Matt’s Fireplace Built-Ins

Posted by John on August 3rd, 2015

In today’s post, we’re talking to one of readers, Matt from Virginia.  Matt recently finished his own fireplace built-ins using our Large Built-in Plans and we’re talking to him about his experience.  There’s a few nuggets of wisdom here.

Matt ended up taking our free plans and making some modifications to the dimensions to accommodate his living room.  Along the way he painted the fireplace, added floating shelves and mounted his flat screen tv.

Here’s what Matt’s living room looked like before the project:

fireplace built-ins before


Now here’s the after.  Looks killer!

fireplace built-ins


1. You based your cabinets on the Large Built-In cabinet plans. Did you have to make many changes to the design or the dimensions to get them to work in your space? Was that difficult to do?

I had to change the plans to accommodate two different sized cabinets. The left hand cabinet is 48″ with the right hand cabinet being 51″. It was not difficult to change the plans.  A little time consuming to verify measurements and check over everything twice, but rather easy. Having the plans actually saved time, because I had something to reference and/or use as a guide.

built-ins 2

2. What was the hardest part of the project?

Hardest part of the project was the amount of time it took to finish.  The first problem was the plywood was cut to the wrong size at the big box store that I went to, so I had to further modify the plans versus returning the wood to the store.  This only set me back and added additional time to the project.  Secondly, I cut the face frame short on both cabinets – this proved to be challenging as it made hinge selection difficult. I ended up using 3/8″ hinges and hollowing out the sides of the cabinets to accommodate the hinge. Finally – I have never made inset doors. This for me was by far the hardest part of the project. By nature I am a perfectionist and getting the gap to line up without having a jointer or planer was very difficult. The gaps on the doors to this day are not a perfect 1/8″ all the way around

built-ins 5

3. How long did it take you?

It took 8-9 months to finish the project. I worked mostly on weekends or in the mornings before work to get the project done. This was building the cabinets, painting the fireplace, running cables through the wall to mount the TV above the fireplace, installation of floating shelves and repainting the living room.

built-ins 7

4. What kind of finishing process did you follow? What primer and paint?

I sprayed the finished using a HomeRight Finish Max Fine HVLP Paint Sprayer – Behr Premium Plus Paint in classic white and Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Primer.  In total, it took two coats of primer and two coats of paint. The process also included tips from your site on painting cabinets.  I used 150 girt and 220 grit sand paper initially on an orbital sander to get everything smooth prior to painting, with a light 220 grit sanding between coats of paint and primer. The top was stained with American General Java Gel Stain and finished in Min-Wax Polyurethane – I sprayed this from a can for a satin finish.

built-ins 6

5. What are you using the cabinets for?

The cabinets are mostly for housing the cable box and electronics along with my kids puzzles and board games, pull-ups, etc.

6. What are future projects are you planning around your home?

Future projects are bathroom remodels – one which is already complete. I have two more bathrooms to finish out. The two remaining will get new floors, vanities, mirrors, etc.

7. If you had to do the project over again, what would you have done differently?

If I had to do the project over again, I would have used pocket holes to put the carcass of the cabinets together. I ended buying a dado blade set off of Ebay that came in handy, but I already had a pocket hole jig and that may have saved me some time. I would have also opted for overlay doors vs inset, as I think overlay doors would be more forgiving.

Great advice from Matt after his cabinet build.  You can see the reflection in his countertops from across the room.  Nice!  Thanks for sharing your project with us, Matt.  

Posted in Carpentry,DIY Projects. Tagged in ,, , ,

Home Office Remodeled

Posted by John on November 12th, 2014

Well, the time has finally arrived.  We’ve crossed the finish line and are now ready to give you a tour of our home office.  It’s been nearly a year since we first started and boy has this room changed.  Even though we’re saying it’s done, the room still needs to be dressed up with some decor, but we’ll get to that later.  For now, here’s our home office remodeled.

We’ll start our tour with a quick flashback to what the room looked like LAST November.


After ripping out the carpet, we installed some new hardwood flooring and tied it into the hardwood in the foyer without a transition.  It looks like it was installed when the house was built.

With the new floor down, I shifted gears and started on the coffered ceiling.  The ceiling ended up being the most time consuming part of the job, but it was totally worth it.

After the ceiling was done and the crown molding installed, I started building the cabinets.  There are three cabinets in total: two built-ins and a single filing cabinet.  The center desk section is just a large piece of stained oak plywood.  It’s large enough for two people to work side by side, but for now we only have the one chair.

Let’s get to the finished photos…

Here’s a picture of the room from the very same angle as the Before photo.

home office remodel

The ceiling:

office coffered ceiling 2

The filing cabinet:

office filing cabinet

The left built-in:

office built in

The center desk:

office desk

The right side built-in:

office built in 3

Here’s a closer look at the molding on the wall and ceiling…

office coffered ceiling

We also added some recessed lights.  There are three overhead and a single light over the work desk.

office with lights

I’ll be sharing some of the more minor upgrades we still have planned for this room.  I think you’ll like our ideas.

Since no room overhaul would be complete without a project list, here’s the complete run down of all the steps/posts we shared in completion this project from start to finish.  If you’re interested in renovating a room in your own home and would like results similar to what you are seeing here, then this list of posts will walk you through exactly how I remodeled this room.  You may also find my Custom TV Stand Recap post helpful if you are interested in designing cabinets for yourself.

1. The Before
2. Brainstorming Home Office Ideas
3. Hardwood Floor Installation
4. The Home Remodeling Process
5. Layout Options
6. Coffered Ceiling Concept Design
7. Home Office Detail Design
8. Coffered Ceiling Framing
9. Wiring for the Office Lights
10. Tips for Hanging Drywall
11. How to Finish Drywall (Video)
12. How to Install Recessed Lights
13. 5 Tips for Better Crown Molding Installation
14. 6 Cabinet Building Challenges
15. Cabinet Painting 101
16. How to Scribe a Cabinet
17. My Countertop Approach
18. How to Build Your Own Shaker Doors (Video)
19. Making Built-in Cabinets (Video)
20. How to Install Cabinet Hardware without a Jig
21. Hinges and Drawer Slides (Video)

Thanks for reading and if you think this office came out awesome, please share it on Facebook, Twitter and pin the living crap out of it for me.  That would really help!  Thanks!

Posted in DIY Projects,House Tour. Tagged in ,, ,

How to Scribe a Cabinet

Posted by John on September 25th, 2014

In today’s post you’ll learn:

– How to Scribe a Cabinet

In an ideal world, all walls and floors would be square and true (and all mortgages paid off).  Since that never seems to be the case, you need to know how to modify your cabinets or built-ins to account for uneven walls.  If you want a professional look to your work, this is a must read.  Luckily, this process is fairly simple and only requires a circular saw and one of those compasses you used in grade school art class.  Whoever thought you’d need one of those again?

Let’s start with reality.  Here’s one of our home office cabinets pushed tight into the corner.

cabinet gap

You can see it’s tight against the bottom of the cabinet, but open along the top.  No bueno.  Could you caulk that seam?  Sure you could.  I actually plan on caulking it.  However, you shouldn’t caulk anything wider than 1/4″ or it will look sloppy.  That opening at the top is around 5/16″ wide so it’s much too wide for caulk.

Here’s what we’ll do to fix it.

First, we’ll take a look at the top of the cabinet to see what kind of overhang I have on the face frame.


In this photo you can see that the face frame overhangs the side of the cabinet by about 1/4″.  If I was smart and better prepared, I would’ve designed in a larger overhang, say 3/8″, to allow for scribing as-is.  Alas, I only gave myself around 1/4″ (probably closer to 3/16″).

Since I don’t have enough “meat” overhanging the side, I’ll just add some more wood and make it work.

I start by measuring the gap between the edge of face frame and the wall.  It’s about 5/16″.  I then cut a strip of wood 5/16″ wide and I glue and nail it to the side of the cabinet.

cabinet scribe strip

Now I have plenty of overhang on that side of the cabinet.

Next, I shove the cabinet back in the corner.  The gap will be identical before I tacked on the wood strip, since the wall is still curving away from the cabinet.

Now I take my compass and I set the distance between the needle and the pencil to the same distance as the gap between the cabinet and the wall.

how to scribe a cabinet

Then I just run the compass down the curve of the wall with the pencil on the cabinet.  The compass will mark out a line on the cabinet that matches the curvature of the wall.

strip marked


The last part is easy.  Just take your circular saw and cut along the line.  You’ll be removing material from the strip so it will then match the wall.

After the cut has been made, the cabinet gets shoved back into the corner and we can see that the gap is pretty much gone.  Any open seam can be filled in with a much smaller amount of painter’s caulk.

scribe cabinet


To finish the project, I’ll just make sure I fill in any gap between the wood strip and the cabinet with wood putty and I’ll sand and paint it.

I’ll have to repeat this process for the top cabinet that sits above this lower unit.

If you can’t tell, I’m intentionally trying to keep the reveal of this project as hush hush as possible.  Thus, the lack of pictures of all the cabinets.

Now that you know how to scribe, do you think you’ll use this trick?

P. S. I also had to use this technique for my raised panel wainscoting.


Posted in Carpentry,DIY Projects. Tagged in ,, , , ,

6 Cabinet Building Challenges

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 ,, ,

Get on Board with Our Cabinet Build

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.

Subscribe to our newsletter

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
10. Assembly
11. Finishing
12. Installation

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 ,, ,

Free Built-In Cabinet Plans

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 ,, , ,

Custom Media Cabinet Part 11: Cabinet Installed

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..

tv on wall

And here’s how it looked with the new cabinet installed…

diy cabinet 2

Much better…

Looks pretty close to that concept drawing we made a few weeks ago.

50 inch side view

Here’s a front view…

diy cabinet

And that front view concept drawing…

50 inch finished

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 ,, ,

Custom Media Cabinet Part 9: DIY Cabinet Doors

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.

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.

If you don’t see the video, click here for the link to the YouTube page.

Posted in Carpentry,DIY Projects. Tagged in ,, , , ,

Custom Media Cabinet Part 6: Face Frame Construction

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.

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Custom Media Cabinet Part 5: How to Buy Lumber

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.

framing 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.

birch hardwood plywood

Now here’s the bad news: the price.

birch hardwood plywood 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.

panel saw

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 ,, ,

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