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Monday, January 4, 2010

Build a Basic Cabinet

After removing some kitchen cabinets next to the sink to make room for the new dishwasher, (see this post), I had a 36" space to work with. The dishwasher is only 24" wide, so what should we do with the extra 12"?

Let's build a cabinet.

The homeowners wanted something simple so I thought I could make a 12" cabinet to match the originals in the kitchen, except it would have two open shelves rather than any doors or drawers. Here's the basic process:


1. The hardest part is to make the face of the cabinet. Before you start, consider the exact width and height and exactly where you want the shelves and toe kick. For this project, I could easily measure the existing cabinets and design mine to match.

2. Once I had the dimensions in mind, I ripped some old boards that came from the house that were the same thickness as the original 7/8" thick cabinet faces.

3. Make the joints. The original cabinets were assembled using something called a half-lap joint. It's made by removing half of each piece so that when they are joined the surfaces are flush. It's sort of like working with Lincoln Logs... :)

I cut the joints on my table saw by setting the fence to the maximum depth of the joint, in my case, 1 1/2". I set the saw depth so that it would cut exactly half-way through the piece. After the first cut, make successive cuts from that point all the way to the end of the piece or as wide as the notch needs to be. (By the way, use all the appropriate safety precautions so you keep your fingers.) It's a great idea to test fit a couple pieces and adjust the height and fence until you're sure that the pieces will fit snugly and flush with each other.

4. I dry-fit the face of the cabinet to make sure it was right and then assembled it with glue and clamped it in place until it was dry.

Next, I needed to make the body of the cabinet which would consist of plywood sides and back. I cut the sides first out of cabinet-grade 3/4" plywood which is sanded smooth and free of knots, etc. The quality for this is not all that important because it will be hidden. Mainly, for this cabinet, I'm trying to match the quality of the original cabinets that were 70 years old...

6. The last piece would be the plywood for the back. This adds strength and holds it all together. Usually, some 1/4" plywood is fine for this.

7. With a smaller cabinet, this is a good time to think about shelf supports because it's easier to install them before the cabinet is assembled. Usually, a simple piece 3/4" plywood along the side is enough to hold the shelves. Make sure that you adjust the height of the supports so that the shelf height is flush with the face frame. This allows the face piece to hide the edge of the shelf and makes it look much better.

8. This cabinet would be painted, so It wasn't as important to hide all the fasteners and get too fancy. Remember, I'm trying to keep it simple and not spend to much time (and money) to get this cabinet done. So, instead of assembling with biscuits or even pocket screws, I stood the pieces up, made sure everything was square, glued and nailed them in place with my finish nailer. With a little putty those nail holes will disappear after it's painted.

9. All that's left is to cut a couple shelves to the right size and add the toe kick. I suppose you wouldn't have to nail the shelves in place, but I like to secure them unless they are adjustable.

10. Lastly, add a corner brace or two in the places where the countertop will be secured. You'll be happy you did when you go to screw down the countertop.

Paint it and you're done! For mine, the paint will come later. It was still fun to create a functional piece like this that will get a lot of use and match the original cabinets.


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