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Some Basics of:
Building Cabinets

6/04

This is a tutorial to help with the basics of  building cabinets. This pair of cabinets are set up like bookends, and will flank a brick area. But they can also be pushed up against each other so they appear to be one large unit.

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Before assembling any large cabinet, it's always a good idea to stain the interior. It's just easier to get an even coat because there are no inside corners to deal with. I didn't poly the inside, because wood glue doesn't stick to poly very well.

Before you assemble it's also a good idea to drill any shelf pin holes. You can see how 

I located and drilled mine here!
I use a framing square to keep things square. The thin blade of the square is a little tricky to clamp to the cabinet. Rockler makes a wide plastic square designed to do just this, you can see it here.

Spread the glue in the dadoes with a small brush. Apply some glue to the end grain of the shelf too. 

Notice the bar clamps, one on each side to push the shelf into position.  Sometimes the middle of the shelf won't seat fully, but a rubber mallet on the outside of the cabinet should knock it into place

JIG IT ® Shelving Jig
JIG IT ® Shelving Jig


Rockler/Insty-Drive Self-Centering Bits
Insty-Drive Self-Centering Bits


Clamp-It® Assembly Square and Clamps
Clamp-It® Assembly Square and Clamps


Sure-Foot™
Sure-Foot™ Aluminum Bar Clamps


I used 5/8" brads to secure the shelves in place once there glued, clamped and square. Be careful with the angle you shoot at, you don't want anything pokin out the other side!
Next the back goes on. The dadoes on the back line up with the dadoe on the sides, so assembly is a snap. But first, I drill a few holes in the dadoes of the back panel for screws. This insures I don't miss with the screws later!
Porter Cable 18 Ga., 2'' Brad Nailer Kit, Model #BN200A
Porter Cable 18 Ga., 2'' Brad Nailer Kit


Porter Cable 2-1/2'' Finish Nailer and 2 HP Compressor Kit
Porter Cable 2-1/2'' Finish Nailer and 2 HP Compressor Kit


Bessey K-Body Clamps and Kit
Bessey K-Body Clamps and Kit


Piloted Flush Trim Bit
Piloted Flush Trim Bit


Bosch 2-1/4 HP VS Router.
Bosch 2-1/4 HP VS Router.


 

But before I screw on the back, a little downward pressure here keeps the back flush with the end of the shelves, so everything goes smoothly when the last side is applied. Glue and screws from the back into the shelves to pull the back on tight. Use the brad gun again to secure the back panel to the side panel.
Ok, now we're all ready to put the other side on. You have to be careful, after you glue both the dados of the side and the ends of the shelves, it's tricky putting the whole mess together so you don't get glue all over the inside of the side panel. Might be a good idea to get a gluin up buddy to help. 

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I didn't take a picture of this, but the top of the cabinet also fits into a dado, not a rabbit. I do this because the top piece is pulled into position better. Also I shoot nails into this piece from the outside straight into the top panel, trim will cover the nail holes later. 

Then after the glue dries I take a flush trim bit with a bearing to cut off the top end of that dado to make the back and sides flush with the top. 

And there are the two carcasses! One on site they will fit into alcoves with brick work between them. The customer also wanted to be able to push the two units together in the event that they moved. 

The right unit is set up for drawers behind doors on the bottom, and the left will have a single shelf. At this point I applied three coats of polyurethane.

In the pic above, the left cabinet has a single shelf in the lower section. now in the pic at left, notice how this same shelf is intentionally held back 1/4". With out a face frame to cover the end grain of the plywood shelf, I'll needed another solution to hide that ugly edge. 
I like to cover these edges with a solid piece of matching hardwood. I take a 3/4"x3/4" piece of oak and route out a groove to accept the plywood. Then I use a 1/8" round over bit on the remaining 3 corners to soften them. This hides the end grain, but also acts as a beam to stiffen the shelf.
Round Over Router Bits
Round Over Router Bits


Once the piece gets some stain and poly, it will blend into the shelf and look seamless!

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Click Image to enlarge
Now for the face frames. I like to make face frame units instead of applying them in pieces. I believe this makes the whole unit stiffer, and prevents racking. There not too difficult to make. I use a blind half lap joint to join the rails to the styles on the sides.  I use a router to cut the blind half of the joint in the style, and a dadoe blade on the table saw to make the other half of the joint on the rail. You don't see any of the joint or end grain from the side of the style because it doesn't go all the way thru. I use a router so I can form the joint so it isn't seen from the outside edge.   I use a table saw to form the joint on the rail because I need a nice square cut on the front of the rail, this part you will see.
The easiest way to secure the face frames is with a biscuit joiner. It's a strong joint and helps you align everything so the glue up is a breeze! I can't recommend them more. 
Porter-Cable Deluxe Biscuit Joiner, Model No. 557
Porter-Cable Deluxe Biscuit Joiner, Model No. 557


Matching biscuit slots in the plywood carcass. Also, I made sure the center rail was bowed toward the shelf. It's impossible to get a clam in there, so if the rail is bent toward the shelf, it will be much tighter when the sides are clamped into place. Besure this piece is tight after assembly, you may need to persuade it with a rubber mallet!
Plate Joinery Biscuits
Plate Joinery Biscuits


You never have enough clamps!

After the glue dries, a lite sanding makes the face frame flush with the plywood sides. I said a "lite" sanding, the veneer is very thin, you don't want to sand thru it! I prefer using my Porter Cable random orbital sander. It has built in dust collection and leaves a swirl free surface.
Porter Cable 390K 5'' Low Profile Random Orbit Sander Kit with Hook & Loop Pad
Porter Cable 390K 5'' Low Profile Random Orbit Sander Kit with Hook & Loop Pad


Ahhhhhhhh, the inside is done!

Yes I like to finish the interior first. It's much easier before the face frames go on.

Time to make some trim

The trim around the top is made of two pieces. This is the first piece mounted to the face. It's 3/4" by 1/2" thick. I routed a 5/16" cove into the bottom.

Cove Router Bits
Cove Router Bits


V-Groove Router Bits
V-Groove Router Bits



 
Next I made up some 5/16" quarter rounds. Route out the roundover first then trim the stock to leave you your quarter round. Safer that way. Next I like to make "glue gutters" on my small trim. These grooves keep any glue from squeezing out and making a mess on your project. It only takes a little time to make these grooves, and it makes applying them so much easier!

Learn more about small trim here!

Round Over Router Bits
Round Over Router Bits


Here's a better look of the two pieces and how the fit together. I glued and nail the first piece, the quarter round hides the nails. The quarter round only gets glue. Take great care clamping something like this, or you'll crush your trim. I like to make a scrape piece with a groove in it and balance it the full length of the trim to be glued. Then the clamps go on the scrap, protecting the trim from the clamps.
This is a view from the top. I like to tack on temporary pieces to hold guide the placement of trim and keep it flush to the top. 
You can see that diagonal scrap peeking out behind the trim in this pic. It really helps position these lil buggers!
Ok, now the base trim. Just a piece of 1x6 milled to 5/8" with a 1/2" radius on the top. Again, i've tacked some scraps to the bottom to help position the base trim.
Again, you can see in this pic how the base trim rests against that scrap.
Mitered corners are reinforced with biscuits. Look closer and you can see the biscuit.
Make a dry fit of your parts to be certain joints are tight. Also don't forget your glue gutters!
Add some stain and finish and it comes alive!
Time to make some raised panel doors!

Click here to see how I made a set for another cabinet.
Here is more about raised panels.



I made the drawer boxes from cabinet grade plywood and a Drawer lock bit. Fast and strong construction if you plan on painting the insides of the drawers

Click here to see how I made the drawers.



I used recessed drawer handles so no hardware would hit the insides of the doors

You can see how this is done here.

Finishing touches with the stain, I like to darken the insides of the shelf pin holes, you don't want to see bare wood in there!
Good view of the upper trim detail, chamfered corners and doors. Looks like a big ole finger print on my camera's lens.
Finally some finished pics. I was about two weeks behind schedule on this project. I keep telling myself "quality takes time" ...helps me sleep at night.

 
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