Backyard Cabinets From Recycled Materials



Introduction: Backyard Cabinets From Recycled Materials

Everybody with a backyard needs places to store the necessary items that make a backyard worthwhile. I've been on a quest to solve this problem, and finally have come up with a solution. Prefab cabinets from a big box store sure are easy, but they are expensive, look tacky, and don't last. DIY solutions that involve plywood are better, but the plywood can delaminate as well, and there's still the "tacky" problem.

These cabinets are built from pallet wood, old or new fence boards, or whatever you have laying around the shop. Or a combination of the above! This Instructable deals with a hanging wall cabinet, but its principles can be used for floor cabinets, or any other style.

So gather up some pallets, search the neighborhood for someone wrecking out an old fence, or, in worst case, actually buy some wood, and let's get started!

Tools Used:
Table Saw
Chop Saw
1/4" Crown Air Stapler
2) 5' Pipe Clamps
4) 2' Sliding Bar Clamps
Framing Square

For the decorative finial:
Drawing Tools
Band Saw
Spindle Sander
Router Table
Orbital Sander


Aside from lots more wood than you think you need...
For this project, you'll need to buy:
1) tube Loctite® PL Premium® FAST GRAB Polyurethane Construction Adhesive
(or equivalent)
1) 1-1/2 in. x 48 in. Continuous Hinge, in your choice of Bright Brass or Nickel

For the latch:
ClimbTech Zinc Plated Hanger
2) 1 1/2" 1/4-20 Carriage bolts with nuts
Custom Strike Plate- I used my MPCNC to cut it out of aluminum, but it could be 3D Printed.
Here's the .stl file: Climbing Hanger Latch (CNC or Print)

Step 1: Check Your Stock

Line up all of the candidate wood for the project. Decide which boards will be featured, and which can be hidden. Carefully examine all of the wood for stay nails, loose knots, warping, or excessive cupping. Much of the time, you can rip a cupped board in half to make it serviceable. If you've never dealt with salvaged wood, be sure to take more care than you normally would. Strange things can be embedded in it, parts can go flying around the shop, and you can get nasty splinters.

Measurements are also more loose than a normal project. I'm giving few exact measurements in this tutorial in that your wood will probably be far different than what I used. Having just finished a project that a stray millimetre was huge, this was a fun afternoon of basically winging it as I went along. Don't get too cavalier, as bad measurements can multiply like rabbits and ruin your build.

Step 2: Lay Out the Back

Since our cabinet is replacing a standard 24" X 36", we want the dimensions to be fairly similar. Be open to serendipity- setting the cabinet height at 34 1/2" allowed me to get 4 slats for the back from a dog-eared 6' fence board. If you have lots of wood, or need an exact fit, you can dial in the measurements to your spec.

This is the time that you must decide on the number of shelves for your cabinet. The shelves are an integral part of the structure. The slats for the back should be solid, of similar thickness, but not necessarily the prettiest.

In the pic, the top of the cabinet is on the right. The bottom crosspiece is flush, the middle is the bottom of the shelf, and the top is backset about 3/4" to 5/8". Ugliest side of the slats is down.

Step 3: Assemble the Back

Everything is this project is glued together with the polyurethane construction adhesive. You want to spread as small and thin of a continuous bead as you can. Less is more! The adhesive expands as it sets, so applying too much will just make for a big mess. Be careful about getting it on your fingers, as even a tiny bit leaves a stain that takes days to wear off. You and your buddies might consider it a badge of honor, but your significant other might be put off a bit... just sayin'. You should open the tube with the smallest cut that will still make a hole, and this can be plugged up with a 16d nail. Keep paper towels handy!

Glue the edges, square it up, and use some clamps to squeeze everything together. I'm using a popsicle stick to wipe up the excess. Don't be too worried about any voids, as they can be fixed at the end.

An air stapler was used to fasten the shelf supports, but you can use screws or nails, if you want. When you're done, flip it over and check the back. This will be against the wall, so no need to be too finicky.

Step 4: On to the Sides

The sides are the same length as the back pieces. For simplicity's sake, I decided to make the cabinet 11" (2 X 5 1/2") wide. I ripped down a 1" piece and attached it. Whoops! I forgot to remove that 5/8" from the top. The sides are held together with 1" wide pieces that are 11" minus the width of the back, the back brace, and the 1" front trim that you just installed. The 3 pieces install at the same heights as on the back.

When you're done, build a MIRROR IMAGE of this panel.

Step 5: Put the Carcass Together

Glue and staple the sides on to the back. You'll need 6 pieces that are the width of the back. The first two go on the top. As you can see, I had a bit of a warping problem. I've temporarily attached a scrap with a screw to pull the boards together. The top is important, in that you don't want too much water pooling up there.The top front edge is flush with the sides

I've tried to make the joints in the shelves match the joints in the sides, to help with and drainage. Looks nicer, too. There's some custom ripping to get this to happen, and the shelf sits inside of the edge frame.

The bottom gets the rip treatment, as well, and two notches, so that the front edge is flush to the sides.

Wow! Looks like a cabinet now.

Step 6: Make Sure It's Right

First, go on glue patrol. Scrape off any globs with the popsicle stick or a putty knife. Look on your workbench, too. Measure the diagonals to see that they are the same. If not, add a clamp to warp it into true.

Step 7: The Door Frame

The door can either end at the bottom shelf, if you want the decorative element that I put on, or go all the way to the bottom of the sides. The frame should be made of your nicest, straightest pieces. Cut the frame so that it is 1/2" smaller than your cabinet.

A 3/8" rabbet is cut into the backside with the table saw, then the frame is glued and stapled together. Verify that it's square. You could add splines for extra strength, but avoid biscuits. They swell with the slightest amount of water, and will break your frame apart. Don't ask me how I know this.

Step 8: The Frame Panel

Layout your finest, most interesting pieces in the frame. I've made the pieces roughly the same width, but you could do a thick-thin pattern, or something even more ornate. One of my pieces fell apart, so I'm edge gluing it back together with some waterproof glue.

You can see that some of my pieces are thicker than the others. This is why the center shelf is recessed- it can't interfere with the door. Those pieces look lots nicer on the front. Be careful to slant your stapler when installing the boards, and watch out for protruding staples on the other side.

Clamp everything together on the four corners so that the door has a good fit to the carcass.

Step 9: Finial Piece

I wanted to add a bit of decoration so that the cabinet didn't look so much like a shipping crate prop from a B movie. Also, I needed a way of keeping my hose nozzle from always falling off the back of its reel. A bit of sketching, a trip to the band saw and the spindle sander, and I had it.There's a straight-on pic if you want to pull a template. A 1/4" round over bit in the router table finished it off. Some adhesive attaches it nicely.

A this point, I left the project to set up overnight. Remember that big lineup of wood in the beginning? This is all that's left!

Step 10: Attach the Hardware, Pt. 1

I like to add the unexpected to my designs, so adapting a climbing fixed anchor as a pull seemed like a natural. Of course, you can't just buy strike plate for this, so I made one. It could also be 3D printed, or you could just go out and buy a latch from the hardware store.

When you lay out the strip hinge, be sure to center the holes on the door, then cut it flush to the door. You may fortunate in that the boards left a nice gap for you to install the hinge. In this case, the hinge lifts the door an unacceptable amount. (or you could just go with it- that's cool, too)

I'm going to rip off a 1/4" rabbet to fit the hinge on the table saw. I recently picked up a small adjustable square, and soon discovered that it shows up on most projects that I do. It's a great way to set depth and work with the outside of the blade for cutting.

With the hinge temporarily in place, I'm using my pocket knife to mark the hinge location (and also on the top).

You will probably find that the hardwood used for pallets requires a pilot hole to get a screw in. If it's just soft fence boards, an awl hit with a hammer should do the trick. Yes, that's a Dremel with a chuck I'm using to drill the 5/64" hole for the screws. It's much easier than using a way-too-big drill with that fragile bit. The tape flag is my depth marker. Oddly enough, the tiny screws take a #2 Phillips bit, so don't strip out too many discovering this.

Step 11: Attach the Hardware, Pt. 2

Precariously set the door in place so that the hinge aligns with the knife marks you made earlier. Drive in a couple of screws at either end, and give it a test. Closes with a nice thud, not a rattle? Sits well all the way around? Very good! Your reward is to drive in all of the rest of the screws.The hinge should look nice and smooth, and the door swings freely.

The next part is for those that are using my latch design- feel free to skip this part if you are using your own hardware. Place the latch pieces on the frame and carcass, mark and drill the 5/16" holes. Place a carriage bolt in the hole on the door, and give it a tap with a hammer. This leaves a mark so that you can drill a 1/2" hole to accept the nut when you attach the pull.

Attach the pull and crank the nut down tight. I'm using my mini-grinder with a cutoff wheel, but a hacksaw will do the job, as well. Attach the strike plate, and you're done. Now doesn't this look cooler than some hook-and-eye scenario? I can add a carabiner to keep it closed during a wind storm, or even a padlock to keep prying eyes away.

Step 12: Applying the Finish

Give the cabinet a last inspection- look for splintery parts, proud fasteners, or excessive gaps. The gaps can be caulked shut with adhesive.

The last thing that you want is to turn your fine cabinet into a shiny monstrosity, but it does need something. Some cheap wood sealer is just the ticket- it leaves a natural look, and no shine, but keeps water from intruding. Even if you decide to leave your cabinet unfinished, at least do the back, where it goes up against the wall. This area can build up mold and mildew and cause a smelly mess! Do inside and outside, and leave it to dry overnight.

Step 13: Installing the Cabinet

You've probably noticed by now that this cabinet is heavier than the usual ones. So it's time to stock up on refreshments and call a friend to help. To make even easier, you can temporarily install a cleat on the wall to rest the cabinet on while you remove the old one and attach the new one. A 2X4 waiting just in case won't hurt, either

I'm installing onto a stucco wall, so I'm using 4) 1/4" Tapcons. If you're wall isn't masonry, be sure to attach to studs or a very solid place with lots of fasteners. A hammer drill with a masonry bit makes short work of drilling the holes. If one of your holes is a bit big, and the Tapcon spins out, you can shoot in some of that polyurethane adhesive and carefully tighten the bolt as much as you can.

This just about completes the build- if you have problems, you can always add more trim to support and de-warp problem slats. This cabinet should last for years of abuse!

Step 14: Take It From Here!

There's lots of Instructables for making concrete countertops, built in BBQs, kegerators, and other way cool stuff. Cabinets can make your backyard to the party place that you've always wanted!

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