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Is it cheaper to build or buy kitchen cabinets? In this video, we explore the different options, show you how to make a basic cabinet, and compare the actual prices of building out a kitchen versus buying a professionally designed arrangement.

    1. Design Your Kitchen
    2. Build or Buy
    3. Making a Cabinet
    4. Doors and Drawers

1. Design Your Kitchen

In the last project, I showed you how to demolish an old kitchen space, build new walls, hang drywall, and lay flooring. Now that the space is open and free, I have to add the elements of the new kitchen. The first step in this process is to decide on a kitchen layout. Just like arranging tools in a workspace to accommodate a logical workflow, a kitchen needs to have the major elements in optimized locations. Josh, my wife Ginny, and I all sat down and modeled the new space in Fusion 360 so we could get a good visual of the proposed area. Knowing that the kitchen sink wasn’t going to move from its old location, we started there.

Deciding on the specific appliances was difficult. There are so many options available for electric or gas ranges, oven choices, and dishwashers. We decided to go with one company that offered a design package that included all of those appliances. One amazing feature this company offered is that they had 3d models of the appliances available for download. This meant that we could fit them into the existing model we created to get accurate measurements before they arrived!

2. Build or Buy?

Now that we know where the major elements will live in the space, we have to decide on cabinet arrangement. We took stock of everything we use and store in the old kitchen and made sure the cabinets could accommodate them all. There are online tools that helped me create a cabinet layout so I could take it to a big-box store and get a quote. This method required some effort on my part, but other than designing the layout, I would fork over money and someone else would come make it a reality. We could have taken a step further back and hired a kitchen designer to come over and make all those decisions for us, requiring even more money.

But as you’d probably guessed, I’m going to make all of the cabinet myself. I’m not sure at this point if that is the best or cheapest option, but I’m interested to find out. Because I am building out the kitchen myself, I can decide on the cabinet dimensions, the inserts, and the arrangement. My wife is partial to drawers so I can make a specialized stack to fit her cookware. I can make all of the spaces useful to us and specific to our needs. Once we finished the 3d model, I could get to work on building the many, many cabinet carcasses.

3.  Making a Cabinet

When you break down a kitchen to its most basic elements, there are just a bunch of boxes. Not even full boxes, actually. And the funny thing about the value of a kitchen cabinet is in the materials. Most contractor-grade kitchens use cabinets that are found on the shelves at most of your big-box stores. They are likely a mixture of hardwood faces, plywood sides that you can see and pressboard panels that you don’t easily see. You can totally make a cabinet of this quality or better yourself. I’m using maple plywood for the carcasses so I’m already using “nicer” materials. There are two popular styles of cabinet to choose; framed and frameless. Framed cabinets are the simple open-faced box with the addition of a face frame. The face frame is a simple rectangular frame made of 1×3 material fixed to the front face.

I am making frameless cabinets which omit this face frame. That means the boxes are even more simple and actually allow for more flexibility in the space. To make a frameless cabinet all you need is a saw that can cut a straight line, and a drill to drive in some screws. I began by cutting the two side panels to include a notch at the bottom called a toekick. Then (using my dado blades) I cut a groove in both sides that will accept the cabinet bottom. At this point you need to add some support to the top and the back, but it isn’t necessary to include an entire panel. It is common practice to just add stringers, 1×4 pieces of wood to bridge the cabinet span and add structural stability. After adding glue and screws to lock the pieces together, you’ve got a cabinet.

4. Doors and Drawers

At this point, you have successfully made a cabinet carcass, but now is the time to give it an identity. It doesn’t matter if you want empty cabinet space, a stack of drawers, or some special combination, the carcass is the same. Of course the width or depth may be different, but it’s the same. For our kitchen each cabinet has a specific identity that I have bring to life. Some are full drawer stacks, some are combination, some are fake drawers that cover a pull-out trash can. This is the par that demands your attention because you’ll be interacting with the doors and drawers more than the cabinet carcass.

I made the drawers from the same 3/4″ plywood as the cabinets and added plywood bottoms inside a dado slot. Using trusty pocket holes and glue, I assembled the drawers making sure to hide the hardware so you wouldn’t see it. Some of the drawers were very large so they needed extra support on the bottom panel. There were a lot of drawer in our new kitchen design, so I spent a few days and did nothing but make drawers.

To make the doors and the drawer faces, I am using a set of router bits to cut the frame pieces in a shaker style. There are many design styles, but the shaker style is timeless and simple. Armed with the measurements of each drawer and door opening, I started making the rails and styles for the frames…and didn’t stop for a week. There are so many cabinets in this kitchen that the sheer volume of pieces can be overwhelming. Once all of the frames were cut, I cut the flat panels and assembled them inside the frames creating larger doors and smaller drawer faces. The assembly line process was very tedious but I was able to conquer the amount of work, finally. Using frameless door hinges and soft-close drawer slides, I was able to mount the drawers and the doors in the carcasses.

Not Done Yet, But The Space Works!

At this point in the kitchen remodel we have transformed the space and now have added functionality to the room. We are still waiting on the appliances to arrive, but the provisions for them are in place. It is amazing to see the space go from a closed-in 1980s kitchen to an open room and now the room is being filled up again. We are learning to navigate around the new large island and my wife has already started moving kitchen items into their new homes. The next step is deciding on counter tops, choosing paint colors, and designing a cool backsplash element. There’s still a lot of work, but I think there is less of it ahead of me than there is behind me.

Oh yeah, the big-box store quoted me $14,000 to build and install cabinets; building them myself only cost $4,200. Of course the sweat equity involved is not quantifiable, but I am exhausted and there’s still work to be done.