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Thinking About Building Kitchen Cabinets?

Without question there is a lot to consider when planning to remodel a kitchen, especially if you are building your own kitchen cabinets. There is a tremendous amount of technical advice in books and videos available on how to build boxes, doors, and drawers. Installation can be more challenging than constrution, but its one you've accepted if you've succeeded with the boxes.

Finding help with the how-to stuff is pretty easy. Not so easy is finding advice that helps you decide between one option and another. For example, should I use alder or maple for painted the face frames? Are these Blum soft close hinges better than those Blum soft close hinges? Is solid wood necessary for the toe kick?

Here's a few things I've learned.

Back Panels for Uppers

You will be looking at the inside faces of upper cabinets every day. Choose quality veneered ply for these show faces. Sides and back should be nicely finished. Orient the grain of the plywood up and down. I think oil based semigloss polyurethane on maple ply interiors (and 1/2"-thick "Sandply" for backs) looks really nice.

Mounting Screws for Upper Cabs

Think about the mounting screws will show. If you can hide them, long drywall screws will work, but task-specific cabinet mounting screws, with their thicker shanks, larger heads, hex drive, and different finish options are a better choice. Big box stores carry them. You don't need that many.

Lower Cab Interiors

You will not see the interior faces of lower cabs. Therefore, the goal should be long-term utility: Water proof, bright, slick, and easy to clean. If the box will house a bank of drawers, then looks are even less important. Save a few bucks if you can by going with pre-finished or melamine-faced sheetgoods.

Cabinet Containing the Sink

Avoid cheap plywood or chipboard in the cabinet that houses the sink. It's different than the rest of the boxes because of the proximity to water. Any plumbing repairs will be done crawling around inside this cabine. Make it nicer than the rest. Use themost waterproof system you can, especially for the floor of the cabinet. Invest a bit more here. Ask around: What are the local pros doing - prefinished veneer core plywood? All melamine? Painted and caulked?

Soft-Close Drawer Slides

I installed really nice 100-lb undermount 21" soft-close Tandem Blumotion slides on all the drawers in my new kitchen (20 of them). Each lower cabinet consists of 3 drawers of different sizes (graduated). I didn't need 100-lb slides for any of the topmost drawers. Save a few bucks on the slides used for thin drawers by going with a lower weight rating.

Wood for Upper Doors

The weight of the doors, thus the wood species you choose to make the rails and stiles, matters. If you go with Poplar (or Alder) for the doors and 1/2" plywood panels, the doors may actually be too light. When lightweight doors are paired with certain soft-close hinges, they don't close easily. The resistance from the hinge overcomes the door weight. Narrow doors are especially affected due to their reduced swing weight. I installed Blum 110-degree inset Blumotion soft-close hinges that allow you to engage/disengage the soft-close mechanism on my poplar and ply doors (37"h x 13"w), but have to turn off the mechanism on one of the hinges for the resistance to balance the door weight. By the way, these specific hinges were $18/pair at Woodcraft and $5/pair at

Shelves on Upper Cabinets

I went with 3/4 ply with a 1" wide x 3/4" thick sapele edge along the front. The hardwood strip adds stiffness and matches my sapele countertops. I used a Kreg shelf pin hole drilling jig (KMA3200) and Hafele 1/4" shelf bracket inserts (Woodcraft, $5 for 25). Simple, strong, nice looking, adjustable. This jig spaces holes about 1-1/4" apart. Remember: Start drilling the line of holes 7" up from the bottom (floor) and stop 7" below the top.


I ordered $1800 in sheet goods for my cabinet job from the local supplier (Intermountain Hardwood). This included 3/4" A1 Gold Ply for all the boxes and single-side maple veneer 1/4" ply for the backs of the lower boxes. I picked up several sheets of 1/2" Sandply for the backs of the uppers from Home Depot myself. The delivery charge from Intermountain was $20. The time it takes me to drive to HD and back is about 1 hour. Delivery is cheap.

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