So, You Want to… Build a Cabinet

By Joe Provey | Updated Nov 15, 2013 8:52 PM

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How to Build Cabinets


Building a cabinet looks easy. After all, it’s just a box with a door. It only becomes difficult if you want it to look like fine furniture. Or carry heavy loads. Or include drawers, pull-outs, and Lazy Susans. Or if it needs to be finished to withstand a daily onslaught of moisture, spills, sticky fingers and cleansers. Building a cabinet looks easy, but the truth is that it isn’t.

Related: Cabinet Hardware: 10 Styles to Invigorate Your Kitchen

First and foremost you’ll need to know something about cabinetmaking materials. There are a number of hardwoods from which to choose—ash, birch, maple, and oak among them. Each has characteristics that may or may not make your job easier. There are also many grades of plywood and fiberboard. Sheet goods are what the cabinet’s “carcass” or body is made of (and sometimes its doors as well).

How to Build Cabinets

To build the face frame of a cabinet, you’ll have to know the difference between rails and stiles. Making them involves ripping and crosscutting and sometimes resawing and planing. You will also need to master squaring edges and boring clean, accurate, and plumb holes. To make strong joints, cutting rabbets, mortises, dovetails, doweling, and dadoes is essential. And this is before we even get to the doors and drawers, arguably the most challenging aspects of cabinetmaking—especially in you choose a cabinet style with raised or recessed panels.

You’ll also need an arsenal of tools. A table saw is invaluable, as are a router and router table. So is a thickness planer, not to mention assorted hand planes. An orbital sander will save hours of hand sanding. And for accurate boring of holes for hinges and other cabinet hardware, a drill press will be useful.

If after reading the above you’re not running off to IKEA to buy cabinets you can “build” yourself, let’s talk finishing. To get that perfect glossy finish you see in cabinet showrooms, you’ll need advanced finishing skills and, to be honest, spraying equipment. A good brush and knowing how to prep, condition, stain, thin and apply a clear coat might get you close, but many projects are ruined during the finishing stage.

How to Build Cabinets


To build a cabinet, you’ll also want a workshop with a workbench, plenty of well-ventilated space, and a myriad of measuring tools, squares, vises, clamps, glues and safety equipment. The kitchen table just won’t do.

If you already knew all of this, you’re probably capable of building a cabinet. If not, my recommendation is to enroll in woodworking classes. They’re available in many cities through continuing education (usually at the local high school), some home centers, and franchised woodworking supply centers, such as Woodcraft.

Seeking membership at ‘maker spaces’ or cooperative workshops is recommended—anywhere you can access the woodworking equipment and tools that would cost a fortune to buy yourself. In addition, there is usually a person on hand to answer question. Better yet, the blades and cutters will always be true and sharp!

For more on woodworking, consider:

Building Cabinets (VIDEO)
10 Ways to Use Your Cordless Drill/Driver
How To: Choose the Right Saw for the Job