In this post, I’ll show you the must have tools for cabinet making (and furniture building)–for skill levels of any kind.
*This post is sponsored by Kreg Tool and contains affiliate links. See policies.
And then, I outfitted my workshop with new base and pantry cabinets as well!
One of the common misconceptions of cabinet building is that you have to have thousands of dollars worth of tools to do it. That is 100% NOT true.
You really only need a few basic, common, inexpensive tools, and a few jigs that make the job a whole lot easier. And a little bit of patience haha.
In this post, I’ll share what simple tools you really need to build your own cabinets.
And I’ll break it down into which tools to use for cutting, which tools to use for joining, which tools are for doors, drawers, and shelves.
First, what is a cabinet?
Cabinets are not just the boxes you store your dishes in the kitchen.
Cabinets come in all shapes and sizes and are made for all rooms of the house.
If we are defining a cabinet as “a storage box made of wood,” then cabinets can be vanities, dressers, consoles, end tables, bookshelves, and of course…the obvious kitchen cabinets.
If you haven’t noticed, I REALLY REALLY love building all of those things! Check out 100+ building projects here!
So for this post, let’s think “outside the box” a little (see what I did there??) to encompass what tools are helpful in building cabinets and furniture of all shapes and sizes.
In this post, I want to go into detail and share what and why these various tools are essential and what you can use them for.
So, let’s get to it 😊
What tools do you need to build cabinets?
To build simple furniture and simple cabinets, you don’t NEED any huge, fancy tools.
Nothing enormous, nothing expensive. You can make good, solid cabinets and furniture with just a few key items I’ve listed below.
RELATED: Check out the 5 Tools You Need to Get Started Woodworking here.
But why do you need these particular tools and what are they used for?? Let’s break it down.
Tools for Cutting Wood
The first part of any cabinet (or furniture) build is typically cutting down the plywood. Not all cabinets and furniture are made from plywood.
You can build your cabinets from solid wood as well.
But, plywood is a common choice for most cabinets and a large portion of furniture builds—mostly because it saves time, money, is readily available and has very minimal wood movement throughout the seasons to worry about.
I’ve shared an entire, very detailed post over here on how I cut down my plywood sheets using the Kreg Rip Cut and the Kreg AccuCut.
The essential tools for cutting down plywood are the circular saw, Kreg Rip Cut, and Kreg Accu-Cut.
NOTE: You can certainly use a table saw to cut plywood sheets, but if you’re like me and have a hard time maneuvering an 80 lb sheet of plywood through a saw, these cutting guides are life savers!
The Kreg Rip Cut (shown above) is a cutting guide that you use with your circular saw to “rip” your plywood sheet (or board—it’s not ONLY for plywood) into strips.
It’s capable of cuts up to 24” wide–so you can rip a full sheet of plywood in half.
The Kreg AccuCut is a gutting guide that acts kind of like a track saw. It’s great for cross cutting long pieces to the correct length.
You use it with your circular saw to cut straight lines across your plywood panel. I also use it often to cut down large table tops as well.
The great thing about these is that the blue sled that attaches to the circular saw plate is interchangeable between the two guides. So you can slide your saw right off the Rip Cut and right onto the Accu-Cut with no adjustments or having to swap anything out.
Don’t forget to check out this detailed post about cutting down plywood for more information.
Tools for Assembling Cabinets
Once the plywood is cut down, it’s time to join the boards together to create a box. That’s where the pocket hole jig comes in.
A pocket hole jig is a drilling guide that allows you to drill a hole on the ends of a board that you can drive a screw through to join it to another board.
Pocket holes can be used to join boards together in a panel OR perpendicular surfaces.
Here you see where I am using pocket holes to build my workshop cabinets.
Once you use the jig to drill a pocket hole, you drive pocket hole screws through it to assemble the boards together.
The pocket hole screws have a washer head that allows it to stop at the end of the pocket hole, so it can pull the joining board tight for a nice joint.
It is important to use these washer head screws with pocket holes for a strong, tight joint.
You can purchase Kreg Pocket Hole screws from KregTool.com, Amazon, or Home Depot.
I like to use pocket holes in cabinet and furniture building because it’s quick, simple, and doesn’t require fancy tools or patience waiting for glue to dry.
It creates a solid joint for sturdy projects.
In most cases, the pocket holes are covered so you can’t see them and when they aren’t, you can plug them!
Pocket hole jigs come in many shapes and sizes. Check out this post to decide which is best for your shop!
The jigs are easy to adjust for your application and the newer ones come with a handy gauge to help you figure out what settings you need!
Simply adjust your jigs’ drilling depth and the collar on your drilling bit to match your wood thickness.
Then clamp your piece, drill your hole, and drive your screws.
It’s also important to use the correct sized screws in your pocket holes so that you have a strong joint, but don’t end up with a screw sticking out of your material.
Tools for Installing Cabinet Doors
The Kreg Concealed Hinge Jig is probably my most used shop jig after the pocket hole jig. I use it all the time when adding doors to projects.
I used to use butt hinges on all my cabinets and furniture or semi concealed hinges.
And I was never a fan of seeing the hinge AND there was no room for adjustments if my door wasn’t quite square.
So I switched to concealed hinges on all my furniture and cabinets and it’s been a HUGE upgrade—both in ease of installation and quality of my finished products.
If you’re building cabinets or furniture, this concealed hinge jig is a must have.
Concealed hinges have a “cup” that is supposed to be recessed into the door–see image above.
This jig allows you to drill out the hole for the hinge in the correct location quickly and easily. Simply clamp it, drill it, and install the hinge.
RELATED: Check out this post for how to install and adjust concealed hinges on cabinet doors.
ALSO RELATED: Check out this post for how to build simple shaker style doors, and this post for more decorative cabinet doors.
A note about jig adjustments: Check your hinge instructions for how deep the holes should be drilled and how far from the edge the holes should be.
The drilling bit has a collar to allow for adjusting the drilling depth.
And there are two knobs at the bottom of the jig with the numbers 3 through 6 written on them. You can use a screwdriver to adjust these knobs according to your hinge specifications.
This is the distance from the edge of the hole to the edge of the door in millimeters. The smaller the number, the closer the hole is to the edge.
Usually your hinge instructions will specify what this needs to be set on, but as a general rule of thumb, I usually leave mine on 5mm.
Also, I just recently learned that this drilling guide detaches from the plate.
Turn counterclockwise to remove, and turn clockwise to lock in place 😊
Tools to Add Cabinet Shelving
Adjustable shelves in cabinets and furniture is a really nice touch and feels kind of like an upgrade.
I’m pretty indecisive, so I like options to adjust the shelves as things change, I rearrange, etc.
The EASIEST way to install adjustable shelves (or, I would argue ANY shelves for that matter) is by using shelf pins.
Shelf pins come in many shapes and sizes, but I like this style best.
Basically, you just place the pin in a hole drilled into the cabinet sides and set your shelf on top of the pins.
If you want to raise the shelf, move the pins up a hole or two.
BUT, first, you have to drill the holes. The Kreg Shelf Pin Jig allows you to drill equally spaced holes for this without any set up or measuring.
You literally just hold or clamp the jig, and drill into the slots.
I like to set mine flat on the cabinet bottom, drill into the top hole, then I use the included pin inserted into the bottom hole of the jig and into the hole I just drilled in the cabinet to hold my place while I work my way up the cabinet.
This makes it SUPER easy to ensure my holes are spaced evenly.
Run these holes up both sides of the back and both sides of the front. Insert the pins, install the shelves, and you’re done.
A few notes about using shelf pins: When installing shelves, cut them about ¼” shorter than the inside width of the cabinet to allow for some wiggle room to install them.
For example, if the inside of your cabinet is 16”, cut your shelves to about 15 ¾” long.
Take note that 5mm is slightly smaller than ¼” and you need to know which you have so you know what size pins to order.
See below the difference between 5mm shelf pins and ¼” shelf pins.
So be sure to order the correct pin size to fit your jig.
Tools for Adding Drawers to Cabinets
You’ll notice that my preferred method for installing drawer slides in that post is to turn the piece on its side to install them.
This allows gravity to help hold things in place 😉
But, when the piece cannot be easily flipped on its side (if it’s already installed on the wall, OR it’s too big to flip over), this drawer slide jig comes in really handy to hold your slides in place while you install them.
You can use my drawer building guide post to help you determine where your slide should go.
Then, clamp these guides onto the cabinet at that location and install the slide.
I may not use these often to install my slides, but I do really love them for helping me install my drawers.
Once the slides are in place, I can turn these around and clamp the opposite direction to hold my drawers still while I install them onto the slides.
It’s like having an extra set of hands.
Tools for Installing Cabinet Hardware
And finally, if you are installing new hardware on cabinets, furniture, etc (like knobs and pulls) this is a handy jig to use to keep things consistent.
It’s made for installing drawer pulls and allows you to set it up once, and simply clamp, and drill without having to measure over and over.
The only downside to this jig is that it’s not made for really long pulls. But, if you’re using pulls 5” center to center or smaller, this will save you a ton of time.
To set it up, simply measure the distance of the screw holes on your pulls (measure center to center) and adjust the drilling holes on the front of the jig to match.
Note that one side is metric and one side is standard.
Then, adjust the bar across the back for the distance you want to install the pulls from the edge of the door/drawer.
For example, if your drawer is 6” tall and you want to install your drawer pulls centered vertically, you would adjust this guide to 3” (the measurements are listed up and down the sides here). In this case, it’s set to 1 ½″.
Then, you just have to measure to find the center of the drawer horizontally, clamp in place, and drill the holes for the pull.
It works the same for the doors, too. Simply adjust the distance you want the pulls to be from the door edge, clamp in place and drill.
If you’re just installing a few pulls, this may not save a ton of time, but it will give you consistent results (like, not crooked door pulls haha).
But if you are doing several, this jig is really helpful to save time and prevent crooked pull installations.
Tools for Measuring and Marking
One of the most versatile tools for cabinet making is also one of the smallest.
This simple Kreg Multimark tool is handy for lots of things like adjusting the blade depths on various tools.
But when I’m building cabinets and marking for toe kicks or bottom shelf height locations, this is a great little tool to keep my marks consistent.
You loosen the knob and adjust the measuring piece where you want it…in this case it’s 3 ½″.
And you can run this along the edge of a piece to make a smooth mark all the way across. This is helpful for lining up the bottom panel during assembly.
You can remove the knob and place the metal piece on the opposite side to adjust for various angles, too.
It’s a really handy measuring tool, but I use it often to make consistent and square marks on my pieces.
So, that covers cutting, assembling, doors, drawers, shelves, and hardware. And that’s all the basics of cabinet and furniture building!
See, it’s not as intimidating or as complicated as you might think. It’s pretty easy when you have the right tools for cabinet making.
If you’re looking to put these tools to use, be sure to check out my kitchen cabinet building tutorial, and some of these furniture projects that use these tools as well:
And, if you’re just getting started, check out the tutorials on my Getting Started page to learn some basic concepts and check out my tool guides.
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Until next time, friends, happy building 🙂