My Best DIY Home

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Kinda-Custom Storage Cabinet

I love custom cabinetry - love it.  I would love to have a whole house full of custom built-ins, the only problem is . . . it's incredibly expensive.  Not only is it expensive, it's something that is not easy to do on your own, particularly if you have little to no carpentry experience like myself.

But will I let these 2 problems stand in my way?  Of course, not!  It just took me a little while longer to think my way around how to get what I wanted.

Design Dilemma:

The upper level of my house was severely deficient in the storage department.  I had 2 of the most ridiculously sized narrow excuses for closets that I have ever seen.  I like my house to be as clutter-free as possible.  Generally that means that if we haven`t touched it in a year - we don`t need it, so I`m getting rid of it.  Nevertheless, despite all of my efforts to de-clutter and minimize, I have come to accept that a family of 5 just has lots of junk.  When it comes to junk that you can`t get rid of, my philosophy is to keep it out of sight.  That meant that I needed more concealed storage.  The layout of my house doesn`t lend itself well to closet expansions, so cabinetry was my next best bet.  The only problem was that the only logistical place to put new said cabinetry was going to be out in the open in the main space of my home, so I wanted it to be pretty as well as practical.  With my level of skill, budget, and needs, this appeared to be a bit of a conundrum.  I puzzled over it and puzzled over it, until I finally found a solution - a kinda-custom storage cabinet!

I may not be much of a carpenter, but I`m a pretty good assembler.  My solution was to combine pre-fabricated cabinets that I could purchase and assemble, and then build a very simple customized top piece within my range of skill - add some trim, and voila!  I would have custom-looking cabinets to meet my practical and aesthetic needs.


- Pre-fabricated storage cabinets (I used 3)
- 1 8'x4' sheet of 3/4" plywood (I used MDF because I wanted a smooth surface).
- Cabinet connectors (I used 8 for 3 cabinets)
- Box of 1 1/4" wood screws
- Chair-rail (I needed about 3')
- Crown molding (I needed about 10')
- DAP white interior silicone
- Wood glue
- Primer & paint
- Sand paper


- Mitre saw
- Drill
- Speed Bore
- Screw-driver
- Micro-pinner (or brad-nailer, or good 'ol fashioned hammer, nail set and finishing nails)
- Measuring tape
- Palm sander
- Painting equipment
- At least 2 C-Clamps (more is better)
- Pencil


Assemble your pre-fabricated cabinets according to manufacturer's instructions, but leave the doors off and the shelves out until the very end of the project (I did not do this, but it sure would have made life easier if I had).

You can buy these cheap at any Walmart-type store.


Push cabinets together, align edges so that they are flush.  Clamp cabinets together with C-clamps. Measure, mark and drill 2 holes using an appropriately sized drill bit and speed-bore on either side of the top and bottom of the inside wall of your cabinets (where you plan to connect it to the other storage cabinet).  Insert cabinet connectors into holes and anchor cabinets together (you might want to fiddle with these before hand so you know how they work).  Un-clamp.

Use your measuring tape to measure the distance across the top of your connected storage cabinets (the total width/length) and the depth of your storage cabinets.  Write these measurements down.

Use your measurements to map out the pieces you will need cut from your piece of plywood.  In my case I needed a top and bottom piece the same width and depth as my connected cabinets  - 1.5" off the width/length to accommodate the width of the plywood on the end pieces, 2 end pieces the width of my cabinet depth x my desired total height, 5 divider pieces with the same width as my cabinet depth, but - 1.5" off the height of my end pieces to accommodate the width of the plywood on my top and bottom pieces.

While drawing this picture I forgot to subtract 1.5" from the length of the top and bottom pieces, please disregard the measurement shown in the illustration and follow the directions!

If you don't own your own table saw, most building supply stores will have a table saw on site and will give customers a certain number of free cuts on plywood purchased at the store, or will charge a minimal fee per cut.  I took the diagram I drew of the pieces I needed cut from my plywood including the measurements, and the staff so helpfully cut it all out for me!

Lay bottom piece on top of your connected cabinets, ensuring edges are flush (remember that your bottom and top pieces should be 1.5" shorter than the total length of your connected cabinets - 3/4" on either side).  Using your pencil, mark on the bottom piece where you want to place your dividers (I centered mine in the middle of each cabinet, and where 1 cabinet met another).  Take the bottom piece down and place it on the ground.  Use a straight-edge to extend your marks across the width of the bottom piece.  Lay the top piece on the ground beside the bottom piece (long-side to long-side).  Ensure that your edges are flush and mark the top piece to be exactly the same as the bottom piece.  Drill 1 hole on either side of all your marks 1" in from the edge on both the top and bottom pieces.

Top and bottom pieces should looks something like this with a hole drilled 1" in from the edge  on either end of each line.

Measure and mark 1" in, centered in the width of the plywood on the top and bottom of each end of your divider pieces.   Using an appropriately sized drill-bit, drill 1 hole on each of your marks (holes on divider pieces should match up with holes drilled in top and bottom pieces). 

Measure and mark 1" in, centered in the width of the plywood on either side of both ends on the top and bottom pieces and drill holes accordingly.  On the face of each end-piece, measure and mark each corner where a hole will be drilled to line-up with the holes on either end of the top and bottom pieces.

STEP 5:  
Connect the pieces together by smearing a small amount of wood glue on connecting edges, lining up drilled holes, and securing with wood-screws.

Go slowly when inserting screws.  Even though you have pre-drilled the holes, you can still accidentally crack the plywood by going too fast.

Sand any rough edges or spots, and use DAP to fill any cracks (see my post on painting furniture for tips on how to do this if you haven't done it before).  Remove any dust and wipe clean with a damp rag.

Paint the entire surface of the newly constructed shelf structure with 1 coat of primer and allow to dry.  Paint with at least 2 coats of paint, allow to dry to the touch in-between coats and for at least 24 hours when finished. (again, see my post on painting furniture for more information on how to do this if you haven't done it before).

Make sure that the paint you are using matches the colour of the pre-fabricated cabinets you have purchased.  If it doesn't, or if you want to change the colour of the cabinets, now is the time to paint them too.

Move the shelf structure into position on top of your connected cabinets (this may be quite heavy depending on how large you have made it, so get someone to help you).  Make sure edges are flush, and clamp in place.

Drill holes in each corner of the top of each cabinet into the bottom of the shelf structure.  Secure with screws.  Remove clamps.

Measure, cut and install crown molding around the top edge of shelf structure.

See my new tutorial on: Cutting and Installing Crown Molding for how to do this.

STEP 10:
Cut, and install 2 pieces of chair-rail according to the depth of your cabinets to mask the line where the cabinets and the shelf-structure connect.

STEP 11:
Fill any cracks around moldings with DAP and apply a final coat of paint.

STEP 12: 
Move your new cabinet into position and anchor into the wall to avoid tipping.

STEP 13:
Install doors and handles and shelves in cabinets according to manufacturer's instructions.

*I chose to use a different kind of handle than what came with my cabinets so I had to drill some new holes in the doors and fill some of the original ones.*

STEP 14:

Sit back and stare in awe at what you built!

Credited to the Author