Understairs Work Center Part 1 of 3

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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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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

Project Details - Step 1

The side panels for the short cabinet (left), made from 3/4" plywood, differ in size. A line connecting the tops of the two panels should follow the slope line of the staircase.


Step 2

Project Details - Step 2

The side panels for the main cabinets (right), are also made from 3/4" plywood, and have dadoes for the cabinet shelves and base, and rabbets for the cabinet top.


Step 3

Project Details - Step 3

The taller side panel for the small cabinet fits against a main cabinet side panel when the work center is installed.


Step 4

Project Details - Step 4

Shelves and cleats, made from plywood and 1 x 2 strips, are beveled so they fit flush against the understairs cover.


Step 5

Project Details - Step 5

The shelf edging strips are cut from oak 1 x 2, and mitered at the same angle as the shelves.


Step 6

Project Details - Step 6

Duplicate the slope of your stairs using a T-bevel. Set one arm of the T-bevel in a level position against the back wall, then align the other arm with the stairs.


Step 7

Project Details - Step 7

Transfer the angle directly to your saw to make mitered and beveled cuts.


Step 8

Project Details - Step 8

Cover stair underside before you install your understairs work center. Panels of 1 3⁄4" plywood attached to the stringers of the staircase create an understairs cover that can be used to anchor shelf cleats. If you plan to add electrical or plumbing lines, do the work (or hire a professional if you are inexperienced) before installing your built-in.


Step 9

How to Build an Understairs Work Center - Step 1

Mark the location for the shelf cleats on the walls and understairs cover, using a level as a guide. Butt the 12" cleats against the back wall, and allow at least 12" of clearance between the countertop and the bottom shelf.


Step 10

How to Build an Understairs Work Center - Step 2

Measure and cut 1 x 2 shelf cleats to fit along the reference lines on the walls and the understairs cover. Bevel the cleats on the understairs cover to match the stair slope angle. Attach the cleats with 2 1/2" screws.


 
 

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