Many cabinets are simple boxes. Some have added drawers and movable shelves. They can also be quite expensive when purchased pre-made at cabinet shops and even home supply stores. However, making your own cabinets can save money, especially when you need custom sizes or shapes. Here we will examine some basic cabinet forms and shapes.
The dimensions of cabinets vary but some are rather standard to account for height and surface area.
As one can see from these diagrams, the distance from the wall to the edge of the countertop will be somewhere between 24 to 26 inches. The space on the wall from the countertop to the bottom of hanging cabinets is around 16 inches, whereas the wall cabinets will be around 12 inches from front to back. All these dimensions are flexible depending on the needs or applications of surfaces and storage areas.
Base cabinets do not need a toe kick but would benefit with one if the unit goes from surface to floor in one piece. The usual size of the toe kick is 3-1/2 inches deep and up to 4 inches tall. Cabinetry can also rely upon legs or platforms to remove them from direct contact with the floor.
Once you have a box and put legs, a platform, or a toe kick on it, the face of the cabinet will determine what kind of doors, drawers, and hardware will be used. A box can have just shelves or just doors with pivot hinges. Pivot hinges allow a door to swing on pegs fixed on the top and bottom of the door allowing it to sit flush with the edges or they are scissor sort of looking things that attach to the top and bottom of the cabinet and the door.
Obviously, anything can be a DIY project and pivot hinges are no exception. I have taken a simple mending plate, placed a wood screw through an end hole that is inserted into a washer then screwed into a cabinet door. Once the mending plates for the top and bottom of the door are affixed to the carcass of the cabinet box at the top and bottom, the door can swing on the screws. To prevent the screw head from digging into the cabinet where it pivots, a small piece of embedded metal such as a penny, dime, or any other sort of wear resistant material will prevent the screw head chewing up softer woods. Even a nail with a large enough head will work in this situation as long as it is short enough not to go through the thickness of the cabinet.
I use pivot hinges a lot because I like the modern look of inset doors. Of course, there are many types of hinges. An excellent description of the four basic types can be found at this LINK.
A video on hinges:
The fronts of cabinets are essentially of two types. One is without any front face and the other is made with a frame or piece attached to the cabinet carcass. Without a face frame, the cabinet is basically a box with doors or drawers designed to close flush with the cabinet or to hinge or shut against the cabinet body directly. With a face frame, usually, doors or drawers sit on the surface of the face frame when closed.
For a good explanation of the different types of hinges and the different types of doors, Rockler has an in-depth examination of all the basic types. The type of front and the type of door hinge will determine the door’s dimensions to a large degree.
The following instructions will explain how you can make the above cabinet, which is simply to illustrate the basic construction. The same method may be used for cabinets in other dimensions such as width or height.
To begin construction of the cabinet, you will attach the bottom shelf to the sides even with the top edge of the toe kick.
In this case, the toe kick is 4″ tall and 3-1/2″ in depth. The side dimensions are 35″ tall by 23-1/4″ in depth.
To connect the shelf to the sides pocket hole joints are used with a quality interior/exterior glue.
Next, we attach the two back supports, which are 1 x 4 (3/4″ x 3-1/2″) lumber cut to 22-1/2″ lengths.
The top support piece should account for the placement of pocket joint holes that will come through the cleats used to affix a countertop. So bring the pocket holes down a bit. (Refer to the graphic further down in the article.)
The 24″ toe kick is connected at the front with pocket joint screws. Now, this toe kick is really only for reference since you may want to connect more than one cabinet together. When connecting several cabinets together a long toe kick will span all or some of the sections and will be attached with finishing nails, for instance. Seen in this graphic, the 24″ piece would leave a gap when slid up against another cabinet. So only take the above graphic as an example of a stand-alone item.
The back panel, 24″ x 31″, can be of any suitable material which should account for the function of the cabinet. If the cabinet might receive moisture, a water-resistant plywood could be used, for example. The thickness of the material should be between 1/8″ to 1/4″ depending on the material and use of the cabinet.
The face frame is made of 1 x 2 (3/4″ x 1-1/2″) material, with the uprights at 31″ and the horizontal pieces at 21-1/2″. The frame can be made of more expensive, denser materials since it will receive more wear and requires little. The frame should be glued and connected with pocket joints. However, as a tip, to keep the lengths even when inserting the pocket joint screws, clamp a piece across both connecting pieces to ensure that they do not move and become uneven.
In order that the cabinets appear even with each other, we give a 1/4″ overlap of the frame to make it easier to lay cabinets side by side. Otherwise, if there were unevenness, then gaps would be nearly impossible to hide.
The above graphic illustrates the use of pocket joints to connect the front frame. In this way, when cabinets are placed side by side the joints are not seen and not visible from the inside as well. However, the joints, depending on the view, may be placed on the inside, too. Remember that pocket joint holes can be covered with wooden plugs made for hiding them.
Next, we install the top cleats.
The top cleats are cut from the same 1 x 4 material used for the back supports and are also 22-1/2″. They are connected as seen in the graphic with pocket joints and glue.
The shelf may fit loose on a peg system or be permanently attached with pocket joints. A peg system uses pegs readily available at hardware stores that can be inserted along two lines of holes placed toward the front and back of each side of the interior of the cabinet. The allows the pegs to be moved and, of course, the shelf to be adjusted.
As was mentioned above, different configurations exist when it comes to putting a door on this cabinet. A future article will show various easy DIY doors that will work on the cabinet as well as putting in drawers using different methods. This is basically a reference work to show how one can easily build a cabinet in all sorts of sizes. Wall cabinets are essentially the same except they lack a toe kick and the top cleats are replaced with a solid piece. Also, they generally have only around a 12″ depth.