The Fundamentals Of Cabinet Making

Cabinets are a must have in any house. You will need them in the kitchen, under the sink, in your bedroom, bathroom, in your work space and pretty much anywhere where you need to store something. If you are a woodworking enthusiast with a little guidance, you can make your own cabinets. Of course, for a beginner it might seem like a tremendous task, but as you understand each of the steps involved in the process of cabinet making, you will see that it is not as difficult as you thought. The only catch is that you must get your basics right.

woodworking cabinet
Beautiful wooden cabinet made with DIY plans.

The good news is that the basic of cabinet making are pretty much the same. So, if your learn how to make kitchen cabinets, you can apply the same principles to build cabinets for your workshop. However, as is with learning any new skills ensure that you get familiar with the techniques by reading books, magazines, online resources on cabinet making and woodworking before starting a project.

In this article, we have tried our best to cover the fundamentals of cabinet making – right from the woodworking skills, tools, online resources, to the materials you will need as well the safety precautions that you need to follow.

Let us start with the very first material that is need for cabinet making – wood. The confusing thing about it is that there are so many types of it out there that can be used for cabinet making. But, don’t worry we will discuss them in brief here.

  • Hickory: The color of this wood can range from brown to white and it is characterized by tight prominent grains. It is a hard wood – even tougher than maple and oak and hence the cabinets made from this wood are typically stronger, sturdier and more durable. Staining it is a bit challenging.
  • Maple: This is a type of hardwood whose color ranges from white to tan. It can have grains that are straight, bird’s eye type or curly and wavy.
  • Oak: This is also a type of hardwood and is characterized by a rich golden color or a reddish light brown color and has a quite prominent open grain.
  • Knotty Alder: It is a typical red hardwood characterized with a fine straight grain.
  • Ash: It is a typical white hardwood and features a prominent coarse grain.
  • Cherry: This type of wood has a brownish red color with characteristic fine grain.
  • Beech: This hardwood is characterized with tight grain and has a pale brown to deep reddish color. It is often substituted for oak or cherry.

Other types of hardwood used for cabinet making include birch, gum, poplar and walnut. Apart from these hardwoods, some soft woods are also used such as pine, knotty pine and redwood.

Once you have acquainted yourself with the various types of wood, you should concentrate on the next step and that is – woodworking tools. Some of the typical tools that you will need in cabinet making include tape measure, square, hammer, clamps, miter saw, jigsaw, router, circular saw, sander, nail set, drill and table saw. It is also advisable that you purchase the finest high quality tools because low cost tools are generally of low quality and break down faster rendering them useless. In the long run you will be spending far too much in replacing the broken tools.

When you finally set out to make a cabinet, you will need its dimensions. When you are making a customized cabinets that need to fit into a particular location, you have to consider the size of the location to set the dimension. However, there are certain standardized dimensions that are commonly used for all cabinets. Here are a few common dimensions widely used:

woodworking cabinet plan
Example of a detailed cabinet woodworking plan.
  • For kitchen base cabinets ideal height is 36″-38″. However, if the people using it are taller than 6’2” then you should consider customizing the height.
  • For vanity base cabinet a 32″-36″ height is good enough.
  • Cabinet depth can vary. For example for kitchen base cabinets a depth of 24″ is fine whereas for kitchen wall oven cabinet 25″ in needed. Similarly for kitchen wall cabinet depth can range between 12″-16″, vanity base cabinet can be around 21″.
  • The distance between the base cabinet and the upper cabinet should ideally range between 16” to 18”.

There are some other features and parts of the cabinet that you need to consider. Typically, a cabinet will be made up of a plywood box, solid wood frame and plywood back. The face frame of the cabinet comprises of stiles and rails and they are generally joined together via pocket joinery.

Another thing you need to decide if you would like to have shelves or drawers and accordingly will have to design their parts. For a beginner so many things about cabinet making can be a bit overwhelming. Therefore it makes sense to refer to the various online resources that provide free cabinet making plans and tutorials. In our free Download section, you will find some detailed woodworking cabinet plans.

Here are some other free resources that you can make use of as well.


All of these online sources have many free cabinet making plans that come with pictures and step by step instructions that can make the whole process of learning how to make cabinets a very enriching experience.

When working with wood, safety is of prime importance. Since, most of the time you would be working with sharp blades, cutters and machines; you make sure you are attentive when working in the workshop.

The idea of making cabinets on your own can be exciting. But, don’t let the excitement override your judgment. Before starting the process of making the cabinet, be sure that you have understood each and every step fully. You do not want to be stuck in the middle wondering what to do next. Getting your basics right can lay the strong foundation of learning this craft.

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