How I Build Basic Cabinets Only Plywood

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A step-by-step tutorial on how to build kitchen cabinets from scratch, offering tips on measurements, materials, and assembly techniques for your DIY kitchen cabinet build.

So, you’ve decided to take the plunge and build your own kitchen cabinets from scratch. Trust me, it’s an endeavor that pays off in spades, not only for the aesthetic of your kitchen but also for the sweet satisfaction that comes from a DIY project well done.

My brother’s kitchen was a mess. A real fixer-upper that needed some serious TLC. From ripping down walls to laying new flooring, we did it all. 

outdated kitchen with large window
outdated kitchen with white cabinets

But the crown jewel? 

The kitchen cabinets that we built from scratch.

kitchen with DIY cabinets
kitchen makeover

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DIY Kitchen Cabinets

Supplies:

Tools:

STEP 1: Initial Preparation and Demolition

Before you even think about assembling cabinets, there are a few prerequisites. 

  1. Demolish the old kitchen
  2. Get rid of unnecessary walls
  3. Ensure all foundational elements, like flooring (which can be installed after) and painting, are in place. 
installing beam for load bearing wall

Once that’s done, you’ll have a blank canvas ready for your masterpiece.

demoed kitchen ready for cabinet

STEP 2: Measure and Plan

Measure your kitchen carefully and create a layout plan for your cabinets using a tool like SketchUp

This will be your roadmap, so make sure it’s accurate. A small mistake in your measurements can lead to hours of rework later.

Here are some standard sizing of kitchen cabinets: 

  • 12”
  • 15”
  • 18”
  • 21”
  • 24”
  • 27”
  • 30”
  • 33”
  • 36″

Also, if you are looking for more assistance with planning and designing your kitchen, I have you covered. 

You can purchase my DIY Cabinet Workbook, or I also have a full Kitchen Makeover Bundle (includes cabinet workbook, fridge surround plans, and utensil pull-out drawer plans).

But let’s break down the basics here.

STEP 3: Build the Cabinet Base

The toe kick

You can choose between cutting notches into your plywood or using 2x4s to create your cabinets’ base (toe kick). 

I chose 2x4s because they’re easier to level, and they save plywood. 

building a 2x4 toe kick frame for base cabinet

These cabinet frames (toe kicks) will be 3” smaller than the cabinet base in width, making them 20-1/4“ in depth.

Attach them to the floor or wall studs for a strong, stable foundation.

Cutting and prepping the Cabinet Box

After your 2×4 base is ready (if you’re building your cabinets this way), it’s time to build the cabinet box.

Cut the plywood for the cabinet box. 

cutting plywood for cabinets

Add pocket holes on the front and sides, both on the top and base plywood pieces. 

TIP: Pay close attention to pocket hole placement—these will hold your frame together and also serve as an anchor for trim pieces later on. 

plywood to build wall cabinets

Add Drawer Slide Supports (if you have drawers) + Shelf Pegs

Before you put the whole cabinet together, make sure to add drawer slide supports. 

These supports help to level the drawers with the cabinet face, making it easier to slide them in and out.

Also, add any holes needed for shelf pegs.

And yes, it’s easier to add them now instead of later. 

using shelf peg jig

Assemble the cabinet box

Assemble the cabinet box using the pocket holes.

pieces to build kitchen cabinets

It’s a great idea to use clamps to help you hold the pieces together. 

building cabinet box using pocket holes and clamps
using pocket holes to build kitchen cabinets

Nail the 1/4″ plywood backing to the back of the cabinet box once the box is assembled with all the pieces. 

using nail gun to attach back to cabinet

Add the Cabinet Trim

Before the cabinet can be installed, the trim needs to be added to the front of the cabinet box.

women with cabinets that she built

Cut the trim pieces and add pocket holes to the top, bottom, and middle pieces. 

Then, attach the pieces together using clamps and 1-1/4″ screws

trim for kitchen cabinets

TIP: I like using a flat face clamp to ensure the pieces are completely flat.   

Lastly, add the trim to the front of your cabinets using pocket holes.

cabinet box with trim

TIP: There will be a 1/4″ overhang on both sides of the box to the end of the trim to allow you to install the cabinet flush, depending on how square your wall is. 

STEP 4: Install Base Cabinets

Install the base cabinets into place. 

installing base cabinets

Ensure the cabinet bases are leveled properly, then secure them to the wall stud. 

base cabinet leveling

At this point, your base cabinets are ready for counters.

SIDE NOTE: We did install a farmhouse sink in the sink cabinet, and we used 2x4s to support the sink. 

adding support to farmhouse sink cabinet

STEP 5: Build and Install the Island

If you plan to have an island, like my brother did, ensure you add sufficient support to hold the countertop’s weight. 

cabinets for small kitchen island

This can be done with wood or metal countertop brackets, I opted to extend the cabinet based to support the countertop. 

building custom sized island

STEP 6: Prepare and Install wall Cabinets

The wall cabinets are similar to the base cabinets but have an extra plywood piece at the top. 

Plus, you will want to raise the bottom shelf up a 3/4″ to make sure the shelf is flush with the trim.

Make sure to install them carefully; getting some help for this part is a good idea.

STEP 7: Painting the cabinets

Now, you are ready to prime and paint your kitchen cabinets. I have a full tutorial on how to paint kitchen cabinets with a paint sprayer.

spraying kitchen cabinet doors

STEP 8: Install Cabinet Doors

We had the doors manufactured, but once the doors are painted, install them to complete your kitchen transformation.

STEP 9: Finishing touches

After painting the cabinets and installing the doors, we installed the trim to cover the toe kicks and installed baseboards around the island.

installing base boards for kitchen cabinets

TIP: I share my tips on caulking baseboards in another post.

I used a crown molding tool to cut the crown molding to finish up the top of the cabinets.

cutting crown molding for cabinets

I also installed a kitchen backsplash.

grouting backsplash for kitchen

At this point, the kitchen was completely finished.

DIY kitchen cabinets
house living room and kitchen makeover
island in kitchen

FULL PROJECT VIDEO:

Are you better with visuals? Check out the full project video below, and don’t forget to subscribe on YouTube so you don’t miss out on future projects!

https://youtu.be/l8hehzmeMhc

So there you have it! Your step-by-step guide to building kitchen cabinets from scratch. If you can measure accurately, cut precisely, and are willing to invest the time, you can absolutely create DIY kitchen cabinets!

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