Our primary bathroom used to have an awkard nook next to our shower, so I decided to dive in and learn about building cabinets! What was once wasted space is now efficient storage. And, true to form, it took me far longer than it should have.
This empty nook next to our shower has been empty since we moved into the house. We suspect that when the house was originally built, the builder offered an upgrade to do some sort of cabinet or built-in vanity here. But to us, it was wasted space!
The driving factor in the design was to maximize storage space. Our linen closet is pretty small and we had the opportunity here to essentially double our linen closet space.
The appearance was inspired by a post that my wife found: DIY Fluted Cabinet Doors.
My first step was to model the project using Fusion 360:
At this point we hadn’t yet settled on a final color or what handles we wanted to use on the doors.
With the core design all settled, it was off to the hardware store! For the plywood, I opted for sandeply. This was a new type of plywood to me, but it had a major advantage over the birch: lower cost! I also really loved the grain pattern, and since the interior of the cabinets wouldn’t be painted, I really wanted that to pop.
I decided early on that I would try to use 1/2” plywood for the cabinet carcasses. Most people use 3/4” when building cabinets, but since this project wouldn’t be supporting a lot of weight, and would be secured to the wall, I felt comfortable using the 1/2” plywood. For the back panel I went with 1/4” sheets of sande plywood.
For the face frame, I picked up a bunch of 1”x2” poplar boards because poplar is great for painting. The doors are also made out of poplar, but are 1”x3” boards with a 1/4” sheet of sande ply for the back panel.
Time to start building! The first step was to cut the boards down to size for the cabinet carcasses. Next, I cut horizontal dadoes along the bottom and middle of the side panels where the bottom and middle shelf panels sit. I also cut a long veritcal dado for the back panel to slide into. Then I drilled a LOT of pocket holes for all the brace pieces!
To cut the dadoes I did repeated passes on my table saw. For the veritcal dadoes this was relatively easy, however for the horizontal dadoes I probably should’ve used a router, as that would’ve been a bit safer. For the dadoes on the very edge, I used a sacrificial piece of scrap would to sneak all the way up on the edge of the plywood.
Then on to assembly! I picked up some cheap corner clamps to help keep the side panels square with the shelves, although they don’t do much in the way of clamping pressure. There were multiple times in this project where I should’ve picked up a nail gun, and this was the first.
With the carcasses complete, I set about sanding, and sanding, and sanding… Finally I was able to stack them for the first time to get a feel for just how large this cabinet was going to be.
After multiple coats of water-based polyurethane alternated with a light sanding, I added all 176 shelf pin holes. Thankfully there’s a Kreg jig for that, so it took no time at all.
Around this time I also put together four adjustable shelves. These were made with the same 1/2” ply and a strip of poplar across the front that would eventually be painted to match the face frame. I added some edge-banding to the other three sides to help protect the plywood when the shelves are adjusted.
The face frame went together pretty quickly, and is held together with pocket holes on the back side.
To attach the face frame, the plan was to use biscuits for alignment followed by pocket holes. Rather than buy a biscuit joiner, I picked up a router bit that matched the thickness of the biscuits. With the face frame clamped to the carcasses, I used some painter tape across the joints and drew a straight line. Then I cut the tape and had perfect markers for where the biscuit joints should be cut on both the cabinet carcasses and the back of the face frame.
I forgot to take a picture of the process of lining up the biscuit joints, but here’s a picture of me showing off proper PPE with the markings in the background!
To assemble the doors, I cut down 1x3 pieces of poplar and cut a 1/4” dado for the plywood panel. Then I cut biscuit joints on the ends of the four side pieces using the same method that I used for the face frame. Finally I gingerly applied the clue, slid in the side panel and used a special clamp that would hold all four corners at once and apply even pressure.
Now you might be asking yourself why I decided to do miter joints on something that would ultimately be painted, and you would never know that it was a miter joint. And you would be 100% correct. This was not something that I thought through very well. A simple tongue and groove door would’ve been far simpler. But hey, I learned some new techniques!
To attach the doors, I picked up some Blum soft close hinges. As always, there’s a Kreg jig for that! I’ve never used these hinges before, so I made a small replica of the face frame and door to test and adjust the alignment settings on the jig.
Time to start installing! It was a little tight trying to stack cabinets that go 98% of the way to the ceiling, but once I got them aligned I clamped them together and slid them into place.
Attaching the face frame was a massive pain. My original plan was to use pocket holes coming in from the outside of the cabinet carcass into the face frame. I got the biscuits glued, applied some glue to the edges of the cabinet carcasses, got the face frame on and clamped, screwed in the first pocket screw, and… it broke through the face frame.
At this point I started panicking. Although I had applied some glue, I was relying on the screws to pull the face frame tight. In my panic, I grabbed some finish nails (I didn’t have a nail gun at this point) and started nailing the face frame to the cabinets. It wasn’t pretty, but I would later be able to patch over the nails and touch up the paint.
Finally I added some trim pieces to match the curvature of the wall. I wasn’t confident enough to attemt to scribe the face frame to match the wall, so this allowed my some flexibility to bend the trim to match. For this step I went and bought a nail gun - so much easier!
All that was left to do was add the hardware on the doors and install the doors!
As always, there were lots of lessons to be learned. Here’s a few of the ones that stuck with me the most:
- I shouldn’t have used miter joints for the doors - I learned something new, but really I just made my life more difficult with this one!
- Pocket hole fail for the face frame - This really falls under the umbrella of “measure twice”. If I had taken a little bit more time to measure where the screws would be going at that angle, it would’ve been obvious that there would be problems. Similarly, I could’ve made a small mockup of the face frame and cabinet edge to test this.
- Alignment on the face frame - The biscuits worked well to align the face frame, but it wasn’t perfect. If I had some more clamps I could’ve more easily kept it in place. Ultimately it slid slightly when I was panicking and putting in the nails by hand.
- Test, test, test. For miters, painting, door hinges, anything new! - Making small mockups of joints to test before doing the real thing is very helpful. I also should’ve tested the paint sprayer on a test piece of wood before jumping in and painting the doors.