How to Build Cabinet Boxes

How to Build Cabinet Boxes

(How to Build Cabinet Boxes – Photo by Co Adaptive Architecture PLLC)

One of the easiest, and yet scariest DIYs, is to build cabinet boxes. There are so many different techniques that are used to build cabinet boxes, and every builder will have a preference. I frequently get questions pertaining to my method of choice. So, today I am going to go over the two most common ways that I build cabinet boxes for both the upper and lower cabinets. I promise, they really are not difficult to make. So, jump right in and try it yourself!

How to Build Cabinet Boxes

(Photo by ArchiBlox)

Before we get started, I thought that I would stick this photo in here. I like it because it shows simple boxes without frames or doors, which allows us to see just the bare bones of a cabinet. If you look closely, you can even see where the screws are placed along the sides and the backs. (Just a FYI – this article will show how to build the boxes – frameless. We will not get into face frames or finishes in this post).

That being said, lets first go over the basic tools for building a box. You will need

  • 1/2″ or 3/4″ plywood. Cabinet grade birch is typical and can be found in all big box stores. 1/2″ thickness is also typical, but I sometimes use 3/4″ (especially for frameless cabinets).
  • 1/8″ plywood for the back of the cabinets (Note – this is the common method for building cabinets. I typically like to use the same wood thickness for all sides, just because I like a sturdy back. The only time I use 1/8″ on the back is if I am doing a large quantity and want to save money. Either is fine, and I will explain both ways below)
  • Drill/screwdriver with the appropriate bits.
  • Kreg pocket hole jig and pocket hole screws – my preferred method. (you can read more about those here). A typical method is to use a staple or nail gun. I will explain that as well.
  • square
  • tape measure
  • table saw (if you are planning to do butt joints, you may be able to get by with having the store cut your pieces for you).


How to Build Cabinet Boxes for walls…


How to build cabinet boxes

A standard wall cabinet will be 12″ deep. So cut the sides 12″ x the length you need, and the top and bottom 12″ deep x the width you need. (if you are adding face frames, take that thickness into account.  For examples, if I am adding a 1″ face frame thickness, I cut my cabinets to have a finished depth of 11″).

The above image is demonstrating a common cabinet construction. A dado groove is placed at the bottom approximately 1-2 inches from the bottom edge. Another dado groove is place the same distance from the top edge. (The space left at both the top and bottom is good for allowing a face frame to be attached with the correct amount of overhang. It also provides space to hide under cabinet lighting. For cabinets without face frames, you will want to place the shelves flush with the top and bottom).

Glue and nail or screw the top and bottom shelves in place, making sure that they are square.

Next, place the 1/8″ backing on the back and screw/nail in place. How to build cabinet boxes

Finally, add a strip of the cabinet plywood  across the back. (my images show 3/4″, but if you are using 1/2″ plywood, that is what you will use here as well.) This strip will serve as a cleat to screw through when hanging the cabinet.

my method…

How to build cabinet boxes

Ok, so now that I have gone over the construction for a standard wall cabinet, I want to show you how I build my own cabinets. It is not much different, but I feel like these are better constructed. However, if you choose the other way, you will still end up with a good quality box.

In the image above, I have a standard wall cabinet (stripped down) that was built by someone else. I wanted to add a stacked cabinet above it. So, this is a good demonstration of the difference in the backs. You can see the lower cabinet has a 1/8″ back and a cleat strip along the back. You can also see that the top shelf is stapled in place (along the pencil line).

My cabinet (upper) has a solid back and everything has been screwed in place with pocket holes. All of this will be later covered with a side panel, but you can see that the solid back will allow me to attach to the wall studs anywhere along the length. (the color variation is due to different wood types. The bottom is a clear finish on maple and mine is a clear finish on birch. Since doors will be going up, no one will ever know that the interior is slightly different.

Now that I have shown you an actual example of the differences, let’s go over the construction. Remember it is just slightly different than the 1st set of instructions.

I still dado a groove for the top and bottom shelves first. Then I drill out pocket holes along the back edges of the sides. (the holes will go on the exterior side of the cabinet). Then, I attach the back with the screws.

How to build cabinet boxes

Next, I drill pocket holes along the top of the top shelf and the bottom of the bottom shelf (not shown in the image). Once the shelves are slid in place, I attach them to the back and the sides with the screws. And that’s that. Easy peasy!


How to Build Cabinet Boxes  – Base…

How to build cabinet boxes

All base kitchen cabinets have a standard size of 24″ deep x 34″ high, unless they are custom. Bathroom cabinets are typically 20″ deep. (remember to take into account face frames, if they will be added).

The toe kick (if desired) should be cut to be approximately 4″ high and around 3″ deep. However, these can be altered to your likeness, or left out completely.

Set the groove just above the toe kick (4″ from the bottom). We will not need a groove at the top, because we will not be adding a top shelf.

How to build cabinet boxes

Again, drill pocket holes along the back edge of the sides and attach the back with the screws. Be sure to check that it is square. (You will notice that I am once again using the same thickness for the back).

How to build cabinet boxes

Along the top front and back edges, place a 4″ strip of plywood. Use the pocket hole jig and screws to attach it. These are for support and to help keep the box square. So once again, check for square.

How to build cabinet boxes


Next, drill pocket holes into the bottom of the bottom shelf along the edges that will face the sides and back.

Finally, slide the lower shelf into place and attach it to the back and sides. The screws should be hidden on the bottom of the cabinet.

Final Thoughts…

I hope these sketches have helped you to better understand the construction of cabinet boxes. We will be getting into face frames and finishes soon. 🙂


2 thoughts on “How to Build Cabinet Boxes

  1. Anonymous says:

    Hi thanks so much for the easy to follow directions. Question, what do you make the dado groove with? Router or table saw? Just considering my options in what to buy.

    • Rachel says:

      You can create the groove with either. Some prefer to do this with a router; I personally use my table saw. To make it easier, you can get a dada blade for a table saw. If you are choosing just one piece of equipment, I would say to go with the table saw first, because it will allow you to cut your wood as well as create tongue and/or grooves.

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