Making Cabinet Doors and Drawers

Making Cabinet Doors and Drawers

This kitchen design system is based on buying or building cabinet doors in industry-standard sizes. Manufacturers supply doors in fixed sizes for face frame (traditional North American) and frameless (European) style cabinets. These doors are stock items, mass produced and sold at very reasonable prices. You can order any size door from these suppliers, but once you get away from the standard stock sizes, your costs increase dramatically.

Standard door sizes for face frame (this design) and frameless cabinet styles are described in the following table. All measurements are in inches.

There are one or two restrictions in the combinations of height vs. width, but for the most part all of these combinations are available as a stock item. There are many door suppliers, and some may offer more or fewer combinations of door sizes as standard. You can purchase drawer fronts from these suppliers that match the door style you are using. There are many styles available, so you shouldn’t have any trouble selecting a door that suits your taste.


You will have to decide whether you want to build or buy your cabinet doors. As a cabinet-making contractor, I find it more economical to buy my doors from a specialty manufacturer. From a business point of view I cant hope to offer all the styles that are readily available from the suppliers. I would have to equip myself with routers, shapers and jigs in many different styles and sizes to be able to offer a competitive selection to my clients.

Many suppliers offer a wide range of styles in all the popular wood species, with four- or five-day delivery schedules. A typical door costing forty dollars from a supplier is made with about fifteen dollars worth of wood. The balance of twenty-five dollars would have to cover my labor if I wanted to offer a product at a competitive price. If the door was a fancy cathedral solid raised-panel style door, I could not cover my labor costs for making it. If the doors were all the same size, the operation might be worthwhile, but this is rarely the case.


Cabinet doors are usually made with 1″ x 3″ stiles and rails. The wood is cut with a router or shaper using a stile-and-rail cutter, which forms the groove for the 1/4″ plywood core center or solid raised panel.

Plywood is simply cut to the correct size from a 4′ x 8′ sheet when building center panels for the plycore door. Raised panels are made by gluing up 3/4″-thick hardwood and cutting the edges down to the required thickness with a panel-raising bit. If your rails are to have a design, such as a cathedral top, you have to cut the design in the rail prior to routering. Normally, a door such as a cathedral style has a wider top rail to allow for the curve on the inside edge.

If you’re making the kitchen cabinets for yourself, and the cost of your time is not an issue, then building the doors may be a good option. However, you may need to invest in some tools, depending on the style of door that you want to build. Doors such as a solid raised panel with fancy router work can be built. The basic tool will be a good-quality router.

It’s possible to produce a very simple and inexpensive door with a 1/4″ dado bit. Cut 3/4″-thick 1″ x 3″ wood to the required lengths for the stiles and rails, and then dado the inner edges. Assemble three sides, slip in the 3/4″ center panel and install the fourth side. If you want something a little fancier, round over the inner and outer edges of the stiles and rails, being careful not to cut into the dado on the inside of the doorframe. When assembling cabinet doors, do not glue the center panel; it has to “float” freely to account for expansion and contraction of the wood.

The slab door is another simple alternative when cost is a factor. Veneer-covered particle core board or plywood, cut to size and edge banded with veneer strips, is an inexpensive option. You can apply ready-made molding designs, which are available at many home centers, to the face of the door.


To prevent your door panels from rattling, put a little piece of soft foam in the dado before you install the center panels.

Quite often, unique designs can be created with a little imagination. A forty-dollar 4′ x 8′ sheet of veneer-covered particle core board will yield quite a few doors costing under ten dollars per door. I have used slab doors for many applications. The laundry room, bathroom and workshop are just a few of the areas where a very fancy and expensive door is not required. The workshop or basement is where you often need storage cabinets that have doors for dust protection or for securing hazardous chemicals from curious youngsters. Follow all the size specifications for cabinet doors, but replace the more expensive hardwood with less expensive plywood or PCB. You can also use inexpensive furniture-grade pine for the face frame assemblies. For inexpensive cabinets, I’ve used 3/4″-thick plywood cut into stiles and rails. You can get quite a lot of face frames this way. This gives you an opportunity to practice building and installing cabinets without investing a lot of money.

Solid-core doors are made with a panel-raising router bit plus the rail-and-stile cutter. These combination sets cost in the area of $200. I would suggest that you consider a 1/2″ collet router when using these bit sets, as they have to do a considerable amount of cutting.

If you’re serious about door construction, consider the benefits of having a router table. This piece of equipment, properly aligned, can make raised-panel door construction simpler and will often give you better results than a handheld router. A shaper, although considerably more expensive, is the ideal tool for the production woodworker who wants high-quality results. Shaper bits come in all styles, allowing you to make other items such as fancy custom moldings.

Door Hinges

The standard hinge used in this system is the 1202 European full-overlay door hinge. The two exceptions are the 36″ standard corner base cabinet which uses two 1702 full-overlay hinges and two bifold door hinges, and the 1702 full-overlay door hinge with a face frame mounting plate for the 24″ standard upper corner cabinet.

Hinge mounting plates are available in many different styles for any of the possible applications that you may encounter. However, this building system uses the standard wing-mounting plate that is attached to the side board in all but one application. The upper corner cabinet side, because of its
design, does not line up flush with the inside of the face frame opening. For this reason we use a mounting plate that is designed to be attached to the face frame.


1 Drill the Door

You will have to drill 35mm flat-bottom holes in the doors with a drill bit specifically designed for hinge installation. Place the hole 1/2″ in from the door edge, which properly orients the doors. There isn’t an absolutely correct position for these hinges on the door, but I found installing them at 4″ centers from the top and bottom of the door works very well. Prior to drilling the hinge holes, note the position and side clearances required for pull-outs or other accessories, particularly in the base cabinets.

Invest in the best carbide-type 35mm hinge drill that you can afford. The drill must provide a clean, accurate cut with minimal tear-out around the edge of the hole. Drilling your holes accurately with a good-quality bit will give the hinge a solid mounting position.

2 Mount the Hinge

Mount the hinge on the door in the 35mm hole. Use ‘A” wood screws. Make sure the hinge wings run parallel to the door edge.

3 Mount the Door

Installing the doors may seem complicated, particularly if you follow suggestions that say you require expensive door-mounting jigs. Fortunately, I’ve found a way to mount doors correctly and quickly every time without the use of these expensive jigs.

4 Adjust the Door(s)

Release the mounting plate screws on the hinges and adjust the door so there is a 1/2″ gap between the face frame and the door in its open position. Close the door and check its position. Adjust the vertical and horizontal screws, if necessary, to align the door bottom with the face frame bottom and the gap between the doors.

Installing the doors flush with the bottom of the face frame on both upper and lower cabinets is important. This position gives us a 11/4″ face frame reveal above the doors which allows for countertop-to-door clearance on the base units and a space to install decorative trim molding above the doors on the upper cabinets.

A door, over the life of the kitchen, may be opened thousands of times, and therefore quality is a real issue. There are a number of hinge manufacturers. Most produce a high-quality product; some, however, supply hinges that are very poor in quality. Grass and Blum are two of the many manufacturers that produce high-quality cabinet hardware, including hinges. I suggest you thoroughly investigate the hardware supplied in your area and choose the best product available. Buying the highest quality hinges will pay dividends in the long run.


Mount the hinges on the door with the cabinet side board mounting plate attached correctly to the door hinge. Put the door hinges in the open position and place the door in its open position relative to the cabinet, with the bottom of the door flush with the bottom of the face frame. Place screws into the cabinet side through the mounting plate on both hinges. This method will place the door very close to its final position and will require only a slight adjustment.


Kitchen cabinet quality is sometimes judged by the construction style of the drawers. While this is true in some respects, a drawer in a working kitchen does not have to be constructed of solid hardwood with dovetail joints to be high in quality. And drawer construction is not always the absolute measure of craftsmanship.

It is true, however, that a high-quality drawer is a requirement. It should be solid, well-constructed and easy to maintain. Drawers are subjected to a good deal of abuse by normal everyday opening and closing. Spills can occur, grease and grime can build up on the interior and wear on the movable parts is a fact of life.

As discussed earlier, my main goal concerning cabinet drawers was to find a design that was rugged, easily constructed and simple to clean. The last thing I wanted was being called back to repair drawers that were not functioning properly. That wouldn’t be good for my business, and my clients would be very annoyed.

The hardware that I wanted to use was the simple and effective European-style bottom-mount drawer glide. It has been in use for many years and, according to many in the industry, is virtually trouble free. As an added bonus, the drawer hardware is very easy to install. After many years of installing these glides, I continue to believe that they are the most reliable drawer system available.

I also wanted to make use of the strips of melamine-coated PCB that were left over from the cutting of cabinet parts. These strips, sometimes as much as seven inches wide, would be ideal for the sides, backs and fronts of the
drawer carcass.


The final design decision was the construction of a drawer following the same style as the upper cabinet carcass. Joints connecting the sides to the back and front pieces would be simple butt joints, arranged so that the ends of the side boards would be concealed behind the drawer face.

The edges of the drawer carcass can be finished by ironing on melamine tape. Another alternative that I use very often is to cover the edges with 1/4″ oak strips that are glued and nailed in place. Use the colored wax stick matching the final cabinet finish. Sand the oak edge smooth and use a round-over bit to slightly ease the corners. Apply the final finish to these strips for a very professional-looking drawer assembly.


l Assemble the Box

Join the sides to the front and back using 2″ PCB screws in the same manner as the upper cabinet carcass.

2 Fasten the Bottom Board

Attach the drawer bottom to the carcass in the same manner.

3 Tape the Bottom Board Edges

The bottom board edges are exposed on the sides, so they are covered with melamine veneer tape. The back and front edges of the bottom board do not have to be covered with edge tape because they are hidden.

4 Mount the Drawer Face

The drawer face, as previously stated, is solid wood matching the type and finish of the doors. Normally, I use a router and round over or cove the drawer face edge using whichever one more closely matches the door style.


Drawers are mounted in the cabinets using the European bottom-mount drawer glide. In general, most manufacturer’s drawer glides require that the drawer’s total width be 1″ less than the drawer opening width. For example, if I was putting a drawer in a 24″ base cabinet that has an inside stile-to-stile width of 22″, the total width of the drawer would be 21″. The total height of the drawer should also be 1″ less than the height of the drawer opening for the glides I’m currently using. If the opening height of the drawer space is 6″, the drawer, in total, must be no more than 5″. Drawers for standard bases in this system are 22″ deep on 22″ bottom-mount drawer glides. Given the above, I would need the following pieces to construct the drawer:

• 2 PCB sides ® vs” thick x 4 1/4″ high x 22″ long
• 1 PCB back and 1 PCB front ® %” thick x 4 1/2″ high x 19 3/4″ long
• 1 PCB bottom ® vs” thick by 21″ wide x 22″ long
• 2 solid-wood strips 1/4″ thick x
• 2 solid-wood strips 1/4″ thick x vs” wide x 22″ long vs” wide x 19 3/4″ long
• 1 solid-wood drawer face 3/4″ thick x 23 1/16″ wide x 6 3/4″ high

The solid-wood drawer face width should equal the width of the door, or total width of the doors plus the gap between the doors when mounted in a drawer-over-door(s) base cabinet. Clearance dimensions are general and dependent on the style of drawer glide used. Refer to the manufacturer’s specifications for the brand of drawer glide that you plan to use with your cabinets.

Use two 2″ PCB screws at each corner joint and 2″ PCB screws at 4″ centers on the bottom. The kitchen cabinet hardware supplier in your area should stock small colored plastic screw covers to hide the screw heads on the drawer sides. Remember to use countersunk pilot holes for the PCB screws.


Pull-outs in base and pantry-style cabinets have become extremely popular over the past few years. They are a very effective storage option and increase your ease of access when compared to the standard shelf in a base cabinet.

Some styles are directly dependent on client requirements. If a deep pull-out is required, I use the drawer style described previously. It can be as deep as the client requires.

In the last couple of years I have constructed the majority of pull-outs using a Ys” sheet of melamine-coated PCB mounted on European drawer glides. The front exposed edge of the PCB is covered with plastic cap molding, and the remaining exposed edges have iron-on edge tape applied. A rail system, as shown in Figure 9-14, is installed on the PCB pull-out. This is a very effective system for construction, and I recommend it as the standard design.

There is one extremely important design consideration when constructing and installing pull-outs in a cabinet behind doors. The European hinge used in this design has the ability to open in less than the space that it requires for door overlap. In effect, the door mounted with these hinges opens in a space less than Ys”, which puts the edge of the door slightly inside the face frame opening. While this feature is extremely beneficial when two doors are close together, it means that a pull-out will rub or hit the door. To prevent this, 1″ x 2″ cleats are installed on the interior of the carcass, and the drawer glides are mounted to the cleats. The space occupied by these cleats must be taken into consideration when determining your pull-out size.

If you cannot afford to reduce the width of your pull-outs by using the cleat method, you can use 1702 opening hinges that clear the interior width of the face frame when fully opened. However, the cabinet door(s) must be opened past the 902 position to clear the space. I tend to use the cleat method with the less expensive 1202 hinges in almost all situations.


Sink cabinets, normally a 36″ standard base, are not usually fitted with 301/2 ” full-cabinet-height doors. They are built as a drawer-over-door cabinet so that the underside of the sink is not visible when the cabinet doors are open. Obviously the “drawer” is not a functional drawer because the sink occupies the space that is needed for the drawer carcass. The “drawer” is a false face and nonoperational. Until recently this space has been lost.

Various suppliers, such as Rev-A-Shelf Inc., now sell a flip-out kit that comes with hinges and a plastic tray. You can install this kit on the false drawer front and have a functional flip-out drawer face with a plastic tray inside that can be used to store scrubbing pads and dish soap. It’s a very popular option and a very easy item to install. Your local kitchen hardware supply outlet should stock these kits.


If you desire a more traditional-looking drawer or pull-out, hardwoods can be used. Cabinet-grade plywood, sometimes called Baltic Birch plywood, is another alternative that is used quite commonly in the office furniture industry.

Joinery with plywood, and particularly solid wood, can be a little fancier than the simple butt joint. Finger joints can easily be used for drawers made of cabinet-grade plywood, and either finger or dovetail joints can be used with solid wood.

Spread the word. Share this post!