Introduction: Cabinet for American Girl Dolls

My daughters love their American Girl dolls and thumb through the catalog until it falls apart. Both grandmas have made sure that these dolls are thoroughly equipped with hats, shoes, dresses, typewriters, hair curlers; pretty much anything that they might need. Of course keeping all this organized and in good shape could be a challenge

I started to sketch out various closet ideas to hold their dolls, dresses, shoes, etc. My original plan was to build this completely from scratch, but one day while out at Target I stumbled across a 2 door organizer which was roughly the size of one of my sketches. This provided a great starting point which brought the cost of each closet (I needed to make three) down quite a bit. With another $10 worth of supplies, I was able to adequately spoil my girls.

Step 1: Supplies

To build this closet you need the following supplies:
  • 2 door organizer (available at
  • 5/8" x 9.75" x ~22" melamine shelving (I found this at Menards)
  • 3/8" dowel rod x 12", painted white
  • small shoulder hooks. I got these at Ace. You want something dainty with the thread length short enough to not go too far through the door.
  • small mirror, I use a 8"x10" oval scalloped mirror that I found at Hobby Lobby
  • mirror adhesive mounting pads (I found them at Menards)
  • two wood screws (#8 x 1")

Tools used (other than standard hand tools):
  • Radial arm saw
  • Router with 1/4" straight bit
  • Drill Press (regular hand drill will work)
  • 3/16" bit (brad point and regular)
  • 3/8" brad point bit

Step 2: Add New Holes for Shelf

The pre-drilled holes for the shelves were not at a good location to get an optimum height for the doll. Space is at a premium and I did not want to waste too much just to use the holes given me. My girls have a stand for their doll and an interior height of 19 3/4" seemed to fit best (this gives a little extra height for the dolls to be on a stand and also have a hat on). I ended up drilling a set of holes 3/8" down from the existing hole which was 20 1/2" from the top. The brad point drill bits are really nice for drilling into and not chipping the hard melamine surface. Unfortunately, the long center tip doesn't allow sufficient depth for the shelf supports to seat all of the way in. Thus I drilled all of the holes a second time with a normal bit. For these holes, I used a drill press with a stop set so that I did not accidentally go all of the way through the side walls drilling these holes. A masking tape flag on the drill bits works just as well if using a hand drill.

Step 3: Dado the Top Panel

The vertical divider needs to go from the shelf at the new height drilled in the last step to the top. To avoid any visible hardware for securing the vertical divider, a groove is cut into the underside of the top panel of the cabinet. This groove needs to be 5/8" wide and 3/16" deep to securely hold the extra piece of shelving. I cut the groove with multiple passes on a radial arm saw starting from the rear of the top panel. Since the top panel is 1/2" thick, the blade was set 5/16" up from the work surface. The radial arm saw makes it easy to get a very straight cut. I pulled the blade until the front of the cut was even with the screws holes for the magnetic catch. Once the channel was complete, I used a router to flatten out the front of the groove. A router could be used to cut the entire channel, but that requires a little more prep work to get the straight groove.

Step 4: Assemble (mostly)

Follow the assembly steps #1, 3, 4, and 5 of the cabinet. This includes the attaching the magnetic catch and hinge pins into the top/bottom panels, and attaching the top panel, bottom panel and kick plate to the side panels.

Put the shelf supports into the bottom sets of holes and the custom holes that were drilled in the earlier step. Place the two shelves on their respective supports. The center divider will go from the top shelf into the groove in the top panel. Measure this distance and cut the additional 5/8" x 9.75" shelf to that length. The secret to getting a chip free cut in Melamine is to use a good quality blade and to cut the shelf with two passes. The blade chips the surface on the side away from the blade (e.g. w/ a Radial Arm saw, the bottom edge). So set the height of your saw blade so that the blade only cuts 75% of the way through. Cut across one side, flip over and finish with a cut on the other. Using this method, the cut should be chip free, but even if you get small chips in the divider, they will probably be hidden in the channel in the top panel.

Step 5: Attach Vertical Divider to Shelf

Once the vertical divider has been cut, check the fit in the unit by putting in the shelf and vertical divider. Assuming it fits well, pull the shelf and divider back out and affix the divider to the shelf. The cut edge of the divider should be the edge that sits in the channel in the top panel. The factory edge should be attached to the supporting shelf. I countersunk two #8x1" screws from the bottom of the shelf into the divider. The divider needs to be in the center of the shelf, flush with the rear edge. A clamp and flat carpenter square make it much easier to ensure that the divider is centered and square.

Step 6: Add Closet Rod

The closet rod (3/8" dowel) must be placed such that there is sufficient clearance for the hangers. From the rear of the cabinet, slide the shelf/divider combo (which is now one unit) back in the cabinet to mark the location of the two holes for the dowel to be inserted into. My measurements placed this 1 1/4" down from the underside of the top panel and centered back to front on the vertical divider. At this time also measure the length of the dowel rod. The rod should be the distance between the divider and side panel + 3/8". Pull the divider back out (last time I promise) to drill a hole in both the side panel and center divider. Again use a masking tape flag on the drill bit to prevent going all of the way through. The hole itself only needs to be 3/16" deep to securely hold the dowel rod. Cut the dowel rod to length with a coping saw. If you rotate the dowel while cutting it, you can avoid splintering the rod on that last pull of the cut.

When installing the dowel rod, the screws holding in the top panel on that side will need to be backed out so that there is sufficient play to get the dowel in place.

Step 7: Add Hooks for Shoe Organizer

The shoulder hooks are installed on the door in front of the closet rod and will hold the shoe organizer. The hooks are located 1 1/4" down from the top. Measuring from the edge of the door that will be at the center of the cabinet, one is at 2 3/8" and the other at 9 5/8" (7 1/4" between them). When piloting the holes, take steps to not go all of the way through.

Instructions for creating the shoe organizer can be found on the blog A Musing Mom Speaks.

Step 8: Finishing It Off

Now is the time to finish the other steps of building the cabinet. Put the handles and strike plates on the doors, lift up the top panel to install the doors, etc. Make sure the other shelf is installed before nailing on the back panel. There is not sufficient clearance otherwise to put the shelf in with the doors and fixed shelf in place. To make sure the cabinet is all squared up, measure the two diagonals on the back before nailing on the back panel. After nailing in the perimeter of the back panel, I stood the cabinet up and put some nails into the vertical divider and supporting shelf. This helps tighten up the look and eliminates ugly gaps between the shelf and back.

The last thing to do is to lay the cabinet on its back and install the mirror. Use 3-4 mirror mounting pads to set the mirror in place. The location of this is not important, but I aimed for around 1 1/2" down from the top panel.

That's it. You're done. Deliver and watch those smiling faces enjoy a new home for their doll and accessories.