The Price Of Improper Planning (And Why My Hallway Cabinet Is Torn Apart)

My hallway cabinets were finished. I had built them, trimmed them out, primed them, sanded them, caulked them, painted them, and taken my final “taaaa daaaa” pictures. I had moved on to other projects, like getting my doors painted and planning out the design for the wall.

But those stupid cabinets just kept nagging me. It’s true that the top left door wouldn’t open all the way because of the thermostat…

finished hallway cabinets - interior of upper left cabinet

…but I really wasn’t too bothered by that. Sure, it would be nice if it opened 90 degrees, but I really could have lived with it like that.

But then a couple of days ago, it hit me that the trim hasn’t been added yet to the cased opening right there by the cabinet (i.e. the opening between the hallway and the music room). I panicked, grabbed a scrap piece of 1″x 4″ MDF board, which is what I use to trim out my doorways, and hoped and prayed for the best before I tested it.

I held it up on the wall where the door casing will go and…


I mean, yes, it would open some. But it wouldn’t open past the door casing. I had purchased full extension drawer slides, but the back four or five inches of the drawer would still remain hidden if I couldn’t open the drawer past the door casing.

I tried and tried to come up with a solution, even possibly using this as an excuse to purchase the planer I’ve wanted for so long now. That way I could plane the boards for the door casings so they would be thin enough for the drawer to slide past.

But that’s ridiculous. I’d be spending $500 or so dollars that I don’t really want to spend right now, plus I’d end up with one doorway with casing that’s clearly different from the rest.

Nope, that wouldn’t work. The only solution was to move the entire cabinet over 3/4″ so that the upper cabinet door would open all the way and the drawer would easily open past the door casing.

I was sick about having to take things apart, but I knew it had to be done. In my mind, it wasn’t going to be that big of a deal, though. I knew that once I got the crown moulding and baseboards removed…

improper planning before buidling cabinets - crown moulding removed

…there were just a few screws holding the cabinets in place.

But then I opened the lower cabinet doors and started searching and searching for the three screws holding the lower section to the wall. I knew they were in there somewhere. Had I covered over them with wood filler and sanded them smooth so that they were hidden? I could have sworn that I put those screws towards the top somewhere, but search as I might, I couldn’t find any sign of them.

That’s when I realized that I hadn’t put the at the top. I had put them at the bottom. As in, the bottom part that is now hidden below the interior plywood base of the cabinet and the 2″ x 6″ frame sitting underneath the plywood base.

I wanted to cry, but there was no time for that. I just pressed on.

First I removed the 1″ x 6″ attached at the bottom, and then I pried the plywood off of the base…

improper planning before buidling cabinets - removal of bottom rail and plywood base

And then I tried to remove that 2″ x 6″ frame, but let’s just say that I didn’t build this thing to come apart. I pried as hard as I could, and it just wouldn’t come out.

Talk about frustrating! After about 20 minutes of prying, and only getting it to budge about 1/4 inch, I finally decided I needed a new tactic. So I used my prybar, and with all my strength, I pried the cabinet away from the wall, pulling the screws right out of the wall.

improper planning before buidling cabinets - cabinet pried away from wall

With it away from the wall, I was able to use my Dremel Multi-Max to cut the screws off on the back and side.

*Sigh* I wish I had tried that first and avoided the frustration and unneeded steps of taking the inside apart. 🙁 Oh well.

So with the cabinet free and the screws gone, I could move the whole cabinet over a bit and add the 3/4″ spacer at the wall.

improper planning before buidling cabinets - cabinet with spacer added at side wall

I thought I could put the spacer there, shove the cabinet up against it, use a hammer to tap the spacer perfectly into place, and then nail through the inside of the cabinet, through the spacer, and into the wall to keep it all in place.

That hasn’t worked so far because I’m having a heck of a time getting it in there just right. When the top is just right, the bottom is too far in. When I get the bottom just right, the top is sticking out a quarter inch. So I think I’ll have to pull the cabinet out again, nail the spacer to the side of the cabinet, and then shove the cabinet back against the wall. I know that sounds like the easier plan, and the one I should have tried first, but it isn’t. I’ll have to hold the spacer in place while nailing from the inside of the cabinet through the side and into the spacer. And since I have short arms, I can only do that if I remove the upper cabinet door, which I was hoping to avoid at all costs since those upper doors are so heavy and almost impossible to install by myself. I was really hoping that the last time I installed them would be the very last time.

But I’ll do what it takes to get this thing right. I know in the end it’ll be well worth the effort to have a cabinet door that opens just past 90 degrees, and a drawer that opens completely past the door casing so I can actually utilize the full-extension drawer slides.

And yes, that additional 3/4″ makes all the difference. There will be about 5/8″ clearance between the casing and the edge of the drawer.

improper planning before buidling cabinets - drawer with plenty of clearance with the spacer at the wall

This has been such a pain. And even more frustrating is that I now have to buy all new trim for the front — crown moulding, baseboard, base cap, and the trim between the cabinet and drawer sections — since those are all now 3/4″ too short.

But I just want to get it done and move on. And to be honest, this is the exact reason I wanted to build this cabinet first before tackling the pantry or my studio cabinets. I’d rather make mistakes (and learn from them) on this smaller cabinet than make mistakes like this on the pantry or studio cabinets since those are much larger projects. In hindsight, I’m sure I’ll be thankful for this learning opportunity. But right now, it’s still a bit to early for feeling thankful for my torn apart hallway cabinet. 🙂



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  1. While you’re at it why don’t you just remove all that extra trim where the top meets the bottom and just use wood filler to hide the seam? I believe you mentioned that you were sorry you’d added it and that it made the cabinet extra busy and I’d have to agree.

  2. I’m so sorry! I know you had really wanted to push forward through your to do list and these cabinets seem to be holding you back. Thank you so much for being so willing to share your mistakes! It’s one great aspect of this blog.

    The lack of spacing had been nagging at me and I’m not sure why. I think it was just a visual thing, so I didn’t mention it because I didn’t want to be a Debbie downer and taste is so person-specific that it just didn’t seem like something I should comment on. Moreover, I truly don’t know the first thing about building cabinetry and am in total awe of your skills! So, I figured I didn’t know what I was thinking. Sp now, in addition to the improved function, my personal opinion (for what it’s worth) is that the cabinets will look better with a bit of space.

    I’m sorry for your troubles. I’m sure it’s been frustrating. Hang in there!

  3. Oh dear! I sure feel your pain. On the bright side (pun intended), the cabinet will be just a bit closer to your light and solar tube. The whole space will be beautiful once you work out all the kinks – hang in there, Kristi!

  4. I applaud you. I’d have given up a long time ago and my hammer would now be a part of the cabinet somewhere. It will continue to look and be amazing.

  5. don’t forget to change the opening for the outlet in the bottom cabinet section. I noticed that in your posted picture part of the outlet is now covered by the back of the cabinet.

  6. How about some double-sided tape to hold it in place while you are trying to get it perfect. You can nail right through it. It might provide that extra set of hands you need instead of taking the door off (which you probably have already done by the time you read this). Good luck!

  7. This is the best part of your blog. Yes. If a beginner had made a mistake, they might have quit the project. Now they can see that even the most creative builder can make a mistake and fix it and finish the project. You have just helped all the beginner builder. Great job for sharing and encouraging all of us.

  8. Oh, if we were only perfect all the time! Can’t tell you how many things I’ve had to redo and sometimes redo again and again! It goes with the territory of DIY, but that’s how we learn and grow. I feel your frustration! Personally, I would have probably wimped out and done a freestanding unit, and if it didn’t work out I could maybe put it somewhere else. Built ins are awesome, but I am not, so I cheat when I can! LOL! As you said, the redo will function a bit better now that it has been redone. How does kitty like her new bathroom?

  9. Haven’t read the comments in a hurry to say – DO NOT TAKE THE DOOR OFF. Glue the spacers to the cabinets, instead of nailing them.

  10. Oh, I feel your pain and frustration…….all that work to be undone and new supplies to be bought again. But it would have probably nagged at you using that cabinet and drawer on a daily basis, so although it’s hard undoing all your great work, it’s best to take the pain now before the trim of the doorway gets done and then you’ll be happy with both the look and the functionality.

  11. ARgh. I’m so sorry. You’ve used your ‘error’ to make another excellent ‘how to’ (or ‘how not to’) primer.

  12. At least you took care of it and don’t have that nagging feeling…what should i do…over and over and…REPEAT until you do it.

    We argue with ourselves dunno why … We always lose but in the end we win. Nobody debates like me. Ugh.

  13. I agree that this is one very valuable part of your blog to us readers – but I’m sure sorry for you and all the hassle this caused! I’ve lately started encouraging myself, when things go wrong , that they are a learning experience and prevent me from making them again on a bigger scale, so I agree with you that this might havee been intended (by whatever force of fate is responsible for DIY :)) for you to happen now rather than spoiling the big projects in the pantry and your work space. Still, you have to get thorugh it now and I appalud you for your insistence on getting it done!

  14. And this is why I read your blog. You are real, and human and sometimes things just don’t work out. But you didn’t quit, you found a solution. And very graciously admitted it and showed it to your readers so we can learn. I absolutely adore this about you!

  15. If I may make a suggestion (learned the hard way several times). I know you built the pieces individually, but you attached it to the wall right away. My suggestion is to build it and future pieces to be free standing that you attach after finishing with a few screws, and don’t putty over the screws. It will still look built in, but you may save yourself grief. Not sure it would have helped in this instance, just a suggestion.

  16. Maybe I’m missing something, but since the spacer is going against the wall anyway, couldn’t you nail the spacer from the side once it’s pulled away from the wall? No one will ever see those nails. Or since it’s going to be hidden, pre-drill and just use screws which might make it easier to do alone.

    It could be I’m not picturing this correctly in my head!

    Still, I can imagine the pain of having to un-do and re-do this all too well! Sorry!


    1. I can’t move it over or turn the cabinet far enough to get my nail gun in there to nail it on from the outside of the cabinet. Any moving of the cabinet runs the risk of scratching my floors. Also the height of the cabinet has so little clearance under the ceiling, and my floors (and possibly the ceiling) aren’t perfectly level, so if I move it out just a bit it gets wedged on the ceiling.

  17. So very sorry you’ve had to “do over!” But I agree with the others. Thank you for being honest about the pain and learning that goes on in DIY. And for sticking with a project until it’s done, and done right; for letting us know what went wrong, and solutions for fixing the problems. I am no where even in the same room with knowledge and skills, but the lessons apply to other, smaller project just the same. And there are plenty of times when I need to take things apart and redo them so they are right. So, thank you, Kristi, for being open and honest about the reality of your work. I admire that and learn lots that I can apply to many of my smaller projects!

  18. I hate when something like that happens. You won’t make that mistake twice. Been there done that. Looking good.

  19. Oh dear, now I feel I jinxed the cabinets… I have two suggestions that may help.

    When we were adding trim above my cabinets we had something similar to this: The oval hole allows you to screw something tight but then hit it to move into place. So that would be screwed on the cabinet side (and the other hole – which was round and a tight fit, not like in the photo – would be on the spacer).

    However, I would just try to put some stoppers behind the spacer – maybe a big nail or screw going through the inside of the cabinet out, and all the way to the wall. Just measure very carefully where to put them, and then push the spacer until it sets on it and stops.

  20. Honey you are extremely too hard on yourself. I couldn’t do one quarter of what you can do. I love seeing what you do but I wish you would relax a little bit. Your home is beautiful.

  21. Could you maybe screw in a few long wood screws into the side (narrow) width of the spacer, get someone to hold it in place with your “wood screw handles”, while you nail it from inside the cabinet?

  22. Oh, that is frustrating! I think it will look more balanced with the extra spacing though. It looked cramped and shoved in the corner to me before, but I couldn’t figure out if that was just due to the angle of the pictures or not.

    You’ve had a lot of good suggestions above about how to add the spacer without taking that door off, hopefully one of those will work!

  23. You will be glad you went back and made the corrections. I’m sorry you have to do this but you are a perdectionist and I’m guessing you would’ve gone back eventually and made the corrections so it’s completely usable.

  24. Will the cabinet door open now with the spacer? I felt like it would bug you the door not opening all the way. So I think the drawer not opening all the way was a blessing.. It will be done right and you will not have a door or drawer that will not open all the way. GREAT JOB as always and the lesson you taught us is not to settle for something we do if its not what we want…fix it and make it right.

  25. Sorry about the surprise, but I can identify with that. It happens even to people who have been doing this for a long time.