Building a Kitchen Cabinet

In my last post about the kitchen cabinet, I went over the reasons for the “why” of replacing our kitchen cabinet as well as a super basic run-down of the steps involved, but this time I’m going to break down the “how” a little more.  I’ve also included as many extra pictures as possible to give you a really good idea of the steps involved.  Feel free to skim, just for the pictures!  This post is really long, BUT if you are considering taking on such a project, sink or no sink, my intention is really to give you a good idea of what it all takes, and that includes your time.  I’m writing it for the person who has done little to no constructing, so there are terms and materials I explain, though all are welcome to read along.

To give you an idea of just how long this took, it was about 3 1/2 weeks from start to finish to get everything completed, but I have kids at home 24/7 and there were other things we had to work around.  It took one day to build the cabinet shell, another day to do all of the trim work and doors, two days for painting, one day for the drawers (construction and installation), one day for plumbing, two days for tiling (including grouting), and another day for all of the detail finishing touches, plus an additional day or two just for the planning, preparing, and gathering materials…all in all, a week and a half.

Step 1:  Assess your space.

As with any building project, you need to assess the space you will be working with.  For me, our kitchen sink cabinet is really sort of a peninsula in that it is not surrounded by cabinets or walls on 3 sides.  This gave me a little wiggle room for the dimensions of the new cabinet, but since the outer side of the cabinet is part of a room divide/walkway, I didn’t have a lot of space for expansion.  I ended up making the counter just slightly higher (a little under 1″), and longer (about 1 1/2″) than the old one.

Step 2: Make your plans.

Once everything was assessed, it was time to decide on all of the things that we wanted to have in our new cabinet…what kind of sink, faucet, counter tops, what would we have for cabinet space… Based on the dimensions of the original cabinet, and the adjustments I would be making for size and style, I could draw up my plans.  Normally I’m not much of a plans person, but for something as important as this, I’ll cave and sketch something up.  I like to fly by the seat of my pants, but Scott likes me to be prepared 🙂

Step 3: Prep, prep, prep.

With all of my measurements in hand and knowing what features we wanted to include, I dropped the kids off at my parents for a couple of hours and went to Menards (a home improvement store) and got as many of the supplies I knew for certain I would be needing, at least to start with, and knowing there would be more trips to make.

Between Scott and I, we’ve learned the importance of having the right tools for the job, and one thing we’ve found out is that torx screws are AMAZING.  The design of the head gives you a really good grip from the bit of your driver/drill to the head of the screw, which means that there are a lot less stripped screw heads and much less frustration.  These aren’t always the right screws for the job, but they definitely were for this project.  When you are buying screws, always look at the box to find out what type of driver bit you need.  The box on the left shows that I needed T-25 bits, and even though most boxes come with those tiny bits that fit in your drill with an adapter, they are never as good as buying some real bits if you can afford it, so I picked up a package just for this, and I know we’ll be glad to have them around!  I also ended up buying a tile cutting tool, a tile nipper and a glass grinder for the tiling project…I had considered buying a tile saw, but I really don’t know how often I would use it (if ever again), and the glass grinder was a more pertinent tool for me as I will be using it in the future for sure.

At the end of this post, I am going to list all of the tools and materials used for this project, so you can get a feel for what you would need should you be considering doing a project like this yourself (even if it isn’t a plumbing project), and I’ll include links to different sites where you can find these tools and materials.  *FYI* The only company I am affiliated with is Amazon, but I only link to the tools or materials we actually use…I’d never recommend something I haven’t used or done the research on.  And I tried to link to the site we purchased our supplies from whenever I could.


Step 4: Building the frame.

The cabinet was constructed in the dining room because we did not want to have our sink out of service for more than a few days at most, and the dining room was the best location so that moving everything would be easy once the cabinet was completed.

The first step was to build the cabinet base.  This was constructed of 2×4’s.  I know this is going to sound complicated, but…to get my measurements for the base, I took the final measurements I wanted the cabinet to be, subtracted the toe kick from the depth, subtracted another 3/4″ for the back panel of plywood that would go on, and another 1/2″ for the face of the cabinet.  Then from the length of the cabinet, I took my finished measurement and subtracted 3/4″ for the side panel of plywood.

Looking at the pictures below, you can see that I have a notch missing out of one corner.  The notch is there because of a wall that protrudes a few inches into the cabinet, the other boards are support boards, one for bearing the weight of the sink, and the other to keep the far left, shorter board in place and square.

This cabinet is constructed completely of 2×4’s and cabinet grade plywood.  Most cabinets are constructed of plywood or particle board of some sort, but will have faces (the front) that are made from “real” wood.  But since I was going to be faking the look of the original cabinets in the kitchen and painting everything, the plywood was perfect.  Once I had the base built, I put a sheet of 1/2″ plywood on top of the base for the “floor” of the cabinet that extends out another 3 1/2″ from the frame in front as this accounts for the toe kick (the toe kick is that space underneath your cabinets by the floor that allow you to stand really close to the counter).  The sides were frames of 2×4’s built to fit the width of the cabinet on top of the plywood floor, and their height was determined by taking the finished dimensions of the cabinet height and subtracting the 2×4 (3 1/2″)+1/2″ plywood, and the finished counter thickness.  Sorry if this all seems overly complicated…it’s not, just tricky to explain.  Then I ripped the plywood to the dimensions I needed for the walls of the cabinet.  The inner wall was cut to fit exactly over the inner frame, but the outer wall was cut a few inches longer with a square cut out of one corner where the toe kick comes out on the side.

Next I cut yet another wall.  This one would be going up against the existing cabinets, and would not be seen.  That created the drawer compartment of the cabinet.  At this point, I added an additional 2×4 inside each of my wall frames because I realized I needed a place to attach my bottom support for the sink that would be going in.  Normally if you have a top mount sink (or a heavy counter top), you don’t need to have a really beefy cabinet base, but since we were installing a heavy sink, it needed to be as sturdy as possible…nobody wants a heavy stone sink falling on their feet out of the blue!  Anyway, with the extra boards into the wall frames, I then added the cross supports to the main sink area: two that would hold the sink, one that would support the counter, and then in the drawer side: one at the base of the compartment in the back, and two across the top, not only to support the counter, but also to help attach the last side of the cabinet.  Then I fitted on the back of the cabinet, with extra height that serves as a back splash, and I roughly cut the counter top (but not the cut out for the sink itself).

Step 5: Fake it.

Like I said, I wanted to copy the style of the original cabinets in the kitchen, but since I’m no cabinet maker, there was no way I could skillfully match all of the work that they did.  So I faked it.  We’d never be able to get the stain just right, and paint would allow me to fake the style that we have in the house.  This is where I used a ton of wood glue and went happy-go-crazy with the brad nailer.  (Have I told you that the brad nailer is possibly my favorite tool?  It’s one of my all-time favorite gifts.)  To get the inlay look of the original cabinets, I ripped lengths of 1/4″ plywood with the table saw and copied the layout of the originals.  I ended up doing this on the kitchen island at the same time as well.  I never liked the base of the island as it doesn’t match the rest of the kitchen, but this made the two pieces tie in with everything else.  After cutting and sanding the pieces, I spread glue along the back side of the pieces, and then nailed them into place with the brad nailer, then tapped in any nails that didn’t make it all of the way in, and went around and filled all of the little holes will wood putty.

Step 6:  Install the sink.

I couldn’t accurately cut my doors or drawers until the sink was in place in the cabinet, because the face of the cabinet needs to be snug around the front of a farmhouse sink, and the placement of the drawers and doors was dependent on the placement of the faces.  Scott set the sink into place for me, and we wriggled and shoved and pulled until the positioning was just right.  Then I took measurements for the counter and cut out an opening for the sink itself.  The sink had to be shimmed in place to create a tight fit between the sink and the counter, and then I ran a thin bead of silicone caulk for bathroom/kitchen purposes around the whole thing as a seal in the event water ever finds it’s way underneath there. Then I cut the face pieces that run vertically along the sides of the sink, and another to run along the far drawer side.  These “faces” are what cover the inner construction work, and are the parts that are exposed on the final product.  There were a few more face pieces that didn’t get added in until a bit later in the process.

Step 7: Building the doors and drawers.

From here, it felt like I was making good headway.  The doors were easy enough as I just cut two pieces of 1/2″ plywood to fit in the space below the cabinet, and added the same fake inlay affect, again, filling all of the holes (the extra two doors pictured are from the island doors).  The drawers were pretty simple boxes…4 sides, a bottom, and an extra piece that was the face of the drawer.  I went back and forth on how to do the drawers, and maybe someday I’ll re-do them, but I don’t think that they will need to be re-done anytime too soon (though there is one that needs a bit of tweaking).  I attached the front and back pieces of plywood by gluing and screwing them to the base, and then did the same gluing and screwing to attach the sides.  I could have and possibly should have used nails to assemble the drawers, but I’ve had a lot of drawers fall apart that were built with nails, and I just didn’t feel like dealing with that.  With thin plywood, and screws, there was some splitting or bulging that happened in a few places.  The faces of the drawers were screwed to the drawer from the inside so that there would not be any exposed screws on the face-side of the drawer.

Step 8: Installing the drawers.

This is really pretty straight forward…I installed drawer slides, though I admit they are not functioning quiet as they should and I need to work out what the problem is on that so that they close the way they are supposed to.  (They are soft-close slides.)

Step 9: Priming and Painting.

With everything put together, it was time to prime and paint everything.  I used one coat of primer for kitchens and bathrooms on both the cabinet and the island, and finally, gave everything a painstaking 3 coats of paint.  All of those little seams where the “inlay” met everything else had to be edged with a foam brush, and then I rolled everything else, except where the trim met the floor, then I used a small brush to edge that.

With everything assembled and painted, the last steps were to put the cabinet in place, plumb it, and tile the counter (along with other putzy finishing touches).  I’ll share more about the plumbing in a separate, though far less lengthy post sometime soon.  I don’t have many pictures from the end of the project as it was too messy and hands on, but if you want to see more about the tiling process, you can refer to the island counter post.  This tiling job was much more complicated (and frustrating), but it’s the same general concept.

Materials list:

The only thing I did not purchase for materials were the handles for the drawers and cabinets.  I cleaned up the original pulls and reused them since they were the only way to get a sure match for the pulls.


(Only the tools with a * next to them are ones we purchased for this project.)

I did NOT buy all of these tools for this project….we’ve collected them throughout the past 10 years or so, and purchased many as second-hand, and some were factory refurbished.  I’m not trying to specifically endorse any one brand or anything.  We largely own Rigid tools because we have always been very pleased with the quality of their tools.  But I could do a whole other post on tools, so I’ll leave it at that for today!  I also did not include a list of the plumbing supplies this required, as I may save that for a separate post.

My last note is that our sink is made of manufactured stone, and while the inside is “polished” the outside is a matte finish.  I had two people tell me they thought it was plastic at first 🙁   But I really like the way that it looks!

Let me know if you have any questions or comments.  We always love hearing from you!



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