Building your own DIY kitchen cabinets seems like a somewhat intimidating project…or is it just me? When we starting 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 MY OWN KITCHEN CABINETS?! AM I INSANE??”
I was legit freaking out about it. I couldn’t build DIY KITCHEN CABINETS! I’m just am amateur! 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?? It’s really an easy project to take on and it’s totally doable with just a few tools and some good quality PureBond plywood. (Side note: I literally built all my cabinets without power EXCEPT for using the iron to attach edge banding and once we actually got power in our garage, I started using my miter saw…but I was just using a battery powered circ saw up until that point…so trust me, it’s doable without any fancy tools.)
Here’s the deal…I built ALL my DIY kitchen cabinets from plywood. PURE PLYWOOD. I didn’t plane, join, or mill a single piece of hardwood. And since plywood is much easier on the wallet than 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.
Now, let me clarify a little here. There are many types of plywood, but only one that I would choose to build my entire kitchen from. You’ve heard me talk about PureBond Plywood before, but I’ll say it again. It’s good stuff. It finishes nice and I VERY RARELY ever find a void when I cut into it. It’s formaldehyde free, made in the USA, and you can grab a sheet at your local Home Depot during store hours (which is a lot more convenient than the typical lumber yard hours).
AND, one more thing…they even carry specialty wood species plywood online in precut sizes. 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. These smaller panels are A LOT easier to handle than full sheets, AND since most of my cabinets were built 24 ¼” wide (I did that on purpose 😉 ), I only had to cut the door panels down in one direction since the 2’ was the perfect fit for full overlay doors.
Since posting my final kitchen reveal, I’ve had SO MANY COMPLIMENTS and questions about the cabinets. And you know what’s crazy? THEY’RE SUPER PLAIN…which makes them easy to build, BUT I was actually afraid they were going to be too boring and no one would even notice them. But you want to know what MAKES the cabinets…both literally and figuratively? It was the plywood. Guaranteed…if I didn’t have that gorgeous hickory plywood on the front, these cabinets wouldn’t have been half as popular as they are.
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 😉 That’s legit. PS If you’re looking for a more traditional style door, check out this tutorial to make Shaker style doors.
Check out all the specialty plywood options available online from PureBond here. But let me tell you, I’m not sure you can beat the Hickory…it’s my favorite wood type 😉
So, enough jibber jabber. Let’s get to building these cabinets. I’ve got a video for you here, but there’s a lot of info to cover here, so you’ll find some extra helpful tips I didn’t have time to mention in the video below in the tutorial.
What you will need:
¾” Birch PureBond Plywood (full sheets are best, but 2×8 sheets would work as well)
¼” Birch PureBond Plywood (full sheets are best, but 2×8, 2×4, or 4×4 sheets would work as well)
Kreg Track Horses (optional)
Step 1: Rip Plywood Down to Size
NOTE: I mentioned earlier that I made my cabinets overall size 24 ¼” wide. This was so that I didn’t have to trim the width of the Hickory Plywood Panels for my doors. So that’s what my measurements will be based off of. However, if you want a more narrow cabinet, or a wider one with double doors, the concept is exactly the same and you only have to change with lengths of your bottom panel and the support pieces…and you’ll have to trim down your doors.
ALSO NOTE: I built these cabinets frameless, with full overlay doors to avoid having to use anything except plywood to build them. That design really fits well in the modern/European style like I was going for. That being said, the total depth of my base cabinets including the door was about 24” deep and upper cabinets was about 13 ¾”. Obviously, if you want to change these for your cabinets, rip your plywood wider.
Shew…so many details.
Anyway, now that that’s out of the way, time to cut. Using a straight edge or a Kreg Rip Cut and a circular saw, rip your full ¾” PureBond plywood sheets (or half sheets if you got 2×8 pieces) down to 22 ¾” strips for your base cabinets. Save the thin strip leftover. You’ll need that later. You should be able to get two base cabinets from one sheet of plywood…almost. Keep reading.
For upper cabinets, I ripped my plywood to 12 ½” wide. Depending on the height you make the upper cabinets, you should be able to get two upper cabinets from a sheet (including enough for shelves) from one sheet of plywood. Once you rip 3 strips at 12 ½” wide, you have a strip about 10 ½” or so leftover. Use this for your shelves later.
Step 2: Cut Cabinet Carcass Pieces
I cut my base cabinet sides 36” long because I was going to have a thin countertop and wanted my cabinets a comfortable height. Not a good idea. When I installed my appliances, they were too short and I had to adjust them all the way up on their feet to get them level with the countertop. Typical cabinet height is about 34 ½” tall then you have a 1 ½” countertop to make it 36” total.
So, I recommend sticking to that standard and cutting your base side panels 34 ½” or 35” long. Cut two from each 22 ¾” strip and from the remaining plywood, cut two bottom panel pieces 22 ¾”. For this, I used my Kreg AccuCut and circular saw for quick, clean cuts.
For the upper cabinets, your side panels will vary depending on if you want them to go to the ceiling 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. More is better, but that’s preference. You will have to determine what height your uppers need to be, but the top and bottom panel pieces should be 22 ¾” wide just like the base cabinets.
Now, for the last little detail, you will need 3 thin strips of plywood cut to 22 ¾” long for each base and 2 for each top cabinet. Remember that thin strip leftover from step 1 ripping the plywood for base cabinets? Use that now. You will have to rip another thin piece from another sheet of plywood (or other scraps) to get enough for both cabinets. Likely, if you are building an entire kitchen of cabinets, you will end up with PLENTY of leftover thin strips of plywood by the time you cut out everything. But if not, you can grab an extra half or quarter sheet and rip it in small strips to use for things like this.
Step 3: Cut Out Toe Kicks
Most 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.
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
Before assembling the carcasses, it’s easiest to go ahead and apply the edge banding now. Since these are frameless cabinets, there won’t be a frame on front to cover the plywood edges. So, instead, I applied birch edge banding on the FRONT edges of my cabinet pieces. This goes on the FRONT side of each side panel piece, the front side of the bottom (and top) panel, and the front side of ONE of the three thin strips for your base cabinet in step 2.
Step 5: Assemble the Cabinet Carcass
BASE CABINETS: Drill ¾” pocket holes into each end of each thin strip and on two opposite sides of the cabinet bottom panel. You will attach using 1 ¼” pocket hole screws.
Attach the bottom panel along the top of the line you drew 3 ½” from the bottom of the sides in step 3 so that it is flush with the toe kick cut out. Then attach the three thin 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.
UPPER CABINETS: It’s a little muddy here. You may do yours different than me, but here’s how I did it. 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. Assemble these using ¾” pocket holes and 1 ¼” pocket hole screws like the bases. Attach your thin strips between the side panels—one at the top and one at the bottom—like shown. This is so that you can attach them to the wall.
Step 6: Add Backs to DIY Kitchen 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.
Cut ¼” PureBond plywood panels to fit over the back side of your cabinet boxes. They should be about 24” wide, but your height will vary depending on the heights you cut your cabinets to be. Simply nail or staple in place.
Step 7: Add Doors, Drawers, Shelves
Now, I did full overlay doors. I wanted the entire cabinet carcass to be hidden and basically let the doors steal the show. That’s why I chose a specialty plywood option and went with Hickory. For 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?
Once they were cut to size, I applied hickory edge banding to all sides of the doors and sanded well.
You can install the doors and drawers prior to install or after install. I installed my base cabinet doors prior to, but my uppers and my pantry after the fact. It’s just whatever seems easiest to you.
Also, if you choose to install drawers instead of doors, I’ve got a post here showing how to build a drawer. Once you have your drawer boxes installed, cut your hickory drawer fronts to size, apply edge banding, and attach.
I used mostly doors in my cabinets because that fit the look I was going for and saved a lot of time. But, to help with organization and storage, I added some shelves using shelf pins so they are adjustable. My Kreg Shelf Pin Jig came in handy for this and I used leftover PureBond Plywood scraps and one extra full sheet to cut shelves for my cabinets. You can install stationary shelves instead if you wish using pocket holes and screws.
Now, they’re ready for finish and install. It’s a lot easier to paint or poly your cabinets before installation so I recommend finishing them now, then installing once the finish is dry.
And, also once the finish is dry, you can add your door and drawer hardware. I LOVE these Liberty Artesia pulls for a clean, modern look. I also used these same pulls on my DIY modern nightstands recently.
Now, I’m not going to explain how to install cabinets (this post is too long already and there are plenty of tutorials out there for that), but remember those thin strips we attached to our cabinets? This is what they’re for. You can attach the uppers and the base cabinets to the wall by driving your screws through these pieces and into the studs in the wall.
Finally, once all the cabinets are installed, the last thing to do is install the toe kicks. For the toe kicks, rip 3/4″ plywood pieces 3 1/4″ wide and nail 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.
Also, the thin support strips on the top of the base cabinets are for attaching the countertop as well. Now you know 🙂 They served a purpose.
Now, stand back and admire your handiwork…and that gorgeous plywood 😉
By the way, notice the trim on the upper cabinets above? I used 1x3s along and top and 1x4s underneath. This is what I was talking about when attaching my upper cabinet carcass top 3 1/2″ down from the top of the side panel. Make better sense now?
My fingers hurt from so much typing. This post was LONG, but there is so much to say about building cabinets. It’s actually a fairly simple project, just takes a little patience and double checking measurements and for square. I have no doubt that if I can do it, you can, too.
This gives you a general overview of how to build frameless, full overlay base and upper kitchen cabinets. I didn’t cover the pantry or fridge cabinet, however, again, they are both just simple plywood boxes, just on a larger scale. You assemble the pantry top just like an upper cabinet and the bottom just like a base cabinet with the toe kick added. I also added a stationary shelf using pocket holes and screws in the center to keep the sides from bowing. When you think of 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 🙂