For this tutorial I picked the hottest cabinet style in kitchens – shaker. Not only do shaker cabinets make a dated kitchen current, they are also incredibly easy to make. All you need is oak strips, plywood, wood glue and a table saw. That's it! (If you have flat panel cabinets already, you can update them to be shaker style like on the drawer fronts here.)
How to Build a Shaker Cabinet Door
Step 1: Determine the cabinet size.
This is pretty simple. All you have to do is measure the opening of the cabinet and then add the desired overlap. Most people opt for 1/2 inch. Example: Your cabinet opening is 17″ x 37″ so you would want your cabinet door to be 18″ x 38″. In the illustration below, the grey represents the overlay of the new cabinet door.
Step 2: Gather your materials.
When selecting cabinet doors there are a couple of options in regards to wood. Due to the ease of finding, I usually opt for red oak. Red oak is strong and can easily be stained or painted to your desired color.
The stiles of the cabinet door (the pieces that make the frame) are usually 2″ wide and 3/4″ to 1″ thick. Luckily this can be easily found at most home improvement stores. An 8 foot piece of 1″ x 2″ red oak strips is around $10.
For the panel (the center of the cabinet door), you will use 1/4″ red oak plywood. Again, these are easily found at most home improvement stores. A 4′ x 8′ piece is around $25.
Step 3: Cut your stiles and rails to length.
In the example above, an 18″ x 38″ cabinet door would have 2 – 38″ vertical stiles and 2 – 15″ horizontal rails. To determine the horizontal rail lengths, take the overall width (in the example, 18″) and subtract approximately 3 inches. Each vertical stile is roughly 2 inches wide and the horizontal rail will set in 1/2″ on each end (2 inch rail width – 1/2 inch inset = 1 1/2 inches per side).
Step 4: Cut your dados.
Dados will change your woodworking life. Or at least they have for me. A dado is a grooved joint sized to fit another piece of wood closely (also called a groove, as in tongue and groove)
Making a dado is actually pretty simple. For this project, you will want to create a 1/2″ dado in each of your four stiles (the plywood will slide into the frame via the dad0).
Begin by adjusting your blade height to 1/2″.
Place the vertical stile a little off-center and run it through the table saw.
Turn the stile around and run it through again. When you are finished, it should look like this:
Although cutting dados is not hard, I would suggest you practice with “junk wood” that is the same width. When making this tutorial, I went too far off-center and ended up with this:
Yeah, I was WAY off center. This happened because I eye-balled it. The best way to stop this from happening is by marking center on the wood and then having the blade line-up on the actual edge of the line.
To ensure your groove is the right width, grab your plywood and do a test fit. If it snaps on, your groove is perfect. If it's too small, widen the groove as needed. If it's too big, scrap the piece and start over.
Repeat this process on the other vertical stile as well as the two horizontal rails.
Step 5: Cut your tongue.
Ok, ouch! No, not that tongue. The tongue is the edge of the wood that will fit inside the dado (or groove). Doing this is a bit more tricky (but still easy). Again, I suggest using junk wood to practice.
Begin by adjusting your table saw blade to around 1/4″ (actually a little less is better).
Next, move your fence so that it is 1/2″ away from the center of the blade.
Run your horizontal rail through on both sides and both ends. You should end up with this:
Move your fence 1/4″ closer to the blade and run the horizontal rail through again. Continue to move your fence closer and run the horizontal stile through until you have created a tongue. The final piece should look like this:
Yes, it's a bit dipped in the center but that's okay (as long as it's not like that on the whole piece. If it is, it will not fit right).
When all pieces are cut, they should look like this:
Step 6: Measure/cut the center panel.
Fit all of your pieces together to get an accurate measurement of the center panel.
As you can see, there are small gaps on the edges. No worries… those will be resolved quickly.
Measure the width and height of the opening.
Add 1″ to the overall width and height of the opening. Use these measurements to cut your center panel.
Step 7: Add the center panel.
After cutting the center panel, slide it into the frame to check for fit.
If you are satisfied with the fit, remove the panel and apply glue to the grooves of each panel.
Slide the panel back in and place the top horizontal rail in place. Clamp the door and allow to sit for at least 30 minutes.
I always double check the width of a door when clamping by measuring at each clamp. When I first began working with clamps I would tend to clamp one side tighter than the other – resulting in an uneven finish on the final product. Measuring at each end is a quick and easy way to make sure you haven't over-tightened (or under-tightened) your clamps.
Allow it to dry overnight.
And that, my friends, is that. Simply sand and stain or paint your door, add some awesome cabinet handles and hinges and you are good to go.
It took about 15 minutes to make each door (not including the time it took for the glue to dry). Cost per door is around $20 (you can get about 6 center panels from each sheet of plywood).
In as little as a weekend, you could completely transform your kitchen by making your own shaker doors. Not only are they stylish and easy-to-make, but the tongue and groove joint will ensure they hold up to the daily abuse in the kitchen.