Joe Abbott's Weblog

Letters home to mom

The Project: Building a cabinet–Part 1

Posted by joeabbott on December 18, 2013

I’m building a cabinet for our front room; I touched on this in a prior post. To ensure I know what I’m doing, I make sketches, build models, and make sure I completely understand the construction. This post captures some of the thinking from my sketches, models, and mental notes.


The cabinet is going to be 12’ long and never intended to be moved from the location we put it. Given that I’m building it in-place, it will never have to stand alone, so some of the conventional building considerations can be removed. I fought with this a long time, mostly because I don’t want this to be a cheap, hacky piece. The main detail was whether to put a back on it. The back panel to many cabinets provides structural support in the shear stresses applied to a piece of furniture. For this unit, I won’t add the back but will attach it to the wall!

We also plan on building bookcases that will go on top of the cabinet. Ultimately those could weigh a LOT. So, I want to make sure the cabinet we build is rock solid.

Finally, we have several other pieces of furniture in the room that have straight lines, use bamboo wood, and have a “chunkiness” about them. I want to follow those style guides for this piece.

Location location location

As noted, we’re putting this into the front room. In most of my sketches and trial models I assumed there’s some structure to tie into and left the walls as homogenous slabs. Can’t do that in the final analysis! Need to know where we’ll tie into what, where outlets are, and how I’m going to build this. Exactly.

Here’s the space we’ll be putting the cabinet into.


At the corners of the walls, there is other support structure back there, but I couldn’t determine exactly where things lay using my stud-finder; so, when I start building, I’ll do some investigative hole-punching to find it. If I need to. Right now the single, centered stud on the short wall will likely be good enough.


Here’s where I mate the cabinet structure to the house.


As you will see, the short studs will fall directly below the cabinet sections walls and, while it’s not immediately clear from this picture, I am considering using 96” 2×4 as my longest member … which means I’ll need to tie things together for a 144” cabinet. Here’s a typical close-up from the structure directly below the outlet in the picture above:


This shows details around building out the base but doesn’t show attaching it to the wall; which is fine as I’ll do that as I go along. Once I start building, I’ll mark the walls to show me where the studs are located and then attach into them as needed.


At this point we can start “building” the cabinet. As I noted, we wanted a thicker look to the piece, so all walls will be built up from two layers of 3/4” paneling, making a final 1.5” thickness. There were a couple ways to go with this.

All of the furniture that I saw that was “thick” was built up in one of two ways: either by having a hollow-core construction or by faking the thickness. Hollow-core was not what I was interested in doing: typically you take very thin material, say 1/4”, and then use that to sandwich some sort of “webbed” material like this:


Again, I’m not interested in building that sort of thing so I avoided it.

The second option of “faking the thickness” would use a strip of wood on the edges, rather than use the entire panel. So, for the base layer, it would look like this:



In the above, you see that they’re just using strips of wood over the support structure and along the edges. The panels that are “floating” above would sit directly on top of the faked edges and, when glued in place, would give you a solid, good-looking double-thick edge. This is done purely to save resources … aka, money. Which is a great reason to do something like this but I’m not going to do that.

Yes, I’d like to save money but the above method has two challenges: it’s more time-consuming for a single piece of furniture and I’d have a lot of joints to worry about ensuring they were level and even. What I plan on doing for the first layer is shown below … complete sections of plywood. This avoids many of the joints and gives me the double thickness at the cost of more material.


End Part 1

Sadly, that’s as far along on the SketchUp model as I have. I’ve been thinking about the other parts to the point of losing sleep and to the distraction of nearly all else, but I have to formalize it. I should have it done by noon, then I can color-shade to start worrying about grain directions and things like that. Then … then I can start building. I may take a break today and get the 2×4 lumber and pull off the molding from where I’ll be building … it always feels good to start making visible progress.

Thanks for reading. I’ll be posting more soon!


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