My DIY Euro Kitchen, Phase II

Prepping The Cabinet Panel Setup

Your easiest assembly platform is to have a full-sized sheet of plywood or similar material (4 x 8′) set on saw horses. Try to set up the table as level as possible because you need this for proper cabinet panel cuts and assembly. Start with the smallest base cabinet parts to help familiarize yourself with the procedure.

Since it is very difficult to cut large panels on a home table saw, I recommend using a small circular saw. You use it in conjunction with straight edge guides and clamps. Large “C” clamps are the best. Try to find ones that have rubber pads on the part that contacts your panels to avoid marks.

The nice thing about Euro Cabinets is that they do not require a face frame. Just 2 sides, a top and bottom, and a back panel. The raw exposed front edges are finished with edge-banding installed with an iron.

This is Part 12 in the BUDGETHOUSE RENOVATOR series that involves the search for, location of, and unique auction-style purchase of my home in the country. The series includes dealing with a foreign based auction house and escrow to help facilitate this transaction. Also, I show how I worked with a mortgage company programmed to process the “specialized” FHA 203k Program rehabilitation loans. My loan included funds to buy “and” repair my house. Part 11 is about dealing building my new kitchen with My DIY Euro Kitchen, Phase I. My next article in Part 13 is entitled My DIY Eurokitchen, Phase III“. It will continue my work on kitchen cabinet building and related steps with some more trials thrown in for laughs.

Cutting The Cabinet Panel Pieces

When you build a cabinet, the sides will be the full height of the unit. The horizontal pieces will fit flush with the outside edge of the top and bottom of the cabinet. The back will be cut the full size of exterior dimensions of unit.

To give you an example, let’s build a base cabinet that is:

  • 15 inches wide
  • 30 inches tall
  • 24 inches deep

This box will sit on top of a 4″ to 4 1/2″ toe kick platform that is leveled to the floor. The end result will give you a finished height of 34″ to 34 1/2″. This will accommodate a 1 1/2″ countertop for a total height of somewhere in the vicinity of 36″.

The 2 sides will be cut at 23 1/2″ across the grain of the plywood. The height will be cut a 30″ with the grain. The 1/2″ back panel will be cut at the exact size of the front of the box – 15″ across the grain and 30″ high with the grain.

Repeat this procedure for all the cabinet panel cuts. The best way to keep track is to have a cut list organized for similar sizes. All base and wall cabinet dimensions will be the same for side panels. All the horizontal pieces will be custom fitted for the size of the cabinet width.

Your maximum use of each panel will be guided by your panel cut configuration drawings as described in Phase II. Remember, kitchen grade plywood is expensive, so take your time and follow your cut plan carefully so you keep waste to a minimum.

Loading, Delivery, and Stacking The Cabinet Pieces

Do you realize that you can transport an entire set of kitchen cabinets in the back of your pickup truck or SUV? How? By loading them in the unassembled stage! Flat panels stacked neatly do not take up very much room in a vehicle or on a trailer. I am talking about 15 to 20 wall and base cabinet boxes, not including doors.

Note: This part of the process assumes you are cutting cabinet parts at a place other than the installation site. Otherwise, you are just delivering full-sized panels to your construction project.

The typical cabinet box has 3/4″ plywood side panels and 1/2″ plywood backs. You could build them out of Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF) to save money, but I do not recommend it. That material tends to swell over time when it gets in contact with any moisture. It, therefore, needs to be very well primed and coated with multiple layers of finished paint for protection. Never use particle board, even if coated with melamine.

When you get to your house or job-site, unload and stack the panels against a wall vertically. You can lay them down flat, but do so with blocks of wood underneath. I stack the base cabinet panel sides in one unit, and backs in another. I do the same with the wall cabinets.

Assembling The Cabinets

This is where a level work table is a must. Otherwise, your assembled cabinet could be put together out-of-square.

Start with one side and one top or bottom. Keep the front of the cabinet absolutely flush with the opposing piece. The best way to do this is feel the joint with your fingers. Your digits will tattle on a mismatch in a heartbeat. If the rear joints are not absolutely flush, it will not be a noticeable issue when the back panel is installed.

Note: If you use panels that are pre-finished on one side, be very careful to make sure the finished side is facing inwards. Installing them the wrong way is an easy mistake to make once you get going.

Then take a pneumatic finish nail gun and tack the pieces together. This will allow for proper alignment before screwing the panels to each other. Next use a countersink drill bit to establish a set hole for each screw. This will keep the plywood from splitting when you place the screw. Make sure the drill bit is slightly smaller than the screw.

Then screw in a 2″ coarse-threaded screw for maximum “bite” into the wood. Use 3 screws for each 12″ deep wall cabinet joint and 4 to 5 screws for the base cabinet attachment.

Once you have the sides and top and bottom screwed together, you then install the back panel in similar fashion. The perfectly square piece will align your cabinet properly if your outside edges are flush with the box. Install screws about 8″ apart.

Toe Kick Platform

The toe kick platform can be made out of 1 x 6 pine boards. They will be covered by facing material, so don’t worry about defects. The boards will be ripped down to an over-sized height to compensate for an uneven floor (which is the case for most kitchens).

I used a Lazer to level my cabinets. You can use a level, but it is much more difficult. You want to find the highest point in the floor area that will contain the base cabinets. If you want this point to be your starting position for 36″ finished counter height, than the rest of your kitchen counters will be higher. If not, you will have to trim your toe kick height boards to match the floor. Use shims to adjust for leveling sideways and front to back.

Before Installing The Cabinets

Take each assembled cabinet box and lay it down on the floor for the edge banding process. I bought several rolls of iron-on edge banding from Lowe’s. Also, I bought an inexpensive iron from WalMart.

Next, each piece of edge-banding was cut slightly longer than necessary. Then I installed the first piece on one side of the front edge of a cabinet. I held it in place with several strips of blue tape which left no marks on the cabinet.

Note: The banding material is slightly larger than 3/4″. This allows for trimming. I placed each piece flush with the inside of the box. This meant that I did not risk marring the pre-finished side of the panel. I then trimmed the outside edge with a utility knife.

After allowing the iron to heat up, I grabbed a piece of “parchment paper” to use as a heat-transition guard between the iron and the edge banding. This prevented against marks on the banding material. I then slid the iron with the parchment paper along the edge-banding slowly, while exerting firm pressure downwards.

Installing The Base Cabinets

The best way to join two Euro Style Cabinets together is to connect them with screws while on their backs on the work table of floor. This will override any imperfections on the pre-installed toe kick platform. Use your “C” clamps to bring them flush on the front face and tight together. Try to hide the joining screws behind where you plan to locate the hinges or drawer slides.

Once you have 2 or 3 cabinets joined as a unit, set the assembly on your toe kick plat form. Do not attach to the wall yet. Do the same for your other base units and check everything for complimentary level ness. Everything must agree for the same height against your level or lazer from side to side and front to back.

Once you have determined this, take each base assembly unit off of the corresponding toe kick platform and turn it upside down on the floor. Turn its toe kick platform upside down and attach to the bottom of base assembly with screws. Rotate back to the correct position. Reinstall the completed system back into its slot on the floor. Repeat this procedure for each assembly.

Wall Cabinets

Wall cabinets simply require you to locate where studs are and screw the cabinets into the wall. You should level them horizontally and check for their being plumb top to bottom. Usually walls taper out slightly at he top and you just have to shim the bottoms to get the bubble centered on your level.

Again, putting adjoining cabinets together on the floor before hanging the units on the wall makes for a better fit. Side by side large wall cabinets may need you to screw a support to the wall where you can rest them while checking for them being level. Locate your studs in relation to the outside edge of one cabinet. Pre-drill holes in the backs of the wall cabinets that line up with the located studs. Then all you have to do is screw them in.

Finishing Phase II

These are some tips on cabinet installations:

  • Allow 2 1/2 to 3 inches space between base cabinets that meet at a right angle. This will allow for drawer handle and dishwasher door opening clearance. Do the same for wall cabinets, but 2″ is okay.
  • Use 3″ graduations on your cabinet sizes to allow for fitting ready-made fixtures like pullout shelves, trash basket slide outs, and so forth. The smallest size should be no less than 9″ which you can use for trays and a knife drawer. The biggest should not exceed 48″. 15″ to 18″ is popular for trash pull outs.
  • Do not make wall cabinets any shorter than 36″ tall. 30″ high cabinets are almost always limited for storing plates, glassware, cooking dishes, and such. 42″ tall cabinets are the best size. You can store little used items on the top shelves.
  • Make all shelves adjustable. You can make a template for shelf pins. Also make sure shelves fit tight inside the cabinet box. They can slide out and flip up easily when you are removing something.
  • Plan on installing false door panels on the sides of your wall cabinets where the sides are exposed. Also on the ends of your base cabinets for the same reason. It will make your new kitchen look high-end.
  • If you plan on having no cabinets over your cook top or range, you can cover your exposed ends with mica or similar for a finished look. This will save you the expense of 2 more false panels. It will also reflect the heat better. You can use mica to cover the unfinished bottoms of your wall cabinets as well.
  • Allow for under-cabinet lighting. It will add an incredible dimension to your new kitchen. LED lighting is preferable and can be found in many different configurations.

I could go on but I am going to defer to My DIY Eurokitchen, Phase III“ at this point. There I will discuss drawers and doors and hardware. Till then!

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