Introduction: How to Make Cabinets

Before I get started with the build process I want to let you know that at the end of this instructable is a free downloadable PDF guide going into greater detail than I will in this instructable. The goal of that PDF is to give you general direction with a strong building method for cabinets. Hopefully it will be of some use to those who are looking to build cabinets and are looking for a reliable method.

The cabinets I am building in this instructable are bathroom vanities. The same construction methods can be used for kitchen cabinets as the only difference between them and kitchen cabinets are the height and depth. The design I am using is a very conservative straight line design. Nothing fancy. No edge details. The drawer fronts are just a piece of 1x6 and the doors are simple tongue and groove construction with floating plywood panels. I also have a guide to making tongue and groove cabinet doors on the table saw that I will cover in another instructable.

Material lists for cabinets can vary from cabinet to cabinet depending on size and style but for a generic list you will need the following:

  • Plywood for the side panels, bottoms, and any other structural piece that won't be seen.
  • Plywood or a solid wood panel for the door panels.
  • Solid wood of choice for the face frame, door frame, and drawer front.
  • Drawer slides for however many drawers you are making. I used Euro style drawer slides in this build.
  • Cabinet door hinges for whatever style door you are making. I used overlay door hinges.
  • 1-1/4" pocket hole screws.

You will need the following tools:

  • A table saw or circular saw for all of the cuts.
  • A drill.
  • A pocket hole jig. Any kind will work.

Using power tools incorrectly can be dangerous. If you are at all uncomfortable doing something don't do it.

Step 1: Prepare the Case Panels

Picture of Prepare the Case Panels

To start I cut my full sheets of plywood into more manageable sizes with a circular saw. It's much safer and easier to take half size sheets of plywood to the table saw than a full size sheet when possible. I used cheap 3/4” pine plywood for this. (pic 1)

At the table saw things are much easier. The main pieces to cut here are the side panels, the bottom shelves, and then rip the remaining strips that will later be cut to length. (pic 2)

Each side piece receives a 3” x 3” notch in the bottom front corner. This is for a toe kick. (pic 3)

Two vanities so four sides total get this notch. A good blade in a jigsaw makes a huge difference in cut quality. These cuts felt the same as if they were made with my table saw. (pic 4)

Step 2: Face Frame Pieces

Picture of Face Frame Pieces

A cabinet face frame is the front frame of a cabinet that will establish the location of all of the doors and drawers as well as give some structural stiffness to the rest of the case. The overall size of the face frame is determined by how many doors and drawers you want to have. Specific dimensions are covered in the PDF plan.

All of the face frame pieces were ripped from 1 x 6 pine boards. I often get asked what do I do to prevent my boards from warping because I use cheap pine. Well, the biggest thing I can say is to spend a lot of time picking out quality boards. If the place you get your lumber from doesn't allow you to do that then they don't want your money. That's OK because their competitors will. I generally get mine from Lowes as it's the only kiln dried supplier I have near me. Your mileage may vary. (pic 1)

The general construction method for these cabinets is pocket holes. There are a lot of different pocket hole jigs and machines out there that will all complete the same task. If you are doing a lot of projects using pocket holes a pocket hole machine may be a justifiable option for you. At the same time if you aren't going to be doing a lot of pocket hole projects a simple $20 pocket hole jig will be just fine. (pic 2)

With all of the pocket holes cut the face frame assembly goes very quick. (pic 3)

Step 3: Begin Assembly

Picture of Begin Assembly

After the face frames are complete I attached the side panels to the face frames with pocket holes as well. Each of these cabinets that I built had one side that was going to be against the wall so on those sides I put the pocket holes facing out. On the sides that were going to be exposed I put the pocket holes on the inside of the cabinet but I made sure not to put any where you could easily see them if the door was open. (pic 1)

The bottom shelves are secured with pocket holes as well. The pocket holes are on the bottom so you will never see them. (pic 2)

To give a little more support to the top perimeter of the cabinet as well as provide a surface to screw through to secure the countertop a couple strips of plywood are attached to the top inside of the side panels. (pic 3)

To add a little more access to everything stored in the bottom of the cabinet I added two slide out trays in the larger vanity. These are very easy to make and I've already made a very quick tutorial on them on my website. Disregard this tray option if you want. (pic 4)

Step 4: Door Prep and Building the Drawers

Picture of Door Prep and Building the Drawers

I knew the doors would be coming up soon so I prestained the 1/4” plywood panel that will be cut for all of the doors. (pic 1)

While the stain dried I knocked out the drawers real quick. The drawer bodies were just 3/4” plywood pocket hole screwed together with 3/8” plywood glued and nailed directly to the bottom. Quick and easy. Exact dimensions to follow are given in the PDF plan. (pic 2)

For mounting the drawer slides see the instructions that came with your specific style drawer slide you chose. With the drawer slides mounted on the bottom of the drawers and in the cabinet I made sure everything fit. (pic 3)

As I said earlier, the drawer fronts were nothing more than a 1 x 6 cut to length. I cut all of the drawer fronts out of a continuous board so the grain would flow from one drawer to the next. To secure them I screwed through the inside of the drawer and into the drawer front. (pic 4)

Step 5: Building the Cabinet Doors

Picture of Building the Cabinet Doors

I'll do a separate instructable on tongue and groove doors in the future so I won't get too complicated here. A grove is cut with a regular table saw blade on all of the door rails and styles to fit the plywood panels. (pic 1)

I used my dado blade to cut the tongues on the ends of my rails. This was a lot easier to dial in than I had thought it would be. Just use a test block to sneak up on your fit. (pic 2)

After two rails are glued to one style the plywood panel can slide into place. Then the other style can be glued on. I only used glue on the tongues of the door frame and left the interior panel floating but if you are using plywood you can use glue on the plywood panels as well if you want. Don't use glue on the panel if you are using a solid wood panel. The expansion and contraction of a solid wood panel will cause problems with the door assembly if glue is used. (pic 3)

Step 6: Finishing Steps

Picture of Finishing Steps

To increase visibility I painted the interior of the cabinets white. It will help brighten up the dark areas when you're trying to find something. (pic 1)

After everything was sanded and stained I sprayed a clear water based finish. I have been using an inexpensive Harbor Freight HVLP spray gun for a few years and love it. It greatly speeds up the process of applying finish and it's easy enough that anyone can do it. There are several tutorials on YouTube about spraying finish with a HVLP gun. (pic 2)

And the last step is to install the door hinges. I didn't put any door or drawer pulls on these as the person who was going to get these wanted to install them herself. (pic 3)

Step 7: Enjoy the Cabinets YOU Built

Picture of Enjoy the Cabinets YOU Built

Hopefully you are able to use my video and this instructable as a general flow of how to make your own cabinets. If you would like more detailed instructions with dimensions click here to open my free PDF guide or right click and select "save as" to download it to your computer.

If you enjoyed this instructable I invite you to check out my website where I have been posting new weekly content for the past two and a half years. Good luck with your next build!


noonzio (author)2016-12-09

You might have just saved me a huge amount of money!! My husband and I were in the middle of a gut renovation when he developed cancer and passed away. I have been trying to figure out how I 'm going to pay for the kitchen when I found your video. Tysm!! How much did these materials cost? Just the wood. I think I have all the necessary tools though not as fancy as yours.

miwin1000 (author)2015-06-28

I sure wish I had a nice wood shop like that with all those great tools.

Jay Bates (author)miwin10002015-06-28

Three years ago I lived in an apartment and only owned a cheap miter saw. I invested $200 from my household income for materials to build outdoor 2x4 furniture. That initial investment, time, and hard work have yielded the business I have today. Work your butt off and you can earn just about anything :)

vladivastok (author)2016-02-07


blueaxe (author)2015-06-28

I ran an eight-man cabinet shop for 10 years and I woulda hired you in a New York Minute!

Really safe tablesaw technique; they will bury you with all your fingers intact. Bravo!

Jay Bates (author)blueaxe2015-06-28

Thanks :) Keeping your fingers is always nice :)

Mr Matt (author)Jay Bates2015-09-17

Hi Jay, great instructable!

Would you be able to give me the names/recommendations of the work tools you used... i'm trying to taking my hobby up a level and those tools would make life a lot easier and quicker!

Great video... looking forward to more!

Yonatan24 (author)Mr Matt2016-01-17

I haven't checked, But he might have it on his site, Many woodworkers do that

FlorinJ (author)blueaxe2015-06-28

+1 for the fingers intact :-)

WoodieWannabe (author)2015-09-29

Nice work. I run a joinery shop where we make custom fitted furniture for public institutions like schools and hospitals. Except for one thing, we do things pretty much exactly the way you do them, and our cabinets last for years, despite the abuse that they tend to suffer in public institutions where nobody gives a hoot.

What we don't do, is to use pocket holes or dowels. Simple butt or T-joints, sufficient quantities of glue, and air nailers. For those who keep arguing about the pros and cons of the various fixing systems, bear in mind that the screw, nail or dowel really only serves a purpose as long as the glue is wet. Once the glue has dried and cured, THAT is what does the work and provides the strength to the joint! In other words, what I'm trying to say is, use a decent quality glue, sufficient quantity of it, and the correct type of glue for the circumstances or application, and you'll be A-OK, whether you use pocket hole screws, dowels, or panel pins.

Blue Wren (author)2015-09-02

The video is fantastic, but watching you cut those dadoes on the table saw without a guard really gave me the heebies (maybe it looked so frightening because of the speeded up video, but you obviously really know what you are doing!). Very helpful and thanks for sharing here. I'll definitely be subscribing to your email newsletter.

tmccar (author)2015-08-24

Hi Jay

Do you have any information on wall-mounted cabinets?

kooth (author)2015-07-18

This is an awesome instructables! Your approach is just what I need as I am getting close to retirement, and I have lots of pent-up woodworking projects to tackle. Your explanations, attitude, and knowledge are wonderful. All of us should learn to present Instructables with this much thought! Thanks so much!

buck2217 (author)2015-06-30

Nice cabinets, and I love using my pocket hole jig!

woodNfish (author)2015-06-29

Nice job on the cabinets. In the photos, the stain you put on the cabinets is much darker where end grain in exposed on your plywood than other areas. This is very common with soft woods like pine and fir. One way to fix that is to shellac or varnish the wood first to seal it with a clear coat and then apply your stain over the dried seal coat. That way the stain is evenly absorbed and you will get a more even finish.

FlorinJ (author)2015-06-28

Why pocket holes instead of dowel joints? I mean, dowels provide for a stronger and more rigid joint.

One more thing, I'd not have the tongue and groove joints ad the door corners extend right to the margin of the joined pieces. IMO it would hold better if you'd have the groove/tongue end at maybe 1/4" or 1/8" from the margin.

woodNfish (author)FlorinJ2015-06-29

"Why pocket holes instead of dowel joints? I mean, dowels provide for a stronger and more rigid joint."

No, they don't. Fine Woodworking did tests on joint breaking strength, and pocket holes out performed dowels. They outperformed dovetails too. But really, who cares? Use the joinery method you prefer, dowels make excellent joints as do pocket screws, and tenons, and floating tenons like biscuits. One thing I have learned over the years - there are plenty of ways to join wood and one isn't necessarily better than the other depending on the application. Pocket screws are just faster, and if you add a little wood glue they are almost indestructible. With a bathroom cabinet that will be permanently attached to the structure, and won't be moving, it is not like the joints are gong to get a lot of stress.

helllordkb (author)2015-06-28

awesome instructable! and i love the mario sound effects in the video

PJSolarz (author)2015-06-28

Excellent video, thanks for sharing.

grolmund (author)2015-06-28


Excellent instructable. I've been considering doing a project like this for some time. Since I have the necessary power tools minus the pocket jigs, I may move forward with it. Your basic dimensions take out a huge amount of planning for the build. I know it'll sound picky but in your explanations in the pdf you make reference to vertical door pieces as "styles"....they are "stiles". Nevertheless, a great presentation and keep up the good work!


Jay Bates (author)grolmund2015-06-28

Thanks for pointing that out.

CraigRJess (author)2015-06-28

I really like how that video was put together. Excellent job Jay. You make it seem almost too easy....

Jay Bates (author)CraigRJess2015-06-28

Thank you.

dch54 (author)2015-06-28

Great video! Thanks for sharing it.

steveoutdoorrec (author)2015-06-28

Very nice video and use of humor to keep the interest level high. I've built cabinets a few times over the years and you have given me some new ideas to use on my next project, converting a school bus into an RV. Or as I like to think of it, building a lot of cabinets inside a bus

KorinaH (author)2015-06-28

wish you were close to see you do it in person , love your work, thank you for showing us

vaycon (author)2015-06-27


kludge77 (author)2015-06-25

Welcome to Instructables!

Kafukai (author)2015-06-25

Wow. I'm so impressed your workshop is so clean and arranged, I never saw something like this in my life. And the cabinets are also look great!

jimcathers (author)Kafukai2015-06-25

I agree. Absolutely love the tidy workshop. What make and model cabinet table saw is that? I'd like to own a nice saw like that some day.

Jay Bates (author)jimcathers2015-06-25

That table saw is a Grizzly G0690

BeachsideHank (author)2015-06-24

Nice looking cabinet job, simple and clean lines.

A link to an Instructable on building a pocket hole jig that rivals the commercial ones, for only a few dollars:

About This Instructable




Bio: Build instead of buy....most of the time.
More by Jay Bates:Easy and Strong 2x4 & 2x6 Bunk BedHow To Make CabinetsSliding Moxon Vise
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