How to Build Cabinets Around the Fridge


Bigger may be better in many things, but traditional built-in refrigerators trade a shallow depth for greater height. The problem is traditional kitchen cabinetry is 34.5 inches tall and 24 inches deep for the bottom cabinets -- with 12 inches in depth and varying heights for upper cabinets -- while standard refrigerators sit at 30 to 32 inches deep, generally. This leaves a lot of refrigerator exposed between and past the cabinets, unless you have a shallow, counter-depth fridge. Even worse are refrigerators stuck at the end of a row of cabinets. Building deeper cabinets to surround your refrigerator on all sides provides a solution that not only makes your fridge look better, but provides plenty of storage.

Things You'll Need

  • Tape measure
  • Straightedge
  • Furniture-grade plywood, 1-inch-thick
  • Plywood, 1/4-inch-thick
  • Table saw
  • Hammer
  • Chisel (optional)
  • Carpenter's glue
  • Finishing nails
  • Hinges
  • Knobs or handles
  • Counter material (optional)
  • Finishing product
  • Measure your refrigerator depth to determine the necessary cabinet depth. Subtract an inch or two from this figure to provide clearance for both the refrigerator and cabinet doors surrounding it to open. This small amount of variance does not mar the built-in appearance. Find the available clearance, width-wise, both beside and above the refrigerator to determine the width of cabinet boards required.

  • Mark the wall above the refrigerator, if cabinets are needed there, to indicate the clearance necessary -- generally a minimum of 1 inch -- in two or three spots. Connect with a straightedge and run your pencil along the length. Mark the sides similarly. Repeat for any side cabinets needed, taking several measurements along the wall, both height- and width-wise, and the floor. When complete, each cabinet should be completely outlined with the height and width showing clearly.

  • Cut each cabinet piece from 1-inch-thick furniture-grade plywood. Make the top and bottom pieces for both the side cabinet and the cabinet over the fridge fit the depth and width, while the backs and sides measure the height and width desired. A side cabinet might be several feet high and 1 inch less than the fridge depth, but a cabinet over the fridge should measure 1or 2 feet high and the same depth.

  • Cut shelves for each cabinet from 1/4-inch-thick plywood. Each shelf must measure the depth of the cabinet and the width minus 1 1/2 inches. This allows for the thickness of the cabinet sides less 1/4 inch, as your shelves recess into the sides slightly.

  • Adjust the table saw blade to emerge 1/4 inch above the table surface. Move the wood guide to 1/4 inch away from the saw blade. Run each side of the back pieces through the blade to create a 1/4-inch-deep cut on all sides. Flip each piece on edge and run back through the saw, creating an L-shaped edge when complete. Repeat with three edges on each of the outer cabinet boards; the front does not need this treatment.

  • Place each side flat on your work surface. Measure up from the bottom edge on either side of the board to the height of any shelves desired. Several shelves are likely needed for the full-height cabinet alongside the fridge, but the upper cabinet may require only one, or even none.

  • Make a second set of shelf marks, exactly the thickness of the plywood used, directly above the first set of marks. When complete they outline the shelves completely.

  • Move the table saw guide to allow the first shelf guide line on one cabinet side board to align with the blade. Run the board through the saw to create a 1/4-inch-deep cut. Adjust the guide to align the next guide line with the blade and repeat. Continue for each set of guides on each cabinet side.

  • Make additional cuts, between the first cuts outlining the shelf, to remove the wood between the two. Use a hammer and chisel alternatively. These cuts -- called kerf cuts -- allow the shelves to sit recessed into the side walls.

  • Spread glue across each L-shaped joint, called a rabbet joint, and fit the boards together to form cabinets. Attach the sides to the bottom, insert shelves into the kerf cuts, and add the back last. Reinforce each joint with finish nails and allow the cabinets to dry 24 hours.

  • Cut cabinet doors to fit. For full-height cabinets, consider cutting small strips of wood to attach over the front edge of each shelf and glue in place between the side boards, then cutting cabinet doors for each section between the shelves. Attach hinges and knobs. Hang cabinets, securing to the studs in the wall behind the cabinet, to complete.

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