Sketch a picture showing your cabinet to help you visualize it and determine the measurements required. For a cabinet 5 feet tall, 4 feet wide and 3 feet deep, for example, clearly label the height, width and front to back dimensions. Draw shelves as desired. Refer to the drawing for each measurement needed while cutting the cabinet pieces.
Measure and cut the cabinet's back board out of 3/4-inch-thick plywood. Furniture- grade plywood, which has fewer appearance defects, produces a higher-quality look, but any plywood works. Measure and mark at least three spots for both the length and the width of the plywood back, aligning the marks with a straightedge and drawing a line. Label the piece with a "R" to indicate it's the cabinet's rear.
Mark the cabinet's height and depth in more than one spot and connected with a straightedge like the rear piece. Then cut two identical 3/4-inch-thick plywood boards. These are the cabinet sides. Mark each with an "S" to identify them.
Create two additional pieces, 3/4-inch-thick, for the cabinet top and bottom boards. Mark the width and depth measurements, connecting the dimensions with a straight edge, and cut to size. Label each board with a "T" or "B" depending on which board -- top or bottom -- you want in which position.
Lay each side piece flat on your work surface. Measure from the bottom edge up, on either end of each side, marking the position of each shelf desired. Connect with a straight edge.
For instance, a 5 1/2-feet-tall cabinet with five shelves might have shelves spaced every 10 inches except the bottom shelf, which is 16-inches high. Thus, you would measure up 16 inches and again every 10 additional inches. Note that each space will actually be a little shorter since the thickness of the shelf itself comprises part of the space.
Draw a second line immediately above each shelf mark previously made, showing the thickness of the shelf material. Generally 1/4-inch-thick plywood is sufficient for the shelving. Thus, the second guideline might be 1/4 inch above the first. When complete, the double lines outline each shelf exactly.
Adjust the table saw blade to emerge 1/4 inch above the saw table surface. Move the guide to allow the blade to line up with each shelf guide line previously made. Run the board through the saw, along each guide line, to create cuts 1/4-inch deep. Cut the center of each outlined area out with successive cuts, called kerf cuts. Alternatively, use a hammer and chisel to remove the wood in between the cuts. When complete, you have recessed grooves corresponding to the position of each shelf. The shelf boards will recess into these cuts, called dados, when complete.
Measure from the saw blade to the guide to allow 1/4-inch clearance. Leave the saw blade at 1/4 inch above the saw table. Run each cabinet board, except the back, flat through the saw along the entire length to create a cut that is 1/4-inch deep and 1/4 inch away from the board edge on three sides. Leave the front edge of these pieces uncut since they will not join with another board in a corner.
Flip each board over to rest on its edge, with the height of the board rising vertically. Run each through the saw again, cutting another kerf, perpendicular to the first. When complete, the two cuts join to cut a block 1/4-inch-by-1/4-inch deep. This is called a rabbet cut. Rabbet joints create a strong, high-quality joint in furniture making.
Rabbet cut the rear board along all four sides. This causes the back board to set slightly into and flush with the side boards instead of laying on top of the side edges in a butt joint.
Cut one shelf for each dado. Use the cabinet depth, less 1/2 inch, and the cabinet width minus 1 inch for the shelf measurements. Subtracting these measurements allows for the thickness of the back and side boards beyond the kerf cut. For instance, a 4-foot wide cabinet made of 3/4-inch plywood needs shelves 47 inches wide since 1/2 inch of wood remains past the recessed dado.
Assemble the cabinet, squeezing a bead of glue along each rabbet edge and dado before joining the pieces together. Fit the sides into the bottom rabbets, insert the shelves into the dados and push the back into place before finishing with the top board. Press and hold each piece a few minutes before nailing with finishing nails to reinforce the glue. Skip nailing the shelves -- the glue and dados hold them in place securely.
Cut another sheet of plywood, measuring the height and width of the cabinet, to attach as the front door. Add a knob or handle to make use easier or leave it plain, opening the cabinet by the door edge instead. Use hinges to mount.
Things You Will Need
- Tape measure
- 3/4-inch-thick plywood
- 1/4-inch-thick plywood
- Table saw
- Chisel (optional)
- Wood glue
- Finish nails
- Door hardware
- Paint or stain
- Make your cabinet as fancy as you wish. Designs made with a router or wood burner, for example, or trim placed around the cabinet edges, make the cabinet more expensive looking.
- Build a drawer for one shelf opening or insert vertical shelf dividers for other finish options.