In days gone by, apprentice cabinetmakers used to build their own tool chests. The chests were often works of art that both displayed the owner’s level of craftsmanship and provided practical storage for tools. These modular shop cabinets function in much the same way. Designed for ample storage, they also form a stunning piece of cabinetry.
Make no mistake, though; these cabinets are firmly rooted in modern cabinetmaking techniques. They’re built using the same modular construction system today’s professionals prefer. After you’ve warmed up on these shop cabinets, you’ll be ready to tackle making a whole kitchen full using the same technique.
Project Requirements at a Glance
30 bd. ft. of 4/4 birch
5 bd. ft. of 5/4 cherry
Five sheets of 3/4-in. x 4-ft. x 8-ft. birch plywood
One sheet of 1/2-in. x 4-ft. x 8-ft. birch plywood
Three sheets of 1/4-in. x 4-ft. x 8-ft. birch plywood
Three sheets of 1/2-in. x 5-ft. x 5-ft. Baltic birch plywood
One sheet of 3/4-in. x 49-in. x 97-in. MDF
Two quarts of oil finish or varnish
Edge-tape trimming tools, clothes iron, tablesaw with dado blade,
router and router table, bandsaw, drill press, belt sander, finish
sander, 18-gauge nail gun, 35-mm drill bit and level Hardware: 15 pairs
of drawer slides, eight Euro/cup hinges, four pneumatic door-closing
cushions, two 24-in. under-cabinet lights Total Cost: $1,100 for a
These are “dream” shop cabinets, and to keep the dream alive, I've jammed them full of extra features:
- Fifteen full-extension drawers with 1-in. overtravel and a
self-closing feature that takes over when the drawer is nearly closed
(a welcome feature when you have your hands full).
- Angled shelves that put frequently used tools right at your fingertips.
- Shop-made handles that double as label holders.
- A worktop shelf that works like an elevated tool tray.
- A durable worktop that overhangs the lower cabinets to allow clamping to the surface.
Aimple Modular Construction
Modular construction allows one person to build and install this entire
6-ft. run of cabinets. These shop cabinets begin as a series of
2-ft.-wide modules or boxes that screw together. Simply add or subtract
boxes for a cabinet run that suits your needs. Because all the boxes
are the same width, making the doors and drawers is greatly simplified.
End panels cover the exposed sides of the boxes on the ends of a run.
The end panels are extra deep, providing room to scribe the back edge
to fit an uneven wall. You can adjust the 39-in. worktop height by
altering the base platform's height. A standard kitchen has a
36-in.-high countertop with 16 in. clearance between it and 30-in.-tall
upper cabinets. Because we raised the worktop height to 39 in. to be
more comfortable for woodworking, we shortened the upper cabinets to 24
in. to keep their top shelves within reach. The self-closing door
hinges open 120 degrees and adjust in all directions. Pneumatic
door-closing cushions work like magic to softly close the doors
without a bang. Nothing is too good for these shop cabinets.
Build the Boxes
1. Cut all the upper and lower cabinet box parts (A through J). Apply
birch iron-on edge tape to all the front edges (Photo 1). Note: Do not
ease the taped edges before assembly or the joints between the shelves
and the sides won't look tight.
2. Cut the shelf standard grooves in the two upper cabinets with doors (Fig. A, Photo 2). Finish-sand the inside of all the pieces that form the upper cabinet boxes.
3. Drill and countersink pilot holes at the top and bottom of the upper and lower cabinet sides (Fig. A and Fig. C).
4. Assemble the three upper cabinet boxes (Photo 3).
5. Assemble the three lower cabinet boxes using a 30-in.-long support tube (Fig. C, right).
6. Ease the taped edges of the assembled boxes using sandpaper.
7. Cut the parts for the angled shelves (K, L, SS, VV and WW). Assemble
the shelves. Then drill the screw holes in the shelf supports and mount
them in the angled-shelf cabinet (Fig. B).
8. Cut the cabinet backs (U and V) to size. Apply two coats of oil or
varnish to the insides of the upper cabinet boxes and backs.
9. Screw the shelf standards into their grooves, and then screw the cabinet backs to the boxes.
10. Mark hinge-mounting plate locations on the two upper cabinets with
doors using a hinge-drilling template (Photo 4) (see Sources). Attach
the mounting plates.
Frame-and-Panel Doors and Drawers
11. Cut all the door and lower drawer face parts (GG, HH, MM, NN, PP
and QQ). Note: The bottom drawer front is a frame and panel because
it's too big to be made of solid wood.
12. Cut tongue-and-groove joints for the door and drawer frames.
13. Finish-sand the panels and apply one coat of oil or varnish.
14. Assemble the frames with glue and clamps, and check for square.
15. Drill the 35-mm cup-hinge holes on the door stiles and mount the
hinges. Center the holes 3 in. from the top and bottom. The hole's edge
should be set back 3/16 in. from the outside edge of the door stile.
Hang and Fit the Doors
16. Screw together the three upper boxes. Hang the doors on the assembled cabinets.
17. Make some 1/16-in.-thick spacers for fitting the doors and drawer faces (Photo 5).
18. Adjust the hinges and trim the edges of the doors until the gaps
are even. If you're not comfortable using a hand plane to trim the
doors, try a belt sander (Photo 6). No matter how you do the trimming,
go slowly and check your progress often.
19. When you're done fitting the doors, remove the doors and hinges.
Label each door on its top edge, so you hang it back in the right spot.
Also label each hinge and its corresponding hole to avoid readjusting
Make and Install the Drawers
20. Cut and machine the drawer box parts (W through FF).
21. Predrill holes in the drawer fronts (Fig. D). Make sure the holes in the lower drawers are set close to the bottom so the screws catch the lower frame rails (Fig. C).
22. Finish-sand the inside of the drawer parts. Assemble the drawers using an 8 x 8 x 20-1/2-in. support tube.
23. Finish-sand the outside of the drawers and ease any sharp edges.
24. Separate the drawer slides into the cabinet members and the drawer members.
25. Mount the cabinet members in the lower cabinet boxes (Photo 7; Fig. C). They are mounted flush to the cabinet fronts.
26. Mount the drawer members to the drawers on a centerline (Photo 8).
27. Slide the drawer bottoms into the drawers and screw them to the drawer backs.
28. Screw together the three lower cabinet boxes. Mimic the end panels
with scrap plywood tacked onto each end. The mock panels should stick
out 13/16-in. beyond the front of each end. Lay the assembly on its
back and check for square.
29. Trim and fit all the drawer faces. Make sure to label the back of
each drawer face so you get it in the right spot when you attach it to
the drawers later.
30. When the drawer fronts are all aligned, dismantle the cabinet run down to the three boxes.
Add Final Details
31. Rout the beaded-edge profile on the doors and drawer faces (Photo 9). Ease the edges with sandpaper.
32. Make the worktop (T, TT and UU, Fig. F), backsplash (R), worktop shelf (S), base (M through Q, Fig. G) and ledger (RR).
33. Do any remaining finish-sanding and apply oil or varnish to the rest of the exposed cabinet parts.
34. Make the handles (see “Shop-Made Handles,”) and screw them to the doors and drawer faces.
Install the Cabinets
35. When you hang cabinets, it's important that you drive the screws
into wall studs. Locate the studs and transfer that information to the
36. Start the installation by attaching the ledger to the wall so its
top edge is 55 in. up from the floor. Make sure it's level.
37. Set the first upper cabinet in place on the ledger and screw it
to the wall (Photo 10). Attach the other two cabinets and install the
angled shelves (Fig. B).
38. Scribe the upper end panels so their back edges fit tightly to the
wall and the front edges protrude 13/16 in. from the cabinet face. Then
screw them in place.
39. Level the base and screw it to the wall (Photo 11). Scribe the base
fascia parts to the floor and wall and screw them in place. Set the
lower cabinet boxes on the base, screw them together and then to the
wall. Scribe and attach the end panels.
40. Working from the bottom up, insert each drawer and attach its drawer face (Photo 12).
41. Attach the backsplash to the worktop, then the worktop to the lower
cabinets. Scribe the worktop shelf to the back wall if necessary, and
screw it to the top of the backsplash.
42. Install the shelves and rehang the doors on the upper cabinets. Cut
and install the fill strip (JJ) to the lower cabinets (Photo 13).
43. Finally, mount two 24-in. under-cabinet lights on the upper cabinets to light the worktop.
(Note: Product availability and costs are subject to change since original publication date.)
This story originally appeared in American Woodworker January 2005, issue #112.
January 2005, issue #112
Purchase this back issue.
Click any image to view a larger version.
These cabinets are built with box or modular construction: All the units are simply 2-ft.-wide butt-joined boxes. Because the boxes are all the same width, the drawers and doors are, too. This streamlines machining and assembly. Each box or cabinet is installed one at a time, allowing one person to build and install a run of cabinets of almost any length.
1. All the visible cabinet edges are covered with iron-on edge tape, which goes on fast and looks great. Trim the tape with a double-sided edge trimmer. Cut the tape ends flush to the plywood prior to trimming.
2. Cut grooves in the upper cabinet sides to house the metal shelf supports. When installed, the standards stand proud of the grooves by about 1/16 in.
3. Assemble the boxes using a support tube to hold the top and bottom steady. The support tube for the upper cabinets is just an 8 x 8 x 22-in. box. It’s like having a second set of hands for assembly.
4. Lay out holes for the hinge-mounting plates with a commercial template. Screw a 6-in.-long guide stick to the template to set the hinge plates 3 in. from the cabinet top and bottom.
5. To check the fit of the doors, first screw the cabinets together as they’ll hang on the wall. Use 1/16-in.-thick spacers to set the gaps. Adjust the hinges and trim the doors (Photo 6) until all the gaps are even. Be sure to mark each door so you can remount them later in the correct order.
6. Some doors and drawer fronts may need a little trimming for a proper fit. Use a belt sander with a wide support board clamped to the face of the door so only the area to be trimmed is exposed. Squiggle pencil lines on the support board and sand until the lines start to disappear.
7. Use a support board to align the drawer slides as you screw them to the cabinets. Start at the top drawer slides and work your way across all three cabinets. Then, cut the support board shorter to set the slides for the next level of drawers, and so on down to the bottom set of drawers.
8. The drawer slides are mounted 3/32 in. back from the drawer front to leave a little cushion between the drawer and the cabinet. A simple stick with a flat head screw works great as a setup jig. Adjust the screw until the setback is correct. Then butt the slide up to the screw head and screw it in place.
9. Rout a beaded edge on the top and bottom of the doors and the drawer fronts. A tall fence and a featherboard steady the door for a smoother cut.
10. Install a ledger strip on which you’ll hang the cabinets. Position the cabinet on the ledger strip and drive #8 x 2-1/2-in. screws through the cabinet into the wall studs. Put screws near the top and bottom of the cabinet.
11. The lower cabinets are set on a separate base. Use shims to level the platform front to back and side to side. Screw the base to the wall and trim the shims.
12. Clamp the drawer faces to the drawers using 1/16-in. spacers to maintain an even gap. Then pull the drawer out and attach the fronts with screws. The predrilled holes in the drawer box are slightly oversize to allow you to make minor adjustments to the drawer fronts.
13. Nail the fill strip in place. The drawers do not go all the way to the top of the cabinet because the overhanging worktop would prevent access to the back of the top drawer.