Understairs Work Center

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The irregular space beneath a staircase can be used for a variety of creative built-in projects. Because the dimensions and angles of understairs areas vary widely, finding stock cabinetry that fits the space is difficult. However, the design shown here can be built to fit almost any area.

 

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Continue to Step 1

Overview

The irregular space beneath a staircase can be used for a variety of creative built-in projects. Because the dimensions and angles of understairs areas vary widely, finding stock cabinetry that fits the space is difficult. However, the design shown here can be built to fit almost any area.
The understairs work center, in its simplest form, is a pair of basic cabinets that support a countertop. The basic cabinets are built to a standard height, depending on their use. You can adapt the size of the understairs work center by shortening or lengthening the countertop and connecting shelf. A small cabinet and upper shelves are added to fill out the remaining space. The depth of the countertop also can be adjusted to match the width of your staircase.
Most understairs projects require that you make many angled cuts, but in the project shown here, you will need to make only a few miters and bevels. Beveled cuts can be made with a power miter saw, circular saw, or table saw.
Cutting List
A
1
Top shelf
28 x 18"
3⁄4" plywood

B
1
Lower shelf
42 x 18"
3⁄4" plywood

C

Shelf cleats
12 lineal ft.
1 x 2

D
4
Cabinet sides
35 1⁄2 x 24"
3⁄4" plywood

E
4
Cabinet base, top panels
19 1⁄4x24"
3⁄4" plywood

F
4
Cabinet shelves
19 1⁄4x24"
3⁄4" plywood

G
2
Cabinet backs
20 x 35"
1⁄4" plywood

H
1
Countertop
32 x 64"
3⁄4" plywood

I
1
Small cabinet side
18 x 24"
3⁄4" plywood

J
1
Small cabinet side
34 1⁄2 x 24"
3⁄4" plywood

K
2
Small cabinet bottom & top
19 1⁄4 x 24"
3⁄4" plywood

L
1
Small cabinet back
20" x 34"
1⁄4" plywood

M
1
Connecting shelf
27 7⁄8 x 24"
3⁄4" plywood

N

Face frame pieces
26 lineal ft.
1 x 3 oak

O

Face frame pieces
25 lineal ft.
1 x 2 oak

P

Shelf edge strips
4 lineal ft.
3⁄4" plywood

R

Cabinet doors
purchase to fit

From: Complete Guide to Custom Shelves & Built-Ins, 978-1-58923-303-4

What You'll Need

Tools:

Pencil
Tape measure
Level
T-bevel
Circular saw or table saw
Cordless Drill/driver
Drill bits
Hammer
Router with 3/4" straight bit and 3/8" rabbet bit
Bar clamps
Power miter saw

Materials:

Shims
Finish nails (1", 11/4", 2")
Utility screws (1", 11/4", 21/2")
1" wire nails
Trim molding
Finish materials
Door and drawer hardware
26 lineal ft. oak 1 x 3
25 lineal ft. oak 1 x 2
1) 1/4 x 4 ft. x 8 ft. plywood
3) 3/4 x 4 ft. x 8 ft. oak plywood

 

Step 1

How to Build an Understairs Work Center - Step 13.

Build a small cabinet the same width and depth as the main cabinets (steps 4 to 7). Adjust the height of the side panels to follow the stair slope. Cut a 1/4" plywood back panel, with the top edge sloped at the same angle as the line between the side panel tops. Attach the back panel to the cabinet with 1" wire nails.


Step 2

How to Build an Understairs Work Center - Step 14

Position the small cabinet so the taller side panel is flush against the main cabinet. Align the face of the small cabinet with the face of the main cabinet, then check with a level, shimming if necessary. Connect the cabinets by drilling pilot holes, and driving 1 1/4" screws through the side panels.


Step 3

How to Build an Understairs Work Center - Step 15

If the corner is open at the bottom of the stairs, attach nailing strips to the understairs cover and cabinet sides, then cut a plywood panel to fit the space, and attach it to the nailing strips with 1" screws.


Step 4

How to Build an Understairs Work Center - Step 16

Measure and cut 1 x 3 bottom rails for the cabinets. Also cut a long, diagonal rail to fit along the edge of the understairs cover. Miter the ends of the diagonal rail to fit against the floor and the side wall, and miter the longer bottom rail to form a clean joint with the diagonal rail. Test-fit the rails, then attach them with glue and 2" finish nails driven through pilot holes.


Step 5

How to Build an Understairs Work Center - Step 17

Measure and cut 1 x 3 rails to cover the edges of the connecting shelf and the countertop. Miter the end of the countertop rail that joins the long, diagonal rail. Attach the shelf and countertop rails flush with the countertop and shelf surfaces, using glue and 2" finish nails driven through pilot holes.


Step 6

How to Build an Understairs Work Center - Step 18

Measure and cut 1 x 2 stiles for the front edges of the cabinets. Attach the stiles, flush with the edges of the cabinet sides, using glue and 2" finish nails driven through pilot holes.


Step 7

How to Build an Understairs Work Center - Step 19

Measure and cut 1 x 2 rails to fit between the stiles, so they cover the cabinet shelf edges and are flush with the shelf tops. Attach the rails, using glue and 2" finish nails driven through pilot holes.


Step 8

How to Build an Understairs Work Center - Step 20

Cut base-shoe molding to cover gaps along wall and floor surfaces, mitering the corners. Tack the molding, using 2" finish nails. Sand, fill, and finish the understairs center.


Step 9

How to Build an Understairs Work Center - Step 21

Attach slide tracks for side-mounted drawer slides, according to the manufacturer’s directions.


Step 10

How to Build an Understairs Work Center - Step 22

Build, finish, and install drawers and drawer hardware. Purchase or build and finish cabinet doors and hang them using 3/8" semi-concealed hinges.


 
 

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