Kitchen cabinet saga, part 1

Take a deep breath and prepare yourself, this one is going to be lengthy.

So we mentioned a while back that we would be working on rebuilding the kitchen cabinets now that we have our appliances. We have not been idle in this, but there have been many other things to work on as well. There is also the budget factor as well, but I’ll get into details about that later.

Considering that I have never built cabinetry from scratch before, this has been quite the learning experience. Where do you start? Well, I started in the tools department.


That is a brand new Makita skill saw I picked up back at the beginning of May. I had been wanting to replace the really old one I had and after doing some internet searching, I chose this one. I have mentioned before I have a bunch of Dewalt stuff that I become fond of, and I did consider the Dewalt saw, but the Makita won this round due to this nice little feature:


There is a handy guide on the back that indicates what your cutting depth is set at. Not many saws have that, but boy is it nice. It’s not super accurate, but if you are cutting a piece of wood that is 1″ (2.5cm), it makes it easy and quick for you to set the cutting depth.

As you can see, I did put a Dewalt finishing blade on it. That was mainly due to the fact that when I got around to buying the blade, the place I was buying it from (Canadian Tire) didn’t have much in the way of quality choice. Most of what they had was Master-crap. I was really happy with this blade though. More on that in a minute.

Another tool I used, which you wouldn’t think of, is this little baby.


That, my friends, is a planer. I didn’t buy this, my Dad gave it to me as he didn’t need it any more. I have to say, this is one of my favorite tools. This thing can make crappy, old wood look like new again. It can also turn rough cut lumber into pristine looking wood.

Interestingly, I didn’t use the planer for any of the pieces that went into the cabinet. What I did use it for is to create some really nice spacer guides for setting up my new skill saw for an accurate cut. I have two spacers, one for each side of the blade, depending on which side I need to cut from. I draw my cut line, put the spacer down along it and then clamp my cutting guide against the spacer and I know that I have the saw positioned properly to accurately cut along the line. That was the basic idea, anyway.

Here you can see a pile of other tools that I have been using during this process:


Various clamps, speed square, tape measure, pencil and gloves. Can’t forget the gloves.

There is also a 2×4 there that I planed the edges of to give me a nice straight cutting guide. Here is a closer look at it.


So, now that we have a bunch of tools, we need materials. For this project I decided to go with plywood that has one finished side for the structural parts. For the face parts of the drawers and cabinet doors, I bought a sheet of particle board with red oak veneer on both sides. None of this was cheap. I bought six 4’x8′ (122x244cm) sheets: three were 3/4″ (19mm), two were 5/8″ (16mm) and the red oak veneer was 11/16 (17.5mm). That was $400.

Oh, hey, what about hardware? You know, drawer rails and cupboard door hinges. We ended up going to Lee Valley for those and we got some really nice ones, but they weren’t cheap either. That was another $400, though we did get more than we needed for just this one cabinet as there will be other areas where we will need to make cabinetry.

After spending a crap tonne of money and finally being finished with firewood processing, we embarked on our cabinet making journey.

Here you can see Kat is all set to help with the first cut.


We were using the picnic table I built last year as the working surface. To help reduce bugs, we put one of our screen tents over it, but it does make moving materials in and out of it rather complicated. We did persevere, however.

I setup the cutting guide, double checked everything and was all ready to go. Here I am, with new saw in hand.


The first cut was made, and I have to say, that new saw, with the new blade went through that 3/4″ plywood like it was a hot knife through hot butter. There was almost no resistance at all. That first cut was supposed to be at 6′ (182.9cm) exactly. Here is a picture of the measurement after we did the cut.


Yes, the piece I am measuring is the one to the left of the 6′ mark on the tape. Not bad, if I do say so myself.

That being said, we did have a few glitches. The off-cut side was only supported by Kat; it didn’t have any table under it. As a result, when I got to the end of the cut, the blade got squeezed and the saw kicked. It’s difficult to hold the off-cut side so you don’t squeeze the blade at the end of the cut as there are multiple directions this can happen.

I should also mention, while talking about mistakes, that my first cut was pretty perfect, but my second one I screwed up due to the fact that I didn’t double check my guide positioning. Fortunately, it wasn’t a huge screw up and we were able to live with the result.

I think I did one more cut inside the tent and then decided to move it outside, as I just couldn’t get it setup well enough to avoid the blade squeeze I mentioned above. I ended up just putting down some boards on our driveway and cutting on top of those. It worked well, but it was harder on the back with all that bending over.

Anyway, after doing a few more cuts, I took the big pieces into the trailer to see how they fit.


Just try to ignore the bag of avocados hanging down from the top.

You can probably see in that picture that the big vertical pieces are against the back wall at the top, but not the bottom. It’s really difficult to fit wood that is more or less square into a space that is not. I futzed with this for quite a while until I managed to get the pieces positioned in a way that was level and square. That did mean leaving gaps or putting in shims in certain spots to account for the non-square space.

Once I had that solved, I went back out and finished cutting the pieces for the cabinet frame. This also involved making my first attempt at making a dado cut, which would have been much easier if we had a table saw, but we didn’t. I only have the skill saw, so that’s what I used.


That picture was taken after I had made three passes with the saw. The two cuts frame the section of wood that was being removed. The depth of that cut was 5/16″ (8mm) on the 3/4″ plywood. I did several more passes to remove the rest of the channel and then cleaned it up using a chisel.

This is what it ended up looking like.


I was pretty happy with the results. I was even happier that it was pretty accurate too. The mid-way shelves fit into those dado cuts nice and snug. Not too tight, but no wiggle space either.

After all this cutting and prep work, we then needed somewhere nice and flat to try and put the frame together. The only real option for this was the interior of the shipping container.


I took that picture after I had fit everything together, but not fastened anything yet. For that, I glued the edges, put them together, clamped them and then drilled counter-sunk pilot holes which I then put screws in. This worked okay, except in one case the screw decided to separate the plys of the wood, instead of cutting it. I’m thinking nails might have been better to use in this case, but I won’t know for certain until I need to do it again.

Here is a blurry picture of the frame completely assembled and standing up in the shipping container.


As is pretty obvious, the cabinet will have three sections: the bottom will have drawers, the middle will have shelves on rails that can be pulled out and the top shelf is just static.

It was around this point I got fed up working on the ground, or trying to use the picnic table, so I decided to build a work table. It was a really basic design using 4×8 sheets of plywood and some 2x4s and it should have only take about two hours to complete, but the bugs had other things in mind.

I was working on it out on the driveway and the black flies were out in force. I had just enough time to take one measurement, or do one cut before I just couldn’t take it any more and needed to take a walk to shake off the bugs. I got the bottom layer of the table completed with the legs, but I just couldn’t take it any more that day, so I left it. I got up extra early the next day (like 6am) when the temperature was skill cool and I was able to finish the table with only a few mosquitoes buzzing around. Black flies don’t come out until it warms up.

This is what I ended up with.


I have to say, having the table makes work projects way easier, though you do still have to deal with the bugs.

With the cabinet frame all put together, Kat sprang into action and put some stain on the finished sides. She used a fairly light stain so it didn’t darken the wood a whole lot. After that, the only thing to do, was install it.

So we did.


Again, another while was spent leveling it and making sure it was in the best position we could make it. In the end, it turned out pretty good. Now we need to move on to drawer making.

I had made plans for three drawers in the bottom section: two deep ones and a shallow one on top of those. I have to say, making drawers isn’t the easiest thing to do.

Originally, I thought I would get really fancy and dado cut every joint. Here is an example of that on the vertical drawer walls.


For the bottom of the drawer, I did a trench dado cut like I did in the cabinet frame for the shelves. I then had to make the joining cut around all four edges of the bottom of the drawer. That may be difficult for you to get without a picture, so here is one.


With the front side removed, you can see how the bottom of the drawer is notched into the vertical walls. I have another picture here where I took out the bottom of the drawer so you can see all of the dado cuts.


That, as you can probably imagine, is a lot of dado cuts. Using only a skill saw means this is a very long process.

The other problem is that for plywood, doing the L shaped dado cuts right on the edge means you have a really good chance of getting a ragged edge. The trench or grooved dado cuts work fine, but the edge ones have a tendency to be messy. In the end, I only did dado cuts on the vertical drawer walls on one of the drawers. The other two, I only did the groove for the bottom of the drawer.

As luck would have it, we had a planned trip to Ottawa to visit family and my Dad happens to have a table saw. I brought all of my drawer pieces with me and we used his table saw to do all of the dado cuts. We did all of the cuts for all of the pieces in about two hours which is a lot less time than it would have taken me using the skill saw. Thanks Dad, that was really helpful.

After all that, here is the first drawer where I did all of the dado cuts for all joints clamped together.


And here is a picture of it all put together.


I glued all of the joints and then I broke out my compressor and brad nailer to finish the job. That’s another story unto itself: the compressor.

I got this compressor from my Step-Father and I hadn’t really used it much. I finally decided that I really wanted to use the brad nailer so, I had to get it up and running. It’s not that complicated a device, but it has given me some issues.

The first one is that the hose connections leaked. I thought maybe the hose was old, so I bought a new one and new joiners as well. I used that fancy teflon tape to seal the threads and tightened everything down. I fired it up and it still leaked.

On top of that, I am running this plugged into my generator. When I first turn on the compressor, it runs until it reaches full pressure and then the motor shuts off. After you use the nailer for a bit, the pressure will drop and the motor will start up again to repressurize it. Well, after the first run of the motor to pressurize the tank, any time the motor started after that, it put my generator into overload, which basically means all power was cut off. The only way I found to reset the overload was to stop and restart the generator.

This is no small generator either. It’s a Honda 3000 and it has never balked at anything I have plugged into it previously. Not sure what was up with that.

In the end, I managed to get enough pressure to nail together one drawer. Then I had to shut everything down and start it all up again to do the next one. I’ll need to spend some time figuring the compressor out.

Anyway, here is a picture of the small drawer all put together.


See how handy that work table is? Yeah, that was totally worth the bug bites.

I finished putting the drawers together and then Kat put some stain on them. Then, the ultimate test came: trying to install one.

You don’t have much leeway if you want a proper fit with the drawer rails. When I first tried fitting the drawer in the frame, it seemed like I had a bit of extra space, so I thought I might need to shim the rail on one side. I tried that, twice. The first shim was about 1/8″ (3mm) and it was too thick. I tried a second shim that was about 3/32″ (2mm) and that was too thick as well. Hmmmm.

It turned out that either my cabinet frame, the drawer, or both weren’t perfectly square as the rear of the cabinet was narrower than the front. In the end I didn’t use the shim at all and the drawer seemed to fit just fine. Here it is.


I also have a picture of it extended out.


The rails we bought are full extension and will support up to 100lbs (45.45kg). That’s good because I weighed the drawer and it weighs 23lbs (10.45kg) already. I haven’t put on the front face either, so that number will go up again once that is done.

That’s all we have done so far. There will be more staining and drawer installing and then I’ll get to work on the upper shelves and the front facing. It’s going slow, but this is uncharted territory for us, so it’s largely a learning experience.

I’ll post again when we have made more progress.


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