Building Cabinets: Introduction

Lead Image
  • 4-20 hours
  • Advanced
  • 400-1,000
What You'll Need
Table saw
Jointer (optional)
A doweling jig or a horizontal boring tool
Jig saw
Orbital sander
Shaper (optional)
Clamps for gluing
Cabinet grade plywood for carcass
Plywood for door, false front insert and kick plate face
1x6 oak for face frame
Finishing nails (6d)
Flathead wood screws
Drawer materials and slides (if needed)
Countertop materials

Everyone can enjoy the look and feel of fine wood furniture. But, with the prices of quality wood furniture increasing, many do-it-yourselfers are creating their own custom pieces, like cabinets.

Read on to learn the correct steps, initial planning, tools, and other information that goes into building a quality cabinet.


Review the checklist thoroughly before proceeding with this project and gather all of the tools and materials. While the specific tools and materials you will need can be found in the "What You'll Need" list, some of the basic cabinet components you should begin familiarizing yourself with include the following: kick plate, carcass, strong-back, face frame, doors, drawers (optional), and false front.

Before you begin, you should find someone who can help you with the project or act as your assistant. This person will need to help you cut some of the wood due to the large size of the lumber involved in this project.


Before starting, familiarize yourself with some common wood-working terms like those listed below.

Miter cut: angle cut across the width or thickness of the board

Rabbet: an L-shaped cut

Dado: a channel cut across the board, into which the second piece of wood is fitted

Kerf: width of the blade

Countersink: to set a screw head at or below the surface

Dowel: wooden pin used to provide strength and alignment

AA lumber: lumber that has a good finish on both sides

Ripping: a cut with the grain

Crosscutting: a cut across the grain

Shim: a thin, wedge-shaped piece of wood used for leveling or spacing

Butt joint: the square end of one piece butting up against the flat surface or end of another piece

Wood Selection

Before you purchase your wood and select a finish for your cabinet, you should ask yourself some simple questions about how you plan to use and display it in your home. Some of these questions include ones like the following: Where will the cabinet be located? Do the dimensions of the cabinet fit properly in the space you have allowed for it?

You can use plywood that has a furniture-grade veneer on only one side (AB plywood), since only one side will be visible. Plywood with a finished veneer on both sides (AA plywood) can also be used for a top-quality look. Face frames of solid oak will be used to cover the plywood when necessary.

Similar to laying a pattern out on a piece of cloth, you can cut several different pieces of the same thickness of wood out of a single piece. It is a good idea to add up the total number of boards, being careful to make sure you group short pieces in with long pieces to minimize waste.

Also note that because this cabinet is fairly small and will be pushed flush with the wall, you will need to use a strong-back to add strength and hold the cabinet together. However, you may decide to add a plywood back depending on the use and size of the cabinet.

Continue to go over a few safety tips and common mistakes before you begin building.