Building kitchen cabinets inexpensively?

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Forum topic by Willowynd posted 10-31-2013 03:59 PM 4414 views 0 times favorited 19 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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6 posts in 2746 days

10-31-2013 03:59 PM

I recently had a leaky roof that I had replaced…one thing has led to another as these normally do. I knew part of the ceiling and insulation would need replaced and I had already planned to replace sub floor due to a washing machine hose failure years before and tile with ceramic tile. Those I could handle, done all that before (ok- not ceilings as I am afraid of heights- hired someone for that). I knew the cabinets were going to come out and expected to put them back in and reface with veneer and replace doors and drawer fronts. Well, when we went to remove the cabinets I was amazed to find that the lowers were not what they appeared. They were actually 1 by, nailed together- some not even nailed together- some just pieces to give stability to the cheap hardboard veneer is all I can describe it as- it was not even an 1/8th thick. I am shocked these did not fall completely apart in the 18 yrs they were in service.The uppers were a bit better- they used a 1/4 inch mdf for those on a 1 by frame….but after realizing the lowers were going to need replaced, I decided to replace all. So..that was NOT in the budget at all and I already ran over my budget as my labor costs wound up being higher (after having to fire one contractor and hire another). So, now I am trying to come up with enough to get this done…so I want to go as inexpensively as possible…I am going to need 7 base cabinets plus a tall one that will house a double wall oven. I will also need 3 uppers (or 4 if I make the one long run into 2 cabinets)....and possibly the island cabinet- though I can wait on that if need be or possibly reface existing or make one out of an antique dresser. I do NOT want painted cabinets. I want a cherry finish. I am thinking the sandeply plywood at Home Depot will stain up fine…but I what I have read so far- everything uses 3/4 in. They have 1/2” in stock for $10 less a sheet- which would add up to a lot of savings if the estimate I saw of one sheet per cabinet is correct. Could I get away with using the 1/2 inch for all the cabinets?

19 replies so far

View Loren's profile


11187 posts in 4723 days

#1 posted 10-31-2013 04:14 PM

Sure, if you use face frames.

View MT_Stringer's profile


3183 posts in 4306 days

#2 posted 10-31-2013 04:55 PM

I say go with the 3/4 inch ply. Good and sturdy, doesn’t cost much more. Build face frames. I am building a buffet for our dining room. Next year, I will tackle the kitchen. I wanted to make sure I have the skills, tools and fortitude to take on such a big project. Same construction technique will apply to the kitchen cabinets.

How about yourself? Are you up to the task?

I am writing a blog detailing the building of the buffet. Same will apply to the kitchen cabinets.

Note: I am following the basic workflow described by Kris Reynolds. So far, everything has worked out nicely.

By using the ladder frame for the cabinet base, you can get six standard cabinet sides out of one sheet of plywood (23 1/4” x 31”).

Good luck. Post some pics of your project.

-- Handcrafted by Mike Henderson - Channelview, Texas

View Charlie's profile


1101 posts in 3361 days

#3 posted 10-31-2013 06:26 PM

I built my kitchen cabinets out of 3/4 ply with 1/2 inch backs. I put them all on legs except for the island where I used the ladder frame. So, basically, I built boxes and put legs on ‘em. If I did it again, I’d have used the legs on the island cabinets as well. The legs make leveling a snap. ALL of the base cabinets got drawers instead of doors. I used TandemBox drawer system. Cut a back, a bottom, a front and off you go. No joinery. The slides are the sides, they soft close, the faces are adjustable and I would use them again in a heartbeat. A little more expensive than standard slides, but the time saving ALONE makes up for it. I have a 34 inch wide drawer loaded with dishes. No problem. Another one loaded with my wife’s baking supplies… like flour and sugar and stuff like that, plus some heavy bakeware. Again, no problem.

I used bone colored Corian for the counter top at the sink. Single thickness and no built-up edge. That’s what the wife wanted. Got a 10ft sheet plus the backsplash piece (I think those are 10ft x 6in… can’t remember) for $220 total.
The island is 8 ft x3-1/2ft and I did the top there in Walnut. FAR less expensive than granite, quartz or almost anything else.

The hanging cabinets all got face frames. The bases got the plywood edged with 1/4” strip of solid wood. (No doors, just drawers). Turned out great and I had no idea my 5’-2” wife could be such an ANIMAL rip pin’ out floors. :)

View BinghamtonEd's profile


2298 posts in 3445 days

#4 posted 10-31-2013 06:43 PM

I am not an experience cabinet-maker. I built a 8-foot section of floor cabinets on adjustable legs for my garage, and recently completed a kitchen island. I used 3/4” ply for the sides/bottom/shelf, and 1/2” for the back. One of the reasons I did so was that I could put the horizontal shelf boards into dados and still use my kreg jig to make pocket screws without fear of the screw protruding out the outside when I assembled it. It is glued and screwed and rock solid, it has a butcher-block top and has already taken a beating.

If money weren’t an object, I would use the real nice $$$ plywood from my hardwood place, but since I couldn’t afford the $100+ per sheet, I used maple (island) and oak (garage) 3/4” plywood from Lowes. Is it as nice? Nah. I used BLO on the maple and danish oil on the oak, followed by a few coats of arm-r-seal wiped on, it looks pretty darn good to me and, more importantly, SWMBO. Face frames were made out of solid wood (walnut and oak).

Long story short, I felt like the 3/4” was just a more solid construction than things I had built out of 1/2”. That extra $10/sheet I think is worth it.

-- - The mightiest oak in the forest is just a little nut that held its ground.

View Clint Searl's profile

Clint Searl

1533 posts in 3436 days

#5 posted 10-31-2013 07:00 PM

Check out IKEA if there’s one near enough. Wide selection, good prices, and sturdy. I did a complete remodel, only eliminating the leveler legs in favor of mounting the boxes on a leveled 2×4 on-edge frame that served as the toe kick.

-- Clint Searl....Ya can no more do what ya don't know how than ya can git back from where ya ain't been

View Willowynd's profile


6 posts in 2746 days

#6 posted 11-02-2013 03:54 AM

No, not doing IKEA…really want wood…not particle board…I could do it cheaper myself using particle board….also I want traditional cabinets- not ones on legs. I have a home that is filled with antiques and repros from the victorian era and we have been working for years to change this house to go with that style, from changing the doors to paneled doors, thick baseboard and nice crown molding and fluted trim with etched blocks in mahogany finish, to building arched doorways with columns to taking the popcorn off the ceilings and using period stencils (still working on that). We put in hardwood floors and new light fixtures to echo that period. The guest bath now adorns a pedestal sink and a refurbished claw foot tub, ceramic tile and chandelier. We still have the fireplace surround that needs done…now a field stone- but will be a cherry surround with marble when we get it installed (its just waiting for the kitchen to get done). So very important that the kichen echos the theme of the house…not to mention I have an antique cherry hutch that will go in there too. Loren…face frames…is that like this guy does?,d.cWc

View ColonelTravis's profile


1976 posts in 2969 days

#7 posted 11-02-2013 04:44 AM

Our kitchen cabinets are not 3/4, they are 1/2. They’re 40 years old and have held up well, but they’re hardwood. I have checked into sandeply in the past and the reason I haven’t used it is because people say it doesn’t take stain well. Before you invest in a bunch of boards you should make sure the stain you have in mind can work.

View realcowtown_eric's profile


638 posts in 3012 days

#8 posted 11-02-2013 06:21 AM

a dichotomy…...dilemma ro be sure. Want it cheap, but wanting top grade mtls to mtach the antiques in the rest of the house. Time to reexamine priorities.

Cabinet boxes are cabinet boxes. The fronts are what makes the appearance. 5/8 Melamine in maple, white or some other colour is the only way to go. Use face frame or European hinge/door systen

OK, you could go to 3/4 prefinished ply, but shake my head why would you want to do that???? what does yer wife say….white cabinet interiors reflect so much more light inside the cabinets.

I echo yer comments on the ikeda cabinets. Often times wonder how plastic levellers woudl hold up with granite ctops, when the point loads ai’nt on the joists. Prefer ladder kicks myself.

But your can be wasting yer cash opting for “wood interiors” cause either someone says thats what yer getting (and charges you more for that) and you find out it’s wood grained melamine on particle board, or you pay through the nose for the finishing. Seen that before.

I personally think you might possibly be barking up the wrong tree here if you don’t pay attention to the details.,but maybe you want to pay the difference….

But you may think yer paying for wood, but just gettin wood grained Melamine! dubble check that

If it was my kitchen I would not be adverse to melamine. It’s been defacto box material x 25 years or more.

Your focus might be better directed to the finishes of the fronts. durability of finish, warranties of durability etc. after all boxes are boxes….

The sticker shock between wood grained melamine box interiors and custom finished wood interiors is possibly a “rationalization point” that you need to pay attention to.

Just my thoughts.

Up to you and SEMBO (she who must be obeyed!)

Just don’t waste yer money on things that dpn’t count!

-- Real_cowtown_eric

View Willowynd's profile


6 posts in 2746 days

#9 posted 11-02-2013 06:26 AM

Thanks Travis…after you mentioned that I did some searching an could not find anyone pleased with the way it stains. So…I started searching for 1/2 birch plywood…I can only get it at menards here. Lowe’s and HD does not carry the 1/2 in and say nothing about price or ordering- just not available. So my options are E core :
Face veneers: C Grade WPF Premium Birch with a .35mm minimum face thickness, 2 Grade WPF White Birch Back with a .25mm minimum face. Both face and back feature a whole piece or one piece face with no joints in the face veneer.
Core: All Eucalyptus core 7 – Ply Stitched and Jointed, with calibrated core (9-ply total)
Glue GLUE: UF-LFE/MR, Moisture Resistant, Low emissions glue

Or wood veneer core:
Veneer core
Excellent screw holding
Thick peel face and back

The e-core is $13 cheaper a sheet- and actually cheaper than the sandeply at HD. Will that work for what I need?

View Willowynd's profile


6 posts in 2746 days

#10 posted 11-02-2013 06:55 AM

Eric…First off…I am the wife :) Secondly, I agree- I really don’t care what the interior looks like- not like people are going to come over- open the cabinet and say…oh that is not high quality wood! What they see is the face :) That said, I do want wood (or at least plywood) as I have had those particle board cabinets and they do not hold up to water exposure at all. I have been through leaky drains, bath tubs over flowing and replaced a cheap bathroom vanity before. I had a washing machine hose come off while I was gone…yeah…that is why the the floor in the kitchen was ripped out. I want to do this once and only once. I have always been good at getting things that look expensive for much less…so trying to do the same here- since I am being forced to replace the cabinets. If I didn’t have to have them now…I would wait and save (I don’t do credit cards). I don’t want to get stuck with something I hate as much or more than the old cabinets….and yes I would be stuck as it takes years for anything to get accomplished in my house as hubby and I both work 3 jobs between us and have a farm and no excess funds to pay someone to do it. So…see my last post responding to Travis…tell me what you think.

View darthford's profile


701 posts in 2999 days

#11 posted 11-02-2013 07:22 AM

Sounds familiar, I decided to save a few bucks and built an entire set of plywood/face frame kitchen cabinets once…with a Ryobi 3000 table saw and a router table, never again!

I wouldn’t attempt to build kitchen cabinets again without a proper table saw capable of handling/cutting sheets of plywood accurately, a finish sprayer, and plywood that wasn’t junk. Inspect the hardwood plywood carefully, measure it I found the thickness varied quite a bit from sheet to sheet, varied within a sheet e.g. edges thinner than center, LOTS of voids, at in some areas bulges where a layer was folded over inside the sheet. Your talking your Home Depot brand oak faced plywood.

As for the cabinet doors, after you buy the wood and tooling, and spend gobs of time building them, sanding them, finishing them, I think its just easier to buy the doors. That’s what a lot of the cabinet shops around here do, they only build the cabinets and they all buy the doors from the big manufactures who have the industrial equipment to build quality doors and a supply of properly dried and machined flat wood.

That’s my 2 cents worth.

View camps764's profile


867 posts in 3435 days

#12 posted 11-02-2013 12:04 PM

Lots of great info here. Just for comparison – I built some cabinets (uppers and lowers) this year for our cabin. I had one free base cabinet from Menards that I based the rest off of. Same materials, oak face frame, pine drawers, runners, hardware, finish, etc. All bought from Menards.

When it was all said and done I looked up the cabinets I had built and did a price comparison. I ended up saving just a hair over 50% by doing it myself. E.G. 350 vs. 175-ish

That being said, the cabinets are made using 1/2” particle board (like the menards cabs) with oak face frames.

I already owned the tools to do the job – Table saw, Pocket Hole jig, router. You could very easily be in to it for some big money buying the tools to do it right.

Construction wise, the 1/2” did the job. But it is not beautiful hardwood ply on the inside…so you trade that off.

At the end of the day, it depends on what you can live with, what you want to look at.

If you go down this route, Jim Tolpin’s book ‘Building Traditional Kitchen Cabinets’ will tell you everything you EVER wanted to know, and then some. It’s a great resource. I picked my copy up on Amazon for 75 cents plus shipping.

-- Steve

View Shawn Masterson's profile

Shawn Masterson

1325 posts in 3024 days

#13 posted 11-02-2013 01:00 PM

+1 for outsourcing the doors. I refaced a kitchen about 8 years ago. I used a company called amridoor. They have closed now. The doors were amazing. almost ready for finishing right out of the box. They were cheaper than I could I could make them myself and they were made to the exact size I requested. also they were drilled for hinges.

View Willowynd's profile


6 posts in 2746 days

#14 posted 11-05-2013 05:58 AM

I have a place to get the cabinet doors and drawer fronts for $6-12 each- not bad for solid cherry with the cathedral design I wanted. I had always planned to buy those. It is the boxes I am concerned with. I can’t get my doors until we get those built. We do have a table saw (a delta) and a router…I have no idea what a pocket hole jig is…assuming something to drill holes for adjustable shelves? I don’t need adjustable shelves. I will decide what height I want and just set them at that. Thanks for the tip about checking thickness. I will be buying it from menards.

View Loren's profile


11187 posts in 4723 days

#15 posted 11-05-2013 03:32 PM

Actually, you can build the face frames, order the doors to
fit the frames, then build the boxes last. This way you’re
not maneuvering around empty boxes until the end of the job.

Most small shop people are building face frames with pocket
screws these days. Dowels work too.

You’ll find with 1/2” material you have to be real careful nailing
and screwing it to not have blowout. 3/4” gives you 1/8”
on either side and is more forgiving if a nail goes in crooked,
as air nails will.

If you have enough clamps of course you can tongue and
groove the ply and clamp the cases up with no metal
fasteners. Similarly the face frame can be glued on
with clamps, but most folks find pocket screwing
face frames to the case the easiest way to go.

showing 1 through 15 of 19 replies

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