How to Build a Basic Wall Cabinet

Wall Cabinet in Kitchen

Explora_2005 / Getty Images

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 4 - 6 hrs
  • Total Time: 2 - 3 days
  • Yield: 30-inch by 30-inch cabinet
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Estimated Cost: $100 to $200

Wall cabinets are the basic building block of kitchen, shop, laundry room, and bedroom storage systems. They move items off of the floor and conveniently display them at most users' eye level. Adding doors allows the wall cabinets to hide everything away until needed.

Made of only ten pieces of wood, a basic wall cabinet is fairly easy to build, even if you don't consider yourself a woodworker.

Tools to Purchase or Borrow

This wall cabinet project keeps things simple by mostly using tools that you may already have on hand. But a few specialty tools are necessary to ease the process and for professional results.

  • Table saw: Important for making long, straight cuts in large sheet materials like plywood, a table saw can be substituted with a circular saw and accessory guide track.
  • Veneer edge trimmer: Excess veneer banding along the edges of the cabinet is best cut with this inexpensive, closed-razor tool rather than with a utility knife.
  • Countersink bit: Sink nail heads at or below the finished surface with the help of a drill countersink bit attachment.
  • Shelf pin template: This $40 to $50 tool is indispensable for accurately drilling holes for shelf pins. 
  • Clamp squares: Sturdy, inexpensive metal or plastic squares hold two sides together in a perfect 90-degree position. Spring clamps hold the squares in position.
  • Concealed hinge jig: Positioning and drilling concealed, or Euro-style, cabinet hinges is simple when you use a concealed hinge jig. 

Tip

If you plan on building several wall cabinets, the cost of these tools is more than balanced out by the amount of money you'll save vs. buying new cabinets.

Planning the Wall Cabinet

This guide describes how to build a wall cabinet that is 30 inches high, 30 inches wide, and 12 inches deep. Height and width measurements are adjustable if desired.

The plywood for the cabinet is pre-veneered with thin hardwood on both sides. Maple, walnut, and birch are popular—your choice. Veneer plywood edges never have veneer, so edge band veneer that comes in rolls must be applied.

On the back of the cabinet is a 1/4-inch plywood backer board to square and stabilize the cabinet. Two horizontal one-by-fours are used as nailer strips to provide support for attaching the cabinet to the wall. 

Doors are edge-banded and attached to the cabinet box with concealed hinges. The doors are finished off with pulls.

Safety Considerations

Be safe when using the table saw by reading its instructions and by practicing safe techniques such as reducing the plywood to workable sizes, using a push stick, avoiding kickback, and wearing safety gear. 

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Table saw or circular saw and track
  • Cordless drill
  • Countersink bit
  • 4-inch clamp squares
  • Spring clamps
  • Bar clamps
  • Utility knife
  • Sandpaper
  • Clothes iron
  • Edge band trimmer
  • Shelf pin template or jig
  • Concealed hinge jig
  • Pencil
  • Wood glue
  • Eye and hearing protection

Materials

  • 3/4-inch veneer plywood
  • 1/2-inch veneer plywood
  • 1/4-inch veneer plywood
  • One-by-four board
  • Wood screws, 1-inch
  • Flathead nails, 1/2-inch
  • Veneer edge banding
  • Concealed or Euro-style hinges
  • Shelf pins
  • Door pulls

Instructions

  1. Size Down the Plywood

    Cut down large sheets of plywood to more manageable sizes for pushing through the table saw.

    With the plywood on the floor and supported by scrap two-by-fours, cut each piece to its intended size plus another 1 to 2 inches around all sides.

  2. Measure and Cut the Wood

    Use the table saw to cut parts of the wall cabinet:

    • Sides: Two pieces of 3/4-inch plywood, each piece 30 inches by 12 inches
    • Top and bottom: Two pieces of 3/4-inch plywood, each piece 28-1/2 inches by 12 inches
    • Shelf: One piece of 1/2-inch plywood 28-3/8 inches by 11-1/8 inches
    • Backer: One piece of 1/4-inch plywood at 30 inches by 30 inches
    • Doors: Two pieces of 1/2-inch plywood, each piece 30 inches by 14-7/8 inches
    • Nailers: Two pieces of one-by-four, each piece 28-1/2 inches long
  3. Lay Out and Mark the Boards

    Lay the boards out flat: backer in middle, two side pieces on each side, top on top, and bottom on bottom. Decide which side of each board will be facing outward. Veneer plywood is veneered on both sides, but only one side is considered to be finish grade. Place the finish grade side on the side that will be seen. Lightly mark positions on the edges.

  4. Identify the Edges to Be Banded

    Identify and mark edges that will be seen, so you know where to apply the edge banding:

    • Sides: Front, top, and bottom edges
    • Top and bottom: Front only
    • Shelf: Front only
    • Backer: None
    • Doors: All edges
  5. Apply the Edge Banding

    Heat up the clothes iron to its hottest setting with no steam. Iron down each band. After the bands are cool to the touch (meaning that the adhesive has set), cut the excess with the veneer edge trimmer.

  6. Create the Shelf Pin Holes

    With the cordless drill and shelf pin template, create holes for the shelf pins on the two sides of each side piece. Each side should have two lengthwise columns of pin holes, located on the inside of the cabinet.

    Tip

    You don't need to add pin holes at the very top and bottom. Stop at around 6 to 8 inches of each end.

  7. Attach the Left Side to the Top

    Run a thin bead of wood glue along the left side of the top piece. Attach the top piece to the side of the left side piece. Hold the two pieces together with two clamp squares and four spring clamps. Countersink three pilot holes on the side piece, following with 1-inch wood screws.

  8. Attach the Right Side to the Top

    Repeat the previous step to add the right side of the cabinet to the top.

  9. Attach the Bottom Between the Sides

    Add wood glue to the side edges of the bottom piece. Fit the bottom between the sides. Hold it in place with four clamp squares and eight spring clamps. Drill pilot holes and follow with wood screws.

    Tip

    For a more finished look without exposed screws on the sides, use a pocket hole jig to create sharply angled holes on the inside of the cabinet. 

  10. Add the Backer Board

    Nail the backer board to the back of the wall cabinet with the flathead screws. To avoid pullout, do not use finish nails.

  11. Add the Nailer Strips

    Place the two one-by-four nailer strips on the back inside of the cabinet, one at the top and one at the bottom. Secure the strips by screwing them into place from the sides of the cabinet. Use four screws total (two on each side) for each nailer strip.

    Tip

    For a more finished look, saw 1/4-inch dado grooves on the insides of the cabinet sides, 3/4-inch from the back. Slide the backer board into the grooves and place the nailer strips behind the backer board. You'll need to create the dados right after cutting the material.

  12. Stain and Finish the Cabinets

    It's best to stain and finish before adding hardware such as hinges and fixtures, and while the cabinets are on the workbench. 

  13. Add the Hinges to the Doors

    On the inside of one of the doors, mark two spots: one 3 inches up and another 3 inches down. Attach the concealed hinge jig to the drill and drill at these two points. Fit the hinges into the recesses. Screw the hinges into place. Repeat for the other door.

  14. Install the Doors on the Cabinet

    Rest the cabinet on its right side. Flip up the concealed hinges on the right door (so that they are in a closed position). Set the door against the right side of the cabinet in the door's eventual closed position. Hold the door in place with two bar clamps. Screw the hinges into place against the inside of the cabinet. 

    Repeat for the other side. Note that you will need to open up the first door and hold it open to access the inside of the cabinet.

  15. Add Pulls to the Doors

    With the cabinet upright and the doors closed, mark the positions of the drill holes for the cabinet pulls. Drill slowly to avoid tearing the wood.

  16. Add the Shelf

    Push the shelf pins into place, four pins per shelf. Rest the shelf on top of the pins. Move as needed.

Tips for Building and Installing Multiple Cabinets

If you want to build a whole kitchen's worth of cabinets, multiple cabinets can be surprisingly easy to build. For one, you've learned a few cabinet-making skills. More importantly, you can duplicate cabinet pieces by cutting them in batches and by cutting same-size pieces in a stack.

Cut All the Same-Size Pieces in Batches

Once you have set the table saws fence in place to cut a piece, keep it in the same position so that you can batch-cut pieces for other cabinets.

Cut Multiple Pieces Together

With the table saw, you can comfortably cut two to three stacked pieces of 3/4-inch plywood. For 1/2-inch plywood, you can stack six to eight pieces. 

Adjoin the Wall Cabinets

Often, what appears to be one large wall cabinet is two or more cabinets joined side-by-side. Joining cabinets gives you more flexibility, the build is smoother, and installation is easier.

When to Call a Professional

If you want professional quality cabinets that fit your space exactly, it's often best to seek someone with experience. Note that custom cabinets is an industry term that refers to cabinets sized and finished to specifications but which still use standard materials. Instead, for true bespoke cabinets, look for a cabinet maker or a woodworker to make custom-built millwork cabinets.