Introduction: Hidden Wall Compartment!

How about a hidden compartment in your home that is virtually invisible? Even nicer if it locks -- with an unseen lock. And really cool if the key is hidden in plain sight! If this sounds like fun, then something like this might be a project for you.

I had always like the idea of having a hidden room, or space in my home. When we were re-doing our den, including installing some board and batten wainscoting, I realized this might finally be my chance. Board and batten is a style of wainscoting with alternating widths of wood, laid atop one another. This could easily lend itself to such a hidden space.

What I really like about this project is that it used all standard components (child safety locks, specific cuts of lumber, off-the-shelf hinges) to make the hidden space AND the storage spot for the key.

I hope it inspires you to try something similar!

Let's get started!

Step 1: Materials & Tools


  • Tot Lok with extra key
  • 3 1/2" square rosette block moulding, 2
  • Cabinet hinges
  • 1 x 8 ship lap board -- for the door
  • 1 x 8 tongue and groove boards -- however many to cover the wall(s) that will have wainscoting
  • 1 x 2 boards -- spacers between the pairs of the 1 x 8's. Should have half as many of these as 1 x 8's

Nails, construction adhesive, caulk, paint, other wood needed for baseboards and for plate rail at the top of the wainscoting, etc.

The Tot Lok is a child safety latch that can be installed on the inside of a cabinet and opened with a strong magnet. The magnet key sold with this device looks like a drawer knob. You only need one locking mechanism, but following this plan you will want two keys.

The rosette is a square decorative piece that is often used for the top corners of doors and windows. The 3 1/2" square one that I found matched the size of the Tot Lok key and will be drilled out to be the stash spot for the key. I picked up these at Home Depot, one for each top corner of the door.

The cabinet hinges that I used were 175 degree fully concealed hinges. From the exterior there is nothing visible, and they swing open nice and wide. I ordered them from Rockler.

The ship lap boards were a lucky find at the store. Unlike the common tongue and groove boards which have a U shaped groove on one edge, these have a single tongue that is offset from the center. Commonly these might be used for siding where -- placed horizontally -- they can help water drain away. But this single projection matches up nicely with the tongue and groove boards that I used throughout the rest of the wainscoting. I only needed one of these boards in a 12' length, which I cut to make the two 5' pieces. For this to remain a hidden door it is crucial that this be of the same dimensions as your main boards. Just imagine if your entire room was lined with 8" boards and you had this one 10" board "hiding" your stash. Not too cool. You may opt to make your wainscoting of different dimensions, or in a different pattern. The three components above are the main items involved in making the hidden compartment.


Aside from the common woodworking tools, the following were quite helpful...

  • Compound mitre saw. There are a lot of boards to cut, and likely you'll have some tough angles.
  • Oscillating tool. Great for tight places.
  • Caulking gun. I used construction adhesive to hold the boards to the wall, and also lots of white caulk to fill in various gaps.
  • Pin nailer. I used this a lot, right after applying the adhesive. Chances are the adhesive holds the boards more firmly, but the nailing holds the boards in place while the stick 'em dries.
  • 1" Forstner bit. This is a drill bit that creates flat bottom holes. It should be just wide enough to let the small end of the Tot Lok key to fit in. I used this for drilling out the rosettes, using a friend's drill press. Likely I could have done this with a sharp spade bit, and a handheld drill, but it likely would also have looked crappy.

CAUTIONS: This work involves power tools and other exciting things, so be smart and pay attention. Besides that, you'll need to open up a wall that could have any number of things inside of it; electrical lines, plumbing, gas lines, creepy crawly things, hidden treasure, who knows? Whatever you can do to determine in advance what may or may not be in that wall will help you choose the best spot to undertake such a project, how to do it, or maybe even make you realize your home isn't suitable for this. Be careful.

Next step

Step 2: The Wainscoting

To make a door that blends in with the surroundings, sizing things is crucial. I put in 1 x 8 tongue and groove boards in pairs, followed by a plain 1 x 2. This combination made a pattern of 16" wide panels due to the true dimensions of the nominal lumber. I thought this 16" pattern would be important, to match the usual spacing of the wall studs, but since I was gluing the boards up, it was immaterial. In the photos, the 1 x 8's are green. The 1 x 2's are hidden, covered by 1 x 4's painted white.

First, I figured out the spacing of the boards so that electrical outlets and switches would be in the spaces with the green boards. I was lucky in that the way the room was laid out with doors, built-in furniture, and a fireplace, that the wainscoting was naturally broken into 4 sections. This way it was easier to modify the placement of the pattern to fit the electrical outlets. Each outlet or switch needed to have an extender box put on it to bring it out flush with the new wall.

I put in a simple "placeholder" baseboard that would be covered later. This allowed me to set the tongue and groove boards at a constant height above the floor. Be sure to "dry-fit" every board to make sure it will fit before using the adhesive. If all is good, apply the construction adhesive to the back of the 1x8, check that it is plumb, and nail it in place. Do the same with the next 1x8. In between every two 1x8's place a 1x2. Apply adhesive, check plumb, nail. Repeat.

To install the white 1x4's I cut a piece of scrap to hold those boards to the matching height. Center them over the 1x2, apply adhesive, nail. One of these overlapping 1 x 4 will function as a cover for the gap caused by the door.

The pattern allowed a bit of wiggle room behind the white 1x4's. It would be possible to trim down the boards behind the 1x4 to minimally adjust the pattern. I never needed to do this, but it might be handy for your situation.

Step 3: The Hidden Space

Be sure to choose the location of any such space carefully. I was sure to choose an interior wall so that I would not have a cold spot and have to deal with insulation. I also wanted it to be accessible, and with a little checking around I found a spot just behind the entrance door to my den. When I carefully removed the drywall from the space I realized there was an electrical line running horizontally through the space. This actually was a blessing. I made a small wooden conduit to protect the electrical line and this became a built-in shelf in the space!

By some chance, the spot that I opened up in my wall was half the normal 16" spacing between studs. This made construction of the door easier as I could use a single 1x8 (with an attached 1x4) to cover the space. If your space is the standard 16" on center spacing between the studs, you may wish to consider putting in another 2x4 in the wall to reduce the open space. Otherwise, you may need to make the door wider, perhaps with two ship lap boards. See what you have when you open the wall, and adjust accordingly.

I used some thin basswood to finish out the inside of the space, and then painted all the interior with some black chalk paint that I had. It covered very well, and as a bonus is also non-reflective, minimizing anyone noticing there's a space behind any crack.

As this is a fairly shallow space, I needed to make some small cuts in the basswood inside to allow space for the latch and for the hinges.

Step 4: The Door

The door is made from one piece of ship lap, with a matching piece of ship lap on the wall. They meet at the hinge side of the door. The latch side of the door is covered by a 1x4.

In my case I carefully selected a 1x4 with a nice big knothole in it. This was in fitting with the remainder of the boards that I have throughout the room. Wherever I could find a straight board with knots or interesting grain I would snatch it. When cutting and placing the boards I would try to place these anomalies where they could be seen. Thus, this particular knothole does not seem out of place.

I ended up having to open the knot hold up a bit (that 1" Forstner bit came in handy) so that the Tot Lok key would fit in. I ended up also putting in a bit of wood putty to seal up some parts of the hole, and to restore the rustic surface of a natural knothole. Since it was all going to be painted, this wasn't a big concern.

I affixed the hinges to the inside wall of the cabinet (cutting some notches in the basswood as I mentioned in the previous step) and then mounted the 1x8 board to the hinges. TEST, TEST, TEST things before you put the 1x4 over the latch. The 1x8 should cover the latch, and the Tot Lok key should be able to open the latch through the wood. (Full disclosure: I didn't get the knothole lined up correctly the first time and had to drill open through the door to get back in the door. One more use for the wood putty!)

Step 5: Stashing the Key in Plain Sight

Right next to the hidden cabinet is the entrance door to the room. I put up new trim around the door, and at the top corners used two rosettes that I had drilled out with a 1" Forstner bit. Check to make sure that the hole you drill is large enough to fit the magnetic key into, but not so large that any gap is noticeable. You will want to paint the rosette and the key to match, and that will add a bit to the dimensions. On the wall behind the rosette I attached a large "fender" washer to give the magnet something to grab.

The end result is that it simply looks like an ornamental piece of trim. As the magnets are quite strong, it actually takes a bit of force to pull them out, so even a casual nudge isn't going to dislodge them. Besides, they're up high where no one is likely to reach anyway.

Be sure to make a matching rosette to hold the extra key on the other side of the door.

Step 6: The Finished Product

At the end of it all, I was quite pleased with how this turned out. Using standard off the shelf items, a secret stash spot is now here in the man cave.

I've also attached a video of the door in action. Video demonstration

In case you ever come to my house, this is where I keep the good bourbon.

P.S. If you would like to know how to reproduce the aged effect that I did on the green panels, check out another Instructable of mine ...

Hiding Places Contest

First Prize in the
Hiding Places Contest