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What Are the Different Types of DIY Cabinets?

By Gregory Hanson
Updated May 16, 2024
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Any type of cabinet can be built as a do-it-yourself (DIY) cabinet, with the right skills and tools. The easiest DIY cabinets are those intended for purely functional storage, where appearance is of little concern, such as shop or garage utility cabinets. Small cabinets for use in the bathroom, either as medicine cabinets or as free-standing or wall-mounted storage are also typically easy to build. General storage and display cabinets, which can be free-standing, anchored, or built-in vary widely in difficulty but are usually a step up from smaller cabinets. Kitchen cabinets are often the most complicated sorts of DIY cabinets but are still within the reach of a competent and careful amateur carpenter.

Storage and utility cabinets are a good first DIY cabinet project. Most shops and garages can benefit from the addition of extra storage space, and cabinets for these areas usually need to be sturdy but not particularly pretty. These cabinets can be built out of durable and inexpensive materials, such as oriented-string board and pine lumber, and any fittings can be simple contractor-grade hardware. When planning utility cabinets, it is important to measure carefully to make sure that they will fit in their intended location and to engineer them to be sturdy enough to carry the fairly substantial amount of weight that such cabinets often need to hold.

Bathroom cabinets are often a step up from utility cabinets because appearance is usually a factor, but these cabinets are typically quite small, which makes them a good choice for an intermediate DIY cabinet project. Careful measurements of the space in which the cabinets will be located should be taken, and walls should be checked to make sure that studs are located appropriately for any hanging cabinets. Bathroom cabinets are usually made of nicer materials than utility cabinets, but inexpensive laminates are available for carpenters who are worried about potentially ruining more expensive materials. Finish and hardware should be compared to those already in the bathroom before being added to the cabinet being built.

General purpose cabinets are usually another step up in complexity from bathroom cabinets. Issues of measurement, finish, and hardware are all still relevant, as is the need for solid construction. These cabinets frequently involve more complicated joinery and more elaborate woodwork. A reliable plunge router, with a selection of appropriate bits, is an invaluable tool for this sort of woodworking, and can aid in both joinery and decoration. Such DIY cabinets may also incorporate more elaborate decorative touches, such as small glass display windows or hidden electric lighting to illuminate items in the cabinet.

DIY cabinets for the kitchen pose a different sort of challenge. They require no more sophisticated carpentry skills than do cabinets for other purposes, but they require a great deal of careful layout, planning, and measurement. Kitchen cabinets must usually work together with plumbing and electrical systems, and the entire kitchen must often meet rigorous building codes. Upper-level storage cabinets can be an exception to this rule and are often a fairly simple DIY cabinet project. Kitchen cabinets should be carefully planned and local building codes consulted before construction begins, especially if specialty countertops like granite will be used, as these materials can place additional stresses on the cabinets.

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