Posted by John on September 11th, 2014
If you’ve been following along with out blog lately, you know that we’re knee deep into our home office renovation. This project has taken us the better part of nine months and we’re finally a couple weeks away from putting it to bed. I’m in the middle of assembling our new built-in cabinets that we are making from scratch and while I definitely enjoy the process, I’m already looking forward to installing them and being finished with this part of the project.
In this post, I wanted to discuss cabinet building challenges. It’s not all gumdrops, folks.
It seems as though every time I take on a new project, all I tend to think about are the positive outcomes that lay before us. With this project for example, I’m looking forward to having a professional, custom looking home office that we can decorate and organize. I never really think too much about how many evenings I’ll be spending in the basement toiling away on my table saw and router. I always underestimate how many trips to Lowes or Home Depot I’ll have logged by the time we call the project complete. Consequently, I tend to write wrap-up or recap posts when I’m basking in the after glow of a completed project and I rarely write posts when I’m in the thick of it. In my mind, the net outcome always outweighs the time and monetary investment of doing it yourself.
I feel very empowered by being capable of taking raw lumber and plywood and building something substantial out of it. This is my ‘thing.’ I’m not good at sports, I don’t have any other real hobbies. This is IT. One of the main reasons I blog is to teach what I’ve learned so you can do these same things for you and yours. It’s nice to have a deep home improvement skill set. This constant-positive thinking however, can cause you to forget the bumps on the road. It can cause you to overload your plate with home improvement projects. It can get you in over your head and it can lead to you getting sick of it.
That’s what brings me around to the reason for this post. I’ve spend the better part of ten hours in the shop the last couple of days and I’m full of a different kind of insight. One that doesn’t point out all the net gains and the sunshine. This is the kind of insight that will remind you to stock up on bandaids. The kind that if I wait another day or two to write, I’ll probably forget. Building your own furniture, while rewarding in numerous ways is a mixed bag. It’s up to you to determine if it’s worth your effort. I’ve built well over a dozen cabinets for my first house and for our current home and I’ll probably build a couple dozen more. These aggravations won’t stop me, but they will entice me to improve my build process for the next go around so I don’t repeat them.
Here are 6 Cabinet Building Challenges that I’m Working Through Right Now
1. This work is dirty and dusty. I always seem to forget what a half an inch of sawdust looks like on the shop floor. It gets into EVERYTHING! #SawdustInAllThePlaces and it’s not nearly as funny as “David Tennant in places he shouldn’t be.” I don’t have a proper dust collection system right now, so I typically end up cleaning up the entire space once I’ve completely wrapped up. So it’s dirty? So what? It’s really not that big of a deal except for the fact that I need to shower after every time I work in the shop. Not a major pain, but a pain nonetheless.
2. Splinters. You can tell when I’m working on a new cabinet build by the number of bandaids on my fingers. Right now there are two. For some reason, my hands are magnets for splinters. I mostly get them from plywood. Word of advice: try not to let the plywood slide through your hands while you’re moving it. Doesn’t end well for your digits. When I built the cabinets for my first house, I had a splinter in my finger for weeks and didn’t know it.
3. All the parts. Cabinets have face frames, plywood boxes, braces, drawer fronts, drawers, doors, door hinges, door stops, drawer slides, counters, edging, knobs, pulls, etc. Simple stuff, but it ends up being a lot of parts to cut out and track. If you don’t buy them all up front then you end up purchasing them incrementally, which is what I usually do. I recommend you buy absolutely everything you need for each job before you get started, otherwise you end up just wasting time making those separate trips.
4. It’s still not cheap. When all is said and done I’ll have saved a fair amount of money over purchasing comparable cabinets and having them installed professionally. Can I find cabinets that look similar? Maybe. Can I find inexpensive cabinets? Sure. Can I find inexpensive, perfectly sized for my room, custom looking, beaded face frame and inset door cabinets for less than I’m paying in materials? No freaking way. If I were to hand over my cabinet specs over to a cabinet shop and ask them to build me the exact same thing I’m building now, I’d be paying over $2000 easy. Probably closer to $3k or $4k. That doesn’t mean by building these cabinets myself I’m not spending anything. I’ll probably end up spending close to $800 on lumber and plywood. That’s not zero. Plus, I always end up trying out new tools or investing in upgrades. For this build, I bought three new router bits. That’s just the material cost. There IS some value to spending time in the basement two or three nights a week. That’s time away from my family and time I could be doing other productive work or just relaxing. Plus, I already own almost all of the tools I need for the job, but if you don’t, those startup costs ain’t cheap. So you need to consider all the “costs” associated with every job you undertake.
5. It ALWAYS takes longer. Much, much longer. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told my wife that I’ve only got a couple more hours and I’ll be all done. You can imagine how well that goes after the 2nd or 3rd time. Getting an accurate feel for how long a cabinet will last takes experience and even then it’s hard to gauge when life gets in the way. Plan on it taking some time and then add another couple weeks.
6. Material Sourcing. This is my latest aggravation and I am swearing that this time I’ll learn from it. I’m am DONE with buying S4S lumber from Home Depot and Lowes (at least for big projects). I’m SO sick of standing there in the lumber aisle and picking out board after board that is warped, curved or cupped. From now on I’m buying rough cut hardwood from a lumber yard and planing and jointing it myself. Just a couple of days ago I was looking for some 1/2″ thick maple for the drawers. Couldn’t find it anywhere. I should’ve sourced all my lumber up front and then I wouldn’t be sitting pretty. Instead, I’m using some 1/2″ thick Birch plywood and I’ll use some edge veneer.
So those are some of the aggravations of building your own cabinets. It’s still TOTALLY worth it, people. Totally. Pretty soon I’ll be sitting in my new office with my feet up on the desk basking in the warm glow of custom cabinetry. My splinters will all be healed and I’ll be thinking about my next project… Yep. Couple more hours and I’ll be done.
Now I want to hear from you. What is the ABSOLUTE WORST part of your DIY life? It’s OK to complain once in a while.
Posted in Carpentry,DIY Projects. Tagged in ,built-ins, cabinets, challenges
Posted by John on July 7th, 2014
Happy Monday, folks. We hope all of our American readers enjoyed their 4th of July weekend! Lisa and I took the kids over to the USS New Jersey on Saturday afternoon. It’s the closest Battleship to our home in South Jersey. I’m a HUGE fan of the Iowa Class Battleships.
Gotta tell you… I was not disappointed. Tremendous history there. If you ever get the chance to go on one of the Iowa’s, I suggest you take it. The USS Iowa is in LA, the USS New Jersey is in Camden, the USS Missouri is in Pearl Harbor and the USS Wisconsin is in Norfolk. I’ve been on the Wisconsin before, but if I recall correctly, the tour was limited. The New Jersey tour is impressive, although the teak deck is in rough shape in some areas.
I’m leading today off with this Navy reference for a good reason. If you haven’t yet subscribed to our free newsletter, now it the perfect time to GET ON BOARD! See what I did there?
So we’ve finished most of the work on our coffered ceiling and later this week I’ll be prepping to build the built-in cabinets for our big home office remodel. Part of the prep work will include setting up my basement workshop and I’m planning on filming a 30-40 minute long episode after it’s all done. I will also be filming some quick five minute long videos going over each of the power tools I’ll be using for the cabinet build. If you’ve never used a table saw or a router, this is right up your alley. I’m also in need of a larger table saw station and a more permanent miter saw stand before I get started.
That’s why this is the PERFECT time to get on board with our free newsletter and follow along with the project as it unfolds. Building cabinets is our bread and butter and if you’re interested in learning how to make your own, you’re going to enjoy this series.
What I’m going to cover:
1. The Table Saw
2. The Miter Saw
3. The Router
4. The Cordless Drill
5. The Kreg Jig
6. Cabinet Building Jigs
7. Design and Dimensioning
8. Face Frame
9. Cabinet Boxes
Sounds good? Have any questions on the cabinet build process that you’d like answered? Leave me a comment below and I’ll try to answer it. Big fan of big ships? Would love to hear what ships you’ve been on!
Posted in Carpentry,DIY Projects. Tagged in ,built-ins, cabinets, home office
Posted by John on January 10th, 2014
Well, we’ve had another busy week. Fortunately for you, we’ve been busy working on our next set of free woodworking plans.
These plans took FOREVER! I kinda went a little overboard too. They’re more like an ebook than plans. Complete with a material and tool list, step by step instructions, etc. It’s more than 30 pages long! The plans were based on our built-in cabinet series we made last year.
So how do you get access to these free built-in plans? You subscribe to our free newsletter, that’s how. The signup form is just to the left of this post. Within minutes of signing up, you’ll get an email with a link to our plans page. Sound good?
Posted in Carpentry,DIY Projects. Tagged in ,built-ins, cabinets, free plans, woodworking
Posted by John on November 18th, 2013
So I was going to make another video of the cabinet installation, since we were already at that point. Then I realized, I’d be showing a 30 second long clip of me screwing the cabinet to the wall. (I just secured the cabinet to the wall with a couple of 2″ drywall screws. The screws went into the backstrap that runs along the back of the cabinet and into a stud in the wall.) I don’t think you need to see that.
Let’s go ahead and skip that video and get right to the good stuff.. the pictures.
Here’s what our TV wall in the sitting room looked like just a couple of hours ago..
And here’s how it looked with the new cabinet installed…
Looks pretty close to that concept drawing we made a few weeks ago.
Here’s a front view…
And that front view concept drawing…
So that’s it for this tutorial series. The only thing we have left to do is wrap the bottom of the cabinet in some baseboard trim to tie it into the wall and do a bit of caulking and touch up paint. If you’re interested in learning how to apply molding to cabinets*, you can check out the tutorial we did when we built the bigger unit. It’s the exact same process.
Next time you see this cabinet, it will be completely finished… and the walls may be painted too. We’ll see.
*Lisa actually really liked the look of the cabinet without the baseboard molding and was reluctant to add it. Then she saw the baseboard molding on the cabinet and thinks it looks even better.
Posted in Carpentry,DIY Projects. Tagged in ,built-ins, cabinets, carpentry
Posted by John on November 7th, 2013
So our Custom Media Cabinet is nearly complete. I’m hoping to get it painted and then assembled this weekend. Instead of putting it together and then painting it, I’m going to try painting most of it first and then gluing it up. It was a major PIA to paint our built-in once it was finished. Especially the interior of the cabinet. Hoping to avoid that aggravation. Anyway, in today’s post, I’m going to show you how to DIY cabinet doors.
Back when we made our built-in, I threw together a video on YouTube showing our readers how to build inset shaker style cabinet doors. That video was up on YouTube for a couple months and got over 12,000 views! I took it down to make some changes and re-uploaded it a few weeks ago. There’s really no sense in making another video on shaker style inset cabinet doors, obviously, so I’m just going to re-share the original video.
Shaker style doors are fairly straight forward to make. Making them inset instead of overlay just screams custom and in the video I show you how I go about getting that result.
Oh, and head’s up… Sherwin Williams is having a 40% off sale this weekend, so you can be sure we’ll be heading over there.
Posted in Carpentry,DIY Projects. Tagged in ,built-ins, cabinets, carpentry, shaker, woodworking
Posted by John on October 15th, 2013
During my three day weekend, I managed to finally get some woodworking done. I built the face frame for our custom media cabinet. As promised, I whipped up a tutorial video. Let me know if you have any questions. You’ll see it’s not all that difficult to cut the pieces to their finished length and width and then assemble them using pocket screws. Hope it helps!
Up next we’ll be cutting out our box components and adding our grooves and dados. Fun times.
Posted in Carpentry,DIY Projects. Tagged in ,built-ins, cabinets, carpentry, face frame
Posted by John on October 13th, 2013
Happy Columbus Day! Or as my Italian wife refers to it… “Better than St. Patrick’s Day.” We hope you all had a great weekend. We made some solid progress on our media cabinet. The face frame is built and I’ll be starting on the cabinet boxes shortly. I filmed almost all of the face frame construction and I plan on doing the same for the rest of the build. Hope you like videos, because you’re going to be seeing a lot of them soon.
On Friday, we left off with some cut sheets that I used to draw up a shopping list. Today, we’re going to discuss actually buying the material.
Our shopping list consisted of one 4×8 sheet of 3/4″ thick paint-grade plywood and a couple boards of paint grade hardwood. Let’s start with the plywood.
What to avoid: Framing, roofing or flooring plywood.
Why not? Well, these types of plywood are designed for their particular application. For a paint-grade project, we want something that has a smooth finish on both sides that’s also knot free. Most of these construction quality plywood sheets are going to have a significant amount of defects that won’t leave you with a quality finish. The tempting thing about these lower grade plywood options is their price. They may be up to half the cost of the plywood I normally use.
What to look for: A quality furniture grade plywood, like this Birch plywood. It’s finish grade on both sides, it’s strong and it’s designed for cabinet builds.
Now here’s the bad news: the price.
The good news is I only need one sheet. That’s a lot of money for some plywood. Here’s the deal though, in total, this cabinet will probably cost under $125 and I’m hoping it lasts a long, long time. So, spending $50 on some plywood isn’t that terrible if you put it in perspective.
With my sheet in hand, I took it over to the panel saw and had the lumber associate cut it into four sections so I could fit it in my car.
For the hardwood boards, I like poplar. Poplar is fairly inexpensive and it’s perfect for paint. Maple would also be a great choice. Unless you are planning on staining a project like this, I’d avoid oak or cherry. And yes, you could use pine, especially a high quality pine, but it’s a softwood so expect it to show wear and tear over time. The hardwoods like poplar tend to hold up better.
So that’s my 2 cents on buying paint grade lumber from your local big hardware store. You may also want to look for some local non-chain lumber yards as well. Sometimes they have a better variety of plywoods and most will special order some if you’re looking for it.
In our next post, we’ll have a video on building the face frame.
Posted in Carpentry,DIY Projects. Tagged in ,built-ins, cabinets, carpentry
Posted by John on October 6th, 2013
Hope everyone had an enjoyable and restful weekend! Last week we started the design work on our custom media cabinet by constraining our overall dimensions and making a rough drawing of how it should look. Today, we’re going to pickup where we left off and do some detailed design work starting with the face frames.
Even though this is a custom piece, it has the same basic bones as your typical run of the mill kitchen cabinet. It consists of a plywood box, a hardwood face frame, a countertop and of course, some doors.
If you’re not familiar with what a face frame is, go take a look at your kitchen cabinets. Most American kitchen cabinets have face frames. It’s a 3/4″ thick frame of wood that gets attached to the plywood box portion of the cabinet. Here’s a side view of the media cabinet we’re designing that shows that the frame and the box. A lot of European cabinets are “frameless” and skip the face frame altogether. Ikea kitchen cabinets are frameless. Some of this may sound familiar if you followed our built-in posts closely.
The face frame does a few things for us: it provides a frame to attach the doors to, it serves as a divider between each section and it provides some added strength to our media cabinet. It also gives the cabinet a more traditional look.
So let’s take a closer look at our face frame.
In our last post we mentioned that the overall height of the cabinet it 27″ and the width is 50″. From the image above, you can tell that those dimensions INCLUDE the countertop. That’s important because I think the countertop will look great if it overhangs the rest of the cabinet by a good inch on the front and both sides. The countertop will also be 3/4″ thick.
So let’s subtract out the 3/4″ countertop thickness and the 1″ overhang on both sides and see where that leaves us.
Now we know the overall dimensions of the face frame. Not too hard, right?
We’re almost ready to dimension each of the face frame pieces, but before we can do that we need to make a couple decisions. We need to pick the width of each board that’s going into the frame. In order to do that, we need to know where each board ends and the next one begins. To help make this step easier, I color and letter coded the face frame drawing. Each color and letter is a different board. The same color and letter boards are the same dimensions exactly.
When I designed my built-in cabinet, I made most of the face frame out of 1.5″ wide boards (also known as 1″ x 2’s” or “one by’s”). A “one by two” is a 3/4″ thick board that’s 1.5″ wide. Why they don’t call it a 3/4″ by 1.5″ is beyond me.
Let’s take each board and dimension it.
The “A” boards
The”A” boards will be 1.5″ wide as we mentioned. The length is 27″ minus the thickness of the countertop: 26 1/4″.
The “B” boards
The bottom “B” board will have part of its width covered by a baseboard trim. I’d like 1/2″ to be hidden behind that baseboard molding and above the baseboard I’d like to have 1.5″ to be visible. So that’s a 2″ wide board. The length is 48″ minus the width of the two “A” boards, leaving 45″. The top “B” board won’t be hidden at all, but I’m going to make it 2″ wide anyway. I think the top board will look better if it’s a little wider than the rest.
The image below shows a close up of the bottom “B” board and how it will be partly covered by my baseboard molding. The dashed line represents the top of the baseboard molding, which is 3 1/4″ tall.
The “C” boards
The “C” boards will be 1.5″ wide. The length is determined from subtracting out both “B” boards and the 2 3/4″ bottom space from the overall 26 1/4″ length of the face frame leaving 19 1/2″.
Let’s recap our dimensions, all are 3/4″ thick:
A: 1.5″ wide x 26 1/4″ long
B: 2″ wide x 45″ long
C: 1.5″ wide x 19 1/2″ long
Now that we have the dimensions for all of our face frame components, we can move onto the next step, which will be to design and dimension our cabinet box. We’ll save that for our next post.
What can you takeaway from this post?
Face frames sit on the front of most American cabinets. You can design a face frame from the overall dimensions of a project and you can dimension each board if you select board widths. This stuff isn’t rocket science, it’s basic math and some design choices. It’s just a matter of knowing the process.
Posted in Carpentry,DIY Projects. Tagged in ,built-ins, cabinets, carpentry, face frames
Posted by John on October 3rd, 2013
Very happy to be diving into another carpentry project. If you’re new to our blog, last spring we made a built-in from scratch and installed it in our sitting room. This time around we’re building a custom media cabinet to match. Over the course of the next few weeks, we’re going to show our readers how to design and build this cabinet from the first step to the last. I’m going to try and make this as instructive as possible. If you want to build one yourself one day, this should help.
Here’s a sneak peak of what it will probably look like…
In this post, we’re starting with the overall design of the piece. As I mentioned, it should look a lot like our built-in already in the room. Here’s what that looks like:
Here’s where the new cabinet is going: right beneath our wall mounted TV.
Before I do anything, I like to start by constraining the overall dimensions of the piece. So, I’ll try to nail down the height, width and length of the cabinet. That’ll be a big help when I actually do some detailed design later on.
I’d like this new cabinet to stick out 18″ from the wall, which is the same depth of the other built-in. I’m also going to use the same height as the TV stand in our family room, which is 27.” So the only dimension we need now is the length.
To get a length we’re happy with, I’m going to draw the cabinet as a box in Google’s SketchUp, but you could just as easily draw it on paper, maybe mark the dimensions on the wall, or use some painters tape on the carpet. The goal here is to get a feel of just how long we need the cabinet to be.
There are a few other requirements. I’d like to be able to hide the electrical outlet if possible. I’d like to have some open shelving for our PS3 and I’d like at least one or maybe two cabinet doors for storage.
Arbitrarily, I chose 40″ as a possible option and then 50″ since it will hide the outlet. Here’s how a 40″ wide cabinet looks compared to a 50″ wide unit.
The unit on the left is the 40″ version and just by looking at it compared to a 32″ TV, I can see that we probably will be more limited in the number of doors and shelves we can fit in it. The 50″ on the right will probably allow me to squeeze some shelves and a couple of doors, not to mention it will hide the wall outlet, while the 40″ won’t cover it.
So, let’s go with 50″ in width. You starting to see how this works? The dimensions are just based on whatever we need them to be.
I took some time in SketchUp to draw out what the finished cabinet will probably look like. I didn’t include the baseboard molding, but that’ll be there too. In the drawing I set the width of the shelf area to be just wide enough for our PS3 and maybe a DVD player. 16″ should cover it.
The width of the doors are just what’s left over from the 50″ width and the roughly 16″ opening. We’ll get into the exact dimensions in our next post.
That’s pretty much all there is to the first part of the design process. We have our overall dimensions and I have a rough sketch of how I want the cabinet to look. We know how it will look underneath the TV and it meets our requirements of matching the built-in, covering the electrical outlet and having some shelves and doors.
In our next post, we’ll dimension all the individual pieces one by one. From there we’ll put together a shopping list and pick our materials.
If you have any questions on anything you read here, please don’t hesitate to ask. I’d like these posts to be interactive and a learning experience for those looking for it.
Posted in Carpentry,DIY Projects. Tagged in ,built-ins, cabinets, carpentry
Posted by John on May 5th, 2013
Hey all! Hope everyone is doing well. Had another productive weekend around here. We got a huge jump on our Pinterest Challenge project. Stay tuned for that! We posted a couple hint photos on our Instagram account.
Last week, we wrapped up our sitting room built-in. I also promised a quick post on how to add trim to cabinets to make them look more “built-in” and less free standing cabinet. The process is pretty simple and can be used on any type of cabinet. There are a number of blog posts out there about turning ikea bookshelves or stock kitchen cabinets into built-ins. Adding trim can really add some depth to their look.
Here’s how to add trim to cabinets..
We start with the baseboard molding. When I installed the cabinets, I removed the baseboard molding on the wall where the cabinet was being installed. Made things easier.
Before I add the new piece though, I’m going to add a couple thin strips of wood to the side of the cabinet. The cabinet front overhangs the sides by about 1/4″ and if I try to install the baseboard molding without a shim, it won’t look right. Adding a strip to the top and bottom help keep the molding solid against the cabinet.
The molding on the wall is cut square on the cabinet side and just butts up into the cabinet. The molding that goes on the cabinet has a coped joint on the left side and a miter joint where it meets the front. After it was installed, I caulked and painted the molding. To make this job easier, it helps to pre-paint all the trim then all you need to do is some touch-ups after it’s installed. Last thing you want to be doing is painting that close to carpet.
Now for the crown molding..
There are a couple ways to approach crown molding on cabinets. You could do option A, like John and Sherry did in their kitchen, which is to add a strip of wood on top of your cabinets. This method is perfect for already existing cabinets that don’t have a lot of width up top to accommodate the 1/2″ or so of crown molding that will need to make contact with wood.
Option B, let’s call it, is to skip the extra piece of wood and nail the crown molding right into the face frame of the cabinet. This option works if you DO have a lot of space near the top of the cabinet. In the case of our built-in, we’re going with option B. Actually, I designed the top cabinet to have that extra 1/2″ space.. another benefit of building your own stuff.
To get started, I measured about 1/2″ down from the top of the cabinet and made some pencil marks. I’m also adding a shim up here as well. Oh and if you look closely at the next picture, you can see some splintering at the edge of the plywood. That’s from using a saw blade that wasn’t as sharp as it should have been. It’s okay though, because it’s getting hidden by a shim and crown molding.
Now, how to cut crown molding… It helps if you use a special crown molding jig, which you can pick up from Amazon or Lowes. The jig keeps the molding at the right angle for cutting. What’s the right angle? Well, crown molding has two flat surfaces that are 90 degrees from one another. Both of those surfaces need to be 90 degrees on the miter saw when you cut them. Crown molding jigs help to lock the molding in that position.
You also need to cut them upside down. That can be tricky. It helps if you think about the molding and the piece you are installing it on as being upside down too. For real, find some crown molding that already installed somewhere and look at it if you were standing on the ceiling. It would look just like normal baseboard molding if you look at it from that perspective. The challenge is thinking about it like that when you are standing in front of your miter saw. It’s tricky. I’ve installed a lot of it and it still throws me for a loop. I had to buy 3 pieces of crown molding for this project because I messed up the cuts twice. It happens. Crown molding takes practice.
I’ll probably do a more intensive how-to video or a dedicated post on it as some point, but for this post I just wanted to show you the basics of adding trim to cabinets. Crown molding on walls is roughly the same, but requires a little extra work.
But seriously though, think about it upside down.
When marking the crown molding for the cuts, I like to leave the first piece long and mark it for length right on the cabinet instead of measuring it with a measuring tape. Just make a mark where it meets the front edge. Your crown molding should just touch the 1/2″ marks you made earlier, which will ensure that your molding is level… as long as your cabinet is level that is. I used a brad nailer with a 3/4″ nail for all of this work and I skipped the glue.
So that’s crown molding and baseboards on cabinets. Not too hard and it makes a world of difference.
Later this week I have a final exam and then I’m done grad school for the summer! That means a summer blog theme face lift and more outdoor projects! Only one more course in the fall too. Can’t wait.