redwood A red softwood with straight fine grain. Mostly clear finish. Used for outdoor cabinet applications.

Most Popular Wood Species

If you have a favorite species of wood let everyone know.

Mine is Oak!

Which species of wood do you absolutely love.

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Are You Confused Yet? - Tell me what you think about my cabinet making lens.

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    • profile image

      PetMemorialWorld 8 years ago

      Great lens - I might have to try my skills over the Christmas break ;)

    • chrisadams lm profile image

      chrisadams lm 8 years ago

      What finish do you use?

      I'm kind of partial to General Finishes -

      Very informative lens - thanks

    • profile image

      richib 7 years ago

      Good stuff..:) Not long ago finished a lens on woodworking myself. Easy Woodworking Projects

    • profile image

      mrtims 7 years ago

      Good info and some really good links. I recently purchased the new Kreg K4 and love it. Enjoyed your site keep up the good work

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Cabinet woodworking plans can help start the process towards what you desire.

    • turner-bob profile image

      turner-bob 6 years ago

      Very informative lens

    • priya786 profile image

      priya786 6 years ago

      Acceptable advice and some absolutely acceptable links. I afresh purchased the new Kreg K4 and adulation it. Enjoyed your armpit accumulate up the acceptable work. i installed white kitchen cabinets

    • jvsper63 profile image

      jvsper63 6 years ago

      Great stuff to learn. Nice lens

    • BlueTrane profile image

      BlueTrane 5 years ago

      very helpful lens

    • KandDMarketing profile image

      KandDMarketing 4 years ago

      Nice lens! Covers the basics quite well!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Thanks for the lens. Honestly though, it sounds super complicated for a DIY especially when I don't have all the tools. How much money does it save doing it yourself as opposed to getting a professional for my custom cabinets?

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Hey. Just wanted to throw out another great reference for some great custom cabinets

    • profile image

      JoEHarrington 4 years ago

      Nice Information shared in this lens

    • profile image

      Edturrington 11 months ago

      Great lens but you could include how to build up from a floor plan. Say a bar fitted in a corner.for someone starting out this would help.

    • profile image 6 months ago

      Apparently I'm overlooking something. What is the value of "A" in your instructions?



    • Marilyn Fritz profile image

      Marilyn 3 months ago from Nevada

      This is a very good page! I love how you listed the steps, and incorporated all the tools necessary to complete the job. I have wanted to construct some cabinets in my extra room, now I have a great guideline to go by!

    • profile image

      Jorge 2 months ago

      Good article. Very nice edited and presented.

      Anyone knows of a good cabinet design program in the market? One that's not too cheap but not too expensive either. I do not want to waste my money on something that's not worth the price on either of those parameters... Thanks in advance

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