Skip to main content
FREE STANDARD SHIPPING on orders of $49 or more.
  • Kitchen Cabinets Made Simple

Cabinets come in many styles and finishes, but the one thing they have in common is how much they can influence the overall appearance of a kitchen. A run of new cabinets can completely transform a space, and add significantly to the value of a home. It's no wonder they can cost so much. But now they don't have to. Kitchen Cabinets Made Simple demystifies kitchen cabinet construction and makes it possible for the dedicated do-it-yourselfer to build new cabinets for a fraction of the cost of buying them. This multi-media approach "DVD and illustrated book guide" visually and completely instruct woodworkers throughout the process of building sturdy face-frame cabinets with frame-and-panel doors. It's all in here, from drawing out a plan and constructing the cabinet boxes to finishing and installation.

About the Author
Gregory Paolini designs and builds furniture and cabinetry from a small shop nestled in the Smokey Mountains, just west of Asheville, North Carolina. He also teaches and writes about the craft and is a frequent contributor to Fine Woodworking magazine.

Additional Information
About No
Issue Number No
Publication Year 2011
Photos 287
Drawings 5
Other Formats 77879
Isbn 978-1-60085-300-5
Author Gregory Paolini
Dimensions 9 3/16 x 10 7/8
Pages 128
Format Book + DVD

Chapter 1: Planning your project
Making a plan
Cabinet standards
Traditional or Euro-style cabinets?
Organizing your work

Chapter 2: Building a basic cabinet
The process of building a basic cabinet
Cutting sheet goods down to rough size
Cutting cabinet parts to size
Grooving with a dado blade
Grooving with a standard tablesaw blade
Edge-banding with iron-on tap
Assembling the cabinet

Chapter 3: Building base cabinets
Dimensioning base cabinets
Customizing base cabinets
Building a base cabinet
Installing partition stretchers
Cutting parts for toekicks
Drilling pocket holes
Assembling a toekick
Attaching toekicks

Chapter 4: Building wall cabinets
Dimensioning wall cabinets
Building wall cabinet boxes
Reinforcing the back
Drilling holes for an adjustable shelf
Reinforcing a shelf

Chapter 5: Building face frames
Designing face-frame cabinets
Cutting face-frame parts
Frame joinery
Modifying cabinet boxes for face frames
Joining frames with pocket screws
Attaching face frames to cabinets
Adding a bead

Chapter 6: Building drawer boxes
Designing drawer boxes
Choosing joinery for drawers
Cutting parts for a pocket screw drawer
Rounding drawer parts
Building a pocket screw drawer
Preparing parts for a dovetailed drawer
Cutting half-blind dovetails with a jig
Assembling a dovetailed drawer

Chapter 7: Doors, drawer fronts, and panels
Design considerations
Sizing panels
Installing finish panels and drawer fronts
Building a slab panel or door
Making a mortise-and-tenon frame
Assembling a frame and panel
Fitting an inset drawer front

Chapter 8: Installing hardware
Drawer slides
Installing side-mount drawer slides
Installing cup hinges
Installing hardware in face-frame cabinets

Chapter 9: Finishing
Choosing a finish
Choosing knobs and pulls
Preparing surfaces for finishing
Making a wipe-on finish
Applying a wipe-on finish
Installing knobs on doors
Installing knobs on drawer fronts



The idea of building a kitchen-ful of cabinets can be a little intimidating, but the truth is, building an entire set of kitchen cabinets isn't that complicated. At its most basic level, a cabinet is essentially a large box, filled with more boxes, drawers and pullouts, and covered with slabs or panels (doors, drawer fronts, and finish panels). Although the construction process may be simple, there are ways to make the project go more smoothly.

There are many things to think about before you get started, ranging from what style to choose for your cabinets to where you will store the cabinet boxes while you're building them. In this chapter, I'll discuss the basics of planning and managing your project, including the standard dimensions for cabinets, the difference between frameless and face-framecabinetry, the tools and materials you'll need for building your cabinets, and how to organize your work.

Making a plan
Before building any cabinets, you'll want to make a detailed plan with all the measurements for both the base cabinets and wall cabinets. The plan itself can be drawn on paper, but you'll also find many planning tools online or even at your local home center. These planning tools, whether electronic or paper-based, offer dimensions for standard commercial cabinets and can help you get started. Electronic versions allow you to try different scenarios. Some even allow you to see it in 3D. You can also use computer drawing programs, such as CAD or SketchUp.

Before drawing your plan, think about how you use your existing kitchen. What do you like about it? What don't you like? Then, think about how to change the kitchen to suit your needs. Keep in mind that you may need to relocate the plumbing and electrical services if you move the sink, dishwasher, or stove.

Next, take your appliances into account, and make sure you leave room for them in your layout. Most manufacturers list overall dimensions or any clearances in their product literature. And even if you haven't purchased that stove, dishwasher, or refrigerator, you can most likely get a copy of the owner's manual and installation guide on the manufacturer's website.

You should draw both a plan view (from above) for the base cabinets and the wall cabinets. Be sure to note any window and doors as well as the location of the appliances. You can make some assumptions about the height and depth of the cabinets and the toekicks, which are same height for all the base cabinets. The following section provides some of the standard dimensions to keep in mind while drawing your plan. 

Cabinet standards
Before you make the first cut or power up any tools, there are some standard sizes you'll want to work with when building cabinets. All these dimensions are based on ergonomics: the science of ideal dimensions for the way our bodies use practical objects like furniture, cabinets, and appliances.

Most of the standards outlined here have to do with height and depth. The width of a cabinet can vary within reason, but there are some issues to consider, including the number of doors for the space (see "Single vs. multiple doors," p. 85). A very wide cabinet is also more difficult to manage during installation. Last, and perhaps most important, be mindful of the proportions. You want the final dimensions to be pleasing to the eye as well as practical for storage.

Base cabinets
Base cabinets are generally 36 in. tall from the floor to the top of the counter. This distance off the ground puts the countertop at a comfortable working height. A little lower, and the average adult would have to bend slightly when chopping vegetables or prepping food at the workspace. In this hunched posture, you'd likely feel some back pain at the end of the day. If the cabinets were much taller, and you maintained the standard distance between the base and the wall cabinets, you'd have to stand on tiptoes to reach the contents of the upper cabinets. Appliance manufacturers also use 36 in. as their standard height, so that dishwashers, ovens, and cabinets will all align at the level of the countertop.

The depth of base cabinets is generally around 24 in. This really has more to do with materials than anything else. When you rip a 4-ft.-wide sheet of plywood in half, you end up with roughly two 24-in.-wide pieces that can be cut into cabinet sides and bottoms. You'll see in Chapter 4 that, depending on the sheet goods used, these pieces are not always exactly 24 in. wide, but you can adjust for the difference during construction.

Base cabinets sit on supports or toekicks, which are generally 4 in. tall and set back 3 in. from the front of the cabinet. This provides enough room to stand at the cabinet without stubbing your toes.

Countertops usually occupy the top 1 in. of the overall height of the base cabinets. The actual thickness of the counters may vary, depending on the type of material chosen, so adjust accordingly.

Wall cabinets
Upper cabinets are roughly 12 in. deep. This width, as with base cabinets, is related to dimensions of standard materials. Theoretically, a 4’ã8 sheet of plywood yields four 12-in. sections across its width. Cutting the plywood reduces the width by the thickness of the sawblade, so the actual yield may be less than 12 in. But you can use the 12-in. depth as a rule of thumb. It also turns out to be a good size to store the items in the average kitchen and provides enough setback so the upper cabinets won't interfere with working at the countertop.

Upper cabinets are usually installed 18 in. above the countertop surface. This leaves plenty of room on the counter to work and enough space for small appliances, like coffee makers and mixers. It's also an easy reach when storing dishes and food items in the wall cabinets. While there's no standard height for upper cabinets, a height of 30 in. is common. That's about as far as most people would be able to reach without the aid of something to stand on. 

Depending on the height of the room and the style of the kitchen, the top of the cabinets can be trimmed with crown molding or left as is, providing space for additional display areas or interesting lighting effects.

Special cabinets
Building your own cabinets allows you many options that you wouldn't necessarily have with stock cabinetry. You may, for example, wish to build a cabinet in a narrow space at the end of a run to hold baking pans or cutting boards or build a closet for brooms and cleaning supplies.

One of the most common specialty cabinets is a corner cabinet. Specialty hardware can make it easier to access the contents of a corner cabinet.

Building corner cabinets is within the skills of most woodworkers. The key to success is careful attention to dimensions and angles. Be sure to understand the operation of the door hardware you plan for your corner cabinets. A base corner cabinet typically uses a folding door that operates on a special hinge, invisible when the door is closed. The installation is explained in detail in the instructions that come with the hinge.

Generally, it makes sense to plan ahead for all the hardware that you'll need for your cabinets. You don't want to get as far as installing the hardware to find out it doesn't work with your design. Especially be sure to plan for pullouts as they need to work with your door hardware (see "Accommodating pullouts," p. 102).

Traditional or Euro-style cabinets?
While there's an endless amount of cabinetry styles and themes to chose from, cabinets really break down into two types: traditional and frameless, or Euro-style.

Traditional cabinets
Often called face-frame cabinetry, traditional cabinetry gets its name from built-in shelving. As this primitive storage evolved to something more than just a shelf, construction usually involved trimming or framing in the area, to provide a method to attach doors and enclose the space. The frame also stiffened the cabinet box, giving it extra strength and providing a decorative transition. As the task of cabinet construction shifted from construction on site to the workshop, face-frame cabinetry persisted, especially for historic or period-style homes. 

If you plan face-frame cabinetry, build the face frames first to the specifications dictated by your plan. Then build the boxes behind the frames. 

Euro-style cabinets
Frameless cabinets made their debut in postwar Europe. Since Euro-style cabinets were, and still are, built modularly and, in Europe, are often moved from home to home, they need to be strong enough to survive the journey from the cabinet shop to the first home and then the next home. Sometimes the cabinet will be ganged together with other cabinets. Other times it will be solo. Since their inception, Euro cabinets were built as individual boxes, with thicker components, rendering the function of a face frame superfluous.

Many people associate Euro-style cabinetry with sleek contemporary designs, and while that's true in many cases, it's not the rule by any means. There are many ways to dress up Euro-style cabinets, so that they fit seamlessly into any environment. Outfitted with period-style doors and drawer fronts, a frameless cabinet can look appropriate even in a historical home.

So which type of cabinetry is stronger or better?

Both styles of cabinets we cover in this book are built to accepted industry standards, and the truth is, once they're attached to your kitchen walls and locked together, neither type is going anywhere, and both will provide decades of service.

It doesn't take a factory full of machinery to build a set of kitchen cabinets, but there are some basic tools you'll need to get the job done. Adding others will make the job easier and faster to complete. You can look at tools in terms of basic and preferred toolkits.

As part of your basic toolkit, you'll need a tablesaw. It doesn't have to be anything fancy, but it should be equipped with a quality combination blade and a reliable rip fence. Plus, you'll want to make sure it's stable enough to cut large sheets of plywood. This may mean investing in roller or support stands for stability. You'll also need a drill with various bits and drivers, a hammer, and a screwdriver. These are the basics, and you can get the job done if these tools are all you have.

For the preferred toolkit, or a well-equipped workshop, the tools and equipment I recommend are a router, a router table, a pocket-hole jig, a pneumatic stapler or nailer, a planer, a jointer, and a drill press. These tools make the job even easier, and you'll be able to tackle more options.

The choice of materials is just as much a part of the design process as deciding on the dimensions of your cabinets and choosing the style of your doors and drawer fronts. The most important thing is to make thoughtful and timely decisions that have bearing on decisions you'll need to make later in the process, such as what type of door and drawer hardware you will use with face-frame cabinets. Here are some of the material choices to consider.

Sheet goods and solid wood
Kitchen cabinets are built from sheet goods, and by that I mean plywood or MelamineÎÂ. When buying plywood, look for straight and consistent layers in quality cabinet-grade plywood, preferably obtained from a plywood supplier. Avoid plywood with a wavy substrate and thin face veneers-- it could warp, and the core can often show through the faces after finishing.

Melamine is just particleboard covered with a thin plastic coating, and it comes 1 in. oversize, so a 4’ã8 sheet is actually 49 in. by 97 in. It's less expensive than cabinet-grade plywood, and the slick white surface is easy to clean and reflects a lot of light in the inside of the cabinet. White Melamine can be found at select home centers. Other colors may be special ordered. Larger suppliers to cabinet shops often carry Melamine in patterns to resemble various wood species.

Although people talk about "solid-wood cabinets," it's actually impractical to use solid wood for cabinet boxes. Solid wood expands and contracts across its width throughout the seasons. Your kitchen cabinets are screwed to the studs in the walls and locked in place, offering no way to accommodate the wood's seasonal movement. It's best to save the solid wood for building doors and drawer fronts, where you can build in room for movement.

One of the most important choices you'll make in the planning stage is the hardware that will make your cabinets functional. I prefer Euro-style hardware. It operates smoothly and installs easily and predictably. You'll also need fasteners, like staples or nails and screws, to assemble the boxes, including 15_ÅÜ8-in. wood screws (or drywall screws) and pocket-hole screws.

Make sure to order any specialty hardware, such as zero-protrusion or zero-clearance hinges for cabinets with pullouts that are near obstacles like appliances. Order corner cabinet hardware so that you can familiarize yourself with the hardware before finalizing the design.

There are many countertop choices available: laminates, wood, tile, solid surface, stone, and even concrete. Different materials can vary tremendously in weight, which is a consideration. However, the cabinet construction covered in this book is based on time-tested standards and will be able to support most types of countertops.

Organizing your work
Cabinets take up a lot of room in the shop. Actually, an entire kitchen's worth of room. When I'm working on a large kitchen project, I sometimes cut all of the cabinet components and store them stacked in a pile in the corner of my shop. I hold off on assembly until just before installation. This allows me more room to work. It also makes finishing easier because I can work on flat panels rather than assembled casework.

There is a trade-off. You can end up with a lot of parts floating around, so it's essential to stay organized. Label all the components, and keep the parts for each cabinet stacked together. Keep the parts in an area where they won't be in the way or need to be moved. 


Kitchen Cabinets Made Simple

  • by Gregory Paolini
  • Book + DVD
  • Product Code: TP-FWW71071318
Availability: In Stock
Today's Price: $25.16
List Price: $27.95
Save 10%