How to Plan and Make Built-in Cabinets

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Built-in cabinets are a storage solution that blends in with a room and looks like part of your home. While freestanding furniture is a good option, you may need cabinetry to fit into a particular space without looking bulky or out of place. Built-in cabinets can span an entire wall or fit into a small space where you want some additional storage. Use trim on the cabinetry to coordinate with the accents in the room to help complete the look.

Things You'll Need

  • Tape measure
  • Pencil
  • Graph paper
  • Stud finder
  • Saw
  • Pry bar
  • 1-by-4 lumber
  • 2-by-4 lumber
  • Hammer
  • Nails
  • Drill
  • 3-inch drywall screws
  • ¾-inch plywood
  • 1 5/8-inch drywall screws
  • Vinyl laminate
  • Cabinet door hinges
  • Measure the area of the room where you want to install the built-in cabinets. Note the height, width and depth of the available space.

  • Sketch your cabinet design on graph paper. Draw a picture of the wall where you plan to install the cabinet and how you want the finished piece to look. In your sketch, include objects that you may need to work around, such as big pieces of furniture, windows or a fireplace.

    Then sketch just the cabinet and include the dimensions, such as the height of the built-in, the space between the shelves and the size of the cabinet base. Add notes about the types of lumber you plan to use and where.

  • Create a cut list. A cut list details all the different types of materials you need, their sizes and amounts. For example, you may use two ¾-inch thick plywood boards that measure 40-by-30-inches. Alongside your cut list, create a list of other materials you will need, such as screws, a drill, clamps or a hammer.

  • Locate and mark the locations of the studs in your wall using a stud finder. Cut any baseboard in the area of the planned cabinet and pry them away from the wall with a pry bar.

  • Build the base of the built-in cabinet. The depth of the base should be 1.5 inches less than the depth of the cabinet. The base of the cabinet is like a box that does not have a top or bottom, only the sidepieces. For a basic base, you can use 2-by-4 lumber for the sides and 1-by-4 lumber for the front and back of the base. Secure the lumber with nails into a rectangular box and nail in a 2-by-4 cross piece within the base every 6 inches.

  • Secure the cabinet base to the wall studs using 3-inch drywall screws drilled through the long back of the base and into the studs.

  • Cut a ¾-inch thick plywood board to create the bottom and top of the cabinet, as well as the shelves, based on your measurements.

  • Make the sides of the built-in cabinet out of 1-inch thick plywood or a wide piece of lumber, such as a 2-by-12.

  • Assemble the frame of the cabinet by joining the side pieces to the pieces you cut out for the top and bottom of the cabinet. Secure the lumber with 1 5/8-inch drywall screws spaced 4 inches apart.

  • Install the cabinet shelves within the cabinet frame. Secure the shelves with 1 5/8-inch drywall screws spaced 3 inches apart.

  • Cut a sheet of plywood that matches the length and height of the cabinet. Secure the plywood to the back of the cabinet frame and shelves, spacing screws 6 inches apart.

  • Place the cabinet onto the base you made. Use 1 5/8-inch drywall screws to secure the bottom of the cabinet to the base. Then secure the cabinet to the wall studs at the top, middle and bottom of the cabinet.

  • Install vinyl laminate, following the manufacturer’s instructions, over the visible sides and the front of the cabinet and its base to help create a finished look.

  • Make the cabinet doors by cutting ¾-inch plywood to size. Place vinyl laminate over the entire cabinet door.

  • Attach hinges on one side of the cabinet door. Then secure the door to the front of the cabinet using the screws that come with the hinges.

Tips & Warnings

  • You can cover the shelves and the inside of the cabinet with vinyl laminate.
  • You do not have to use vinyl laminate for the face frame. If you have intermediate to advanced carpentry skills, you can make the face frame out of fine wood and secure it to the front of the cabinet using biscuits.
  • Add trim to the cabinet base that matches the trim in the room.
  • Photo Credit Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images
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