Fall ORC 2021 : Built-In Cabinets

I am probably the worst blogger in the world . . . ORC Fall 2021 Reveal came and went a few days ago . . . and my room is done, but I have been so busy over the last 2 months with life in general that I have not found the time to share my progress weekly, so I will be writing some back to back posts with the progress and the steps for each part of the process.

As I mentioned in my previous post, the major part of this living room refresh will be the addition of a large built in entertainment unit with cabinets, shelves and a window bench. Now when I start a built in unit, I like to tape off my space so I can visualize my plans and make sure that it works in the space. You’ll see how I do that below. Don’t pay any attention to the different colors of tape, I just work with whatever I have on hand, and it was a rainbow of colors this time around.

You’ll notice how incredibly impatient I am to start a project by the fact that I was working around the mounted TV. There are not many things I can’t do on my own, but mounting and demounting a TV, are two of them. I made a few measurement adjustments with the tape placement vs my original plans on paperwork, and once I found the sweet spot, it was time to get to work. Let’s start with removing the baseboards. I always start this by scoring the caulk along the top, the bottom and the corners. I pry it away with a 5-in-1 tool, careful to avoid damaging the dry wall. Remove all nails that remained stuck in the dry wall and clean all the caulk off the wall and floor for a smooth surface. I also used my oscillating tool to cut the baseboards along the side walls to where by cabinets would come out to.

Next step would be to build the bases. I like to build “ladder” bases, and usually I do this with a 2×4, but I wanted more height to my cabinets, so I opted to work with 2×6 lumber. Ultimately I wanted to build a total of 4 lower cabinets, and I wanted 2 cabinets to sit on each base, So I purchased several 8′ long 2×6 boards and cut them down on my mitre saw to the width of each cabinet base. I then cut the joists as well (these are the pieces that run the depth of your unit) . . . and I cut enough that I could place one every 16-20 inches of the base. Hot tip : I set the stopper on my mitre saw to help me cut all the pieces exactly the same as seen in the image below. Also, determining the depth of the ladder is entirely up to you. I did not want a toe kick, so I built the final depth to match my cabinets (minus the face frame) exactly. More on that in a future post when I add the baseboards.

These bases were not very deep, so I had to get creative when I assemble them. If the spacing allows, I like to attach joists to the front and back piece with pocket holes, but with this particular ladder base, my drill would not fit to do that with both sides. The way I worked around that was to attach the joists to the back 2×6 using 2 1/2″ pocket hole screws, and then the front with 3″ wood screws. Wood glue is a must for this as well. And to help ensure everything is being built perfectly, I love to use corner clamps to hold my joints as I screw them together, speed squares to check for 90 degree corners and a level to ensure everything is straight.

Now I live in Florida, where all homes are built with exterior walls made of cinder block, so because this unit was going up along an exterior wall, I had to secure my bases a little different than I would have to with an interior wall. There are no studs to speak of, so I used a hammer drill and some masonry anchors to secure it to the wall. Base cabinets are supported by the floor and the base, so its incredibly important that you secure the ladder base to the wall, DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP (you can also secure them to the floor, but I have tile floors and am not entirely sure how to accomplish that without damaging my tile). My masonry/concrete anchors came with the masonry drill bit I needed to pre drill, and then I used a nut driver to drill the anchor through the wood and drywall and then into the concrete.

Once everything is level and secured, I moved on to the cabinets. In an effort to prevent this post from dragging on too long, I will review the steps to build the cabinet as well as the face frame, but I will save the doors and countertop for a separate post, so bare with me.

Now I love to work with red oak plywood, but please note that there are a lot of other options you can use build your cabinets. I love how smooth and finished it is, so for me, it is worth the price tag. I’ve always used 3/4″ plywood for my builds, I honestly don’t know if its a good idea to go with something thinner, but everything I share here is from my own experience and amateur research, so I like to stick with what I know. I often prefer to purchase my plywood in 4×8 sheets because it is more cost effective, but I’m all of 5’1″ and even though I drive a fairly large SUV, I always have some of my cuts done at Home Depot so that I can both transport and easily lift the plywood to work with it. I find planning my cuts strategically in advance helps with waste, so I typically plan it out on a sheet of paper. You’ll find that there are a few apps that make this possible as well, just do what works for you. I also like to remind people to take into consideration the width of the blade that is being used to rip down your plywood, otherwise you will find yourself a little short on some of your pieces.

So, design the size of your cabinets and then determine your cuts. More often than not, I will have Home Depot make 1 or 2 cuts, enough that I can fit it into my car, and I do the rest at home with my circular saw, and sometimes the table saw. Once I have the sides and the bottom for each cabinet, I separate them all and label them just to stay organized. There are a lot of different ways that you can build a cabinet, but today we will be working with pocket holes and attaching them from the bottom so they are not visible .

Hands down, my all time favorite pocket hole jig has been the Kreg 720 Pocket Hole Jig. Its worth the few extra bucks for its ease of use alone, add into that the dust collection and its just perfection (this is not sponsored though I wish it was! Kreg products are a dream to work with). I drill a total of 8 at the bottom of each cabinet base, 2 at each corner. I’ll attach them to the sides of the cabinet with wood glue and 1 1/4″ pocket hole screws. I utilize corner clamps as a second pare of hands as I do this and I always check my corners with a speed square. If your cabinets are not square, you’re just creating a series of issues down the line, trust me, I speak from experience. Talk about a headache.

You’ll notice I don’t have a back piece for my cabinet. This is entirely preference for me. You can add a back with more 3/4″ plywood, you can even use a 1/4″ and just nail it to the back . . . and in my office cabinet build I used 1×3 support beams . . . but for the sake of budget, I made the choice not to add one. My cabinets are being installed against the wall, and I will just be painting them to match. So let’s move on to the top support beams of the cabinet.

For this I chose to use 1×3 pine, but I have used 1×4 in the past. Basically you’ll want to cut down 2 pieces the width of each cabinet and then drill pocket holes on the left and right underside of the wood. We are attaching these to the top of the cabinet as support for the cabinet as well as the future countertop. Attach with 1 1/4″ pocket hole screws and wood glue. I like to use a Kreg Right Angle Clamp to hold the boards in place as I screw everything together. It does a great job at holding the wood flush and tight as you drill. (Hey Kreg, I heart you!)

All right, lets make some face frames! This is arguably the easiest part for me, but I know a few people who feel quite differently, lol. Honestly the math is the hardest part, but once you get that down, it is smooth sailing. A face frame is comprised of rails (the horizontal parts) and stiles (the vertical parts), and there are a number of joint options you can choose to build them, but I still consider myself an amateur and am most comfortable with pocket holes, so that is what I will be working with this time around. I have done some practice with mortise-and-tenons as well as small biscuits, but thats not my groove yet.

You will need some 1×2 lumber (I like working with select pine), pocket hole screws and wood glue. Measure the height of your cabinet and cut your stiles to match this (I use my mitre saw, but you can use a circular saw, table saw or even have your building supply store cut it). You will need 2 for each cabinet. The math for the rails is a little trickier. You will want the finished face frame to overhang the sides by about 1/8″ . . . so what I do is measure the width of the cabinet from the outsides (not the inside of the frame), then I add 1/4″ to that. I take that total and subtract the width of my stiles (1x2s are usually 3/4″ wide, don’t forget there are 2 of them) to determine my final length for the rails. There may be an easier way to do this, and my math is usually questionable, but it works for me every time. I drill my pocket holes on the interior side of the rails so that I can attach them to the stiles. I like to assemble these on a table where I can use a scrap piece of would and a Kreg Handscrew Clamp to hold them flush (see below). Use wood glue and 1 1/4″ pocket hole screws. Check your corners with a speed square.

I attach my face frames to the cabinets using 2″ brad nails with my brad nailer and wood glue. Clamps are helpful to hold it in place as you work your way around the cabinet. After the face frames are attached, I like to attach the cabinets together as well. So if you haven’t placed your cabinets on your ladder base yet, now is the time to do it. (You may want to mark the front front piece of the ladder base where your joists land, that way you will know where to drill when you secure the cabinets to it). I’ll apply wood glue along the face frames, clamp them together, and pre drill pilot holes for screws. I usually do 2 on each side. I love using Power Pro interior premium wood screws in 1 1/4″. They have some with countersink blades that screw in beautifully. While the clamps hold in place and the wood glue dries, I also secure the base of the cabinets to the ladder base. I used 3″ cabinet screws for this. I try to drill at least one in the front and back of each joist that my cabinet base lands on. The screws I used also had countersink blades, so they were easily concealed with some wood filler.

Check that everything is still level (you should do this constantly along the way), wood fill the nail holes, caulk along the seams and hey, your cabinets are ready for countertops and doors! I hope this was helpful and I can’t wait to share the next steps with you. Make sure to check out my instagram @Casa_de_Columbie for videos on all of this and let me know what you think!

Remember, you’ve got this, so just go for it!



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