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.

 

Difficulty Level:
Time to Complete:
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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 3

Measure and cut 3/4" plywood shelves, then attach a 3/4" hardwood strip to each shelf edge (see page opposite) using glue and finish nails. Set shelves on cleats and attach with 1 1/2" finish nails driven through pilot holes.


Step 2

How to Build an Understairs Work Center - Step 4

Measure and cut 3/4" plywood side panels for main cabinets, then use a router and an edge guide to cut rabbets for top panels and dadoes for bottom panels and shelves.


Step 3

How to Build an Understairs Work Center - Step 5

Clamp and glue the cabinet sides to the top and bottom panels and shelves to form rabbet and dado joints.
Note: If you plan to install center-mounted drawer slides, mount slide tracks before you assemble the cabinet.


Step 4

How to Build an Understairs Work Center - Step 6

Reinforce each cabinet joint with 2" finish nails driven at 4" intervals.


Step 5

How to Build an Understairs Work Center - Step 7

Cut a 1/4" plywood back panel for each main cabinet. Set each back onto a cabinet frame so that all sides align, then attach them to cabinet side, base, and top panels using 1" wire nails.


Step 6

How to Build an Understairs Work Center - Step 8

Position one cabinet so the top panel is pressed against the understairs cover and front face is flush with edge of stairway. Shim if needed, then toenail into the floor through the side panels, using 2" finish nails. For masonry floors, attach with construction adhesive.


Step 7

How to Build an Understairs Work Center - Step 9

Position the other cabinet 3/4" away from side wall, with front face aligned with first cabinet. Check with a level and shim if needed. Insert 3/4" spacers between cabinet and side wall, then anchor to wall with 2" screws driven into framing members.


Step 8

How to Build an Understairs Work Center - Step 10

Cut 1 x 2 cleats for the connecting shelf that fits between the main cabinets. Mark level lines on the inner cabinet sides, then attach shelf cleats to the cabinet sides by driving 1 1/4" screws through counterbored pilot holes.


Step 9

How to Build an Understairs Work Center - Step 11

Measure and cut a 3/4" plywood connecting shelf to fit between the cabinets, and attach it to the cleats with 1 1/4" finish nails. (If you plan to build a drawer using a center-mounted drawer slide, attach the slide track to the shelf before you attach the shelf to the cleats.)


Step 10

How to Build an Understairs Work Center - Step 12

Measure and cut a plywood countertop panel that extends all the way to the back wall, with one side flush against the understairs cover. Attach the countertop to top panels of cabinets by driving finish nails down through the countertop.


 
 

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