Introduction: Making More Cabinet Space Under a Bar Counter

I was living in my parents' house during and after my divorce, trying to recover economically.  Their upstairs had a bar counter and a small bar sink.  When I was living alone, the kitchen space wasn't a problem because feeding one person there really wasn't hard with a microwave and other small appliances that I already had purchased for hotel cooking while visiting my boys.  But when my boys moved down I needed more space to store food since going out to eat when I didn't feel like cooking wasn't as feasible an option feeding three instead of one.  I made better use of the bar cabinets, and I'll show you how here.

Step 1: Planning

The cabinets under the bar counter were very deep- when I bought organizers to store dishes and things underneath them, they seemed to get lost, and the space was almost unusable for smaller items.  So I measured the cabinets, and planned for what would be on the under side and what would be stored on the front side.  I decided to make the front side (the new space) like pantry cabinets, so I measured things like cereal boxes since I figured that would be about the deepest box of food item I would be storing.  I checked to make sure that the items on the other side would still fit after subtracting the space for the boxes and the cabinets themselves, and success!  The project could move forward.  I decided to make the cabinet doors out of the same paneling that was already there so as to disturb the look of it as little as possible, so once I did some more measuring inside the existing cabinet to determine the maximum size the new shelves could be, I transferred those measurements to the front of the cabinet.  

Step 2: Tools and Supplies

For this project I used:
plywood (3/4" and 1/4")
screws
adjustable shelf pins

jigsaw (cut out the paneling face)
table or circular saw (to cut out the shelf casing parts
drill (for drilling holes and driving screws)
straightedge (to mark the paneling)
tape measure (to measure!)
tape (to mark the paneling)

Feel free to substitute whatever you need to as far as tools and materials.  You could certainly build your casings and shelves out of fancier material- plywood is just usually my material of choice for things that require stability, ease of manufacture, and since I happen to have it on hand, I am trying to use it up : )

Step 3: Planning (cont.)

I sized the cutouts on the front of the existing cabinets to be the same size as the opening as the new shelves, not the size of the exterior of the new shelves.  I did this so that I could attach the remaining paneling to the front of the new shelves and connect them better.  Once I had my sizes set I used my transferred measurements to mark where I would cut the paneling out.

Step 4: Cutting the Paneling

To cut out the paneling (the future door panel) I drilled two holes, one in each opposite corner, and used my jigsaw to cut the paneling piece out.  These pictures were all taken (almost) after the fact so I don't have pictures of the marking and drilling, just the openings already cut- sorry. 

Step 5: Building the Boxes

All three openings I cut were the same height, but due to different spacing between the (very few and far between) upright supports int he existing cabinets, the side-by-side two openings are the same size and the single opening is another size.  With the height in mind, however, I drilled in a thin board the height of the sides of the boxes a series of uniformly spaced holes.  Making sure to align the same side of the board with the bottom and the front of each side, I drilled holes to make adjustable shelves.  I used my template board on all six boards for the sides of the shelves, and they lined up nicely, without a lot of wobble to one corner.  I built my shelves out of 3/4" plywood that I had leftover from another project, but whatever you are making work will do.  I simply built a little box, with butt-jointed sides, and then nailed plywood to the back.  Another thing that i did, though, was to make supports for the boxes to raise them up above the bottom support in the existing cabinets.  you may or may not have this issue, but mine needed to be raised up, and the supports are pictured also.  They were simple, with the sides cut the height I needed them to be, and the brace between them just butt-jointed between them.  

Step 6: Assembly

 Once the shelf sides were drilled for adjustable shelves and the bases were made, I screwed the bases to the bottom of the existing cabinet and checked to make sure they would make the shelves clear the support board.  Then I put together the shelf boxes, simply screwing the sides together. I mounted the shelf boxes to the supports before I put the backs on for ease of further assembly.  Also, I had a drawer that needed modification before one of the shelf boxes would fit.  I cut the drawer down in length, but I checked to make sure that it would still fit my silverware organizer and it would, so all was good. I ended up having to notch the back of one of the shelf boxes, but it was a small price to pay to still fit silverware in the drawer.  After I assembled and installed the shelf sides (I simply screwed them down onto the supports)  I cut the backs and nailed them on with brad nails.

Step 7: Doors

This step is not finished just yet, but I will update this as progress is made.  I have machined the rails and stiles for the doors, and the door panels are obviously cut out already, so it is a matter of assembly.  Considering my knack for starting a project and not fully completing it, it was almost amazing to have gotten this far (but I really needed the space).

But, for what is done... the machined bits (rails and stiles, the horizontal and vertical components of a cabinet door frame, respectively) I made on my portable bench saw with a stacked dado head.
{*** Side note: I highly recommend that if you are going to use a stacked dado head and you haven't already bought one, save up and get the highest quality one you can- it will save you a load of time and muss and fuss.  The one I chose is a Freud, and it creates a very flat cut, instead of the multiple groove cuts my old, non-carbide high speed steel $5 one did.  I don't work for Freud, I just have used their dado for some time now, and it is amazing, so props to them.  I'm sure there are other decent ones and maybe even for a better price, but it is what was good and readily available at the local home improvement store.  I say readily available, but only with birthday money did I buy such a tool : P}
Ok, so now that you've cut the rabbet the rails and stiles will support the frame.  By the way, you can also make repetitive cuts with a saw, or use a router, or if not using plywood use a hand plane, or whatever you can more creatively come up with.

The door frame will then be assembled, with hinges installed so that they can mount to cover the cut openings.  I sized my frame rails and stiles about an inch wide, with the midpoint almost exactly the size of the panel, allowing for half an inch of coverage all the way around of the panel, and about half an inch of overlap to the outside of the panel, with my rabbet about 5/8" wide.  That way the panel is covered, has room to float, and the frame covers the opening fully cut into the front of the existing cabinets.

Step 8: Current State...

Here is where the project is right now...

The openings are cut and the shelves mounted in the cabinets- they were fully functional and loaded to the gills with dry goods and canned good, etc. The adjustable shelves are a necessity if you ask me.

There was space above the shelf boxes inside the cabinet, and I put extra shelves there in case I changed out goods and needed more shelves.

The door panels are cut and the sides machined, but they need to be assembled and mounted.

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