Advice on building cabinets accurately in a small shop

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Forum topic by kdr152004 posted 01-28-2018 04:18 AM 4219 views 0 times favorited 21 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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29 posts in 1392 days

01-28-2018 04:18 AM

Dear Lumberjocks,

Seeking advice as I prepare to build several cabinets for my kitchen. I’m currently building a practice cabinet, and I’m struggling to get the sides, bottom, etc. to within 1/16’’ of my specs.

Can anyone offer any pointers on manufacturing cabinets parts accurately in a small shop ?

I’ve found that sources of error can multiply, e.g. wobble in table saw sled runners and sled fence being slightly out of 90 degrees with blade.

My plan is to rough cut the cabinet components to about 1 inch oversized with my track-saw setup (dewalt circular saw with kreg accucut) and then use my 36’‘x36’’ table saw sled to cut to final dimensions. The doorway in my shop is too small to allow me to handle 4×8 sheets on the table saw.



21 replies so far

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 4257 days

#1 posted 01-28-2018 04:47 AM

I have a few books on making kitchen cabinets
and built ins. Generally as I recall they have
sections on making jigs and machine set-up.

If you don’t have a book I suggest those by
Jim Tolpin. I imagine others are very good
as well.

View BFamous's profile


337 posts in 730 days

#2 posted 01-28-2018 04:58 AM

In my opinion, you already nailed the most important things. Ensure you blade and fence are dead on 90, and if you have any wobble in your sled, put new runners on it. I prefer metal runners because they don’t wear down, and neither do the screw holes in the runners.

Also, if you’re using a square to set the 90, start by double checking your square to ensure it is accurate. I never use a square to setup my table saw.

-- Brian Famous :: Charlotte, NC ::

View AxkMan's profile


65 posts in 736 days

#3 posted 01-28-2018 07:39 AM

Make sure to pick up corner clamps like Irwin. Very useful for corner joints.

View Ron's profile


1 post in 728 days

#4 posted 01-28-2018 12:51 PM

In addition to the above comments I would suggest checking your crosscut sled using the 5 cut method. There are numerous youtube videos showing how to do this. I also break down sheet goods like you do but I check the sheet for squareness and if it’s square you know you have 90 degree corners. I don’t use a sled, just the fence on the table saw. I use the factory edges as my starting point and after every cut I put an X on the side so I know later that it is a “good” edge. Also when there are several pieces that are the same height and width I will cut them all to the required width from one fence setting and then to length from one fence setting. Good Luck with you project.

-- Ron

View bold1's profile


330 posts in 2456 days

#5 posted 01-28-2018 02:29 PM

Cutting parts close and square is the most important, but having a square jig to hold the parts while assembling, is one of the things you should have. I’ve even used the floor and wall of my shop, with shims, as a jig to hold large sides square when assembling.

View bondogaposis's profile


5607 posts in 2960 days

#6 posted 01-28-2018 03:46 PM

Rip all your sides and bottoms at the same time with the same saw set up. I rip the plywood for base cabinets at 23 1/4” and 11 1/2” for wall cabinets to maximize yield from a sheet of plywood.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View Mike_D_S's profile


603 posts in 2824 days

#7 posted 01-28-2018 04:59 PM

I’ll add in that even perfectly square parts can be assembled into an out of square cabinet.

First make sure you have a nice flat place to assemble the cabinets. Properly prepared, some 2×4s as a support topped with plywood and shimmed can make a flat assembly table. Screw some strips to the top at 90 degrees so you have a good reference corner.

Secondly, I inset my cabinet backs and take care to make sure the backs are square. So when I get the cabinet sides, bottom and top/stretchers put together, when I tap in the back I get additional confirmation the whole setup is square.


-- No honey, that's not new, I've had that forever......

View Woodknack's profile


13022 posts in 2989 days

#8 posted 01-28-2018 05:22 PM

Put a good blade on your circ saw and use the track to cut parts, probably easier than cutting twice especially if you are already struggling with the tablesaw.

-- Rick M,

View MrRon's profile


5812 posts in 3853 days

#9 posted 01-28-2018 07:33 PM

It appears that your table saw is the weak link. You should concentrate in getting the saw perfectly aligned; otherwise you can’t expect good results. All other comments expressed are also good to heed. Make sample cuts on scrap to ensure squareness and dimensional accuracy before cutting good material.

View Kazooman's profile


1411 posts in 2562 days

#10 posted 01-28-2018 09:07 PM

+1 to all of the above. However, remember that the kitchen you are going to install these cabinets is probably no where near being square to 1/16”. I am not suggesting doing sloppy work, but realize that no matter how perfect you get the cabinets, they will still need to be shimmed into place when you install them.

View Ripper70's profile


1371 posts in 1518 days

#11 posted 01-28-2018 09:29 PM

Rip all your sides and bottoms at the same time with the same saw set up.

- bondogaposis


-- "You know, I'm such a great driver, it's incomprehensible that they took my license away." --Vince Ricardo

View Holt's profile


280 posts in 3238 days

#12 posted 01-29-2018 01:36 PM


Never having to duplicate the saw setup will save you a ton of stress.

Rip all your sides and bottoms at the same time with the same saw set up.

- bondogaposis


- Ripper70

-- ...Specialization is for insects.

View Robert's profile


3602 posts in 2090 days

#13 posted 01-29-2018 02:29 PM

The three criticals in cabinetmaking are:

1) consistent dimensions
2) square cuts
3) accurate assembly

Cut similar parts without changing any settings. IOW rip the sides, bottoms and tops without changing the fence and cut the sides/tops bottoms to same length without changing the stop block.

To achieve this, you’re machine and jigs must be balls on accurate. I’m shooting no more than ~ 1/64” error. If not, by the time you assemble the 6th cabinet you’ll have problems.

You’ve already identified an issue. I recommend:

1) Correct the runner issue
2) Double check your fence-to-blade alignment
3) Test everything using scraps until you’re satisfied.
4) Take your time assembling. Clamp everything up and triple check before you start screwing. Its easy to get in a rush and discover something not flush.

-- Everything is a prototype thats why its one of a kind!!

View Mike_D_S's profile


603 posts in 2824 days

#14 posted 01-29-2018 02:57 PM

Kazooman makes a very good point in that the room you’re going into will also have it’s own variations. It’s good to understand those as well and think about your installation. The most accurate cabinets in the world still have to fit the real world of framing and drywall.

You don’t mention the style of cabinets, but if face frame then a good face frame can hide some ills in the cabinet boxes. If this is your first cabinet build, give yourself some soft landing space by not trying to build the cabinet interior flush to the inside of the face frame, etc where any imperfections will be instantly obvious.


-- No honey, that's not new, I've had that forever......

View kdr152004's profile


29 posts in 1392 days

#15 posted 01-29-2018 04:27 PM

Hi all,

Thanks for all the great pointers. Some of my learning:

1) I don’t need a sled for cabs in the 18-24’’ wide range. Personally I am much for comfortable just using the track saw and rip fence. All of my error was coming from the sled, which I have now improved by adding a second miter track insert to remove the wobble.

2) Dowel joinery is challenging for carcass construction for a hobbyist with pipe clamps. The forces that hold the joints tight more often than not pull the cab out of square. Going forward, I will try pocket screws in combination with the woodpeckers squaring jig – any thoughts on squaring jigs ?

3) After rough cutting with the tracksaw, it’s best to use the factory edge rather than the rough cut to ride along the table saw fence to bring to final dimension,

Round 2 of practice cabinet will be next weekend.


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