Building your own DIY kitchen cabinets seems like a pretty intimidating project…or is it just me? When we started planning out our garage apartment house, I was like, “building my own kitchen cabinets?? HA! No big deal!”
Then the closer we got to time to actually start DOING the work, my tune changed a little to something more like this, “BUILDING KITCHEN CABINETS?! AM I INSANE??”
But when you’re in the middle of a high stakes six week renovation challenge and living with your mother in law until you can get your new house livable, you just grit your teeth and get to work. Do your best and caulk the rest, right?? HA.
But, you know what I found out?? Building your own DIY cabinets is really an easy project to take on and it’s totally doable with just a few basic tools and some good quality plywood.
- Why I Built My DIY Cabinets Using Only Plywood
- What you will need to build your own DIY Kitchen Cabinets:
- Step 1: Determine and Cut Cabinet Depth
- Step 2: Cut Base Kitchen Cabinet Carcass Pieces
- Step 3: Cut Out Toe Kicks on Base Cabinets
- Step 4: Apply Edge Banding
- Step 5: Assemble the Base Kitchen Cabinet Boxes
- Step 6: Add Backs to DIY Cabinets
- Step 7: Add Doors, Drawers, Shelves to Cabinets
- Step 8: Install DIY Base Cabinets
- Step 9: Assemble Upper Kitchen Cabinet Boxes
- Step 10: Install Ceiling Trim (Optional)
- Step 11: Finish DIY Kitchen Cabinets
Why I Built My DIY Cabinets Using Only Plywood
I built ALL my DIY kitchen cabinets from plywood. PURE PLYWOOD. I didn’t plane, join, or mill a single piece of hardwood (except for the countertop).
And since plywood is much easier on the wallet than solid hardwood, that saved a ton of money…and we all know how cheap I am 😉 But without having to mill all the lumber, it saved, most of all, TIME. Plus I didn’t need a ton of fancy tools!
I built my cabinet carcasses using full sheets of ¾” Birch PureBond Plywood because they are more cost efficient and the carcasses wouldn’t really be showing.
But I wanted a really nice, natural color for the bottom doors, so I used the ¾” Hickory 2’x4’ PureBond Plywood panels for the doors on the base cabinets and pantry.
So even if you don’t want to build all new cabinets, but just want to replace your cabinet doors, all you need is a little plywood and some edge banding and everyone will be complimenting you on your cabinets 😉
PS If you’re looking for a more traditional style door, check out this tutorial to make Shaker style doors.
So, let’s get to building these cabinets. I’ve got a video for you here, but there’s a lot of info to cover, so you’ll find some extra helpful tips I didn’t have time to mention in the video below in this post.
What you will need to build your own DIY Kitchen Cabinets:
- ¾” Birch PureBond Plywood (full sheets are best, but 2×8 sheets would work as well)
- ¾” Hickory 2×4 PureBond Plywood Panels
- ¼” Birch PureBond Plywood (full sheets are best, but 2×8, 2×4, or 4×4 sheets would work as well)
- 1 ¼” pocket hole screws
- Birch Edge Banding
- Hickory Edge Banding
- Circular saw
- Kreg Rip Cut
- Kreg AccuCut
- Kreg Track Horses (optional)
- Miter Saw
- Jig Saw
- Kreg Pocket Hole Jig
- Tape Measure
RELATED: Check out the Top Ten Tools I Recommend for Cabinet and Furniture Building in this post.
Step 1: Determine and Cut Cabinet Depth
A Note About Cabinet Depth: I built these DIY cabinets frameless, with full overlay doors to avoid having to use anything except plywood to build them. That said, the total depth of my base cabinets including the door was about 24” deep and upper cabinets was about 13 ¾”. If you want to change the depth of your own cabinets, rip your plywood narrower or wider as needed.
So for my base cabinets, I ripped my full plywood sheets down to 22 ¾” strips. I saved the thin strip leftover to use later as the top supports.
For my upper cabinets, I ripped my plywood to 12 ½” wide. Once you rip 3 strips at 12 ½” wide, you have a strip about 10 ½” or so leftover. Save this for your shelves later.
Step 2: Cut Base Kitchen Cabinet Carcass Pieces
Typical base cabinet height is about 34 ½” tall then you have a 1 ½” countertop to make it 36” total.
I recommend sticking to that standard and cutting your base side panels 34 ½” long. I cut two side panels from each 22 ¾” strip from step 1.
For this, I used my Kreg AccuCut and circular saw for quick, clean cuts. See more on how to cut down plywood here.
From the remaining plywood, I cut the bottom panel. Here’s a helpful diagram:
A Note About Cabinet Width: I made my kitchen cabinets overall size 24 ¼” wide. This was so that I didn’t have to trim the width of the 24″ wide Hickory Plywood Panels for my doors. (Check out this post for door sizing guidance.) So that’s what my measurements will be based off of.
However, if you want different cabinet sizes, it’s easy to modify. Simply take the overall width you want your cabinet box to be and subtract 1 ½″. That is the length you need to trim your bottom panel and top support pieces.
In my case, 24 ¼″ – 1 ½″ = 22 ¾″.
I cut 3 top supports to the same length as my bottom panel (in my case, 22 ¾″ long) for each base cabinet. Remember that thin strip leftover from step 1 ripping the plywood for base cabinets? That’s what I used for this.
Step 3: Cut Out Toe Kicks on Base Cabinets
Now before assembling, I needed to add two more details.
Most kitchen cabinets have toe kicks on the base cabinets. You can go without toe kicks, but I am pretty careless and rough on things, so I would be accidentally kicking the bottom of the cabinets constantly and scuffing them up. So I added toe kicks.
To do this, I drew a line 3 ½” from the BOTTOM of EACH base cabinet (only the base, not the uppers) side panel and another line 4 ½” in from the front bottom side of the side panel. The corner where these lines meet needs to be cut out with a jig saw.
Step 4: Apply Edge Banding
The last detail before assembling the carcasses, is adding edge banding. Since these are frameless DIY kitchen cabinets, there won’t be a frame on front to cover the plywood edges.
So, I applied iron on edge banding on the FRONT edges of my cabinet pieces in order to hide them. This goes on the FRONT sides of everything that will be exposed.
I sanded everything well before moving on.
Step 5: Assemble the Base Kitchen Cabinet Boxes
I used ¾” pocket holes and 1 ¼″ pocket hole screws to assemble these cabinet boxes. I drilled pocket holes along the side edges of the bottom panel and the ends of the support pieces.
I attached the bottom panel between the side panels 3 ½” from the bottom of the sides–just above the toe kick. Then, I attached the three support strips so that one runs along the back, and two along the top-one in the front and one in the back.
Make sure the one in the front is the one with the edge banding applied. That gives you your cabinet box.
Step 6: Add Backs to DIY Cabinets
Adding the backs sounds pretty simple…and it is. But it’s also a critical part of the process. Make sure when cutting your back panels, that they are square and make sure when you attach them, that your cabinet is also square to this back piece.
I cut ¼” PureBond plywood panels to fit over the back side of my cabinet boxes. Simply nail or staple in place.
Step 7: Add Doors, Drawers, Shelves to Cabinets
Now, I made full overlay doors for most of my cabinets. I wanted the entire cabinet carcass to be hidden and basically let the doors steal the show.
So to cut the doors, I measured my cabinet box and cut the hickory panels ¼” smaller on in both directions than the front of the box.
So my boxes were 24 ¼” x 32 ½” and I cut my doors 24” x 32 ¼”. Make sense?
I’ve got a full explanation for how to size your cabinet doors in this post if you want more details.
Once they were cut to size, I applied hickory edge banding to all sides of the doors and sanded well.
I’ve also got a whole post over here showing how to install these doors using soft close concealed hinges. Check that out for all the details.
Also, if you choose to install drawers instead of doors, I’ve got a post here showing how to measure for, build, and install drawers.
Step 8: Install DIY Base Cabinets
Now, to install these cabinets, I used shims to level them up where they go, screwed them TOGETHER through the side panels, then attached them to the studs in the wall through the top back support.
Once all the base cabinets were in place, I glued up a solid hickory wood countertop (like in this post) and attached through the top supports of the cabinet boxes. You can install whatever type of countertop you prefer.
And the final piece, was adding the toe kicks at the bottom. For the toe kicks, I ripped ¾″ plywood pieces 3 ¼″ wide and nailed into place like shown.
You’ll have to trim down the size you need to cover each section of cabinets you have put together. Then just nail into the carcass side panels using finish nails.
Step 9: Assemble Upper Kitchen Cabinet Boxes
Now, the plywood strips have been cut for the upper cabinets in step 1. But they need to be cut to length and assembled.
Upper cabinets are a little trickier as your side panels will vary depending on if you want them to go to the ceiling, how high your ceilings are and how far off your countertop you want them to be.
They’re SUPPOSED to be AT LEAST 18 inches from the countertop to the bottom of the upper cabinet.
You will have to determine what height your uppers need to be (I used 40″), but the top and bottom panel pieces should be figured and cut just like the base cabinets in step 2 based on how wide you want your cabinet box to be.
Now…I bet you’re wondering why there’s a space at the top in my diagram above. I wanted my cabinets to go all the way to the ceiling, BUT I was adding a piece of trim between the cabinet and the ceiling and needed something to nail that trim to.
So I attached my top panel 3 ½” from the top of the side panel. That way, when I hang my cabinets, I can attach the trim along the top of the cabinets and have something to nail to.
If you aren’t going to the ceiling or aren’t doing the trim, then attach your top panel flush with the top of the sides and same with the bottom.
I assembled these using ¾” pocket holes and 1 ¼” pocket hole screws like the bases.
This time, I attached thin plywood strips between the side panels—one at the top and one at the bottom—like shown below. This is so how you will hang them on the wall.
At this point, repeat steps 6 & 7 for these cabinets as well (adding a back, doors, and shelves).
Then install them by leveling, shimming, and attaching them together and into the wall studs through the support pieces on the back.
As a side note: you can easily modify the dimensions and use these instructions to build a pantry and a refrigerator box cabinet as well. It’s the same concept, just slightly different dimensions.
Step 10: Install Ceiling Trim (Optional)
Depending on your own preferences and how you built your cabinets, adding this trim is optional.
But, I just glued and nailed a 1×3 onto a 1×4 board and nailed this along the top as the trim. You could do crown molding or some other type of trim, but I just kept it simple and modern.
Step 11: Finish DIY Kitchen Cabinets
You can finish the cabinets before or after installation…I painted the uppers before installing and polyed the base cabinets after. So that’s totally up to you.
I simply applied a few coats of Minwax Helmsman Water Based Poly on the bottom cabinets and the countertop.
See, now? Building cabinets isn’t difficult. Cut, assemble, install, finish 🙂 You got this, my friend!
And if you want more details on the backsplash tile, check out this tutorial.
This post was LONG, but there is so much to say about building your own DIY cabinets. But…I have no doubt that if I can do it, you can, too.
When you think of kitchen cabinets as simple boxes, its really a simple build you can do yourself if you give it a little thought and double check your measurements 🙂
Now get out there and get building your new kitchen…Right after you pin this for later 🙂
Until next time, happy building 🙂