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 May 27th, 2014
If you ask me what I enjoy the ABSOLUTE MOST about blogging, my answer is always helping others with their home projects. Hands down the best part of this gig. I love getting comments or emails from readers expressing their gratitude for something they found on our site. Really makes my day. Just last week, one of our newsletter subscribers emailed me some pictures of her custom bathroom vanities she built from scratch. She told me that she was able to complete the task after reading our TV stand series. I was so impressed with her work that we’re featuring her vanities as our 4th installment of Your Home from Scratch.
You guys. Wait to you see these cabinets.
Andrea’s Custom Vanity
1. Your vanities are beautiful. Why did you decide to build them instead of buying them?
Thanks for inviting me to share in your blog! I decided to try to build these vanities after pricing ones that I really loved and found them over-the-top expensive for the value and quality of construction. For the double sink vanity prices were $1000 +, the single vanity $700+ – add on tax and shipping and that was the deal breaker. Also, I wanted my mirrors and vanities to match.
2. How much money do you think you saved by building them yourself?
Assuming I bought the two vanities mentioned above at $1800, minus my supplies $300 (?), I guess I saved about $1500.
It took me 1 month of on-and-off work while carpenters did complicated bath renovation including moving walls, plumbing and electric. My only other carpentry experience comes from building a step back cupboard a few years ago. I had a picture from an antique catalog, so I started by drawing a picture on the wall where I wanted it to be to get the starting dimensions and then drew up plans on graph paper. Oh, I am also building my 2nd canoe.
4. Give us a quick overview of how you built them. Did you use roughly the same build method as our TV stand? What material?
I built the first single vanity using your plans for the entertainment cabinet. I figured out the width dimensions first and built the face frame. I did want the cabinet to sit on Shaker legs to appear as a piece of furniture, so I extended the right and left vertical face frame pieces to extend about 3″ below the lower horizontal piece. I used poplar wood as you suggested, along with cabinet grade birch veneer plywood for sides, base and shelves. For the second, larger double sink vanity, I again determined the width first. I knew I wanted 3 doors so I evenly spaced them and repeated the same steps as the first vanity.
5. What sort of finish product did you use (Latex paint, acrylic, lacquer)?
As far as the finish, I again used your advice of applying 2 coats of latex primer and 2 coats of latex paint. I got the most perfect finish using a velour covered, small roller from Sherwin Williams. The finish is so perfect that it looks factory applied. I was very pleased with this roller finish. I did lightly sand between coats. Beautiful.
6. What was the hardest part of the project?
The hardest part of the project was becoming familiar and comfortable with using the radial arm saw, skill saw, table saw and biscuit jointer (affiliate) ( I don’t have a router set-up). I am a real safety freak, so I took this part very seriously. I am really alone on all these projects, so your quick response to my hardware questions, etc. was a big confidence builder – like, I had a big brother that was just a email away!
7. What are you planning on building next?
I am planning on building a second mirror/cabinet for above the first single vanity. I have gained so much satisfaction from this project that I know I can do just about anything just taking it one step at a time. Thanks again, John.
Thanks to Andrea for sharing this incredible home improvement project. If you have a home improvement project that you’d like to share with our readers, shoot me an email: John at Our Home from Scratch dot com.
Posted in Carpentry,DIY Projects,Your Home from Scratch. Tagged in ,bathroom, cabinets, carpentry, vanity
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 24th, 2013
The TV stand is finally done. During the week I wrapped the bottom of the cabinet with some baseboard molding using the same procedure we used on our first built-in. The only thing I may still do to the cabinet is re-coat the top and shelves with some cabinet grade enamel paint. The latex paint doesn’t seem to be holding up quite as well as it does on the built-in. Latex paint isn’t designed for cabinets and it lifted up somewhat after I rested my camera tripod on it. No biggie. Here’s what it looks like now.
The baseboard molding seems to give the cabinet a fuller look. Big fan.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the features…
The baseboard trim ties into the wall and the seam where the cabinet meets the wall has a thin bead of painters caulk to make the cabinet look fully “built-in.” It only sticks out from the wall about 18″ to match the depth of the other piece in the room.
From the front you can see the open center section is just wide enough for our PS3 and a DVD player. I measured some of the electronics in our family room to make sure that they would all fit. All three sections feature a plethora of shelf pins for adjusting the shelf height. The cabinet hides all the outlets on the wall as planned.
Lisa is thrilled to have some more toy storage. She moved the shelf on the left side up to accommodate a larger plastic bin she bought from Target.
Here’s a little trick I learned from Norm Abram back when he was on New Yankee Workshop: the bottom plywood shelf sits a little higher than the face frame. It acts as a door stop. The cabinet has a door stop device on the top, but this beats adding a second.
So let’s do a quick recap.
1. Design the overall look of the cabinet and rough dimensions
2. Design the face frames
3. Design the cabinet box
4. Draw our cut sheets
5. Buy our lumber and plywood
6. Face frame construction
7. Cut the plywood
8. Add dados
9. Build our shaker doors
10. Assemble our cabinets
11. Cabinet Installation
I hope this post inspires you to not only build something from scratch, but to build something that meets the needs of the space.
*** UPDATE: Forgot to mention the cost. The total for the cabinet was around $155. Not too shabby.***
So what’s up next? Well, these two cabinets may be done, but the sitting room isn’t even close. We picked out some paint and lighting and we’ll be dressing this space up later this week. Stick around.
Posted in Carpentry,DIY Projects. Tagged in ,built-in, cabinets, carpentry
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 10th, 2013
Happy Friday! This weekend I’m hoping to make some major progress on our custom media cabinet. Really looking forward to getting back into the workshop. Once this cabinet is done, we’re going to finish off the decor in our sitting room, which is pretty much the entire point of these recent furniture builds.
In our last two posts, we designed and dimensioned the face frames and the cabinet box. We skipped the doors, the shelves and the countertop, but we’ll circle back to those later. Since we know the dimensions of all the pieces of hardwood and plywood we’ll need, I can make cut sheets and a shopping list. We all know what a shopping list is, but if you’re not familiar with a cut sheet, then this will be a good learning experience.
A cut sheet is a drawing of a piece of wood with each component marked off. Sound confusing? Why don’t I just show you the cut sheet I came up with for our media cabinet.
I’ve drawn a 4 foot by 8 foot rectangle, which represents a standard sheet of 3/4″ plywood. On that sheet, I’ve drawn and labeled our cabinet box parts. This then becomes a blueprint of how I’ll cut out each part.
There are several advantages to making a cut sheet. It takes the guess work out of how many sheets of plywood you’ll need. It allows you to maximize each sheet so you end up with as little waste material as possible and it gives you a blueprint you can use in the workshop.
So you can see from the cut sheet above that I can fit all my plywood box parts on one 4×8 sheet of plywood. I’m also not including any of my shelves here or any of the door parts. I’ll probably make the shelves last with some scrap plywood I have laying around.
What are the red and blue lines?
We don’t have a truck or a big SUV anymore, so I can only fit smaller pieces of lumber in our family car. I need to have the hardware store cut down the plywood to a more manageable size. The red line is where I’ll have the store make the first cut on their panel saw, which breaks down the plywood into two pieces. Then I’ll have them cut along the blue lines to make the pieces even smaller. Doing this ahead of time saves me from having to figure it out when I’m there at the store.
That’s just the plywood. You can also make cut sheets for pieces of hardwood. Here are the cut sheets for the face frame…
The top board is a 1×4 and the bottom is a 1×2. The letters are the same letters I used in our face frame post. So, from here we can see that I only need to buy two boards for the face frame. I’ll also need a couple more boards for the doors, but you get the idea.
Cutsheets are where it’s at.
Next up, we take you shopping.