How hard could it be to build a cabinet?
Said the girl who has never built a cabinet, nor used half the tools required to do so. Let’s just say I didn’t run into any problems that couldn’t have been avoided with A BASIC KNOWLEDGE OF CABINET-MAKING.
Or a pattern and cut-list written by a professional.
So this post isn’t really a how-to. I stumbled through the process, like I do with most projects I take on. Real woodworkers: consider yourself warned. I’m no expert, but I do feel qualified to leave you with these lessons I learned along the way.
Lesson #1: Choose projects that only require you to learn ONE new thing at a time. There was a learning curve here. In fact, there were several. If you want things to move along, it’s best if you only tackle one thing with a learning curve at a time. I had to get comfortable with several tools that I have little or no experience with, plus geometry. Also did I mention I’ve never built a cabinet (or any other piece of furniture) before? Once all the pieces were cut, it took me 6 hours to put together the first cabinet, and just under one hour to put together the second cabinet. And the second cabinet is sturdier. But we’ll get to that.
“Geometry?” you ask. Yes. The reason I’m building custom cabinets is because we need cabinets that aren’t square. Not square = not 90-degree angles = complication. And geometry. Which leads me to
Lesson #2: Don’t get fancy. If you’re building cabinets for the first time, build SQUARE ones.
Lesson #3: Have a plan. Probably one written by a professional.
This one looks good, but it’s not good enough. You’ll see that on the final product, although that mistake also has a lot to do with Lesson #2. We’ll get to that, too.
Lesson #4: Cut all your pieces in advance, but not to the exact dimensions. Leave them a little bigger and trim them to exact size as you go. Yay, I did that!
But then I got cocky, and cut all the pieces for the face frames and doors before the actual cabinet box was assembled. Also, I think I re-cut the pieces for the toe-kicks about four times. Lessons number 2 and 3 might not have been necessary if I had just waited a little longer to cut some of the pieces. But hey, everybody likes learning lessons, right?
Lesson #5: Pay attention to the direction you want the wood grain to go before you start cutting. As opposed to halfway through the fourth cut. Luckily, I was cutting the pieces that make up the back of the cabinets, so no one will ever notice. Plus, we’re painting the cabinets, so it will be even less noticeable. But here it is in its raw glory, horizontal grain and all:
Notice the shorter side, which will be visible, has a vertical grain like normal cabinets. I’m learnding.
Lesson #6: Pocket screws, people. Everywhere you possibly can. I’d like to introduce you to my new best friend, Kreg.
Kreg and I got to know each other really well during the process. Although I knew when I decided to build these cabinets that pocket screws would be the fastest and sturdiest way to put them together, I didn’t realize the extent of Kreg’s talents. I had planned to use pocket screws to put the face frames together, for sure. And I was pretty sure that they were the best choice to build the boxes, as well. In fact, once the pieces were cut, Step 1 was to drill the holes for pocket screws:
But I definitely should have considered them for attaching the toe kicks and bottoms of the cabinets as well. It took a metric ton of missed brads and a whole lot of glue on the first cabinet for me to realize that my trusty nail gun wasn’t so trusty after all. In fact, the only thing holding that first cabinet together might be wishes and rainbows.
After building the second cabinet so easily using my Kreg jig, I considered taking the first cabinet apart and re-doing it. But I’m lazy. Which is why I politely ask that if you’re going to come over and dance on my cabinets, that you only do so on the peninsula cabinet, and not on the one by the stove.
Lesson #7: A workbench is nice, but apparently not necessary. The condition of our work space is less than ideal.
It’ll be a miracle if everything turns out level and plumb and whatnot.
Lesson # 8: Clamps are your friend. Think you can hold those two pieces in place against the force of a pneumatic air nailer, or a screw trying to self-tap? You can’t. I can’t, anyway. I now own ONE clamp, and it was worth every penny.
But at the end of the day, I ended up with two objects that look a lot like cabinets:
Ta-daa! The big mistake I mentioned a couple of times? Thanks to my inability to convert a 2-dimensional drawing (see my awesome “Plan” above) into a 3-dimensional object with angles that are not 90 degrees (see Lesson #2), the face frames are too short. There’s a gap where they meet, but my original plan was to mitre them and have them connect seamlessly. Oh well. I’m guessing that this is something that can be covered up by trim or some sort of filler strip. Stay tuned for that exciting update.
The good news is that I only need these cabinets to match the super-cheap ones from our old kitchen that we are re-using, so the quality-bar is set pretty low.
Yay for low standards!
Now let’s hope that I can live up to those standards when I build the doors and drawers that will complete these works-of-art.