How To Make High Quality Base Cabinets Workshop Projects

My goal for my shop has been to steadily improve it since moving here nearly seven years ago. And for me, that process means trying new ideas to see if they are effective and not being afraid to make a change when needed. While that may seem wasteful, I generally don’t use high quality material unless I’m sure of the lasting utility of project.

A good example is the particle board cabinet shown here. This corner at the front of my shop has gone through many changes and the last one was to make and install a closet to hide my compressor. Since then, I’ve moved the compressor out of the shop altogether and now the cabinet is no longer efficient:

Along with that is the down draft sanding table with storage beside it. I love and need all of the drawers that are in that unit, but it never was used much for sanding and has always been a real magnet for junk. It’s also deeper than it needs to be since there’s a chamber at the back for the dust collection.
The lathe and jointer will stay right where they are since that’s the best place for them.

I spent a couple of hours drawing the cabinets in SketchUp (later revised from the picture below) and then quickly made this sketch to bring out to the shop:

This is my usual way of doing it, but would like to set up a computer out there to work from in the future. Just load the drawing onto a flash drive and bring that out. But that’s another project…

The Carcass

The main parts for these base cabinets are the side panels. There are four of those for the two units and I used 3/4″ maple cabinet grade plywood to make them:

I decided that it would be better to make these modular in design. Even though that uses more material, it will give me more options for placement if I need to move them at some point in the future.

The side panels need to have a few machining operations and the first is to cut a rabbet on the back edge for the back panel:

The back will be 1/2″ plywood.

The top also needs a rabbet, but one that’s 3/4″ deep to receive the upper stretchers:

It’s important to remember these are pairs and that the orientation is correct while cutting these rabbets.

A dado for the bottom panel is next:

I typically cut dadoes 1/4″ deep, since that provides more than enough support and is an easy to work with number.

Last cut is for the toe kick:

I made those on the table saw and the overcut is on the inside and won’t show when the unit is assembled.

Since I’m working from an accurate plan, I decided to layout and fasten the drawer slides before putting the units together:

This does make them heavier and more difficult to handle, but is a lot easier than doing it after the cabinets are assembled.

I could have used a single solid panel for the top, but went with 4″ wide stretchers instead:

The advantage of stretchers is that it builds in a bit of flexibility if needed during installation. Not much, but just enough to tweak the squareness of the cabinet slightly one way or the other to line everything up. It also saves some material.

Assembly starts by gluing in the bottom panel and clamping it:

And then adding the stretchers to the top with glue and screws;

This operation is shown better in the build video at the bottom of this article.

The back is cut to fit and glued in. I used 1-1/4″ brads to secure it while the glued dried:

The Face Frame

While I don’t have a problem with frameless cabinets, I much prefer ones that have a solid wood face frame. It serves to dress up the front and adds strength and durability right where it’s needed. Since I have a bit of a surplus of red oak at the moment, I’ll be using that:

The board was fairly narrow, which is perfect for cutting the narrower strips I need.

My first step is always to rip the parts down close to the right width. This releases any drying stress that may be in the wood and will help to ensure I end up with straight and twist free members:

I can then run the parts over my homemade jointer to flatten one face and square one edge. I consider the jointer more of a rough cutting tool to get the stock flat and square before running it through the planer:

The planer mills the stock down to final thickness and width, and it only needs to be sanded before it’s ready for finish.

To assemble the face frame I made I disposable dowel jig:

While it did the job, it was difficult to line it up perfectly and the joints were slightly out of line. Pocket screws would be a much better method and probably the fastest.

I used polyurethane construction adhesive to put the frame together and let that set in the clamps for several hours:

I used biscuits to fasten the frame to the cabinet, two on the top and bottom:

And glue, of course. Another option is to use glue and brads, but that leave holes that need to be filled.

Lots of homemade clamps in action while the glue sets:

I left it to dry overnight and then sanded the cabinets before putting on a coat of clear water based polyurethane. The next step will be to install these and make the fourteen drawers that go in them.

I made a video showing the build: