Making your own cabinets? Or very DIY kitchens?

VictoriaElizabethApril 3, 2013

TracieErin, if you read this-- I was reading a post where you mentioned you are DIYing your cabinets (and are now in year three... you have all my empathy.)

Wondering what advice anyone would give from the perspective you have now? After having done it/or still working on it?

Also, I’d be curious why you DIY’ed-- because your space is so unusual it all needs to be custom… or if you’re just crazy talented, or if because when you started, it didn’t seem like it would be too bad?

We are planning our kitchen remodel in an old Victorian house, and I have some ideas about replicating an antique-look for the cabinets…

Our entire house-renovation has been DIY, (and slow, and sometimes miserable) so I’m not even sure why I’m not thrilled at the idea of just buying some cabinets and being done with it. My husband kind of can’t believe I’m looking to complicate what is already a big project… although, he should know by now that is what I do best- complicate all projects.

I’ve been petitioning DH to consider making what I want, but he is resistant… he has the skills to figure it out, but it would be a learning curve… and he is concerned that it will be a mess/nightmare/never-ending project… (although he has plenty of clamps, which I think means he should try.)

Would you do it again?

Any resources you found indispensible??

I’m not looking for anything really unusual, design wise… (at least, it seems fairly straightforward to me,) but DH is concerned that it won’t be as polished as a manufactured product. I do see his point, but I still think it seems feasible…

I do think that part of this, (for me) is how hard it is to design a kitchen… you start out thinking everything must be “special.” And it’s taking me a while to get over that.

Anyway, this is kind of what I have in mind. Minus the fourteen foot ceilings.

Not an exact replica, but as inspiration of something I love…

And what we have now… an example of the world’s WORST kitchen. Our PO DIY’d the entire thing… he made everything custom, (and not matching at all) and originally that “island” (now jacked up with two-by-fours) was only three feet off the ground.

Here is a link that might be useful: Our current kitchen (disaster)

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I loved your blog posts about your kitchen and addition. It's obvious the kitchen has to go - and I completely understand why you feel overwhelmed!

I'm curious to see how this turns out (if I live long enough). Thanks for sharing!

    Bookmark   April 3, 2013 at 4:24PM
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Salmon Falls Cabinetry

I have seen DIY success stories, and don't want to deter anyone. I have bitten off more than I could on some projects and look back and roll my eyes at what i just did.

I would still suggest you hire it out to a kitchen designer at the least. If you are thinking of building your own, find a decent RTA cabinet line. I sure hope you have the tooling to put them together. If not, seriously consider not doing this. You absolutely will spend more time DIY'ing, and quite possibly more money as well.

You have a tough layout. That corner window really messes with the design.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2013 at 4:31PM
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We are about to embark on this DIY project ourselves. We have all the tools we need and all the materials we need to build our own cabinets, now just need to get the courage to get started. Have spent the last several months lurking on this website gathering ideas and changing our AutoCAD drawing so many times I think we're on version 50.

If you decide not to build your own I'd be interested in hearing the reason why. If you do decide to build your own I will be fascinated to watch your project as it moves forward because you will be ahead of us.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2013 at 5:35PM
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If you love doing, or can't affors what you want,
And are either a perfectionistic painstaking maker or an easy to please client
and have a lot of time
Then might be a good idea. Consider outsourcing as much as you are comfortable with and anything not equipped for.
Have the entIre design absolutely locked down before you buy a stick.
Understand ahead of time that aside from good planning it is 90% finishing

2 storIes: I have a respectible shop in the garage, built cabinets and lots of other things for a living most of my life.
I did not do my own because: I hate making cabinet boxes, would have insisted making my everything myself, not really set up for that to do doors efficiently, am a fanatic with finishing, would have cut dovetails by hand because I like to AND by that time I was a KD and got a deal.

Traded a friend- I designed a kitchen for the house he built and he milled some very wide rough walnut I had since he has larger equipment than I now do. That was 4 years ago, still has the ditch kitchen he cobbled to get his C.O., nada has been made.
For that matter the walnut is still on the racks waiting to be a table but that is a different tale :)

    Bookmark   April 3, 2013 at 7:00PM
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Thank you so much for the responses…
Everything you all said sums up DH’s hesitation. He feels that I am a perfectionist and am doomed to be unhappy with small details that don’t meet my expectations.

That may or may not be true… I AM detail-oriented, but I also think I’d be happier with a less than manufactured-looking perfect cabinet if the trade-off was a design I really loved.

DH feels like cabinets are cabinets, and not something that needs to be fancy outside of the options generally available at the cabinet store… It’s not that I don’t see his points, it’s that I am enamored of the idea that lives in my head. (which he would tell you is not well-enough defined)

Also, he feels that the time/energy investment isn’t compelling… and that it makes way more sense to order cabinets, and install them in a relatively short period of time, vs try to make something complicated that he has never tried before… which would theoretically take WAY longer.

He does have the tools. Or, at least I think he does… but his feeling is that it is not a wood shop, and he is not a cabinetmaker. And that to do it RIGHT is an incredible amount of work. All this makes him sound like he hates projects, which isn’t true at all. He’s great at tackling most everything, except anything to do with cabinets.

I wanted an oversized medicine cabinet in our bath remodel, and he didn’t want to build my design then, either… he just wanted to buy something… and what he built is perfect, and I love it. Although again, he would point out that building one four-foot cabinet is entirely different than building an entire kitchen from scratch.

And yes, that corner window is an entirely different problem. In fact, this entire kitchen is one problem after another.

p.s.- Annkh - you made my day, thank you.

Here is a link that might be useful: Our oversized bath cabinet

    Bookmark   April 3, 2013 at 10:04PM
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Unless he is gung-ho for the project, it does not sound like a good idea! It must be a labor of love to get him through it. I mean love of the project, of course. He may love you now, but may not if you force him to undertake this! ;-)

Mine was a fairly extreme DIY, but I did buy custom RTA cabs.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2013 at 11:43PM
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(Paul didn’t just not want to build it… He said he couldn’t. And he suggested I get estimates for custom cabinetry… then he acted horrified at the prices.)

Go get some custom estimates for exactly what you want.

One of you may be surprised and change your mind. Not sure which one though, lol...

I am almost 52. In the next few months I am approaching my third kitchen remodel (first two were DIY) and with GOD AS MY WITNESS I will have a completely finished kitchen (that is not being sold with a house so that's why it got finished and I never got to experience having and working in it) before I die.

That is why I don't want to DIY our kitchen this time.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2013 at 3:00AM
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I am enamored of the idea that lives in my head.

You need to get that idea out of your head and onto paper where the two of you can talk about it. Sketch it out in your current kitchen space, see what will fit with minimal and maximal moving of plumbing, gas lines and electric.

That huge glass-fronted cabinet area is lovely, but can't be done with off the shelf cabinets. If you have moderate carpentry skills (straight cuts and square cornered boxes) you can do it.

The advantage of custom or DIY is that you can make cabinets that really fit the spaces without fillers, gaps and funky sizing. That makes it more efficient. If your walls aren't straight and corners not square you can compensate for them.

Do you have a place for the finished boxes to stay until they are all ready for installation?

Do you have a good compound miter saw, a table saw, a pockethole jig, a large square, a large level, and a lot of clamps?

    Bookmark   April 4, 2013 at 9:02AM
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I can usually get my husband to do something he doesn't really wanna do for an afternoon or so. Asking him to give up all of his free time to indulge my vision for an extended period of time...don't know I could do that and stay married through the consequences. I would imagine him resenting me for pushing or me resenting him for not getting something quite right.

I always say....don't hire someone you can't fire... I would use it in this situation too...especially since the person you are considering doesn't want the job.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2013 at 10:22AM
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I would like to see your vision on paper too! I just hope it includes ventilation over your range.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2013 at 11:07AM
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Honestly I see no reason why you can't create the look you want with stock cabinet boxes and a little modification on some, but with molding going on the front, many of the sins of piecing together upper cabinets to get the height you want would disappear. The harder part will be the doors. Although you could always custom order those that you really need to have special heights on, or ask your DH to make only those.

I would start with creating a plan of what you want as in how the layout should be and the elevations and then figure out how you can get there without taxing your DH too much, or learn to do it yourself.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2013 at 11:11AM
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Check out this amazing Ikea vintage-look gentleman's farm kitchen, 100% DIY under 20K, and drop-dead gorgeous.

Here is a link that might be useful: Brickman House Kitchen

    Bookmark   April 4, 2013 at 11:23AM
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In our last kitchen (that was finished because we were selling and I never got to experience having or working in), DH was going to make the cabinets. When we decided to sell, we decided to use IKEA instead. With IKEA and DH's skills, it came together very nicely in a fraction of the time and cost. When DH saw the IKEA cabinets and the fact that the BLUM hardware came stock, he said he couldn't build them for less.

We liked the IKEA cabinets so much that we will be doing the same in our new kitchen (waiting 3 years for this!), but will be ordering custom doors and drawers. This gives us complete control - anything is possible. We will paint them ourselves saving lots of $$.

With your DH's talents (love the medicine cabinet!!!), I would think this would be a perfect solution for you as well.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2013 at 11:44AM
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Oh dear, I've been called out! :)

Thank you for your empathy. You have mine as well - I read through your blog when you posted your powder room thread and it definitely struck a chord with me.

I'll try to respond to your questions in order.

This is year three (four in June.. yikes) of a whole house reno of a foreclosure property. We actually moved the entire kitchen to another room. It does work much better for the house (galley kitchen and parallel running hallway in the middle of the house were demoed to create new DR, L+island kitchen in old DR space at back of house).

Since there were about 786142315819 things to be done before creating cabinetry that I did not consider before asking him if we could move the kitchen, we actually have a grand total of only THREE cabinets made by now: the sink, oven and rangetop cabinets. They are frames only and have no doors, drawers or shelves. The rest are leftovers from the old kitchen. We do have many other projects besides the kitchen.

I would not do it again. It was too stressful on both of us, and we are still not done. I would follow our original plan - paint, flooring, no moving walls or electrical, and done. Move when we got sick of it or need more room. I look back and realize I was really depressed those years we didn't have closed up walls, trim, or, you know, a non-plywood form of flooring. I didn't entertain, I didn't have money to go out to see friends because it all went to the house. It's nice to think you are building this house with your own hands and you'll be so happy when it's done, but it's so draining and unhealthy to get there. Of course, YMMV.

We did and are still doing it because DH wants to do it. He is really into woodworking as a hobby and prefers to make our cabinets. He is really talented: he's done the electrical, framing, drywall and minor plumbing. The space is not unusual and could fit stock or semi-custom cabinets. I was into it at first. Ooooh, a custom kitchen, built by my DH. What a thing to tell our children. Now? I would prefer to go IKEA and take a project off of his honeydo list. I'd rather he do the crown moulding :)

If I were in your position I would not ask my DH to do it. My DH does not work well under pressure. So, I have (slowly) learned to not rush things and not to ask for new projects. I also had the tendency to ask him to "just do X" If it was something I thought would be an easy or quick project, without realizing how complicated or time consuming it is. So no, I would not be inclined to ask him to work on what HE tells me is a never-ending project because it would bother me to the point where I would have to get on him to finish it. As previous, I've tried to take this project off his plate but he refuses IKEA, and I'm not paying $10-20k for something else. We are hitting our heads on over-improving for the neighborhood.

On the other hand, your DH is not my DH, and that look may cost a pretty penny if you don't make it yourself. It is also perfect for your home.

Indispensible resources: My DH says a router, wood glue and a square LOL. As for me - Gardenweb. I particularly got a good quality, decent pricing drawer slide hardware suggestion from here. Knape & Voight, from rhome410. Of course, post your layout but also read others' layout threads. I figured mine out myself but GW was good for getting me to think out of the box.

We have not gotten to the painting stage yet so I can't advise you on the finished look VS a manufactured product. If he preps well and uses a sprayer I'm sure it will look nice and be durable. At least I hope so, for my own sake.

Sorry I can't be of more help from an finished kitchen point of view. Here's a link to rhome's finished or mostly finished DIY kitchen; I think she posted on her blog somewhere an "X years later" lookback but I can't seem to find it at the moment. I wish she would chime in here for you.

Here is a link that might be useful: rhome410's DIY kitchen

    Bookmark   April 4, 2013 at 11:51AM
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Re: the look- doors that high would have to be custom- local or mfg.
Otherwise you can achieve that in many of the better semi custom brands. Likely only need one that does sizing.
The trick will be fitting the look into your kitchen, but bet you already knew that :)

    Bookmark   April 4, 2013 at 2:40PM
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About a third of the way through rhome’s blog, I started laughing… imagining myself telling DH that other people are actually making cabinets out of trees they cut themselves… AMAZING!

It does sound like I am going to try to force him, but I absolutely realize that won’t work. I might not have realized that three years ago, but I do now. On the other hand, his motto is literally-- you can never have enough clamps. He has never once passed them up at a yard or estate sale, despite having a thousand of them…

My hope had been to find something salvaged that could be reworked into cabinets. I particularly liked mamagoose’s school cabinet. Which turned out great… but that thing hasn’t shown up for me, and we’re pretty much ready to be making decisions.

I think that one wall of cabinets like the inspiration picture is doable, since it could be done without individual boxes… and mabe doors instead of drawers on the bottom…

But the idea of DH also having to build matching wall cabinets around the range seems more complicated… I had also considered ordering base cabs in a dark color, to possibly blend in with a half-DIY job. Who knows if that’s even a good idea.

That IKEA kitchen was also really nice-- you’d never know it… and I’m going to go look at their website now. I just saw another thread on IKEA, that was also really appealing…

Thank you for your feedback… considering my own ideas through other people’s experiences really helps me figure out if this is even something I want to do… right now I’m counseling myself to move on from this idea.

Here is a link that might be useful: Mamagoose reclaimed cabinet

    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 11:51AM
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Definitely go to an Ikea and REALLY look at the cabinets, and see if you can go see an "in real life" one in someone's house, too. I was very gung-ho about an Ikea kitchen (so cheap! So pretty!) after seeing them on so many blogs, but when we went to see them in real life, many of the styles looked...Ikea. LOTS of seams on the faces of the doors. Some of the pieces didn't quite match up. Once I saw the little inconsistencies, I couldn't un-see them. My friend just did an Ikea kitchen and when I saw it all I could see were the SEAMS in all the doors. I know a lot of people like Ikea kitchens, but we just don't see it working well in our 1929 house.

We were going to do a DIY kitchen where we built the boxes and then ordered doors to fit (from a place like Sherr's or Barker's), so you can maybe do a half-DIY without it being a total disaster. I think we're going to end up getting all the cabinets from Barkers, since we want a white kitchen and they will paint/finish them in a white (the finish is what I was most concerned about, frankly). The prices are pretty reasonable, and you can customize the sizes to quarter-inch increments, so it's practically a custom kitchen.

Good luck! Your blog is great.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 12:11PM
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My DH is doing our cabinets. We've always worked on our own houses... siding, painting, refinishing floors. Pretty much everything but wall papering. This is our third house and our third kitchen.

We've been working on this kitchen quite slowly. We call it our twenty year kitchen project. We are on the last part now... the sink cabinet area.

May 13th is demolition day (we did hire that out since they haul everything away). I think the hardest thing to do without is the kitchen sink We plan to wash dishes in the basement and maybe outside. And we are filling our five gallon water container (for camping) to use in the kitchen as a water source. I hope that we will be without a sink no longer than three weeks but it depends on the counter install timing.

Why do we do it ourselves? Control. Quality. Schedule. I don't really like having contractors stomping around in my house.

Here is a link that might be useful: kitchen project

    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 1:00PM
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Donaleen: those doors are just beautiful! Your DH is so talented, too. Can't wait to see the finished pics!

    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 1:10PM
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thanks, Deedles. I always like to hear from you.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 1:12PM
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Beginning in April 2006, I started the DY of my kitchen. It was a near-gut of a 100 year old space. I contracted out the plumbing and electrical. I DIY'ed everything including 3 coat plasterwork, assembling and finishing cabinets, the extensive customization of many of the cabinets, all the floor re-laying and finishing, stripping and refinishing the existing woodwork, Fabricating new millwork to blend with the old, and salvage items brought in. I fabricated and honed my own soapstone countertops. Of course on top of that was all the _metas_: design and selections of hardware, faucets, fixtures,colors, and appliances. It took about 18 months.
If I had to build from scratch the cabinets, it never would have been finished. The quality you can get (and the design freedom) from a place like Conestoga is really unmatchable with a home shop within a reasonable timeframe.

Here is a link that might be useful: Photobucket of my kitchen project

    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 2:05PM
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Thanks to all, so much for the input…

aannneeee- I took your advice and went to Ikea… it turns out they no longer make the one door I had seen in a lot of the Ikea kitchens I liked (apparently it was solid wood and had a different style seam)… I don’t know anyone who actually used Ikea cabinets, so it’s all hearsay from other blogs…

I’ll look at Barkers, thanks for the recommendation… I too am worried that any paint we applied wouldn’t hold up like a pro-finish, even if we used a sprayer.

Donaleen-- wow, your cabinets are amazing… love the decoration!!

sombreuil-- I was totally distracted by your door and hardware!

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 3:10PM
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worried that any paint we applied wouldn't hold up like a pro-finish

That was my BIG concern too. In the end, I decided that all finishes can be marred. Just look around your house. At least with the DIY finish, you can always fix any problems that arise. This is also why I decided to go with Cabinet Coat instead of something that might yellow as it ages since we are painting ours white.

We will use the IKEA boxes because of how easy they are to modify and we love the Blum hardware that comes stock with the IKEA system as well as all their great internal organizing stuff. We did order our doors elsewhere tough and they are waiting to be painted. We are going to spray them.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 5:31PM
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Jeri- where did you get your doors? Are you using special paint? Just a regular sprayer like you’d use on a house?

I guess you’ll let us know how it goes?

    Bookmark   April 12, 2013 at 8:39AM
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Hi Victoria!

Our neighbor is in the biz, so he ordered our doors from his source - which escapes me at the moment. But I would not hesitate to order from Barker or Scheers as I've read good things about both companies on this forum. We went with the traditional Shaker style - which is also the least expensive! Ours are paint grade Maple with MDF panels.

We purchased This Tool Force Spray Gun from Amazon. I did a lot of research and I liked this one best. I could not believe how inexpensive it is! It comes with 2 nozzles which I think is important, as we will probably need the larger size for our paint. We choose Cabinet Coat paint which is now owned by Benjamin Moore. The guy at the paint store recommended this because it will give the strong, smooth finish that I want and will not yellow like BM's Advance which is also a very good paint. If you Google it, you will only find positive reviews on Cabinet Coat.

I know there will be a learning curve with the sprayer, but I'm confident we can handle it. I did purchase ”Spray Finishing Made Simple” and found the DVD that came with it invaluable.

So, we have everything now - the doors & drawers, the spray gun, and the paint picked out. We will be doing Cabinet Coat tinted to White Dove. We just need to choose the primer and pick the day to start. This was suppose to be my job because DH doesn't like to paint, but I work full time and he is recently retired, as well as very skilled, so it may just become his job. Either way, it should happen soon and I will definitely post our results.

Victoria, I have to say again - after seeing the Bath Cabinet your DH did, I'm sure he would be able to do all of this with minimal trouble. I've not yet shown my DH what our next Bath Cabinet is going to look like - but I have it bookmarked. ;-)


    Bookmark   April 12, 2013 at 11:35AM
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Okay, after reading your blog, I feel like this all has to happen for you. I want this for you.

I bet you could do some kind of hack with basic book shelves or tall pantries (maybe on top of low shelves/cabs, like in that picture w/ the white kitchen, so it goes up to the ceiling?), add on some fancy molding (even scavenging from your CL find if you can get yourself to do that) , and get glass doors custom made for this. IT CAN HAPPEN.

Looking at the pictures of your kitchen, where exactly are you wanting to put fancy cabinets?

    Bookmark   April 12, 2013 at 3:19PM
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