To kick off our garage workshop project, we started by building cabinets…and lots of them. Today we’re sharing how to build a simple cabinet box.
These DIY cabinets will not have an integrated toe-kick. Instead, we will be building them as simply as possible and then placing them on a 2×4 structure to create the toe-kick and add the extra height. This method requires less tools and allows you to create the easiest cabinet ever…seriously, it’s basically just a box!
These cabinet plans can be customized to whatever size fits your space the best, but we will provide measurements for a few standard sizes.
Before we dive into how to build a cabinet box, let’s answer a few FAQs.
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Frequently Asked Questions about DIY Cabinets
What type of plywood should I use for cabinet boxes?
Great question! You want to use a higher-quality plywood rather than grabbing underlayment or one of the cheapest plywood options available.
We chose pre-primed plywood because we wanted to paint the cabinets–insides included. The pre-primed plywood gives you a super smooth finish and doesn’t require sanding or priming. We went this route because it was over $700 cheaper than choosing maple plywood when considering the scale of our project. If you’re just building 1-2 cabinets, the difference in pricing between pre-primed plywood and maple should be minimal.
Maple plywood is another great option for cabinet boxes as it can be left natural, stained, or painted. If leaving natural, you will want to seal the inside of the cabinet boxes so they are easy to wipe down in the future.
Oak plywood is also a great option if you prefer the oak grain pattern.
To sum up, hardwood plywood like oak and maple and pre-primed plywood are all great options for building cabinets. You want to pick whichever one fits your budget and style.
How thick are cabinet boxes?
You want to build cabinet boxes out of ¾” plywood, MDF, or laminate. I personally recommend plywood.
Some cabinets will be built with a ¼” plywood back instead of a ¾” plywood back. If going with the ¼” plywood back, be sure to add stretchers to the back to properly secure the cabinets to the wall.
If adding a face frame, those are usually built with 1×2 wood.
Is it cheaper to build your own cabinets or buy them?
Do you already have the necessary power tools? If you already have a circular saw, a drill, and a Kreg jig, it is generally much cheaper to build your own cabinets than to buy them.
Other costs to factor for DIY cabinets include the doors (you can either DIY these or buy doors), drawer boxes, hinges, drawer slide hardware, and paint.
When we finish our garage cabinets, I will let you know the final cost of building our own and how it compares to other options out there.
Other potential options to consider if you don’t want to build your own cabinets, but can’t afford a traditional cabinet company are pre-made cabinets from Home Depot or Lowe’s. We used this on our DIY built-in bar.
Personally, I prefer DIY cabinets because you can customize the sizes and get a much smoother finish than you can with the unfinished wood cabinets.
What is a cabinet carcass?
A cabinet carcass (also known as a carcase) is simply a box. It is the main cabinet box without any doors or drawers or face frames on it. We will be building a cabinet carcass today in this post!
How to Build a Simple Cabinet Box – Step by Step!
Over the course of building 20 cabinet boxes, we tried out just about every potential assembly order. You are welcome to mix up the order of assembly, but I will share the order that I found to be the easiest…for most cabinet sizes. There’s always an exception to the rule!
What You’ll Need:
- ¾” plywood (amount varies based on size and number of cabinets. You can use this free software to generate a cut list and determine how many pieces you need)
- Wood glue
- 1.25” Kreg screws
STEP 1: CUT YOUR PLYWOOD
We cut all of our plywood with a circular saw and cutting guides. You definitely don’t need a table saw to make cabinets! In fact, I actually prefer cutting plywood with a circular saw because you don’t have to maneuver the large sheet of plywood around. Instead, you move your saw through the plywood.
For this simple cabinet box method, here’s how you calculate your measurements:
- Desired Final Measurements Key
- W = final width
- H = final height excluding the countertop(standard countertops are 1.5” thick)
- D = final depth
- Back: (W – 1.5) by (H – 3.5)
- Bottom: (W – 1.5) by (D – ¾”)
- Sides: D by (H – 3.5)
- Top Stretchers: (W – 1.5) by 3.5*
*We used 3.5 for our top stretchers, but they can be any size between 2 – 5”.
If you are building an upper cabinet instead of a lower cabinet, add 3.5” to the back and sides and make (2) bottoms in lieu of any top stretchers.
Cuts for Common Cabinet Sizes
|Overall Size||Back||Bottom||Sides||Top Stretchers|
|12 W x 24 D* x 34.5” H||10.5 x 31||10.5 x 23.75||24 x 31||10.5 x 3.5|
|18 W x 24 D* x 34.5” H||16.5 x 31||16.5 x 23.75||24 x 31||16.5 x 3.5|
|24 W x 24 D* x 34.5” H||22.5 x 31||22.5 x 23.75||24 x 31||22.5 x 3.5|
|30 W x 24 D* x 34.5” H||28.5 x 31||28.5 x 23.75||24 x 31||28.5 x 3.5|
|36 W x 24 D* x 34.5” H||34.5 x 31||34.5 x 23.75||24 x 31||34.5 x 3.5|
For each cabinet you plan to build, you’ll need 1 back, 1 bottom, 2 sides, and 2 top stretchers.
*If you want to add a face frame, make the total depth of the cabinet ¾” smaller. If you’re wondering what the difference is, check out our post on frameless vs framed cabinets.
If you’re creating multiple cabinets, sort the pieces into piles based on that they are for, ie back, bottom, sides, etc. This will help you know which ones need pocket holes at a glance.
STEP 2: DRILL POCKET HOLES
Now that you have your pieces cut, set your Kreg jig to the ¾” settings and drill pocket holes in the following boards:
- Back: pocket holes along both of the height sides
- Bottom: pocket holes along both of the depth sides and one of the width sides
- Top Stretchers: (2) pocket holes on either 3.5” side
Pocket holes should be placed approximately 1” from the ends and then every 6-8”. I won’t tell you exactly how much pocket holes to place in your boards since it will vary depending on your cabinet size.
Pocket holes are the foundation of most DIY furniture. Become a pocket hole pro in less than an hour in Pocket Holes: Explained.
STEP 3: ATTACH BOTTOM TO BACK
Place the cabinet back on your work surface so that the pocket holes are not visible.
Add a bead of glue along one of the width sides and then position the bottom of your cabinet so that it’s flush with the edge of the back. The pocket holes should be facing outward so that they are not visible when looking inside the cabinet.
Secure with 1.25” Kreg screws.
Note: since the pieces were so big, we did not use clamps to hold things in place while we screwed them in. Instead we just held them in place and made sure the edge remained flush as we went along.
If you really want an extra hand, check out these right angle pocket hole clamps. They are helpful because they keep the boards at a 90-degree angle and help hold them in place, but be careful. When removing the clamp, it’s easy to tear out the pocket hole!
There are also corner clamps on the market, but I have yet to find a brand I actually find helpful. If you have one you love, please leave a comment at the bottom of this post!
STEP 4: ATTACH SIDES
Place a side piece on your workbench and apply glue to one short and one long side of your piece.
Position the back/bottom pieces along the edges of the sides. Try to get them to line up the best you can, but they might not line up perfectly, that’s okay. Prioritize lining up the bottom and side piece, making sure it’s flush in the front. If the sides extend a hair past the end of the back, it’ll be okay.
Secure with 1.25” Kreg screws.
Once the first side is secured, repeat with the second side.
STEP 5: ATTACH THE TOP STRETCHERS
These top stretchers will be used to secure the countertop to the cabinets. They are also helpful in keeping the cabinet carcass square.
Line the first top stretcher up with the front of the cabinet sides and secure with 1.25” Kreg screws. If you can add glue, that’s advisable, but they stretchers will hopefully be a tight fit, meaning it’ll be difficult to glue.
Line the back stretcher up somewhere in the back ⅓ of the cabinet box. It can be flush with the back or set a few inches off from the back. This doesn’t need to be precise.
STEP 6: CHECK FOR SQUARE
Now that the cabinet carcass is assembled, measure from corner to corner to check that the cabinet box is square. If it’s not, remove some of the screws and adjust as needed.
A speed square can assist you in keeping things lined up and checking which corners might need the most adjustable.
STEP 7: ADD FACE FRAME OR EDGE BANDING
Once your cabinet box is square, you have three options. If you are doing a face frame style cabinet, you’ll build and install your face frames.
If you are doing a euro style or frameless cabinet, you’ll want to finish the plywood edge. If staining or leaving your cabinet natural, apply edge banding to cover the plywood edge.
If you are painting, you can either apply edge banding or add spackle to the plywood edges so that it paints smoothly.
There you have it! Now you know how to build a simple cabinet box. Though “cabinet” might seem intimidating, a cabinet is really just a box. Nothing to be intimidated by!
We will be writing additional posts about installing cabinets (including adding the toe kick), how to measure for cabinet doors, and tools for cabinet making. Stay tuned!