The Complete Cabinet Making Guide
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.
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.
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
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 Â¾" plywood box construction, Â¾" solid wood face frames, and Â¼" 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 Â¾" 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 Â½", Toe Kick Depth 3 Â¼", with a wall end on left and finished end on right.
Finished End Side Panel Â¾" plywood
Height -subtract the toe kick height and the thickness of the counter top from finished height.
Depth -subtract 1" (thickness of Â¾" face-frame and Â¼" back) from finished depth.
Example: Height 30 Â¾"X Depth23"
Wall End Side Panels Â¾" plywood
Height -subtract the thickness of the top from finished height.
Depth - subtract 1" " (thickness of Â¾" face-frame and Â¼" back) from finished depth.
Example: Height 35 Â¼" X Depth 23"
Bottom Shelf Â¾" plywood
Length -subtract the thickness of the side panels (3/4") from finished width; subtract Â¼" on wall end side for a scribe.
Depth - subtract 1" (thickness of Â¾" face-frame and Â¼" back) from finished depth.
Example: Length 34 Â¼" X Depth 23"
Shelves Â¾" 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 Â¼" X Depth 23"
Mounting Cleat Â¾" 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 Â¼" X Depth 3"
Toe Kick Â¾" plywood
Front Toe Kick-Length- same as finished cabinet width if the cabinet meets a wall at both ends. For finished ends subtract 3 Â¼" 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 Â¼"
Example: Front Toe Kick-Length 34 Â¼" X Depth 4 Â½" Side Toe Kick- Length 20 Â¾" X Depth 4 Â½"
Back Â¼" plywood
Width -same as finished cabinet width, subtract Â¼" for wall ends
Height -subtract the toe kick height and the thickness of the top from finished height.
Example: Width 35 Â¾" X Height 30 Â¾"
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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 Â¾"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 Â¾" 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 Â¾" plywood
3/8" overlay lip mold doors and drawer fronts are Â¼" 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 Â½" plywood
Height -subtract 1" from the height of the opening
Length -subtract 2" from the depth of finished cabinet
Front & Back Â½" plywood
Height -subtract 1 Â½" from the height of the opening
Length -subtract 2" from the width of opening
Bottom Â½" 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.
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!