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In the second part of the cabinet build, the task ahead is doors: six doors of varying size and shape, to be exact. Priceless architecture that will be treasured for ages isn’t how this is going down. Much like the rest of this project, I’m looking for peppy and cheap so I opted for knotted whitewood and 1/4” ply.

Though some may shudder at the thought, and there are undoubtedly better options for cabinet door material, such as any hardwood on the planet, I got the three-inch whitewood trim for a $1 per 8’ stick, so whitewood it is.

I began the process by routing a 1 /4” x 1 /4” slot down one side of each piece of stock.

Next came cutting each piece on the miter saw to the correct length. If you ever do this, make sure the groove is on the right side of the cut or it’s now a wasted piece.

Once each side is cut you have the basics of the frame that will form our low-rent door. We could have done it the correct way, which would involve many more routing operations; however, this is going to get a paint job and live in the closet, so expending a ton of effort on these doors isn’t necessary.

The plywood insert was cut to fit the frame groove exactly, and after I applied glue to the mitered corners a few nails held the rig in place until the glue dried. The end result was no clamping and a quick turnaround time.

A run around the outside edge with a 3/8” round over bit made a bigger difference in the look and feel of these doors than I thought possible.

The final sacrilegious step in the name of low-buck cabinetry arrived just before painting in the form of spackle. I opted for spackle because it was already sitting on the shelf in the shop; it spreads like icing and sands in no time flat, a fateful decision and zero-dollar solution that will land me squarely in the bowels of woodworking hell.

Chipped-out ply, knots, and knotholes were covered and sanded smooth and ready to go in almost no time at all.

After the first coat of primer went on, the craptastic, knotty wood was completely hidden away behind a fresh, white shell of pigment. It matches the rest of the closet, and once it’s installed it won’t look out of place in the slightest.

I did some figuring, and with the whitewood trim and the ply — half of which I salvaged from elsewhere — the doors ran me less than $3 each. Of course three of them were small 17” x 10” in size, but two of them were 34” x 17” which makes up for it a bit. All in all, I most likely broke every fine woodworking rule in the book but still managed to get the doors built for less than it would cost to buy one prefab door at a cabinetry shop.

The third and final post will be hardware, mounting the doors, and finish-out.


14 Responses to Project: Built-In Cabinets Under $100 — Part 2

  1. Dave says:

    Why are you so apologetic about this project? I mean, “real” fabricators are trying to sell you a cabinet door made of MDF laminated in “foil” (read: plastic) that look like they were made in a mold from MDF slurry. You have nothing to be ashamed of.

  2. Sean O'Hara says:

    Wow, haven’t seen that. That sounds just about awful. How do they stand up to wear and tear compared to regular old wood and ply?

    The cabinet guys I talk to all tout the hardwood and crazy joint work and claim that “real” cabinets must feature these items. Personally I think that’s crap in that the only thing “real” cabinets must feature is a box and a door. But I’ve never been on the popular side of that debate.

  3. Joe says:

    I’ve been trying to get things in my shop organized (too much stuff, not enough storage) so I’ve been building a lot of benches from 2″x4″‘s and and 3/4″ melamine….but decided yesterday I didn’t want to go through even as much effort as you did. I went down to the Habitat for Humanity Re-store and bought 6 fairly deep drawers @ $2.50 each and a bunch of cabinet doors for a buck or two each. $29 total. All real wood, no particle board.

  4. Will says:

    I’ve promised my wife some extra shoe storage in the closet as a “gift” after she didn’t freak out over my purchase of a 25-year-old Shopsmith (most of my previous projects have just involved poplar and red oak from the craft-“lumber” section at HD. Where does one go about getting an 8′ piece of anything for a dollar?

  5. Sean O'Hara says:

    @Will Get to know your local wood guy at the big box, hardware store or the local mill. The big boxes throw stuff out or rotate stock all the time so grabbing their cast-offs is a great place to start.

    You don’t always get what you were looking for but you can find a use for anything if you wait long enough. Alot of what you’ll get is seconds that have cracks, extreme knots or warpage.

    But sometimes, like in this case, they just over order and mark the stuff down. Find out when the truck comes in and stop by around that time, you’d be surprised at what you can walk away with if they don’t have to mess with it anymore.

  6. BigEdJr says:

    I agree with Dave. This looks great. I am sure there are a few pros out there that have the skills and tools to make “nicer” stuff out of better wood, but those nicer cabinets probably wouldn’t last any longer or function any better than these that you are building.

    This is the stuff I love to see on this site, because it’s the type of project I can handle and actually use myself. I can’t afford to buy all the specialty tools that Norm used to use and I have accepted the fact that I will never build fine furniture, but usable stuff like this is great!

    Thanks, I can’t wait to see how you have decided to attach the door etc. Nice job!


  7. aaron says:

    Dave OTM. nothing to be ashamed of here.

  8. Second the “nothin’ wrong with this” comments. I do this for a living and while hardwood is certainly better, I can’t even buy a single piece of birch for what this entire project cost.

    The only thing I would have done differently is pre-seal the knots with shellac before priming. And maybe wood putty instead of the spackling paste. 🙂

  9. MattW says:

    On the bandwagon here. When you have first rate tools, beautiful materials, time, and money, lovely results are expected, and if you don’t get them, it is you. Being able to knock out presentable product quickly with inexpensive materials at hand is a skill I wish I was better at (I am working on it). This is inspiring.

  10. rg says:

    This project is a thumbs-up!

  11. Phil says:

    This project is spot-on. Remember that many years ago cabinets and doors were mostly fabricated on site to fit into the various spaces. The big difference between then and now is probably the quality of wood available. Here you have an end product perfect for its intended use, something that you can be proud of. Some people would have taken a shortcut and thrown in some prefab chipboard cabinetry that would not make the best use of the available space. In this, every space is fully utilized. It’s a pure custom job! Bravo for not only the end result, but especially for the ingenuity and use of skills. This is “how it used to be done.”

  12. Michael Walters says:

    I’m a “professional” cabinet maker and I don’t see anything really wrong with what you did. I do, however, prefer poplar for painted cabinets/doors as it has less knots. I did doors the same way until I stepped up to a rail/stile system (a CMT set). I prefer the rail/stile system because the doors will last longer and by now I’m just as quick doing them that way. A good set of bits will run you approx. $150 (mine was $165 but I chose to support a local small brick and mortar instead of going online).

    The only thing slightly “wrong” you did was to spackle the corner miters. That will crack over time. If you really feel the need to fill those joints, try spreading a bit of caulk on them (between coats of primer/paint). If you wipe down the excess caulk before you paint it will look great.

  13. Julian Tracy says:

    Save yourself the hassle of those long miter corners – no need for miters for this type of projects. Cut them square and if you don’t have a biscuit jointer, cut splines out of 1/4″ material and glue and clamp them up. A LOT easier than clamping the mitered assemblies, and just as strong and easier to cut as well.

    Check out the “Space Balls” – they are these little rubber balls that you put in the rail and stile grooves that surround the middle panel. They allow the panel to move, yet cushion it so that the panels won’t rattle when the whole assembly dries a bit.

    A few squirts of silicone caulk that you allow to dry in each of the grooves will accomplish the same result.

    Gotta love those cheap little pyramid supports, huh? Very handy, those are.

    And if you are painting everything anyways – don’t bother spackling or patching the uneven miter joints – simply glue it all up and when dry, run over it with a belt sander to level them and then an orbital to clean it up.



  14. Julian Tracy says:

    Forgot to add – if you do butt joints as opposed to miters – a simple mixture of wood glue and water applied to the end grain will seal it and avoid the extra soaking in of the final paint that unsealed end grain will do.

    That’s a good tip for cut and routered edges on mdf as well. Makes for a smooth paint job.


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