Introduction: Cubbyhole Cabinet

I don't know if you've noticed or not, but plastic bottles are everywhere. In your fridge, in your bathroom, in your garage -- everywhere. Problem is, they have this nasty habit of ending up in the ocean or a landfill or the corner of your shop where they loiter about for 500 years or so.

Junk just has a way of piling up, doesn't it?

So why not make something useful with all those plastic bottles?

Enter the Cubbyhole Cabinet: It'll turn that pile of cut-off boards and disposable bottles into something beautiful. It's just what you need to organize the basement. And maybe it will keep some unfortunate sea turtle from getting the Heimlich Maneuver.

Step 1: Make a Plan, Stan

My idea for the cubbyhole cabinet is a pretty simple combination: Use some scrap wood to make an organizer with little compartments, add in some plastic bottles with the sides cut out and Voila! -- instant drawers.

Actually, I have to give credit to my Grandpa for this one. He made something similar a long time ago to organize all the nuts and bolts in our repair shop.

For my project, I used oil jugs, anti-freeze jugs, tin cans, and scrap plywood because that's what I had available. But you could just as easily use milk jugs and build a slatted frame out of old pallet boards. It could have one shelf -- or it could have a dozen.

So innovate. Make it work with what you've got.

The first step is to take inventory and make a plan. I drew up a little sketch with some measurements, but yours will probably be different. The important thing is that the cubbies are big enough to hold the drawers when you put it all together.

Step 2: Tools and Supplies

Just so we know what we're getting into, I put together a list of things we might need. Someone with a little determination could make a simple version with a hand saw and a hammer. But the unit I made is a bit more complex and requires some bigger woodworking tools, like a table saw for instance.


  • Bandsaw, jigsaw, or hand saw (for cutting shelves and sides)
  • Table saw or router (for quicker cutting and making the optional dado grooves)
  • Drill or hammer (depends if you assemble with screws or nails)
  • Sandpaper
  • Paintbrush (optional)
  • Measuring tape
  • A knife


  • A good supply of scrap wood (Scrap plywood works great, but it's not required)
  • Empty jugs (plastic oil quarts, antifreeze jugs, milk jugs, etc)
  • Tin cans (optional)
  • Wood glue (to hold it together if you don't make dado grooves)
  • Paint and primer (the old stuff stacked in your garage will work)
  • Screws or nails (surely you have a can of these lying around somewhere)
  • Paper and pencil (to draw up some plans)

Time -- It took me a week working a couple hours each evening. Maybe 10 hours, depending on how many cookie breaks you take. . .

Difficulty -- Medium. Some basic woodworking skills required.

P.S. A dado, if you're unsure, is a groove in the sideboard that the shelf fits into, not an extinct bird.

Step 3: Making the Shelves

Once we have a plan and the proper tools, the next step is to make the wood into shelving.

Again, use what you have (but plywood works great if you have it) That last picture shows a few of my shelves. You'll notice that I have a wide board next to a narrow board -- that's because my plywood scraps weren't wide enough so I had to use two pieces. This ain't a china cabinet.

If you want to simplify this, here are few suggestions:

  • Use the same bottles for all the shelves so they can all be the same width
  • Instead of making those solid sideboards, just put a couple strips of wood down each side to hold your shelves together like this mission-style slatted look.

Step 4: Dados and Dividers (optional)

At this point, you should have a stack of shelves and some sideboards. If you opted for simplicity, you can skip this step and just screw it all together.

What I did on my cabinet was to cut grooves in my sideboards for the shelves to slip into. I also cut little cubby dividers that fit between the bottles and little grooves in the shelves to hold them. Another simple option is to make dividers, but just glue them between the shelves instead of making grooves for them.

Basically dadoes add two things: structural strength and class.

You can make these grooves on a table saw if you want, or with a router if you have one. However, making dados requires a bit more woodworking savvy than making regular cuts. And explaining the process thoroughly would require its own Instructable. But if you've never done them before and would like to give them a try, you can learn how to safely make dadoes on your table saw here.

To make these dadoes, I marked where each shelf and each divider goes and then cut shallow grooves with the table saw. You can buy wide dado blades that cut a groove to the exact width you want, but I just used the regular table saw blade and moved over a little bit each pass until the groove was the right width.

It's a bit time consuming, but it works.

Then I made cubby dividers out of some thin plywood and corresponding grooves in each shelf. Be sure to make your shelves and dividers a bit longer to account for the grooves on each end.

Step 5: Sanding and Painting (optional)

Again, if you want to keep this thing simple, you can skip this step. I'm making an Instructable, so naturally I painted it up all handsome-like, but you certainly don't have to.

I just found some old primer and paint in the back corner of our basement and decided to use it up. For paint to stick on bare wood, you really do need that primer coat, even though it makes more work. I also gave each piece a light sanding so it painted easier and doesn't give me splinters.

As you can see, I painted each piece before I assembled. I know the temptation is strong to just stick it all together and paint later, but believe me, it will be a lot easier to paint it now. There are just too many nooks and crannies once it's all together.

Step 6: Prepping the Containers

While you're waiting for that paint to dry, go ahead and get those containers ready.

If your containers had oil or chemicals in like mine did, it's important to wash them first with hot soapy water. Cancer, you know.

Next, use a sharp knife to carefully cut the side out of each bottle. Notice that I left a slight rim the whole way around? That adds strength. You can cut the whole way to the edge, but the drawers won't be as stiff and sturdy.

Tip: If you use tin cans, make sure the rim around the lid isn't sharp. Some can openers are made to leave a smooth edge, so try to use one if you *ahem* can.

Step 7: Assembly

Is the paint dry yet?

Finally. Assembly time.

If you did make dadoes, assembly will be a little easier because all the shelves just fit into their little notches, no measuring required. But if you didn't, just make sure you measure well before you put it all together. It's a little easier if you have an extra set of hands or some of that painters tape to hold everything together while you put in the fasteners.

Really, you can use anything you want to put this thing together. Within reason. Bubble gum probably isn't a long term solution. I used some leftover drywall screws for mine. With screws especially, its a good idea to drill a pilot hole first so you don't split the boards.

The cubby dividers were so tight in mine that I just tapped them in with a hammer. I even had to trim a couple down to fit them in. But if they are loose or if you didn't make any grooves, put some wood glue on the edges and tape them in place until it dries.

Step 8: The Finished Product

I hope your cubbyhole cabinet turns out as well as mine did! I'm going to put it in my basement to organize my workshop.

Really, the options here are endless. If you made one with a different design (or if you have a creative idea to improve on mine) please post it in the comments for all to see.

Thanks for reading my Instructable and happy building!

I entered this Instructable in the Trash to Treasure contest. If you like it, I'd appreciate your vote!

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