How to Build a Kitchen Island
An island can add much-needed countertop space, storage, and optional seating room to a kitchen. As long as your kitchen has enough available floor room, the advantages of building an island far outweigh any downsides.
You can build a kitchen island from materials like plywood and dimensional lumber, and many professionals do this. But as a do-it-yourselfer, it's best to use pre-built kitchen base cabinets as building blocks. Cabinets set the correct dimensions for you, plus they make the island look clean and polished. Once you have the cabinets on hand and assembled, this simple project can be completed in less than a day.
Kitchen Island Cabinet Layouts and Costs
Available in widths from 12 inches to 60 inches, and with different storage setups including shelves, drawers, and open spaces, kitchen base cabinets can be endlessly combined to form a kitchen island that has exactly the size and storage functions you need.
|Cabinet Type||Length||Width||Combined Cabinet Cost*|
|One 60-inch base cabinet||60 inches||24 inches||$200 to $250|
|One 30-inch base cabinet and one 24-inch base cabinet||54 inches||24 inches||$300 to $350|
|One 30-inch base cabinet and two 24-inch base cabinets||78 inches||24 inches||$450 to $500|
|One 36-inch base cabinet and two 24-inch base cabinets||84 inches||24 inches||$500 to $550|
|Three 30-inch base cabinets||90 inches||24 inches||$450 to $600|
|Six back-to-back 30-inch base cabinets||90 inches||48 inches||$900 to $1,000|
Base Cabinet Plus Two Side Cabinets
This expansive kitchen island—and the focus of this project—provides plenty of countertop space and multi-purpose storage areas. A single 30- or 36-inch-wide sink base with a large opening is flanked with 24-inch-wide base drawer cabinets. This brings the total length to 78 to 84 inches. Alternatively, the two 24-inch cabinets can be placed next to each other.
What Is a Base Cabinet?
A base cabinet is a storage cabinet that rests on the floor and which also provides support for a countertop. Base cabinets are normally found in kitchens, laundry rooms, and bathrooms.
One Sink Base Cabinet
When space is tight and you need to keep it simple, build a kitchen island from one large sink base cabinet. A 60-inch long, 24-inch wide sink base cabinet is widely available and often reasonably priced. The kitchen-facing side of the island has open storage areas and the back side is solid. While 60-inch base cabinets are heavy, one advantage is that there is no need to combine cabinets from side to side. This makes leveling easier.
For large kitchens that can support a wider kitchen island, matching base cabinets back to back produces an island that's 48 inches wide. The chief advantage is that you get storage on both sides of the island—not the solid back with the 24-inch-wide islands. Back-to-back islands will require professional countertop fabrication since the counters are unusually wide.
Base cabinets are heavy. Sixty-inch sink base cabinets typically weigh 100 pounds or more. Move the cabinets into the kitchen with an assistant. If working alone, use a hand truck or slide the cabinets on thick blankets.
What You'll Need
Equipment / Tools
- 1 electric drill
- 1 electric miter saw
- 1 electric nailer
- 1 hand miter saw
- 1 bubble level
- 1 hammer
- 1 tape measure
- 1 countersink bit
- 1 set drill bits and drivers
- 8 C-clamps
- 1 30-inch wide sink base cabinet
- 2 24-inch wide base kitchen cabinets
- 2 matching cabinet end panels
- 2 two-by-fours
- 23 square feet 1/2-inch thick shiplap
- 1 wood outside corner molding, 11/32-inch by 96 inches
- 3 sections baseboard molding, 3-1/4-inch by 8-foot
- 1 package shims
- 1 roll painter's tape
- 1 box screws, 2-1/2-inch
- 1 box screws, 3-inch
- 1 strip brads, 3/4-inch
- 1 strip brads, 5/8-inch
Measure the Kitchen Space
With a tape measure, measure the kitchen's total area (length and width) from wall to wall. Next, measure the available floor space: everything excluding countertops, detached pantries, appliances, and other permanent items on the floor.
For a kitchen to be large enough to support an island, the recommended minimum distance between kitchen work areas is 42 inches in a single-cook kitchen and 48 inches in a multi-cook kitchen. A kitchen work area can include both perimeter countertops and kitchen islands.
Plan the Kitchen Island
With painter's tape, tape the outline of the kitchen island cabinets on the floor. Breakfast bars have a 15-inch standard countertop overhang, so you may want to tape a second line to account for that edge. Otherwise, it's not necessary to tape the countertop projection. Stack empty large cardboard boxes within the taped footprint to provide a sense of the island's total mass before ordering the cabinets.
Stain or Paint the Cabinets
If you purchased unfinished cabinets, paint or stain and coat the cabinets before you move them into the kitchen. A well-ventilated garage or enclosed patio work well for safe painting and staining. Cover the outsides of the cabinet boxes but not the insides or shelves. Cover both sides of the doors, as well as both sides of drawer fronts. Be sure to paint the corner molding, too.
Assemble the Cabinets (Optional)
If you purchased flat-packed, ready-to-assemble (RTA) kitchen cabinets, these must be assembled. Leave off the doors and shelves for now. If you have pre-assembled cabinets, remove the shelves. The doors can stay on.
Dry-Fit the Cabinets Into an Island
Move the cabinets into place and arrange them in the desired order. Check to make sure that this arrangement works for you. If necessary, pull up and reapply the painter's tape on the floor to match the cabinets' footprint.
Attach the Cleats to the Floor
Tip back the cabinets. Base cabinets have hollow spaces under the floor. Measure the front and back of this hollow space, then cut two-by-fours to those dimensions. Lay the cleats flat and screw them to the kitchen floor with three inch screws. Be sure to account for the width of the cabinet box: usually, 1/2-inch. So, the cleats will not be placed directly on the taped line but 1/2-inch inward.
Level the Cabinets
Rest the cabinets back on the floor, in the footprint. Attach the cabinets side to side with C clamps. The cabinets must be straight and level all the way across. If the floor is uneven, shim under the cabinet or cabinets that need to be raised. Tap the shims into place by gently tapping with a hammer or with a scrap two-by-four.
Screw the Base Cabinets to the Cleat
At the base of the cabinets, drill pilot holes through the cabinets and into the cleats. Cleat screws must be flush to avoid impeding the baseboard molding, so use the countersink bit. Follow by driving screws into the cleats: two in front and two in back.
Attach the Base Cabinets Side-to-Side
Once the cabinets are level, from the inside of the cabinets drill a 1/8-inch pilot hole through the face frame either above or below the door hinge. Use the countersink bit to create a recess at the pilot hole to accommodate the screw's head. Drive a 2-1/2-inch screw from one cabinet to the adjacent cabinet. Do not drive the screw through the side panel. For strength, the screw must go through the face frame.
Cut the Shims
Use a hand miter saw or an oscillating multi-tool to cut off the exposed portions of the shims. Work carefully to avoid cutting into the floor.
Attach the End Panels
As long as you bought end panels that match your cabinets, there should be no need to cut them. Run adhesive on the back of each end panel, then attach to each side of the kitchen island with the electric brad nailer and 3/4-inch brads around the edges, being carful not to install brads through the side and into the interior cabinet space.
Install the Shiplap Backer
Install the shiplap on the back of the island. With the electric nailer and the 3/4-inch or 5/8-inch brads, begin the first row of shiplap at the bottom, nearest to the floor. Be careful to not penetrate through the cabinet wall and into the cabinet's interior. Leave a 1/4-inch space between the bottom of the shiplap and the floor. Work upward until you reach the top of the cabinets.
Add the Baseboard Molding
Lay the baseboard molding against the front of the island, in the toekick section. Mark off the cut points on each end of the molding. Cut the molding on the electric miter saw at 45-degree angles, and attach them to the island with 5/8-inch brad nails. Repeat on the back side of the island with another strip of molding. Complete by filling in the two short sides of the island with molding.
Add the Corner Molding
At the two outside back corners of the island, measure the vertical distance between the top of the baseboard and the top of the island. Cut off two sections of wood corner molding to this length. Use the 3/4-inch brads in the electric nailer. Nail the corner molding on the back corners.
Install the Pulls
Install the handles on the cabinet doors and the drawers. For several drawers or cabinets in a row, it's helpful to run a laser level or snap a chalk line to ensure that all fixtures will be at the same height.
Install the Shelves
Install the shelves in the cabinets using the pegs provided with the cabinet.
What is the best countertop for a kitchen island?
Quartz, solid surface, laminate, and other countertop materials used for perimeter counters can also be used for the kitchen island. A butcher block countertop is, by far, the most DIY-friendly countertop for a kitchen island. Butcher block countertops come in 25-inch widths and lengths up to 10 feet.
Is it cheaper to build a kitchen island?
Kitchen islands available for purchase online or in local stores are freestanding or rolling units and are usually no more than 60 inches long. With limited storage and without the capacity to be plumbed for a prep sink or wired for an outlet, these units can be helpful but are not permanent additions to the kitchen and do not add value. With those factors, building a kitchen island will be cheaper.
When to Call a Professional
For custom kitchen islands, call a general contractor or a woodworker for help. Other than butcher block wood, most other countertop materials are difficult for a do-it-yourselfer to install since all four edges need to be finished. So, have a countertop installer fabricate and install the island countertop.