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How To

house icon This project is posted in the houses section.

How to Build a Corner Cabinet

finished cabinet

This project called for the creation of two corner cabinets that would reside in a recently completed room addition. These cabinets would each contain a number of electronic components and appliances that the owner wanted to utilize within the new addition. There were also space constraints that dictated the maximum size of the cabinets so we began doing design work and formulating a plan.

We've built plenty of furniture before but we've never tackled corner cabinets. We're building these cabinets for a neighbor of ours so there are "customer requirements" that need to be taken into consideration. As with everything on Dirty Shirt, this is DIY work.

It was not exactly clear how we would ensure that the oddly sized components would fit into the cabinets. To solve these problems a number of templates representing the appliances and components were created using brown painter's masking paper. We knew that the back corners of the cabinets would be a 90° angle and the two front corners would each be 45°. The questions were: How wide and how deep would the cabinets need to be to house the electronic gear and still fit within the room constraints? We used wood scrap pieces that were lying around the shop to create a cabinet foot print on the shop floor and started dialing-in the dimensions. As long as we kept the angles at 90° and 45° we could adjust the dimensions and visually check our solution using the paper templates. This is how we established the size of each cabinet and we committed to these dimensions within our design.

corner cabinet layout

The stick representing the front of the cabinet (A) was adjusted until the components fit and allowed for free-space surrounding the components. (B) These corners must be at 45° and were double-checked numerous times. These dimensions were then taken and laid out in the new room addition for confirmation.

3 ring planning binder

As we've stated on other Dirty Shirt pages, most projects require detailed drawings that establish and document the measurements and/or steps that will be used during the build phase of the project. The drawings typically reveal problems with the design and enable the builder to make adjustments before the cutting of wood actually occurs. As with all things at Dirty Shirt we're absolute advocates of taking the time to plan projects on the front-end rather than resolving planning errors on the back-end of the project. These statements come from hard lessons that have been learned over time. It's neither sexy nor fun to stand at a workbench and create these drawing but it has to be done and usually takes some time to accomplish – 10 hours were devoted to the planning of this project.

A tabbed 3-ring binder is a great way to organize a project and keeps everything in a compact single source of reference.

After the drawings were finalized a spreadsheet was created and each of the cabinet pieces was entered into this spreadsheet to create a materials-purchase list. This list includes a 5% waste calculation so that we buy more than what the finished dimensions call for. At Dirty Shirt we're much better than we used to be at utilizing our materials so 5% is a pretty slim margin. We've seen examples as high as 20% for calculating wasted material. Evaluate your skills and budget and make a judgment call as to what you think this percentage should be. In the end, if you over estimate or under estimate your materials you'll be making another trip to the store to either purchase more materials or return the excess. If you order online there is a time factor for shipping that needs to be considered. If the materials are close-out specials and are in limited supply you have no choice but to purchase enough to ensure you can complete the project.

raw wood

Note that these materials have been stored on 4-wheel dollies for two reasons: They make the materials easy to move around the workspace and they keep the wood off of the shop floor. A concrete slab holds a lot of moisture and wood that is stored on a slab will always warp, cup, twist or otherwise change from its original flat and true state.

The cabinet sides and shelves are made from cabinet-grade plywood and were cut to size using both a table saw and circular saw/straight edge combination.

router and base

A straight cutting bit has been installed in a router and will be used to cut dados (grooves) in the sides of the cabinets. The dados will accept the shelves and act as the basis for holding the cabinet carcass together. The bit is 1/2" diameter and the dados need to be 3/4" wide by 3/8" deep. Cutting one dado will require four passes with the router – two passes at progressively deeper cuts and two more passes to achieve the 3/4" final width of the dado.

cutting dados

This is the setup for the dadoing operation. Measurements are performed to determine where the dados should be placed, a straight edge is clamped to the work piece and multiple passes are made with the router to achieve the desired depth and width of the dado. It may be difficult to see but the edge of this panel closest to the camera has been cut at a 45° angle (this angle was also cut on the other mating panel). When the cabinet is assembled this will represent the front of the cabinet and it will provide a flat surface to attach the cabinet face frame.

dado close up

This is a close-up of a completed dado – a total of four dados are required for each side of each cabinet. A rabbet cut will support the top of each cabinet and a rabbet was also created along the full length of the back of one panel for each cabinet – the rabbets create a joint that allows for the attachment of the cabinet's sides to each other where the triangular point meets in the back of the cabinet.

dry fit cabinet

After the dados and rabbets were cut the side pieces were joined and scrap wood was used to hold the sides together at the top and the bottom of the cabinets. Note the use of 4-wheeled dollies so that the cabinet can be easily relocated within the shop. Shelves were cut and dry-fitted as the work progressed.

After dry-fitting, the cabinet was disassembled and the entire interior of the cabinet was sanded using a palm sander and two grades of progressively finer sandpaper (150 and 220 grit).

film icon

In this video Jeff describes an on-the-fly design change that is being made to improve the overall look and usability of the cabinets.

rail and style installation

The sides have been attached to each other and the shelves have been glued. Drywall screws were used to secure the shelves to the sides and the carcass components were clamped wherever it was necessary to ensure that the joints came together for a tight fit.

The cabinet has been tipped over on its side and a 2¼" face frame is being installed to the front of the cabinet. (C) In this photo the long piece (called a stile) at the bottom of the photo was cut, biscuit slots (shown later) were marked and cut and the piece was glued and finish-nailed into place. Working left to right the face frame pieces (referred to as rails) were measured, cut, and glued and nailed into their final positions.

The plans for this cabinet require that additional stiles be added. One will be located here (D) and another will be located at the bottom of the cabinet but has yet to be installed in this photo.

plate joiner

A plate joiner (sometimes referred to as a biscuit jointer, or biscuit joiner) was used as an aid in the assembly of the face frame and to provide strength where the rails meet the stiles.

The use and set-up of this tool is an altogether separate subject so we won't go into much detail here. In short, the tool creates a slot in each of the pieces of wood that will be joined. Glue is added to the slots and a specially-made piece of wood called a "biscuit" (E) is inserted into the slot. When the two pieces of wood are assembled the biscuit swells from moisture in the glue which locks the two pieces of wood together.

It's unlikely that you will find a plate or biscuit joiner like the one pictured. This tool was purchased in 1990 ($221 including tax) and although it was cutting-edge technology at the time the state of the art for biscuit joinery has changed radically. Regardless of age this model is absolutely elegant in every respect and this is a good illustration showing that good tools tend to pay for themselves over time. We've cut hundreds of biscuit joints with this tool and it still looks and acts as if it were new.

stiles and rails

The cabinet has been rolled out of the shop for face frame sanding. Notice how the stiles (F) run the entire length of the cabinet from top to bottom? This is by design – you normally would not install the rails across the entire width of the cabinet and add stiles between the rails. This prevents the rail end-grain from showing in the completed project.

resize cabinet

Here's a great example of a DIY mistake. The larger of the two cabinets being constructed had a number of size requirements that needed to be met. After taking all of the requirements into consideration, the cabinet needed to fit through a standard 32" door for installation. What was missed in the planning phase was a small sliding glass door that the cabinet would need to pass through to reach its final destination.

The cabinet build-phase was already well under way when this error was discovered. The solution to the problem was to cut and remove the triangular point of the cabinet and cover the newly-formed hole with cabinet plywood.

A metal straight edge was temporarily attached to the outside of the cabinet and a circular saw (set at a 45° angle) was used to cut the back up and down its entire length. The top, bottom, and all of the shelving panels were still holding the triangular point in place after the circular saw work was completed.

The solution to the problem was to insert a Japanese pull-saw into the circular saw kerf (gap created by the saw blade) and cut the shelves by hand, one by one. It worked perfectly and the repair was completely invisible in the finished cabinet.

face frame texturing

A rustic texturing effect was created on the face frame using a large piece of chain. The face frame was struck with the chain at random angles and intervals to create a mottled effect. These dimples will capture and hold more wood stain during the finishing phase of the project and will result in darker spots throughout the frame. These dark spots will add contrast when compared to the smooth doors that will cover the cabinet openings. A number of experiments were first conducted on scrap wood until the right effect was achieved.

door assembly

The cabinet carcasses are complete and the project segued to door construction. Six doors are required for each cabinet. Each door consists of two stiles, two rails and a floated piece of cabinet grade 1/4" plywood. Slots were created on the table saw along the insides of stiles and rails; these slots overlap and hold the 1/4 " plywood in place after assembly. A plunge cut was used on the stiles so that no visible kerf showed on the outside of the finished doors. A plunge cut is not necessary on the rails since the rail ends are covered by the stiles when assembly is completed.

A pocket-hole jig was purchased especially for this project – details regarding the Kreg Jig Jr. can be found within the Dirty Shirt Tools section. The pocket holes will be located on the door-backs and will not be visible from the front of the finished cabinet. Once the pocket holes were drilled the doors were assembled by adding glue to the joints, clamping and squaring the doors and driving screws into the pocket holes. After the screws have been driven the doors can be removed from the clamps and the process was repeated for all twelve doors. No glue was used on the 1/4" plywood door panels creating true "floating panels."

finished door panel

This door has just been removed from the clamps after assembly. Care was taken during the cutting of the 1/4" plywood to ensure that the grain ran vertically on all doors – this gives the cabinet a flowing visual appearance when completed. Orienting the grain horizontally interrupts (in most cases) the natural way people view tall slender objects.

The bottom rail of each door is 1/2" wider than the top rail. This gives the door a weighted look that is very subtle but necessary and improves the overall look of the finished cabinet.

Minwax finish

The insides of the cabinets and all doors will receive one coat of stain and two coats of a clear protectant applied with a foam brush. Until now (at least for us), it's always been a rule that you do not use oil based products (the stain shown here) in combination with water based products (the clear Polycrylic) and layer these two very different finish bases. Minwax has somehow worked this problem out and states directly on the can of stain that Polycrylic is recommend for sealing all but one shade of their stains. We read the can three times to be sure we weren't missing something. In general, we'd give both of these products very high marks but the Polycrylic does tend to dry quickly and with such a large project we struggled to keep up. The can says "Ultra Fast-Drying" and they aren't kidding.

finishing helpers

We purchased these little plastic pyramids from the paint store to aid with finishing. They come 10 to a pack and enabled us to finish both sides and the edges of each door without having to wait for one side of the finish to dry. Only the small point touches wet finish and isn't noticeable after drying is complete. Once a door was completely coated it was placed on another set of pyramids in a corner of the shop and we began finishing the next door on the bench. This process was repeated for all twelve doors and a slide out shelf we built for the larger cabinet.

finishing pyramids

The pyramids raise the piece to be finished about 3" off the bench surface and enable easy access to the sides of the piece as well.

staining wood

All of the cabinet components have been sanded with 150 and 220 grit sandpaper. A decorative header and footer have been added to each cabinet and stain is being applied. Jeff started applying stain to the recessed areas and worked the stain toward the larger fields. The stain was allowed to sit for about five minutes before being removed with a rag.

multi-coat finish

After the stain was applied, all cabinet components were sanded with 220 grit sandpaper. The first coat of clear protectant was then applied and everything was re-sanded with 220 grit sandpaper. As shown in this photo, sanding the first clear coat creates a white dust and leaves a dull milky appearance but the wood is very smooth to the touch. This milky appearance will disappear with the application of the second/final coat of clear finish.

door installation

The finishing operation is complete and the cabinets were laid on their backs to facilitate door and hinge installation. With the cabinets in this position it's easy to sight down the length of the cabinet to align and adjust the doors prior to attaching the hinges.

hinge installation

Here's a door alignment perspective you just can't achieve any other way. As the alignment starts to dial-in everything is checked for square and the hinge positions were marked and screws were driven to complete the task.

cabinet base installation

A base that will be hidden from view was created for each of the cabinets using 2" x 4" construction lumber and spacers.

finish touch up

Touch-up work was performed using a Precision Components Repair Pen, Dark Brown, #RK103.

door pull installation

Measurements were taken and holes were drilled for door-pull installation.

sliding shelf

A sliding shelf was installed in the middle of the large cabinet. When the addition to the home was constructed the owner directed the electrician to provide power for the corner cabinet. We added an outlet to the back of the cabinet and tested it for functionality.

finished cabinet

Decorative metal stars were added to the header of the larger cabinet and metal strapping was used to secure the cabinet to the walls. Wooden shims were added between the cabinet base and floor to properly level the cabinet. The shims were stained to match the cabinet and rendered them almost invisible.

Both of the cabinets will house electrical components. Installing a power strip can be tricky and you often end up with loose mounting screws or the alignment is off. Click here to see a power strip installation technique that resolves these problems.