Building a Basic Wall Cabinet

A Simple, Versatile Wall Cabinet Design

Female carpenter using sander on wood in workshop
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This article details construction methods for building basic wall cabinets suitable for a kitchen, bathroom, laundry or garage. Actually, however, if you are just learning the skills of cabinet building, you will be best served by first honing your skills by building a base cabinet, such as the common kitchen sink base cabinet. 

Once you've completed your first base cabinet (or set of base cabinets), you can move on to building some wall cabinets. Ironically, wall cabinets are a little simpler than base cabinets, but since the base cabinet is more versatile, it's typically best to start learning there before tackling the project presented here. 

Wall Cabinet Construction

A wall cabinet in its most basic form is little more than a plywood box that is securely mounted on the wall, with shelves and front doors added.  Wall cabinets typically have a pair of shelves (not including the bottom of the cabinet), doors to protect the contents and a secure method for mounting the cabinet to the wall.

In the steps to follow, you'll learn how to build a basic wall cabinet with a body built from plywood. This article doesn't cover building cabinet doors, though you can refer to other articles on building  slab-style or raised-panel cabinet doors. Either of these door styles will work well with the basic wall cabinet presented here. If you prefer a more traditional door style, you can install a face frame onto the front of the cabinet before attaching traditional door hinges for your cabinet doors.

Wall Cabinet Plans

This wall cabinet will measure 24 inches tall, 12 inches wide and 12 inches deep on the inside, and includes a single shelf within the unit. All pieces for cabinet can be cut from a single piece of 3/4-inch thick birch plywood or another finished grade sanded plywood, just slightly larger than 1/4 of a full 4-ft. x 8-ft. sheet. Additionally, you'll need a 2-ft.-long piece of 1x4 and a piece of 1/4-inch-thick plywood cut to 11 1/4 x  23 1/4 inches in size.

Tools and Materials You Will Need 

  • A  table saw 
  • stacked dado blade set
  • A  finish nailer with 1 1/4 inch finish nails
  • Screwgun
  • Wood glue
  • Sheet of finish-grade plywood
  • 2-ft. long piece of 1x4
  • 1/4-inch thick plywood (11 1/4 x 23 1/4 inches) 
  • 2-inch screws
  • 3-inch screws

NOTE: This project can also be built with other tools if you don't have a table saw and stacked dado blade set, although it will take longer. A DIYer with a circular saw and hammer could also build this wall cabinet with a little patience and more time. 

TIP: Handling a 4 x 8-ft. piece of plywood on a table saw is an awkward operation for which you will need a helper. Don't try to cut the pieces by yourself. 

Cut the Pieces

To begin, set up your table saw with the fence positioned 26 1/2 inches from the nearest edge of the table saw blade. Now you will cut the two sides of the cabinet, each 13 x 24 inches in size. If you start with a fill sheet of plywood, you will have a nice piece left over for other projects, slightly larger than 4 x 5 ft. 

  1. Place a sheet of 3/4-inch of finish plywood flat on the table with one of the short sides against the fence. Cut a 26 1/2  x 48-inch section from the sheet. Set the remainder of the sheet aside.
  2. Adjust the fence so that it is 24 inches from the nearest edge of the blade. Turn the cut piece of plywood so that the short edge is against the fence once again, and rip the piece in half.
  3. Adjust your saw fence so that it is 13 inches from the closest side of the blade. Take one of the pieces you just cut, placing a 24-inch side against the fence, and cut it so you have a 24 x 13-inch piece to serve as one of the cabinet sides.
  4. Cut the remaining piece to match. Place a pencil mark along one of the 13-inch edges of each piece to denote the bottom edge, and set the two aside these two cabinet sides.
  5. Out of the leftover pieces, cut the following sections:
    • 1 cabinet top: 13 x 11 1/4 inches
    • 1 cabinet bottom: 13 x 11 1/4 inches
    • 1 shelf: 11 3/4 x 11 1/4 inches
    • 1 bottom nailer: 3  x 11 1/4 inches
  6. Cut two pieces of 1 x 4 to 11 1/4 inches in length.
  1. Set the fence of your table saw 3 inches from the closest edge of the saw blade, and adjust the angle of your table saw blade to 45° and rip a bevel along the long edge of each of the two 1 x 4 boards. These will serve as a set of French Cleats to mount the cabinet to the wall later.
  2. Next, mount your table saw with a stacked dado blade set to the same width as your plywood. Adjust the height of the stacked dado blade to 3/4 inch.
  3. Position the fence so that it is precisely 24 inches from the far side of the dado blade.
  4. Place the inside face of one of the cabinet sides face down onto the table with one of the short edges against the fence, and cut a 3/4-inch-wide rabbet into the edge of the plywood side.
  5. Rotate the board so the freshly rabbeted end is against the fence, and cut a second rabbet on the opposite end of the board. These rabbets will form the joints with top and bottom panels of the cabinet.
  6. Repeat the step by cutting the two rabbets in the other cabinet side panel.
  7. Next, adjust the fence so that the fence is 11 5/8 inches from the nearest side of the blade. Rip a dado groove in the center of each cabinet side panel accommodate the center shelf. Repeat with the other cabinet side.
  1.  Adjust the fence so that it is 12 inches from the near side of the dado blade. Place one of the side panels, with the rabbeted side face down on the table saw and a long edge against the fence.
  2. Cut a dado groove along one long edge of the face. Repeat with the second side board. Then, adjust the fence to 12-1/2 inches from the near side of the blade and cut each piece again. This two-step process will create a 1-inch wide rabbet along the back edge of the cabinet sides which will be needed to accommodate the nailers.

Assemble the Cabinet

  1. Place one of the cabinet sides onto a work table and run a bead of glue along the two rabbets and the dado groove. Smooth out the glue with a small brush so that you have an even, thin layer on all faces of the rabbets and dadoes.
  2. Stand this side panel on its side with the front edge of the board against the work table. Insert the center shelf securely into the center dado, and drive four finish nails through the face of the cabinet side into the center shelf.
  3. Repeat with the top and bottom shelf of the cabinet.
  4. Apply glue into the dado and top and bottom rabbets, then slide the cabinet shelf, top and bottom panels into position on this cabinet side and attach with nails.
  5. Flip the assembly over so that the long rabbeted sides are facing up. Check for squareness by measuring diagonally in both directions (if the measurements are equal, the cabinet box is square). Adjust if necessary. 
  6. Place the 1/4-inch plywood back into the deep rabbet. Align the top and bottom edges of the plywood with the top and bottom of the cabinet, double-check diagonally for squareness, and nail the back panel into place.
  1. Position the bottom nailer against the bottom edge of the cabinet (flat against the cabinet back), and nail it into place through the cabinet sides.
  2. Position one of the beveled French cleat boards along the top edge of the cabinet with the square, long edge along the top of the cabinet, and the short edge of the beveled edge against the cabinet back.  Attach this cleat to the cabinet sides with finish nails. Additionally, secure the cleat to the cabinet top with four 2-inch screws through the cleat into the cabinet top. Use a drill with a countersink bit to drill pilot holes before driving the screws.

Mount the Cabinet

  1. To mount the finished cabinet onto the wall, position the other half of the french cleat at the desired height and attach it to the wall studs using 3-inch screws. The short side of the bevel should be flush to the wall, facing up.
  2. Lift the cabinet into place and set the cabinet bevel of the french cleat over the wall cleat--the cabinet should hang comfortably in place, hanging from the cleat. 
  3. Drive a pair of 3-inch screws through the bottom nailer (from the inside of the cabinet) and into the wall studs to secure the bottom of the cabinet.