Office Remodel: DIY Budget Cabinets

Item number one on my office remodel list was a bar height work table with a dog bed down below. Item number two is a pair of 48” base cabinets. This will give me a full 8′ of cabinet storage below a row of windows. These cabinets serve three purposes; to maintain a clean and tidy appearance in the office, to provide a 36” high naturally lit work surface for paperwork and current tasks, and, most importantly, to keep the items inside protected from the constant bombardment of dog hair and dust.

We have four dogs who sleep inside the office at night. It’s the only room in the house that makes sense to keep the dog bed. We also live in Mississippi which is primarily a clay soil location. This means during the 10-11 month rainy season the ground is constantly muddy and the rest of the year (normally around August) is a dry, dusty drought. EVERYTHING in and around our home gets covered in clay and clay dust year-round. It sucks. Hopefully these cabinets will reduce the amount of dust on anything that goes inside them.

I worked at a home center for a little less than a year and while there I examined how the pre-built cabinets we sold were constructed. I designed these cabinets to feature everything I want, look better in my opinion, and cost less than anything I could find locally to cover the same amount of space. Buying the sheet goods, face frame poplar stock, drawer slides, and finish ended up costing the same as unfinished cabinets with less drawers and no countertop at my local Lowes. We started the build with the sheet goods. One piece of primed 3/4” plywood and three sheets of MDF.

The plywood will be for the cabinet sides and some small pieces and everything else will be made from MDF. Because I started with a complete cut list that I made in SketchUp and because I had Jeremy helping me with the build, breaking down the sheet goods was a really fast process. I believe we had all of the pieces cut and organized within an hour.

I prefer to make my own cutting diagrams in SketchUp because it allows me to position everything so that it reduces full length cuts and batches as many dimensions as possible. In this case I did have to open the garage door for one cut out of the four sheets. The humidity is miserably high this time of the year so the more I can keep the garage door shut the better.

All of the cabinets will get a toe kick so I first marked a 3” square in one of the lower corners for each cabinet side. I normally wouldn’t make a jig or template for marking something this simple but one of the offcuts just happened to be a 3” square. Very convenient :)

Then the waste can be cut out with a jigsaw and a speed square. I was mindful of the blade cutting direction for this step making sure any tearout is on the side that will be less visible when completed.

The primary joinery method for these cabinets is pocket hole screws…and there were a LOT of pocket holes. For visual reference I marked the approximate location of each screw with a marker. If this were a stained or clear finish cabinet I probably would have went with a pencil so it can be sanded away. These cabinets will be white when complete so I’m not concerned with the marker lines. It’s just much more visible when working with the pieces.

Then we used the Kreg Foreman pocket hole machine to cut all of the pocket holes. I’ve had this machine for 5 or 6 years now and put a TON of use on it and it’s still working great. It will definitely pay for itself quickly if you make a lot of pocket holes. It clamps the material to the table and cuts the pocket hole from below all with a single pull of the handle. Much better on your arms and shoulder than picking up, plunging down, and picking up a drill over and over and over and over and over….

To start assembly a 4-1/4” spacer block is clamped to the bottom of the inside face of each side panel. This spacer block gives a reference corner to locate the bottom panel 4-1/4” up from the bottom of the sides which will in turn position the top of the bottom panel flush with the top of the lower face frame rail later.

With the side panel resting front down on the workbench the lower panel is installed. This ensures that the bottom and side panels will be flush on their front edges. It’s not entirely necessary but we added a few brand nails through the side panel to prevent the bottom panel from shifting while the screws were installed.

The other side is attached the same way.

The bottom panel is 3/4” less in the front to back dimension than the side panels. This allows for the pack pieces to be installed flush with the back of the sides. These are installed with pocket hole screws into the side panels. One on top and one on bottom. If these cabinets were to be mounted to a wall you would screw through this material. You can see here that the lower back piece was installed 3/4” up from the bottom. This keeps the MDF off the floor to prevent damage from moisture when moping the floor. Moisture is the enemy of MDF. Keep anything wet away from it and it will last forever.

Then the cabinet is rolled on it’s back so the toe kick piece can be installed. This gets pocket hole screwed into each side panel and into the bottom of the bottom panel. Again, you can see that this piece is about 3/4” off the ground. The pocket hole screws are facing out on this board as it will be covered with a full length toe kick board when the cabinets are screwed together in the office.

Here’s the cabinet carcass so far. Adding a thin back panel is personal preference and in this case I didn’t want one. I actually want the back of the cabinet to be open for ventilation as these cabinets won’t be permanently mounted to the wall. The floor trim will keep these cabinets away from the wall slightly. Also, to prevent stuff from sliding out the back I made sure the lower back piece was sized a little higher than the bottom panel.

Next up is the face frames. Because I already had a cut list and was working with lumber that was already square four sides the process went by really quick. All I had to do was crosscut to the final length at my miter saw station.

Then rip to the final width of 2”.

And then cut all of the pocket holes for assembly.

Here’s a better look at how this pocket hole machine works. As you pull the handle down the adjustable screw clamp presses down slightly to hold the material while a stepped drill bit drills an angled hole from below. The fence also has two adjustable and retractable stops that allow you to cut pocket holes at the same distance from each side of your board really fast.

Every piece of the face frame except the far left and far right stiles get two pocket holes on each end.

Then the face frames are assembled with pocket hole screws. If you don’t know, the horizontal pieces are rails and the vertical pieces are stiles. Every face frame should have full height stiles on each end then you alternate between rails and stiles to fill out the interior geometry. I always start with one side stile and use any interior stiles as spacers to locate the interior rails. In this case we have the left stile with the top, bottom, and drawer rails being installed.

Then the opposite side stile is installed using the interior stiles as spacers again. Followed by the installation of the interior stiles. This face frame is for the left cabinet. Just two drawers and two doors. Evenly spaced.

The face frame we are installing here is for the right cabinet. Three drawers and three doors. These are spaced a little different though. The left vertical space is sized for file folders and whatever was left on the right side was divided in half. The face frames are then mounted to the cabinets with glue and brad nails.

With the cabinet sitting flat on the ground we added three horizontal pieces to the inside top of the cabinet with pocket hole screws. These are the top mounting pieces. To attach an engineered panel countertop such as plywood or a typical pre-made laminate top you can screw right through these pieces from below and into the top material. For something like a solid wood panel that needs expansion and contraction room you can still screw through these pieces but the holes need to be elongated to allow for wood movement.

The right cabinet will have a vertical divider. This will separate the file folder area on the left from the electronic components area on the right. I plan on keeping my battery backup power supply, router, modem, and NAS in the area on the right which should drastically reduce the amount of dog hair that gets on them. I love dogs…but dog hair drives me nuts.

The area on the right will have a horizontal shelf that is centered vertically in the opening. It wasn’t until I got all of the shelf supports mounted that I realized I needed the vertical divider to be on the right side of this stile and not the left side where I mounted it. So further along you will see that we moved it. As I write this article I’m drawing a blank as to why I needed to move it but I do remember something conflicting when I was in the shop building it. Anyway, I mounted some shelf supports with brad nails and glue.

Then dropped the shelf into place. This shelf will remain floating. It’s a snug fit and there’s no need to secure it permanently.

Here you can see that I added a small vertical support for the middle of the shelf in both the back and the front. These are just brad nailed into place.

Spacer blocks are needed to mount the drawer slides flush with the perimeter of each drawer opening. Two sizes are needed for these. Because these will be hidden and never seen I went with a piece of 2×6 white pine for the material. First crosscutting at the miter saw station.

Then jointing two adjacent faces flat at the jointer.

Then using the planer to get the desired thickness.

And finally, ripping the pieces to their final width at the table saw. It wasn’t entirely necessary to go through the milling process for these pieces but it’s always less frustrating working with flat and square stock. And it didn’t take much time.

To mount these I first drew lines inside the cabinet where the blocks needed to be and clamped the blocks to the appropriate side of the lines.

And secured them with 1-1/4” screws through the side panels. Because these cabinets will be finished white I will have to fill the holes on the left side of the left cabinet. The other three sides will never be seen so the screw holes are not an issue.

Rinse and repeat for the rest of the drawer slide mounting blocks. The bottom of all of these blocks lined up with the bottom of the drawer opening as well as the bottom of the top back piece. The back piece height was sized to line up with the bottom of the drawer opening for this very reason; to make mounting these blocks quick and easy. You can see in this image that Jeremy was already filling the face frame nail holes as I was finishing this step. #teamwork

I purposefully sized the face frames to be a tiny bit wider than the desired width of the cabinets. This allows me to use a flush trim bit in the router to get the face frame to the exact size of the cabinet on the exposed corner. The grain was running in the wrong direction for the router though. In an attempt to reduce or eliminate tearout I made a climb cut with the flush trim bit first. This is where you move the router against the normal direction of the cut which makes the router want to grab and pull away from you if you’re not careful. If you go slow and steady and don’t remove too much you shouldn’t have any problems though. I did make one final pass in the appropriate direction just to make sure everything was flush.

Also, this is a Bosch Colt router and I always get questions about the dust collection attachment every time I use it. It’s the factory edge guide with a shopvac attachment hot glued to the opening. It works very, very well.

Before primer all of the pieces are sanded to level any imperfections.

I was initially going to leave the drawer fronts and doors rectangular and cut a 5 degree back bevel on all of the edges but decided to route a roundover at the last minute. I think this was a good decision in the end as it reduces the amount of sharp edges on the MDF. Sharp edges in MDF are easily chipped. Rounded edges, not so much.

The rounded edges made a huge difference.

Time to spray some primer. I normally would have waited until the cabinets were 100% done before starting on the finish but I only had two days of no rain in the weather forecast so I had to get the finish done ASAP. For a primer I’m using Sher-Wood Pro lacquer primer and will be top coating it with Sher-Wood CAB-Acrylic Lacquer.

And spraying it with a Fuji Spray Q5 Platinum turbine HVLP sprayer. I got the best results by thinning both the primer and finish with lacquer thinner to a viscosity of around 12 seconds with a standard #4 ford cup. The gun was set to two full rotations away from closed on the fluid adjustment, a 1.3mm needle was used, and the turbine was set to three full bars of power on the adjustment dial.

I started with the cabinet face frames. Notice the piece of cardboard in the background. It’s always best to verify your fan pattern, fluid amount, and air pressure before spraying the project.

With all of the MDF drawer fronts and doors I sprayed the edges a few times first to soak in as much as they would take.

Followed by the interior area. I had the best results by moving forward and back rather than side to side. This allows me to keep my arm relatively still and rock my body as needed to cover the panel. Just a little more consistent than walking side to side for these panels.

The MDF countertop and poplar toe kick were sprayed the same way.

I sprayed two coats of primer and let everything sit overnight. The next day Jeremy started sanding the primer.

While I vacuumed and brushed off all of the loose dust.

We got a late start on the day of spraying the final finish. Spraying the final finish is exactly like spraying the primer so there’s no need in showing more pictures of that step. However, here’s a good shot of our cleanup. I sprayed the cabinets on top of two 6′ x 8′ tarps. I keep these tarps stapled to a piece of 1” square stock wood which makes rolling them out and rolling quick and easy. The last time I sprayed this finish a lot of people were concerned of spraying the finish on the vehicles in my driveway. That’s not an issue because lacquer becomes dust faster than it can reach the vehicles. Because I live in the woods and rarely have any wind around my house you can see the overspray that dropped on my driveway. It might look like a mess but it’s just dust. It is easily swept off the cement and into the rocks where it can’t be seen.

The results are great. The lacquer product I used levels quite well and produces as finish that is easy to keep clean. The only downside is the horrible smell. I don’t have a dedicated spray booth and am always restricted by the weather so everything I spray needs to come back into my garage almost immediately. This means the pieces cure and offgass in my shop….which allows the smell to migrate into half of my home. That part is a deal breaker for me. I love the results I get but I won’t be buying any more of this finish due to the smell.

Next up are the drawers. They will be 100% MDF. Of course I wouldn’t recommend this drawer construction for fine furniture. But we’re talking about basic office cabinets in a home office. This construction method and the materials used are plenty strong and durable enough for this application. When we initially broke down the sheet goods we sized the drawer bases and the sides but left the front and back pieces long. The drawers are sized 1” less in the left to right direction than the drawer opening on the face frame and 22” front to back.

All of the front and back pieces were crosscut to length with a miter gauge in the table saw. I prefer to use the table saw instead of the miter saw when smaller pieces like these are being cut.

Construction is extremely simple. Just glue and brad nails at all of the joints.

More glue and brad nails to attach the bottom panel.

And once the glue setup I drilled holes for 1-1/4” drywall screws. Very basic, very inexpensive, very strong.

The drawer slides can now be installed. I should have installed the slides on the drawer boxes first and then the cabinets but I did it in reverse order. This means when it came time to mount the slides on the drawer I needed to remove one slide from the cabinets to help with alignment on the drawer. Anyway, I started mounting the drawer slides to the cabinets making sure the bottom of the slide was aligned with the bottom of the face frame opening as well as the bottom of the drawer slide mounting blocks. The front of the drawer slide also needs to be flush with the front of the face frame.

The drawer slide mounting screws are tiny so I went with four screws per slide.

The drawer slides are mounted flush with the bottom of the drawer opening. That means if I mount the drawer slides to drawer so that the bottom of the slide is flush with the bottom of the drawer the drawer will drag on the face frame. The drawer needs to be elevated slightly so there is a gap between the bottom of the drawer and the bottom of the face frame. I used a 1/8” thick piece of scrap wood to elevate the side of the drawer.

Then the drawer slide can rest on the workbench and I can attach the small side to the drawer. The front of the slide is lining up with the front of the drawer and the slide is opened up just enough to get the first screw installed. Then gradually open the drawer slide revealing the next mounting hole until four mounting screws are installed. Then cabinet side of the slide can be removed, the slide rebuilt with the next short piece from the already installed slides, and then the process is repeated on the other side of the drawer. Then all of the drawers should fit into place in the cabinets with a 1/8” gap below them.

Here’s a shot of the drawers installed. To mount the drawers I used a countersink drill bit to drill from the outside to the inside. This might look odd having the countersink on the outside but there’s a reason for it.

The drawer fronts will be mounted with screws from the inside of the drawer boxes, through the front of the drawer box, and into the back of the visible drawer front. When the screw enters the drawer front a tiny bit of material will mushroom out around the screw. This will prevent the drawer front from fitting flush against the drawer box. You can see the mushroom I’m talking about in this next example picture. With the countersink on the drawer boxes the mushroom will have a place to go and not interfere with the fit of the drawer front.

All of the doors and drawer fronts were sized 1” larger than the face frame openings for a 1/2” reveal on all edges. To install the drawer fronts a horizontal support was clamped to the face frame 1/2” below the drawer opening. This ensures all of the drawer fronts are in line with one another when installed.

Two washer head screws from the inside are all that is needed to hold the drawer front on. The drawer pull will also help hold the drawer front on when it’s installed.

Getting the doors mounted is extremely easy with a story stick. Here you can see a piece of poplar on the inside of the face frame. I first mark on X near the bottom of the stick to let me know what side goes down every time. Then I measure 3” up from the bottom of the door opening and 3” down from the top of the drawer opening and strike horizontal lines. This establishes my cabinet story stick. I can now use this stick to make reference lines on the inside of the face frame at every location where the door hinges will be mounted.

Then the marks are transferred to a MDF story stick for the doors. The doors are sized for a 1/2” reveal so I made sure to lower the door story stick by 1/2” on the bottom to account for the reveal. Here’s the lower mark on both story sticks.

And here’s the upper mark on both story sticks. I have two markings here. The first mark is the normal top hinge location. The second mark is for the file cabinet door only. The upper drawer slides inside the file cabinet interfered with the upper hinge so the hinge needed to be lowered by 1”.

With the two story sticks side by side you can see that all of the reference lines line up and the door stick is 1/2” lower on the bottom for the overlay. The top doesn’t matter as everything is referenced off of the bottom of the cabinet. The door story stick is then used to mark the centerline for each cup hinge location.

To mount the doors I’m using 1/2” overlay soft close hinges. I picked up a bag of 20 hinges with mounting screws from Amazon for $51.99. That comes out to $5.20 per door. Much less expensive than anything I can get locally. These are adjustable in all directions but if you install them carefully you won’t need to adjust anything.

The hinges require a 1-3/8” hole positioned 1/8” away from the edge of the work piece. I took the time to drill a test piece first and mount it to another piece of wood just to verify the overlay spacing.

With the drill press depth locked and the fence clamped in place all of the cup hinge holes can be drilled. Just align the center point of the bit with the reference mark on the door.

Two screws attach each hinge.

And finally the doors can be installed making sure the mounting screws go through the reference line on the inside of the face frames. This is the door that will hold the file folder drawers. You can see why we needed to move the upper hinge down by 1”. I’m not going to cover the file folder drawers in this article or video because I want to cover them separately.

Again, clamp a straight edge 1/2” below the door opening to align the bottom of each drawer during installation.

The drawer pulls were mounted in the center of each drawer. A jig could be made for this but it’s super easy to apply a piece of tape then mark the horizontal center with a pencil.

Then using the horizontal center and a square mark the vertical center with an awl.

Then drill through both the drawer front and the drawer box.

And install the drawer pull with the necessary hardware.

The drawer pulls on the bottom cabinets are done the same way. The profile of the door might determine the exact location of the pull but for these I installed the door pull the same distance from the top of the door that the drawer pulls were from the top of the drawer and in by 1-1/2”.

And here the cabinets are in my office. Plenty of natural light on top of the work surface from the windows. My new desk will go in the same location as the one you see here. This is why you see some cables on the floor. There’s just no way around having some cables exposed. It doesn’t bother me but I know some people on the internet will have a fit ;) I have one electrical outlet in this room and it’s on the wall right behind the computer desk. The wires go into the cabinets and then another wire comes out to my computer. The printer and router are the only two electronics that will live on top of the cabinets.

The top panel is not attached in these pictures. I’m undecided if I want to attach the bubinga trim with the top in place or if I want to remove it and take it in the shop. I suppose I’ll make that decision when the time comes to add the bubinga trim. You can see in this picture that the cabinets do not go all the way back to the wall. This is on purpose for two reasons; to allow ventilation to the electronics in the far right cabinet and also because we might move in the next couple years. These cabinets are so specific to my needs and I’m not sure if cutting the trim and making these built-ins would better this space for the next home owner.

Finally an organized space for all of my stuff. This is the shipping supply drawer.

The left cabinet purposefully didn’t have a shelf so that all of the dog food and extra shipping boxes can be stored out of sight.

This cabinet will have two full depth file folder drawers. I’ll cover that in another video so in the mean time I can keep my camera bag in here.

The far right cabinet is where my electronics will live. A hole drilled in the front right corner allows the power wire for my battery backup power supply to be plugged into the wall and for the power wire to my computer cart to be plugged into the backup power supply. The modem and NAS live on the shelf above the power supply.

Another piece of the puzzle done. Next up will be my much anticipated computer desk. It’s an Uplift Desk frame that I’ll make a bubinga top for. Stay tuned for that one :)

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13 COMMENTS

  1. Jay excellent video. Those cabinets are the perfect size for my basement. Are there any written plans and supply lists available? I’d be more then happy to pay you for them.

  2. Great project! I like the plan and the execution. My only disappointment is that you opted to use MDF in the cabinet. I have a 1-man shop and NEVER use MDF in any of my cabinets because of three reasons: 1. The stuff is HEAVY! 2. It is prone to swell and disintegrate if it gets wet. 3. MDF doesn’t hold screws very well. Plywood is quite a bit lighter than MDF, holds screws a whole lot better, and doesn’t disintegrate when wet…it will swell and separate if wet for a long time. It is far easier for me to move and position plywood cabinets than MDF cabinets. I also use poplar for all my face frames, drawer fronts, and doors, unless they will be show – I use customer designated hardwoods in that instance. I really like the things you do and plan. Keep up the good work!!

  3. Wow your photo by photo layout with descriptions must have been a ton of work. Nicely done Jay ! I have to say tho that i’m pretty unsettled about using MDF…. am i being a wimp?

    Thanks again for all the hard work !

  4. Jay, very nicely done! I wouldn’t normally opt for MDF but seeing as how it’s an interior furnishing then it’s fine for your purpose!

    When putting screws into MDF (as you know), it’s prone to strip out. What I do is run the screw ALMOST all the way (to get the threads started), pull the screw out and put about 4-5 drops of thin Cyanoacrylilate (thin-CA, available at hobby shops) into the hole. Re-mount the hinges/doors about 5 minutes later and set the screws. The thin-CA soaks into the MDF and essentially turns it into hardwood for the purposes of holding fasteners. Never had a screw strip out.

    Again, great job sir!

  5. I am Curious Jay, why did you choose to use MDF over cabinet grade plywood? I’ve had many years of troubles with MDF allowing screws to pull out, ets. Also, what do you do with all of the sawdust when you’re done with it? I understand most sawdust is good for the compost, but MDF I’m not too sure of the value or safety. BTW, I love those roses made with hand plane shavings. Too bad we can’t get the same quality from our power planers. Nice build, I’ve done the same style in my shop for a total kitchen rebuild, just not so many pocket holes, as the plywood tends to hold better than the MDF, and it is in a moisture related area, being a kitchen and all. Please keep Jeremy in your shop. He makes teaching a pleasure, and things get done really quick. In this video, I’d say around 120% faster….lol

  6. Very nice.

    I did something similar with my electronics with off the shelf cabinets from the home store, except I put the computers in the cabinet as well. Mounted a pair of 140mm fans into the top back of the cabinet, powered with an old 12v wall-wart, to exhaust the warm air. Cut a slot along the bottom front where you have your power cords exiting, with filters to catch the dust being drawn in by the fans. Nice and quiet, and it kept most the dust out of the computer (much easier to clean the cabinet filters than open up the computer to get rid of the dust/hair).

  7. Liked your build. One comment: I saw you put your NAS storage arrays in the bottom right of the cabinet. I don’t know if you provided any cooling for them, but hard disks seriously shorten their lives when exposed to temperatures over about 85 degrees F.

    Keep up the good work!

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