Ready-to-Assemble Cabinets

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This article is from Issue 54 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Outfit your shop in a weekend or less.

By Gary Lombard with Jim Harrold

While creating a two-wall or larger shop (or a kitchen, for that matter) with a variety of storage cabinets that you design and make seems daunting and time-consuming, it doesn’t have to be. What if you could address your shop’s storage needs in a few short days? Enter Cabinotch, a cabinet box system consisting of made-to-order base and wall cabinet parts that you assemble in minutes with glue and a nail gun. Better still, you can order just the cabinets you need in any size, configuration (door and drawer openings), and from several wood choices. For this issue’s featured workshop, maple plywood box parts and maple hardwood face frames were used.

While the cabinets–once constructed–include a UV finished interior, drilled holes for supporting shelves, and edged and finished shelves, it’s up to you to construct and add the doors and drawers and finish the exterior. The end result: big-time savings in both time and money, while allowing you to assemble and hang a shop full of quality cabinets in a weekend or less.

I learned firsthand just how easy it is to build and hang  attractive, strong, and perfectly square shop cabinets in my shop when I used the Cabinotch system and its builder-friendly joinery. Over the next few pages, I’ll share with you how I did it.

Note: To view your cabinet options or to order cabinets like the ones shown here, go to cabinotch.com or call (877) 413-4299. At the website check out the videos about the Cabinotch system construction.

With the face frame clamped to prevent movement, slide in the interlocking sides, ensuring that the ends are flush top and bottom.
Align and slide the cabinet top and bottom in the mating grooves, using a mallet to gently tap and seat the parts as needed.

Use clamps to snug the sides to the back and check for square. Then, nail the back in place, holding the gun perpendicular to the mating plywood edges.

Super-fast assembly

Note: Here is what you’ll need for a guaranteed hitch-free assembly and installation: a flat assembly surface such as a floor or assembly table, woodworker’s glue, moistened rag and clean water to deal with squeeze-out, rubber mallet, four bar clamps, square, compressor, 18-gauge brad nail gun with 11⁄4"-long brads, cordless drill and square drive bit, #8 × 3" screws, measuring tape, stud finder, and level.

1 Lay out the cabinet parts on a flat assembly surface with the sides alongside the face frame. Now, apply a moderate bead of glue in the face-frame grooves. Stop short about 6" from the end of the groove. The excess glue on the leading edge of the sliding side should spread to this area. Next, slide in the sides, as shown in Photo A and Photo A Inset. Wipe up any squeeze-out with a rag moistened in clean water.

2 Apply glue in the mating grooves, and slide in the bottom and top, as shown in Photo B.

3 Apply glue and fit the back in the side rabbets. Then, using an 18-gauge nail gun, shoot the back in place with 11⁄4" brads, as shown in Photo C. (I measured in to locate the centers of the back edges of the cabinet’s top and bottom and struck a guideline to ensure that the nails hit pay dirt.)

4 With base cabinets, glue and nail the cabinet screw cleats in the side top rabbets for attaching a countertop.

Using a coping sled to hold the workpiece firmly in place, cut or cope the end of the test rail, keeping it in contact with the router fence and/or the bit bearing.
With a featherboard hold-down in place, profile the inside edges of the rails and stiles, using a shoe-style pushstick to safely make the cut.

Adding doors and drawers

1 Mill enough hardwood stock to 3⁄4" thick for the door frames and the drawer fronts for the assembled cabinets. Mill extra stock for test pieces to set up the rail and stile router bits. Next, rip the rail and stile door stock to 11⁄2" wide. The goal is to create door frames that overlay the cabinet face-frame openings by 1⁄2" all around. On a 13 × 29" face-frame opening, for instance, you’ll want a 14 × 30" door frame. At this point, plan all of your door sizes and the number needed.

2 Crosscut the rails to length. If using a rail-and-stile bit set as suggested here, take the inside opening measurement from stile to stile of the planned door and add the depths of both opposing grooves. That dimension will give you the rail length, including the interlocking coped ends. Next, crosscut the needed number of stiles to length, plus 1". Crosscut a few router setup test pieces.

3 Install the coping bit of a rail-and-stile bit set in a table-mounted router, and adjust its height to cut the coped ends of the door rails. (Because I used a coping sled for safety and workpiece control, I needed to raise the bit to account for the thickness of the coping sled base.) Next, use the edge of a rule to adjust the infeed and outfeed fences to be perfectly in line with the bit’s bearing. Finally, using a coping sled, make a cut in one pass on the end of a test rail piece, running it past the cutter outside face down, as shown in Photo D. Note the rail-and-stile end views and bits in Figure 1 for reference. Adjust the bit up or down as needed to match the profile. Once satisfied, rout the ends of the door rails with the outside or best faces down.

4 Switch to the stick bit in your router table and, placing a test stile piece outside face down against the fence, cut the inside edge in one pass, using a shoe-style pushstick for safety and control, as shown in Photo E. Test-fit the piece against a rail. Adjust the bit height if needed. Now, rout the inside edges of both the rails and stiles.

Align the outside edge of a door with the cut edge of the sled, and trim off the proud ends of the stiles one door corner at a time.

5 Make marks 1⁄2" in from the ends of the stiles indicating the total door length. Dry-fit the rails and stiles of a door frame, aligning the outside edges of the rails with the marks. (Later, in Step 8, I’ll trim off the excess to achieve a perfectly square door with flush joints.) Now, measure the distance from the rail and stile groove bottom to opposing groove bottom. Subtract 1⁄8" in each direction from these length and width dimensions to determine the size of the door panels. 

6 From 1⁄4" plywood, cut a door panel to size and test-fit the door assembly. Cut any remaining door panels to size.

7 Make the panel sled in Figure 2. To customize the sled to your saw, run it through the blade to establish a true edge.

8 Glue and clamp the rails to the stiles with the panels in place, aligning the outside edges of the rails with the marks made earlier on the stiles. Check for square. Once the glue dries, trim the door ends using the panel sled, as shown in Photo F.

9 To make the overlay drawers, see page 61. (I made the drawer boxes 1" smaller than the width of the opening. I made the height of the drawer boxes 1⁄2" shorter than the height of the drawer openings. For the drawer depths, I used the lengths of the slide hardware.)

10 Finish-sand the outside of the cabinets, face frames, and doors to 220 grit. Now, apply your choice of finish.  (I sprayed on two coats of General Finishes Polyacrylic Water-Based Top Coat.)

With the cabinet held to the wall, drive the screws through the clearance holes and into the wall studs using a drill.
With the cabinet face frames aligned top and bottom and flush, drill pilot holes, and then drive 21⁄2" screws through one face frame and into the other.

Installing the cabinets

1 Establish the height on the wall above the floor where you want to hang your wall cabinets. (I hung my cabinets 18" above the base cabinets.) Strike a level horizontal line on the wall at this location. Strike a plumb line that intersects with the horizontal line, indicating where you want the outside edge of the cabinet.

2 Locate the wall studs in the area where you intend to hang the wall cabinet, using a stud finder. Measure from the plumb line to the stud location, and use this distance to mark the stud locations on the inside face of the cabinet back. Drill clearance holes at these locations.

3 Using a helper to hold the cabinet in place, drive #8 × 3" screws to secure it to the wall, as shown in Photo G. Double-check the cabinet’s position after driving the first screw. Adjust as needed, and then drive the remaining screws. Don’t have a helper? Consider temporarily screwing a leveled ledger to the wall to support a cabinet while you screw it to the wall.

4 To hang wall cabinets side by side, first hang one cabinet with screws. Then, clamp the next cabinet to the secured cabinet using cabinet clamps, as shown in Photo H. Check for plumb and the overall fit before securing it to the wall. You may need to shim the cabinets along the back to flush them along the front.

With a helper holding a cabinet door and hinges in place while resting it on the spacer, drive the screws to secure the door.
Level the base cabinets with shims wedged between the floor and the cabinet’s bottom edges, snapping off any excess.

5 Add a pair of hinges to the doors 3" in from the top and bottom edges. Clamp a spacer to the lower rail 1⁄2" down from the face frame opening to support the door during installation. Rest the door on the spacer, and fit the hinges in place. With a 5⁄32" Vix bit, drill the pilot holes in the face frame edge, centering them in the hinge slots. Apply wax or bar soap to the screw threads to ease driving the screws, and secure the door to the cabinet, as shown in Photo I. (Also see the Tip Alert below.) Note that the slots allow you to adjust the doors up and down as needed.

6 To install a base cabinet, level it from side to side and from front to back. Use shims, as shown in Photo J, to make any adjustments. Then screw the cabinet to the wall studs. Cut a toekick plate from 1⁄2" plywood, and nail it to the cabinet to cover any unsightly gaps between the cabinet and floor.

7 Make or buy a countertop for the base cabinets. I sized the countertop and edging to allow for a 2" overhang along the front and ends for clamping. For my countertop, I started with two oversized panels of 3⁄4" MDF. I applied glue, clamped the panels together, and drove screws through the bottom panel and into the top panel for a full bond. I trimmed the countertop to size and attached 3⁄4 × 15⁄8" edging strips of maple. (See Figure 3 for reference.) Put the top in place, and drive screws through the cabinet’s stretchers to secure it. (You may need to scribe and trim the back edge for an uneven wall.) Finally, seal the top with multiple coats of wax.

8 Insert the shelf pins in the cabinets where desired, and install the 3⁄4"-thick edged shelves.  

Thank You!

A special thanks to our friends at Cabinotch Cabinet Box System for supplying the cabinets for this issue’s featured workshop.

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