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Closet Cabinets

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BLACK+DECKER B+D Contributor 186 Projects

More closet space is at the top of the wish list for many homeowners. Adding more square footage isn’t the only solution; sometimes the best approach is to reconfigure the space you already have. The side recess inside many closets is a space with potential that is often overlooked. This area can be difficult to access behind the things you have hanging or stacked in the main closet opening. A great way to improve the usefulness of this space and add an architectural element to your bedroom is to open up the wall next to the closet door and install a built-in cabinet. This version combines a top cabinet area with adjustable shelves and five drawers underneath. You can substitute a door or drawer front style to match your décor. If you plan to apply a natural wood finish, then select solid wood and veneered plywood that are the same species. If you plan to paint your cabinet, then select paint-grade plywood, such as birch, and solid wood that is easy to machine and takes paint well, such as poplar. The cutting list and materials list for this project provide the materials necessary to build one cabinet. If your cabinet will be less than 17" wide, then you can cut all four parts from a single 4 × 8 sheet of plywood or other cabinet grade sheet good.

Note: This project involves removing wall framing. Submit building plans to your municipal inspections department for approval and to obtain a permit.

Closet Cabinet Diagram

Closet Cabinet Cutting List

How to Build Closet Cabinets

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    The first step is to determine the dimensions of the rough opening in the wall next to your closet. Locate the wall studs. Typically, you’ll find two studs directly next to the closet side jamb. One side of the rough opening should be flush against the closet frame studs. The other side is roughly 3" from the side wall of the closet (the thickness of two 2 × 4s). The bottom of the rough opening is 3" off the floor and the top is 81¾" up from the floor (assuming the ceiling is a least 8 ft. high). Mark the rough opening area on the wall. Check for utilities (wires or pipes) in the wall before cutting the rough opening. If there are obstructions, contact a qualified contractor to move the utilities that are in the way. When you’re sure the wall area is clear, cut the opening along the outlines using a utility knife.

    Cut all the way through and then remove the drywall. (If you don’t mind the dust you can use a reciprocating saw or jigsaw for this once you’ve scored a line—just be sure to wear a dust mask).

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    Install new framing as needed around the opening. The new framing should be flush with the cut drywall edges. Secure the drywall to the new framing members with drywall screws.

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    Cut the cabinet sides, top, and divider. The widths of the top and divider are based on the width of the rough opening. Only the front edge of each side panel is visible after the cabinet is installed. Attach heat-activated edge banding to the front edges of the side panels.

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    Bore two rows of shelf-pin holes in the upper cabinet section of each side panel. use a piece of perforated hardboard (pegboard) as a guide for laying out the holes. Pegboard features ¼"-dia. holes that are spaced 1" apart. sand the inside face and front edge of each side panel.

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    Next, cut the wide and narrow rail pieces. These parts can all be cut from 1 × 4 stock. Rip the 1 × 4 down to 1 ¾"-wide strips for the wide rails and then rip the remaining stock down to 1 ¼"-wide for the narrow rails. Cut the rail pieces to the same length as the width of the top and divider panels. Attach one wide rail to the front edge of the top and one to the front edge of the divider. Sand the panel and rail seam smooth after the glue has cured.

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    Rails are typically attached to face frame stiles or to the cabinet sides with hidden fasteners such as tenons, dowels, biscuits, or pocket screws. But, because the sides of this cabinet will be hidden after it is installed, the rails, top, and divider are attached by driving screws through the cabinet sides.

    It doesn’t matter that the screw heads are visible on the outside face of the cabinet sides because the sides will be concealed inside the closet. Mark the location of the bottom edge of each rail on the inside face of the cabinet sides.

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    Mark the location of the bottom edge of each rail on the inside face of the cabinet sides. Place each cabinet side front-edge down on a flat work surface. Position the top and the divider between the sides and clamp the cabinet assembly together.

    Check that each piece is square to the side panels and that the spacing is correct. Bore countersink and pilot holes and attach the top and divider to the sides.

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    Attach the back bottom rail last. Cut the back to size. Attach the back to the cabinet sides, top and back bottom rail with glue and 1" brads or 18-ga. pneumatic nails. Make sure the cabinet is square as you attach the back panel.

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    Cut plywood door and shelf pieces. You could use heat-activated edging to conceal the door and shelf edges, but because these edges are subject to more contact, you’re better off attaching thicker, solid-wood edging. Rip ¼"-thick × ¾"-wide strips of solid wood for the edging. Cut two pieces that are slightly longer than the height of the door. Attach these pieces to the door-side edges with glue, leaving a little excess to hang over each end. Trim the overhang flush with the top and bottom of the door. Then cut two pieces that are slightly longer than the width of the door (including the side edging pieces). Attach these pieces to the top and bottom of the door with glue and brads. Then cut two pieces for the front edges of the shelves and attach them in the same way.

  10. After the glue has dried, sand the cabinet and door surfaces and edging smooth, being careful not to sand through the plywood veneer. Apply finish to the cabinet. in this case an oil based stain was applied, followed by three coats of water-base polyurethane. Lightly sand the surfaces with extra-fine grit sandpaper after each coat is dry. Hang the door after the finish has dried. Use european-style inset hinges to hang the door. Follow the installation instructions and diagrams included with the hinges.

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    Make the initial pass for cutting the rabbets on a router table or table saw. Rabbets and dadoes should be made in multiple passes of deepening cuts—don’t try and make the entire cut in one pass.

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    Reposition the fence and make the second pass on each rabbet. The width of the rabbet should equal the thickness of the plywood.

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    Finish cutting all rabbets and dadoes in the drawer box parts.

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    Cut the drawer bottom groove in the front, back, and side pieces.

  15. Sand all the drawer box parts smooth before assembling them. Dry-assemble the drawer to make sure all the parts fit together well. Then, assemble the drawer box with glue and brads. Remove the clamps, clean up any dried excess glue and apply two coats of water-base polyurethane to the drawer boxes.

    Next, mount drawers in the cabinet. Install the drawer slides on the cabinet sides and drawer box so that when the drawer is closed the front of the drawer box is ¾" inside the front of the cabinet.This creates the necessary set-back so that when the drawer face is attached it will be flush with the front of the cabinet.

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    Make the drawer faces. If you don’t have wide enough stock you must make the tall drawer faces by edge-gluing two pieces. Cut the drawer faces to size and sand them smooth. Finish the drawer faces with the same finishes you used on the cabinet. Use double stick tape to position the drawer faces on the drawer box. The drawer faces are centered in the opening between the rails and cabinet sides. Carefully open the drawer and attach a clamp to secure the face. Then attach the drawer face with screws.

    Finally, attach handles or pulls to the drawers and door.

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    First, build a set of supports for the cabinet inside the closet. The supports must be the same height as the bottom of the rough opening and roughly 20" long. Place the supports on the floor of the closet, spacing them apart no wider than the cabinet. Then slide the cabinet into the rough opening, center it, and insert shims to fill any gaps between the framing and the cabinet. Secure the cabinet to the rough opening framing and supports with 2" screws.

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    The existing door and window case molding. The top casing will look best if it runs the full width across the cabinet and closet. There are several  ways you can trim the interior seams. In this case a strip of ¼"-thick plywood is used to cover the wide space between the closet-door frame and cabinet side and the space below the bottom drawer. The plywood edges are so narrow that it is difficult to distinguish them as plywood after they are sanded and stained or painted. You can also plane down solid stock or combine manufactured moldings to trim out the closet and cabinet.