Making Your Own Kitchen Cabinets-Easy?

Watching an experienced carpenter/cabinetmaker like Norm Abrams on TV, I get the impression that building a nice set of kitchen cabinets is quite easy-provided you have the correct tools (table saw, router), correct measurements, and you KNOW WHAT YO ARE Doing.
That said, suppose a guy like me (moderately handy, can cut wood) has a software program that will generate the drawings-I then get the wood cut by a pro, and then, I can screw the whole thing together-is this possible? Abrams made a beautiful set on TV once (glider track drawers, concealed hinges, etc.), using interior plywood-they looked great. Is it reasonable that I could do the same?

Sort of. You can buy kitchen cabinets in pieces that need assembling. But I believe the cost savings is minimal. What can save money is buying unfinished cabinets and doing the finishing yourself.

No, it’s not easy. Good cabinetmakers are skilked craftsmen. Norm makes it look like a snap, but it isn’t.

Not easy. Cabinet making is an operation where a small mistake will be very visible.

Watching a professional work in a scripted presentation can be very deceiving. If you want to be entertained, go see a ShopSmith demonstration next time it comes to your local mall. It is amazing what they can do while talking to you and making jokes. Norm has two advantages over that guy (aside from Norm’s considerable experience). He has the most incredibly well equipped shop I have ever seen and he is working on television. I would compare watching Norm work to a magic show except that I probably have a better chance of replicating the magic show than I do of replicating one of Norm’s creations.

Norm gets the big bucks because he makes it look easy. In real life getting accurate measurements and cuts is very, very hard.

I’ll let you know after this week of classes, during which we’ll be learning the basics of joinery, including carcase construction, dovetails and the like.

The great majority of DIYers would be best off (best results at best price) to have cabinets measured, built and delivered. Installation is tricky but do-able with moderate skills; finishing should be within reach of most. Unless you have a substantial table saw (hybrid or full-size, not compact or construction) and fairly mad skilz with routers, dado heads etc., you’re not going to get tight, square, sturdy cases. A successful cabinetry job is 105% about “square” and you can’t get there with anything much less than that pool-table sized saw Norm has.

Having the carcasses built by one source, preferably local, is good, but you can order doors online for a fraction of most other sources. I did a full reface of some old but solidly built cabinets using veneer and online-ordered cherry doors. I greatly exceeded my own expectations and the house sold in three weeks flat, in early 2010, in part because the buyers were wowed by the kitchen.

Well, for him it is, since he is a “skilled craftsman”. :slight_smile:

BTW, finishing cabinets is not a “low skill” job, either, especially for stain grade materials. If you want your cabinets to look great, hire a pro. If you want them to look like a DIY job, then DIY.

Judge for yourself.

I consider my skills very good but there are few places where I would match them up against a skilled tradesman; I can do almost any task up to remodeling construction and am competent at all basics and “very good” in many.

These cabinets were very well built (old, old 1-inch ply and solid oak) but had several coats of shitty paint, so I built out the cabinet at right to fill the wall (instead of half of it), painted the interiors white, veneered the cases in cherry and had new doors and drawers made. All finish was by hand (mine).

I was absolutely terrified of the veneering job but once I got rolling I found it very manageable and easy to do good work.

None of this fixed a crappy floorplan with about a 25-foot triangle, but o well…

Those look great, but most people aren’t “very good” at the skills needed to do this. I’ve seen lots of people with average skills try and do this, and the results shows.

I knew someone who made perfect cabinets, but when he tried to hang them on the walls, the walls were not perfect. Not his fault, but he had to do a lot of trimming to make them work. I understand this is a problem with buy and install ones as well.

I couldn’t see most of his mistakes, but he could and it ticked him off a lot.

Do they still do those? When I was a kid, my Dad was a Shopsmith demo guy, and would build a dining room table and chairs, turning the legs, planing the wood, etc. We still had a prototype unit with a built-in vacuum when he died.

Very cool. Shame about the dent in the microwave…or did you get that one at a discount? My brother gets some amazing deals on appliances with scratches and dents.

Walls are never perfect. 99% of making a kitchen look good is how well you compensate for the imperfect walls.

That’s why God invented drry-wall float, scribe, crown and other trim. :wink:

Data point:

There is a difference (a huge one, actually) between a table saw and a cabinet saw.

Table saws are good for small pieces. If you want to rip a 4’x8’ sheet perfectly down the middle. you will need a cabinet saw with large extensions and a very accurate rip fence.

I’m guessing 2K-3K.

Another point - if you know where the cabinets are going to sit, and where you want each shelf and drawer, DO NOT BUILD CABINETS! Cabinets are bits of kitchen chopped up so as to be flexible in arrangement.
You can run your shelves, drawers, whatever in a solid sheet attached to sticks screwed into the walls.
I’m not going to draw pics, but try this:

Imagine what you want that wall to look like - figure out what cabinet you want where. Now, after it’s built, what do you have? A solid wall of wood with drawers, door, etc.
Why not just build the final product - why cut it up into 18", 24", 30" 36" and 48" chunks? If you want one large drawer under two rows of small drawers, you can get it without paying for custom cabinets.



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And, by building ONE big box instead of several, your chances of screwing up are reduced.

p.s. - this is how the original kitchen in my first (1919) house was built - long sticks with plywood tacked on, uprights as needed, frames for drawers.

Just for the record, Norm built at least three copies of each project he did in New Yankee Workshop. By the time they started filming, he had already measured, cut, assembled, fastened at least one of them. Since the show wasn’t live, you never saw any mistakes, miscuts, tearouts, or pieces that didn’t fit. You never saw the endless adjustments to get the tools set just right. You never saw the tweaking of the plans after construction of the first prototype.

Yes, Norm is good. Very good. But the show makes him look way better than that.

There is nothing to a cabinet if you’re doing a butt joint. Cut the ends out of one piece of finished plywood and then build the front frames out of solid wood boards joined together. This gives a finished edge to the butt joint. You can make the front frames by cutting finished boards and joining them with a pocket screw system which you’ll never see. Assembly is either dado cuts for everything or you could cheat and block in all the corners.

If you want a panel door then they’re made with finished lumber joined with tongue and groove cuts and a thin piece of finished plywood. door hinges and drawer hardware are straightforward assembly based on the type chosen.

IMO getting a good finish is the most demanding of skills in such a project. That’s where you’ll see the mistakes. I hate, hate, HATE applying finishes to anything other than a flat surface. finishes love corner edges to build up on and drip over.

As a long time carpenter, nice work! But the cab doors over the fridge are sagging a bit and the right door looks about a quarter inch down from the left one on the bottom. :wink:

And I’m going on usedtobe’s suggestion that you build one entire unit. It didn’t occur to me to build individual cabinets.