How to build kitchen cabinets

Everyone knows what a cabinet is, right?

Most everyone on Earth sees some kind of cabinets on a daily basis but the vast majority would not be able to build one from scratch if asked to. This isn’t too hard to understand as most couldn’t build a car either. Fortunately building cabinets is much easier than building cars. I distinctly remember the evening before starting my first job as a cabinet maker going into the kitchen and opening a door and seeing what I could learn.

Types of cabinet construction

For the most part there are two types of cabinet building techniques, framed/frameless and dado/butt joints. They can be any combination of the two and no one type is really considered better than the other. When deciding on framed or frameless it has more to do with the look you are going for. Face framed cabinets usually give a more traditional look while frameless can give a more modern look. Choosing between dado and butt joint construction is more about the equipment you have. I personally prefer to use dados since they help to align the box parts during assembly.

What is a cabinet?

At their basic level cabinets are made up of a box, face frame, doors/drawer fronts and drawer boxes. When building cabinets you will usually create each of these in separate steps. With careful planning you can build each in any order you desire. Though, assembling the boxes last will save some space for doing the other operations.

Before going any further

Cabinet making can be one of the best occupations or hobbies there is. But, it can also be quite dangerous if you are not careful. Working with power tools has its own risks but in cabinet making these power tools often have razor sharp attachments. Always follow the tool manufacturer’s safety guidelines. If you are tired, take a break. If you are working in a cabinet shop and notice a dangerous situation tell your supervisor.


A cabinet box, also called a carcass, is made up of sides, a top, a bottom, shelves and a back. The sides, tops and bottoms can be made from either 1/2” or 3/4” sheet goods. These can be veneered plywood, veneered mdf (medium density fiberboard) or melamine coated particle board.
Detailed cabinet box instructions

Face frames

Face frames are made up of stiles, rails, middle stiles and middle rails. Stiles run vertically and rails run horizontally. This same concept applies to door parts.
Detailed face frame instructions

Doors and drawer fronts

Doors and drawer fronts can either be a single piece, often called slabs, or a 5 piece design. They are usually made from solid wood but can also be made from mdf in painted applications (mdf is a very stable materials so long as moisture is kept from penetrating). With 5 piece doors and drawer fronts you will have stiles and rails but also panels. The panels can be either raised, flat or glass. Raised panels are generally made from 3/4” solid wood and flat panels from 1/4” plywood or veneered mdf. The reason for mdf core panels is they are a bit heavier and give the door a more solid feel.
Detailed door and drawer front instructions

Drawer boxes

Drawer boxes are made up from sides, fronts & backs and bottoms. The material used for the boxes can be either solid wood or some type of plywood. Normally the sides, fronts & backs are made from 1/2” material and the bottoms from 1/4” material. They can be made from thicker materials if needed but for regular household cabinets the above is fine.
Detailed drawer box instructions

Assembly and finishing

This is the best part, when you start to see everything come together.
Detailed Assembly instructions

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