Our first project in the new house was to add built-in office cabinets. The goal was to have a white cabinet that would be the same color as the trim work, with a dark stained top. Later we will likely add a built-in bookcase on top. But first things first.
The office space had several constraints that had to be considered. One wall had the doors opening onto it which would limit the idea of a full wall of cabinets. The only wall that could have a full length was the wall next to the windows. This setup had a depth limit of 15 inches.
after reviewing options, we decided to go with unfinished wall cabinets, which are 12” deep. This gave us room for the top to have some overhang and still be within tolerance. Since the cabinets were the perfect height to be in alignment with the desk, we decided not to put them on any base.
Built-ins need to look like they are part of the space originally and not some afterthought. Measuring where the cabinets will end and cutting out all the baseboards. Save all those pieces so you will be able to reuse them for trim on the new built-ins. We used a multitool with wood saw attachment to cut out a straight section close to the floor without damaging the floor.
My multi-tool of choice is the Porter Cable 20v battery powered model. It uses the same batteries as my drills and impact driver. You can easily turn the blades and rotate them to make the type of cuts you need to make. In this case, we rotated the blade so we could get up close to the wood floor without damaging the floor to cut away the baseboards. You can use any brand name you wish, but when deciding on battery-powered systems, find one with enough power to handle what you need, and has tool options so you can invest in a single battery type.
Remodeling projects while living in the home can be hard on everyone. Try to do as much sanding and painting out in the open as much as possible before bringing the work inside. You and everyone else will greatly appreciate this. The unfinished cabinets will require a lot of prep work before the final painting. We chose the unfinished cabinets due to price and to be able to later match the same paint color for the bookcases that will be installed on top of the cabinet. After sanding – priming – sanding – painting – sanding – painting to get the desired finish, we will likely use prefinished cabinets for future projects.
The unfinished cabinets came with flaws in the woodwork. Using a pre-finished cabinet will save a lot of time. Woodfiller is used to fill in imperfections in the wood. We did this several times throughout the process. Take your time and don’t be in a hurry to sand between coats of paint. If you sand before the paint is cured, you will have a sticky finish for a long time. This process took about a month total to get the desired finish. We did about 4 coats total. Prefinished cabinets could be installed in a single day. Finishing the cabinets added all the time to this project.
Once the cabinets have been prepped, we brought them into the office to get them properly centered and aligned with the wall so we would be able to have the exact spacing on each side of the cabinets for the filler pieces. Do not try to level them at this time. This is a dry fitting. You will level them after they have all been screwed together as one piece. It is much easier to level one long piece rather than several smaller units to each other.
The spacing and cabinet sizes will vary for each installation. With careful planning, you will be able to minimize the number of fillers for the ends of the cabinets. We used two 15″ cabinets, one for each end. Two 30″ double cabinets, one on each side of the center. And one 36″ cabinet for the middle. This gave us a very uniform look with the doors, and we ended up with the perfect spacing for a single 1×3 on each side for the filler. You can see in this picture how the baseboard will flush up to the cabinet. We will only use the previously removed show molding for the front of the cabinet. (Make sure to cut a 45-degree angle on the shoe molding against the wall to make them look seamless.
In order to get the cabinets together into a single furniture piece, you need to pre-drill for cabinet screws and screw them together. We had found these cabinet clamps when we remodeled our kitchen a few years ago, and they are a must-have in my opinion if you do any cabinet work. They clamp the cabinets together as have a facial clamp to ensure the two cabinets are perfectly flush with each other. There is a hole on the side of each clamp that allows you to drill a countersink drill bit through and screw it together. You MUST predrill with a countersink bit or you will split the cabinet faces. We used a #8 countersink bit.
Once all the cabinets have been attached to each other to form a single piece, you will want to identify all the wall studs and mark them on the cabinet. I prefer to use the upper part of the cabinet as it will never be seen once the top is on. When locating studs, mark each side of the stud and put an X between the line so you know where to put the screws. Do this across the entire back of the cabinet and put a screw in each stud.
Using a long bubble level and wood shims, level out the full length of the cabinets so they have a solid footing on the ground. Use a smaller bubble level to level front to back. once everything is level, you will are ready to secure them to the wall for a permanent installation.
Use more wood shims for any gaps between the wall and the cabinets wherever you will be putting screws to secure the cabinets. This ensures the screws do not pull through and damage the cabinets and keeps everything secure. You will find there are few walls in a house that are perfect. Once all your shims are in place, screw the cabinets to the wall using cabinet screws.
Once the cabinets are secured to the walls, install the filler pieces on each side and caulk along the edges. If there are any gaps anywhere, you can use caulk to fill them in for a very uniform look. Make sure to use a paintable caulk, so you can paint once complete. Once the caulk dries, you can do any final and touch up painting.
For the top, we used a combination of 1x6s and 1x3s staggered in length and glued side by side. You can use bar clamps to hold them together while the glue dries or use pocket holes and screw them together. Our preference was to use the Kreg Pocket hole Jig to do pocket holes since this was such a long piece. We will do a how-to for the cabinet top if you need to get an idea on that. The finish chosen here was a dark walnut stain with a hand rubbed polyurethane top coat. Allow the stain to fully dry before applying the poly.
As a finishing touch, we replaced the regular hinges with soft close hinges. These are 1/2″ overlay hinges which matched our cabinet doors. They are from Amazon Basics and were ridiculously reasonable in price compared to the big box stores. to determine the size of hinges you need for overlay doors, measure the door itself, then the opening. Subtract the opening width from the door width. If the difference is 1″, your overlay is 1/2″. 1/2″ on each side of the door.
For a closeup view click on the images