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How I Built My Lower Base Cabinets And Drawers In The Pantry

Well, I finally took a day off yesterday. After posting my final One Room Challenge update last Thursday, I wanted to continue working for a couple of days and see just how far I could get before the official end of the challenge. I ended up getting all of my open shelves built, wood filled, sanded, and primed. I still need to do the second sanding, caulk, and then paint, but even with just the primer, I think they’re looking so good!

Once the shelves and walls are done, and the ceiling touchups are done, I’ll come back and do the final coat on the cabinets. Once that’s dry, I’ll finally be able to install my drawers and doors. So I’m definitely nearing the finish line!

But today, I wanted to back up a bit and show y’all how I built the lower base cabinets for the pantry. So let’s jump right in.

For the main cabinet boxes, I used 3/4-inch sanded plywood. I determined the sizes of cabinets I would need based on the space available in my pantry and the layout I wanted, and with those cabinet widths in hand, I was ready to get started.

I started by cutting the sides for the boxes, which I did using my new handy Kreg circular saw guide, which you can find here. (Seriously, this thing is worth its weight in gold. It made this project so easy!) For each cabinet, I cut two sides (obviously) to 24 inches wide and 34.5 inches high. Then using a speed square, I marked a rectangle on the lower corner for the toe kick. I made the toe kicks 3.5 inches wide and 4.5 inches high.

I mirrored the toekick on the other side piece…

Then I cut those out using my jigsaw.

Next I used my table saw to cut some plywood pieces to 4.5 inches wide (i.e., the height of the toekick). To determine the length that these pieces needed to be, I took the width of the cabinet side piece (24 inches), subtracted the depth of the toekick (3.5 inches) and subtracted 3/4-inch to create a space along the back edge. Then I attached those pieces using wood glue and 1.25-inch 18-gauge nails, making sure it was flush with the front edge of the toekick area of the cabinet side piece, with a 3/4-inch space at the back.

Then I repeated that on the other side.

Next, I cut another piece of plywood to 4.5 inches, and then cut it to the finished width of my cabinet (in my case, 32 inches) minus 1.5 inches. So for my cabinet, this piece was 30.5 inches wide. Standing the two side pieces on their front edges, I used the piece I just cut to connect the two side pieces. This new connector piece just sat right inside those 3/4-inch spaces I allowed at the backs of the side pieces.

I secured that piece into place using wood glue and 1.5-inch 16-gauge nails. I used nails going in two directions to really lock it into place. I enhanced the nail holes in the picture below so you could see exactly where I nailed this piece into place.

Then I flipped the whole thing over so that it was resting on the back edges, and I cut another piece of plywood to 4.5 inches by the finished width of the cabinet, which was 32 inches in my case. This piece was glued and nailed right to the front edges of the side pieces in the toekick area.

With the bottom of the cabinet now secure all the way around, I sat it up and added a support piece at the top on both the front and the back. These pieces were cut to the same length as the support piece on the lower back of the cabinet (i.e., the finished width of the cabinet minus 1.5 inches).

I glued and nailed the front support piece into place…

And then repeated that on the back with the second support piece…

So now with the basic structure in place, I just needed to add the bottom and back, and the basic box would be done.

The piece that creates the bottom inside of the cabinet would just sit right on the support pieces all the way around…

So I cut a piece of plywood to the depth of the cabinet (24 inches) and the inside width (the finished width minus 1.5 inches), and then glued and nailed that piece into place.

And for some reason, I didn’t get a picture of the back, but the easiest way to do that is simply to cut a piece of plywood (generally 1/4-inch is sufficient, but you can also use 1/2-inch) to fit on the back, cut to the finished height by the finished width, and attach it directly to the back by nailing it around the edges.

And finally, before installing the cabinets, I attached corner metal brackets not only to keep the backs of the cabinets square, but also to use to hold the countertop securely to the base cabinets.

And with all of the base cabinets built, I was ready to install. Installing base cabinets can sometimes require some shimming to get them level, but once they’re level, I use 1.25-inch #10 screws to secure them to each other.

Once the cabinets were all level, shimmed, and secured to each other, I cut and attached the face frames. I used 1″ x 2″ pieces for the horizontal pieces (i.e., the rails) and 1″ x 3″ pieces for the vertical pieces (i.e., the stiles). I just nailed these directly to the front edges of the cabinets. Before attaching each piece, I used my level and speed square to be sure they were all going on level/plumb and square with the other pieces.

To create the dividers between the drawers in the middle cabinet, I used my Kreg pocket hole jig (this is the one I have) to make pocket holes in the ends of each piece.

And I screwed those into place after using my speed square to be sure that each piece was perfectly square and level.

With the face frames on, I then installed the drawer slides on the middle section. I did this using the Kreg drawer slide jig (which you can find here). As a side note, Kreg doesn’t sponsor my blog in any way. 🙂 I’m just a DIYer who likes to find the best tools to make these jobs easier, and Kreg makes some fantastic tools for DIYers.

Anyway, on cabinets with face frames, a spacer is always needed to shim out the drawer slide so that it will clear the face frame. I used 1/2-inch plywood, cut to 1.75 inches by 22 inches (i.e., the exact dimensions of my drawer sides), and attached it to the inside of the cabinet.

And then I installed the drawer slide to that spacer. Before attaching it, I held it in place and made sure that it would clear the face frame when extended.

And then I screwed it into place. When using overlay drawers, the drawer slide needs to be flush with the front of the face frame…

And with that, the actual base cabinet boxes were finished and ready for drawers and cabinet doors.

I searched all over for the best price on 22-inch ball bearing drawer slides, and I found the best price here on Amazon. They’re not the soft close type, but at that price, I can live without soft close drawers.

For the cabinet doors and drawer fronts, I made them in the exact same way that I made the doors and drawer fronts for the hallway cabinet, except that I left off the second smaller trim on the face of the doors.

hallway after remodel - new linen closet with cabinet for hidden cat litter box and entrance on side

You can see how I built those doors and drawers here:

But for the pantry, I made the actual drawer boxes a bit different. The reason I changed methods is because (1) I’m always looking for better and easier ways to do things, and (2) I bought drawer slides that are rated to hold 100 pounds, and I wanted to find a way to build super strong drawer boxes that could hold a lot of weight (i.e., that could hold lots of china, should I decide to use those to store my 12 place settings of china).

And just a note here, building drawers and pull-out shelves is pretty much the exact same process. There are only two exceptions. (1) Drawers usually have higher sides, where pull-out shelves usually have very low sides. And (2) drawers usually have a pretty, decorative face attached to the front, where pull-out shelves are generally just left plain and often hidden behind a cabinet door.

So with that said, the pictures below are actually of one of the pull-out shelves I built, but again, the drawer-building process is exactly the same.

First, I cut the pieces for the sides. For my pull-out drawers, I made the sides 3.5 inches high by 24 inches deep. (These went inside the tall cabinet on the right of the pantry, and that cabinet is 26 inches deep. For the regular 24-inch-deep base cabinets, I made those drawers 22 inches deep.) The width will be determined by the cabinet size that it’s going into, of course.

Using wood glue and 3/4-inch narrow crown staples, I attached those just using plain old butt joints. I don’t so fancy joints, but I do use wood glue quite generously. 🙂 Also, staples hold more securely than nails, so these boxes will be very sturdy when finished. And FYI, this is the staple gun I own.

Just one note about the above picture. Again, that’s for a pull-out drawer, which won’t have a pretty drawer front attached to it. When you open my cabinet door, that plywood box is all you’ll see. Because of that, I built my pull-out drawers so that the front piece of plywood covers the front edges of the side pieces. In other words, the corner joint isn’t visible from the front of the drawer, and won’t be visible when the cabinet door is opened to reveal the pull-out shelves. That leaves a few staple holes on the front, but it’s nothing that a bit of wood filler can’t disguise.

However, for the drawers that will have pretty faces attached to them, I did it just the opposite way. I built them so that the side pieces would cover the side edges of the front piece of plywood (i.e., the joint is visible from the front of the drawer box). That way, when the pretty drawer front is attached, you don’t see any plywood edges and butt joints on the sides of the drawers.

Moving on…

Next, I used my table saw to rip several strips of 1/2-inch plywood to 1/2-inch thick. (I could have also used 1/2-inch square dowel rods for this, but since I had so much scrap 1/2-inch plywood lying around, I decided to put it to use.) I cut the pieces to length so that the fit inside the drawer box, and I attached them using wood glue and 3/4-inch narrow crown staples right around the inside of the box.

Here’s how the drawer looked from the top once that small 1/2-inch piece was attached all the way around the inside…

And finally, I cut a piece of 1/2-inch plywood to fit perfectly inside…

I attached it with wood glue and staples, but before I did any stapling, I checked each corner with my speed square to be sure that the drawer box was perfectly square (or as close to perfect as a DIYer like myself can get 😀 ).

With the drawer box finished, I then attached the drawer slides to the side of the boxes using #8 1/2-inch wood screws…

And then I inserted them into the slides that were attached inside the cabinets…

The drawer boxes above will get decorative drawer fronts attached to them (which I attach using screws going from the inside of the drawer box into the backs of the decorate drawer faces), and the pull-out shelves below will get a dab of wood filler on each staple and a bit of sanding.

And that’s it! I hope that answers all of your questions, but if I left something out, feel free to ask in the comments and I’ll do my very best to clarify any part of the cabinet-building process.


My pantry is finished! Want to see the entire project from start to finish? You can find every single post about the pantry build right here…

Or you can skip to the end and see how it turned out. Here’s a peek of the finished pantry…

Butler's pantry remodel with dark teal lower cabinets, floating corner shelves, and whitewashed wood countertop

You can see more pictures on the before and after post right here…



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  1. So glad you took a day off! You deserve it! It is all coming together so nicely. I’m glad the ORC kickstarted this room for you. You’ll be finished with it before you know it! Yay!

  2. This is excellent. Thank you for the clear process. I can’t wait to see your finished pantry, as I have a similar project to address.

    Do you own a router? They are an easy way to cut dadoes if you don’t feel confident using your tablesaw to make them. They’ll give you a strong and simple joint. Rabbet joints are very similar and not as difficult as people seem to think. Definitely worth playing with some scrap wood.

    1. I do have a router, and I’ve never used it even once. I know it will make things like drawer-building easier, so I’m not sure why I’m so resistant to using it. I will one of these days. 🙂 But this was pretty easy and I’m confident that my drawers are very strong. That was my main concern.

      I have used my table saw to cut dadoes, but it was sooooo time-consuming. I know they have special dado blades for table saws to save time, but I don’t have the need for cutting dados enough to warrant purchasing a special blade.

      But one day…ONE DAY…I will get that router out and and use it. 😀

    2. Hi Kristi,

      Excellent job!

      So glad to hear your review of the Kreg Circular saw guide (which I’be neen eyeing) and the drawer slides jig. I installed some drawer slides without one & wish I had it. I am so eager to build cabinets from scratch & have to be patient as I finish my other projects on my list.

      Can’t wait to see the pantry complete!

  3. It’s too bad that you weren’t able to get it all done in time for the final judging, but I admire you all the more for not cutting corners just to finish. You have done a phenomenal job in getting your pantry square, level, and well built. Not to mention the hand-painted custom tile backsplash, which I think would have won the show all by themselves. In a very short time it WILL be completed, and you will have the satisfaction of knowing that it was done right, and the pleasure of enjoying it for many years to come. Good job, Kristi!

  4. Thank you Kristi! How much room should I leave when deciding on how wide to build my pull-out shelves? The width of my open cabinet minus ? Yours look like a very tight fit—I don’t know how much of a gap to account for. (Does this make sense?)

    1. I’m not quite sure I understand your question, but hopefully this will help…

      I always install my drawer slides BEFORE I even begin to build the drawers. I install the slides, then pull them out just a couple of inches (i.e. extend the part that will actually attach to the drawer once it’s built) and then take an exact measurement of the distance between the drawer slides. That will give you the width of your drawer. Just be sure you don’t make it ANY wider than that or it won’t fit. It’s better to err on the side of making the drawer 1/16 to even 1/8 of an inch too narrow than making it too wide. The drawer slides have a tiny bit of give to them to fit a drawer that just a bit narrower, but of course, there’s no give for a drawer that’s too wide.

  5. Kristi,, you just amaze me as you do all your fans. I was admiring your tiles that you made,, they are so beautiful, they would look so pretty behind the floating shelves to the ceiling,, I just love those to the moon and back. lol Also, Kreg should take notice,,, because I am sure you are racking up quite the business for them. I know one thing, you may not have gotten done in time to win,, but you sure are a Winner in my book!!!

  6. Hi Kristi,
    I watch everything you do with bated breath and a sense of wonder. You’re like a living encyclopedia of how to be creative and how to figure things out in order to get all things done. I have a question if I may.

    What made you decide to have open shelves in the pantry vs cabinets? Did the sloping of your ceiling in the pantry have anything to do with your decision? I was thinking the sloping might have dictated the height of the cabinet and therefore the space being lost in order to accommodate that slope.

    Like all others, I thank you for sharing all you do because – it is – truly an inspiration.

    1. I’m sorry Lisa, but have you looked at a lot of other DIY blogs? I’m always surprised how little pictures most of them offer – esp. in comparison to Kristi who is very generous with them and surely always illustrates everything that is necessary to understand her description by at least one, if not more photos.

  7. This is coming together so great! This is already beautiful!

    One step I didn’t see was how you attached the cabinets to each other, and the wall, if you did? I know that is boring part, but it helps to get that step clear in my head! Great tutorial!

    Are you going white for your walls?

  8. Kristi, I think you’re a winner too! You make it seem so easy but I know how hard you work. You’ve gotten so much done in 5-6 weeks, too. After the pantry is officially done, I think you should take some family time and resume in December with something for you—more resin pours, acrylic pours, sewing, whatever will make you happy and without a deadline. It’s looking so good!

  9. I have to admit, my eyes (and brain) glaze over as I begin to read how you actually accomplished the cabinet build out, but I come away MOST impressed with your knowhow and handiwork. You da bomb, Kristi!!!!

  10. Have you ever made drawers in the kick plate area under the cabinets? I’ve seen this done for extra storage & love the idea! I’m so happy you posted the cabinet step by step… this will help when I take on my kitchen project hopefully soon!

  11. We are going to build a large cabinet like the one you built with the pull out drawers for my pantry. Do you have any pics or special instructions or advice for the large cabinet that are different than the ones for the base cabinet?

  12. YOU continue to be amazing in all you do AND all you show us about how you do what you do. You meld absolute beauty and color with solid functionality every step of the way. I am keeping all your posts in an email folder for future reference. I have seen a lot online and on Youtube, but nothing equals you heart and talent along with your ability to precisely share exactly how you do things!

    I applaud your progress thus far on your pantry as a crew of workers would have take weeks to accomplish what you have single handedly done AND kept us so kindly informed every step of the way which is another monumental task accomplished.

    My hope and prayer for you is that you will finish strong and thoroughly enjoy the fruits of all this intense labor and love you have poured into this incredible pantry project and into us who follow your posts.


  13. Great tutorial! Thanks so much! I noticed that you haven’t finished the inside of the cabinets or drawers. Would you recommend a varnish or shellac, or is it unnecessary? I am assuming that if you did put a varnish on it, you would do so before putting the drawer slides on. I was also wondering if the Kreg drawer slide jig could be used to inset drawers?

    1. I do plan on clear coating the insides of the cabinets and drawers with General Finishes Topcoat in a flat finish. It definitely would have been better to clear coat before installing the drawer slides, but as I often do, I got way ahead of myself and got anxious to get those drawer slides on so I could start building the drawers. Had I not been on such a tight schedule (trying to finish by the end of the One Room Challenge), I probably would have slowed down and done it in the right order. But no big deal, really. It’s clear, and I like to apply it with a brush in the corners and a small roller on the flat surfaces. Now I’ll just have to use a brush to brush around the drawer slides as well.

      The Kreg drawer slide guide is so handy! Once you have the drawer slides attached to the inside of the cabinet, you can actually turn the guides around, place the drawer on the guides, pull the drawer slides out so that they cover the sides of the drawer, and screw them on. That’s how I did the really big drawers, and it made the process so easy! Here’s a video showing that process: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oFuO6_meRxA

      1. Fabulous! I’m using this as a tutorial! I can’t find the metal corner brackets anywhere! Where did you purchase? Thanks!!!

  14. Woo hoo! I was so excited to see this post! You make the cabinet building look so easy (I know it is time consuming but all your steps made perfect sense and didn’t look like something I couldn’t actually do). I’ll see just how “easy” in a few weeks when I start my cabinet build!!! For now I just have one question but will probably have MANY more once I get started on this. I too would like to know how you screwed the bases together and to the wall. Some photos showing the shims (if you made any of this part) would be amazing. The photos you have included are great. And I still can’t wait to see the final reveal! Thanks so much!

  15. We purchased a 1973 fixer-upper two years ago..and the kitchen that it came with can hardly be called a kitchen. It needs a complete overhaul – and entirely new cabinets (actually, it needs cabinets as the kitchen only has two!). This tutorial is wonderful and I really do think that my husband and I can do this (now that I see how easy it really can be). But the only concern that he had was cost…might you be willing to breakdown the cost of your supplies so we all have a better understanding? Sometimes is surprises me how much money I seem to spend at Home Depot and I always wonder if buying completed would be cheaper… Thank you!

  16. I LOVE everything on your website! You’ve inspired me to try tackling woodworking projects on my own. Lots of things I want to do and don’t like to wait for the husband to have time to help me! I have a question though – how do you handle heavy sheets of plywood on your own? Do you have the lumber center cut them down to a more manageable size? I want the jig you use to cut plywood but can’t figure out how to deal with the heavy sheets of plywood on my own.

    1. I used to have Home Depot cut the plywood, but this time, I just bought whole sheets. I have a panel carrier (you can find that here) and I can carry 1/2-inch and 3/4-inch plywood using that. MDF is another story, though. When using 3/4-inch MDF, I have to have help carrying that. MDF is much denser and heavier than plywood.

  17. OMG.. With the great detail and pics, I might go ahead and try replacing my button kitchen cabinets. You make it seem so easy 🙂.