How to Build and Install Cabinets

Lead Image
What You'll Need
Plywood (size and type depends on design)
Tape measure
Drill bit sharpener (Drill Doctor)
Finish nails
Wood glue

Building and installing your own cabinets is easier than you might think. In many ways, constructing cabinets is similar to building a collection of boxes and simply putting it all together. From planning and gathering materials to accurate installation, this guide will help you build and install the cabinets you have always wanted.


You should have a clear layout in mind and take precise measurements before you start building cabinets. You can either build individual units and join them together or construct larger units to fit inside particular spaces. Measuring the layout for your cabinets will tell you exactly how much wood you need to finish the job.


A typical cabinet is composed of a back, two sides, a top, and a bottom, though this can vary depending on your application. The front of the cabinet is finished with facing boards. You can build the cabinets out of hardwood or softwood plywood. Sides that are hidden can be made from less expensive plywood, while surfaces that are visible should be made out of quality hardwood. Face frames are typically made from solid wood.

Frame Construction

After cutting the sides of your plywood, you can begin putting the pieces together. You can butt two sections together and screw into place using a drill, or cut a rabbet joint for a more secure connection. Make sure you’re using sharp drill bits so holes are precise and clean. If you have used bits, a Drill Doctor will renew them and save you money.

Working on cabinet construction with a screwdriver.

On visible pieces, consider using your drill to create pocket holes for a nicer finish where screws are. If you are not building a cabinet base, then you need to recess the bottom of the cabinets to create a toe- kick profile. Construct all the pieces of the cabinet before installing in its final location. If you plan on applying a finish to the wood, leave the backs of the cabinet off until the insides have been stained.

Face Frame

Once the frames have been fully constructed, you can start installing the face boards. Dry fit the parts before you secure them to the frame. Once you know the pieces are cut correctly and square, drill pocket holes to fit the facings together. Use finish nails and a thin bead of wood glue to attach the facings to the edge of the plywood. Finish the look by sanding the face boards so all the joints are smooth and any measuring marks are erased.

Building the Cabinet Base

A drill and a wood cabinet.

The cabinet base holds the structure in place, so it's important that you select straight wood for the job. The base can be constructed with 2x4s and should match the perimeter measurements of the cabinets with a front recess of around four inches. The recess will create space for the toe-kick. Before securing the cabinets to the base, nail a strip of plywood to the front of the base for a finished look.

Installing Cabinets

You want to make sure the cabinets are the correct height and level before you secure them in place. Start by placing the first cabinet in place and checking for a level top. If the cabinet is not level, install a shim under the base until everything is even. Once the cabinet is level and flush to the wall, use a drill to secure it to the base and studs in the wall with 2.5-inch screws. Repeat the process until all the cabinets are installed.

A man using a Drill Doctor

Creating your own cabinets is a great project that makes something useful for your home with the exact look you want. When building functional pieces like this, it’s important to keep tools like your drill and bits in good condition, especially when using more expensive wood. Dull bits can tear at the grain and create a sloppy look on your joints. Regularly sharpening drill bits using a Drill Doctor not only saves you time and money, but also gives you the option of using more advanced drilling techniques, like adding a split point, which can help you drill faster and avoid slippage when starting a hole without a punch mark. Utilizing such methods will help you to create pieces for your home that will both look good and last a lifetime.