Introduction: Building Recessed Bathroom Wall Shelves

About: I am a self taught maker that has fallen in love with making instead of buying. I create how-to videos about the projects I love and make. Check out my YouTube channel for more!

I took out a yellowing, plastic, builder-basic medicine cabinet and made over the space with custom, modern built-in shelves. This is a tutorial of how I took solid white oak boards and white penny tile and turned them into an awesome DIY built in. Such an improvement!

Check out the video above to see much more detail about how I built it.


Step 1: Prepare the Wall Cavity

When I took out the basic plastic cabinet I was left with a framed out hole in the wall. Instead of making a completely wooden cabinet to fill this cavity, I decide to use two different materials and tile the back side with this clean white penny tile.

I started by pulling off any loose sheetrock pieces to make sure I had a flat back wall surface to work on.

Step 2: Cut the Tile to Fit

These small penny tiles come in square sheets held together with a mesh back. I first pinned up a whole sheet to help me get an idea of how much space was left around it. And then I cut out sections from additional sheets to fill in the sides.

I used a small level, held at the top of the full sheet of tile and drew a level horizontal line. This will help me place the tile straight.

Step 3: Adhere the Tile

To adhere the tile, I used a premixed tile adhesive and a 3/16th V notched trowel (this is the recommended size for these tiny tiles). I applied a layer of the adhesive to the wall, and then I came back with the notched side and troweled in grooves. And I set the the pieces of tile in place and left them to dry.

Step 4: Cut the Wood

I’m going to be building my frame out of 3/4” solid white oak. To start the wooden frame, I took my board to my table saw and cut it down to 4” wide. Then I cut four smaller pieces from that one board on my miter saw. You could also use a circular saw.

Step 5: Resaw the Wood

I wanted my frame to be thinner than 3/4” so to change the thickness, I utilized a technique called resawing. This allows you to get thinner pieces out of one thicker piece of wood. It’s often done on a bandsaw but my bandsaw is too small to handle this size. So an alternative is to resew on the table saw.

My boards are 4” in height. So I raised my blade height to be just past 2” and set my fence to the width I wanted. And then I very carefully and slowly pushed the wood through, utilizing two push sticks.

After the first cut, I then flipped the wood end for end, making sure the wood’s face stays agains the fence so that the cuts line up directly above and below each other. It’s super important to utilize your table saw’s riving knife so the two separate pieces keep from joining together and binding the blade as the cut is finished.

After resewing my boards, you can now see that I’m left with several thinner boards that I’ll now make my frame and shelves out of.

Step 6: Cut the Shelf Dados

I set my boards in place and marked on my side pieces where I’ll want my shelves to be. I then used a square and continued my lines across the boards. These lines are where I am going to cut grooves, called dados, where the shelves are going to slide in.

To cut the grooves I’m going to use my circular saw. I adjusted the blade for the desired depth of my cut and then locked it into place.

To make the cuts I used a straight edge to establish the outside lines and then multiple passes to remove the meat in the middle.

I then held the two sides together and used the existing grooves to exactly transfer the lines to the opposite side support. And then repeated the circular saw passes for the opposite side.

I then cleaned up the grooves with a few passes with a small, sharp chisel. And then I gave all of my pieces a good sanding.

Step 7: Assemble the Frame

To put the frame together, I’m just going to be using wood glue and clamps because the boards are too thin to accept nails or screws. It’s probably overkill in hindsight, but to combat the glue squeeze out, I decided to add painters tape at the borders of the glued corners to make squeeze out clean up even easier.

I then added the glue to the joining corner pieces of the box and and clamped it up to dry.

Step 8: Insert the Shelves

Once the frame was dry, I laid down some glue in the grooves (dados) and slid the shelves in.

Step 9: Add the Trim

To add trim to the frame, I took another board and cut some 1/2 inch strips on my table saw and miter saw.

Then, after some sanding, I got 4 scrap boards and cut them to the exact outer height of my frame. These boards are going to act as supports as I glue on the small trim pieces.

Step 10: Finish the Wood

After the glue dried, the last step for the frame was to add some finish. I like to use a water based finish on light woods because it dries clear and doesn’t cause the wood to yellow at all.

Step 11:

Back at the tile, the last step of the build was to add grout. I mixed up a small amount of white grout until it resembled a smooth cake batter.

And then, with a rubber float, worked the grout into the seams between the tiles, holding my float at a 45 degree angle. I let it sit for a few minutes and then I came back with a clean wet sponge and wiped away the excess, being real careful not to wipe the grout out of the joints. And then I let that dry.

Step 12: Installation

To install the wooden frame, I used construction adhesive specifically for wood and applied it to the 2x4’s in the wall on all sides. I then slid the frame into the cavity and then shot a few small pin nails with my nailer in the sides to secure it while the adhesive dried.

Step 13: Done!

And with that, my medicine cabinet renovation was done!

I think it’s safe to say that this is a huge improvement from the yellowing plastic cabinet that was in here before. I couldn’t be more excited with how well this turned out and how custom and modern it looks.

For detailed instructions, be sure and watch the video.

For more projects and tutorials, be sure and visit my YouTube channel and my website. You can also find me on Instagram @makergray. Thanks for following along!

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