How to Build a Kitchen Pantry

Deep, Vertical Storage for Food and Kitchen Accessories

Male and female toddler friends searching pantry
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In recent articles, you may find information on building cabinets for your kitchen or another area around the home. Topics have included building wall cabinets, blind corner base units, a kitchen sink base cabinet and more. In the following steps, learn how to build a pantry cabinet for storing canned and other food items in your kitchen.

Like many of the other units, a pantry cabinet is nothing more than a plywood box that is fastened to the wall to prevent it from moving.

The cabinet can accommodate a number of shelves that can be placed at the desired heights to allow for storage of small items or shelves can be eliminated from the design should you desire the pantry to serve as a broom closet or to house a vacuum cleaner for the house. Once finished and installed, you may wish to build and install some cabinet doors to match the look of the rest of the kitchen.

Dimensions

This basic pantry cabinet will measure 84-inches in height 12-inches deep and 12-inches wide and will have five shelves and a divider between the upper and lower sections of the pantry. The entire unit at these dimensions can be built from a single sheet of 3/4-inch sanded cabinet plywood, along with some screen molding for covering the exposed edges of the plywood shelves. You'll need a single piece of 1/4-inch thick plywood for the cabinet back measuring 11-1/4 by 79-1/2 inches. Tool-wise, you'll want a cabinet table saw with a plywood blade and a stacked dado blade set, a finish nailer equipped with plenty of 1-1/4 inch finish nails, a circular saw or jigsaw, a combination square and a bottle of wood glue.

Getting Started

To get started, raise the arbor on your table saw with a plywood blade installed so that the blade is about an inch above the saw table. Position the fence so that the face of the fence is 13-inches from the nearest edge of the saw blade and lock the fence into place. Lay a 4x8 sheet of 3/4-inch plywood flat onto the table with one of the long edges flush against the fence.

Turn on the saw and rip a 13-inch wide section, 8-feet in length from the plywood sheet. Set the strip aside and rip a second 13-inch wide piece from the sheet.

Set the remaining sheet aside. Adjust the fence to 11-1/4 inches from the blade, and cut an 11-1/4 by 13-inch section from the end of each of the two strips. Then trim each of the two long strips to 84 inches to serve as the sides of the pantry. Before moving on cut a 3-inch deep by 4-inch tall notch out of one of the corners of each of the plywood strips using your circular saw to accommodate a toe kick. Set these two cabinet sides aside for the moment.

Out of the remaining piece of plywood, cut the following pieces:

  • 1 - Cabinet Top: 13-inches by 11-1/4 inches
  • 1 - Cabinet Bottom: 13-inches by 11-1/4 inches
  • 5 - Shelves: 11-3/4 inches by 10-3/8 inches
  • 2 - Nailers: 3-inches by 10-1/2 inches
  • 1 - Divider Support Brace: 3-inches by 10-1/2 inches
  • 1 - Toe Kick: 4-inches by 10-1/2 inches

Install the stacked dado blade into your table saw to 3/4-inches thick and adjust the height to 3/8-inch above the table.

Attach a sacrificial strip of wood against the saw's fence with a pair of clamps, then adjust the position of the fence so that the edge of the sacrificial strip is just flush with the side of the saw blade without impeding the motion of the blade. Position one of the long cabinet sides with the inner face down on the table and the top edge (opposite the edge with the toe kick notch) against the sacrificial strip, and cut a 3/4-inch wide rabbet into the top of the cabinet side. Repeat with the inner edge of the opposite side panel before removing the sacrificial strip from the fence.

Adjust the fence to 12-3/4 from the edge of the dado blade, and cut a rabbet along the inner face of the back edge of each of the two cabinet sides to accommodate the back panel. Cut this same rabbet along the back edge of cabinet top and bottom as well. Then adjust the fence to 4-inches from the edge of the blade, and cut a dado into the lower section of each inner face (with the edge of the dado matching the top edge of the toe kick notch) to accommodate the bottom shelf.

Next, move the fence to 16-inches from the dado blade, and rip a dado in each inner face of the two sides for the lowest shelf. Move the fence out another 12-inches (to 28-inches from the blade), and cut another dado in each face. Continue cutting dadoes for each shelf at 12-inch intervals until you have completed six shelf dadoes in total, not counting the bottom shelf dado or top rabbet.

Assembly

With all of the dadoes cut, it is time to begin assembling the pantry. Place one of the cabinet sides with the dadoes facing upwards onto a work table. Place a bead of glue into the bottom dado, and smooth out the glue with a small brush so that the entire dado is evenly coated with glue. Position the cabinet bottom into the dado with the rabbeted edge in the back facing the majority of the cabinet space. Position your combination square against the cabinet side and the cabinet bottom to ensure that the joint is square, then place your finish nailer with the tip of the nailer at the intersection of the two pieces and the nailer at about a 20-degree angle to the cabinet side, and toenail the cabinet bottom into place. Use three or four finish nails along the joint to secure the two boards, and avoid using too much of an angle with the finish nailer to prevent the nails from blowing out the opposite side of the plywood.

Add some glue into the first shelf dado and toenail this shelf into place, with the front edge of the shelf flush with the front edge of the cabinet. Repeat for three more shelves before adding the divider, the final shelf, and the cabinet top into the upper-most rabbet.

Next, place the opposite cabinet side with the dadoes facing upwards onto the table and insert glue into each of the dadoes and rabbets. Working quickly to prevent the glue from setting, turn the assembly over and insert each of the shelves into the corresponding dadoes on the opposite side of the cabinet, and toenail them into place. Then, attach a nailer just beneath the top of the cabinet, perpendicular to the cabinet top but flush with the edges of the rabbet along the cabinet back, and tack into place with finish nails. Place a second nailer just below the next shelf below the divider. Position the divider support brace directly under the front edge of the divider shelf (two shelves down from the cabinet top), and tack this divider into place as well.

Nail the toe kick into place beneath the cabinet bottom, then flip the entire assembly over to attach the 1/4-inch cabinet backer into the rabbets along the back of the cabinet. Cross measure the cabinet diagonally to ensure that the unit is square, then nail the backer into place along all of the rabbeted edges. No glue should be placed into the rabbets to hold the backer in place.

Installation

To install the cabinet, place it against the wall in the area where it should be mounted. Check the unit for plumb with a level, then attach it to the wall studs using 3-inch wood screws through the two nailers in the back of the pantry.

To complete the cabinet, you may wish to build a face frame, attach doors and even cut sections of screen mold to attach with finish nails to the front, exposed edges of the plywood shelves.