DIY (Do It Yourself) Cabinets
Phone - 770 704 4566
|How Does This Work?|
|Advantages of DIY Cabinets|
|Is This Right For You?|
|Brief Cabinetry Tutorial|
|All photos and text contained|
|herein are copyright © 2011 by|
|Heirloom Woodcrafting LLC,|
|All rights reserved.|
We live in a world of ever-increasing specialization and "niche manufacturing". The cabinet-making industry is no exception - there are full-service cabinet manufacturers and custom builders that will construct and install complete cabinet systems. But there are also a large number of specialty companies that focus on producing the various components that make up a cabinet - cabinet doors, drawer boxes, functional hardware (drawer slides, door hinges), etc.
As a custom cabinet builder for the last decade (you can see my work at Heirloom Woodcrafting), and one who now exploits the benefits of CNC manufacturing for many of these cabinet components, I've come to realize that there is a portion of the market that is not adequately served. Namely, there are many woodworkers, building contractors, and competent handymen/homeowners that have sufficient skills and tools to assemble and install their own cabinetry, but they lack the specialized machinery (CNC routers, edgebanders, etc.) to cost-effectively produce those cabinet components themselves. While there are plenty of mass-produced, "flat-pack" cabinets on the market today that can be assembled by the do-it-yourselfer, the quality and variety of these products leaves much to be desired. Using my capabilities to fabricate all the interior cabinet panels/components, and then by providing you with the information to purchase, or build yourself if you prefer, the other cabinetry components (doors, drawers, hardware, etc), you can create high-quality cabinetry for your home and save hundreds or thousands of dollars in the process. Full details of the options and benefits of this approach are presented in the sections below.
Though the potential list is almost endless, the types of cabinet projects this approach can be used for range from the very simple to the highly complex:
Utility, garage, or shop storage cabinets
Closet cabinets and organizers
Home theater and entertainment centers
Traditional face-frame cabinets as well as the increasingly popular frameless cabinetry are possible with the methods described below. If you are not familiar with these construction styles, or any other terminology mentioned on this website, there is a Brief Cabinetry Tutorial found at the bottom of this page.
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I was a woodworking hobbyist and long-time homeowner long before I became I full-time cabinetmaker. So I'm intimately familiar with the challenges of building high-quality cabinetry with a limited collection of tools. It can be done, but with the price of plywood and solid lumber, mistakes can be costly and very frustrating. Once I acquired the CNC machinery and cabinet design software, and realized it's full benefits and cost savings, the value in offering these services to others like myself became obvious.
Here's how this process works:
You first need to develop a reasonably detailed drawing, including dimensions, for the cabinet project you have in mind. I don't offer free design work or free estimates on large cabinet projects, though I can give you some ballpark estimates at no cost. If you need help creating a design for a large cabinet project, a number of clients have initially made use of the "free" cabinet design services at their local home improvement warehouse (the large orange or blue stores.....). Those designs will usually give you a fully dimensioned layout (if you can't create one yourself) and a price estimate from that supplier. The Brief Cabinet Tutorial included on this website also has some references for good books on this topic.
Working from your initial plans/designs, and for a fee which typically ranges from $30 for a small cabinet job to over $150 for a large job, the project is redrawn in the CNC cabinet design software. You can customize individual cabinet materials if needed and specify any type of hardware (door hinges, drawer slides, etc) needed for any particular cabinet. You also have the option to specify melamine-coated panels or prefinished plywood for the cabinet boxes, which eliminates any need for finishing and thus is a great time and money saver.
The design process above also allows the experienced woodworker to decide if they are going to build any of the cabinetry components themselves. Raised panel doors and drawer fronts are a popular choice, as are solid wood face-frames and drawer boxes. If you lack the experience, equipment, or merely the time to build these items yourself, a list of suppliers from whom you can order these components will be provided. While the component ordering process can initially seem daunting, the cabinet design software produces a detailed, fully-dimensioned list of doors, drawer fronts, and drawer boxes, along with all functional hardware such as drawer slides, door hinges, etc.
Once the design is finalized and approved, then fabrication can begin. You'll have a dimensioned list of all items you need to order or construct yourself. We'll also have a set of "nested panel layouts", which show how all the various cabinet panels/parts that are to be cut on the CNC machine are laid out. This determines how many sheets of material need to be ordered. You have the option of purchasing this material yourself and delivering it to my shop at a scheduled time, or I can take care of that myself using my wholesale suppliers, if you prefer. After the sheet goods are on-hand, they will be machined using the CNC equipment. If you are creating frameless cabinetry, these panels will also be edgebanded. The net result is a set of cabinet panels that are now ready for you to pickup from my shop (they can be delivered to your location for an added fee). Labels produced by the cabinet design software are affixed to every single cabinet part, so you'll be able to easily tell what cabinet they belong to and what the part actually is - this makes final assembly a breeze. The labels are easily removed once the cabinets are assembled and installed.
If you are using cabinet materials that require finishing (such as hardwood-veneered plywood), and don't the equipment or time to this yourself, I have a fully equipped spray booth and can perform this step on all necessary cabinet panels. I spray two-part catalyzed finishes (conversion varnishes) that are both beautiful and incredibly durable.
Once all your other cabinet components have been ordered (or you've built them yourself), you are ready to assemble the cabinets yourself. This process is very straight-forward and can be done using basic hand tools. Like many home improvement tasks, once you've assembled one or two cabinets, the rest are much faster.
Following assembly, the cabinets can then be set in place, leveled, and attached to the walls if needed - many cabinet types like bookshelves or entertainment centers may be constructed as free-standing units that are not secured in place. Various information resources are available which fully explain the assembly and installation process on more complicated cabinet projects.
I'm happy to discuss any potential cabinet project with you at no cost, so if the process described above, and the benefits outlined in more detail below, sound interesting to you, feel free to contact me. I've taught many woodworking topics (sawmilling, wood drying, cabinetmaking, spray finishing, and CNC woodworking) to Atlanta area woodworkers, so helping you better understand the scope of what you are considering, and deciding what portions of the job you may want to construct yourself, is a comfortable concept for me.
However, I'm not a "cabinetry philanthropist", so there are usually some design or consulting fees associated with this process after the initial phone call has been completed. To be honest, charging a modest fee at that point helps me separate the "tire kickers" from those customers who are ready to tackle this kind of DIY project. However, these fees are easily recouped (many times over) from the overall cost savings you'll achieve with this approach, plus the satisfaction of knowing that you participated in the creation of a quality set of cabinets for your home.
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There are many benefits to building and installing custom cabinets in this manner, some of which were mentioned above. Here's a more complete list of the improvements in quality, selection, or cost savings that can be achieved versus the more traditional alternatives:
Unlike the mass-production manufacturers, I don't have a pre-existing "inventory" of stock cabinet sizes, pre-selected materials, and one-size-fits-all solutions. Every aspect of this process can be adjusted to suite your needs and available budget. For example, you can upgrade the drawer box style or selected drawer slides in specific cabinets to accommodate those areas that may be high-usage or require optimal convenience. The remaining drawers can be configured at a lower price-point if they will be used less frequently. Also, although you can choose to specify standard cabinet dimensions (widths in increments of 3", typical depths of 12" or 24"), there's no need or significant benefit to doing that. Using this approach, you DO NOT have to pay extra to size the cabinetry to whatever dimensions are needed to fit within you home.
There are a significant number of mass-production companies that will sell you "flat pack" cabinetry which you can assemble yourself. However, I have not found a single manufacturer located in Georgia from whom you can directly pick up their product. This means that you will be paying freight charges for the large collection of cabinet box panels (often made from heavy particle board). With fuel costs near or above $4/gallon, these shipping costs will often negate the cost savings you achieved by purchasing cabinets from a high-volume manufacturer.
To combat the high shipping charges described above, many of the flat-pack manufacturers have now started to "slim down" their products in an attempt to reduce the shipping weight. 1/2" thick side panels which lack dado joinery, 1/4" thick back panels with small nailers, and 1/2" or 5/8" thick shelves are now extremely common. These compromises simply result in a flimsy cabinet, all in the name of saving costs on transportation costs. Those factors do not apply to my approach to cabinet fabrication and assembly.
You can specify any type of sheet good stock commercially available to construct your cabinetry: melamine particleboard (lowest cost), paint-grade plywood, prefinished plywood, hardwood-veneered plywood, or even custom-veneered plywood can all be sourced. Several of these materials can also be incorporated into a single cabinet project, if needed. I can purchase all cabinet-making materials (sheet goods and functional hardware) at wholesale rates with the savings passed on to you, though I charge for the time and fuel to pick them up. If you have access to inexpensive sheet goods and want to transport them directly to my shop, you can potentially achieve even greater material-cost savings on your project.
If you are installing cabinetry in an older home with non-level floors or non-plumb walls, several easy changes can be made to the cabinet designs to accommodate these circumstances. Easily adjustable leg-levelers can be substituted in place of standard toe-kick assemblies on base cabinets to make dealing with uneven floors a breeze. Metal rails and matching clips can be used on wall cabinets to simplify the installation of those units. Though this hardware will cost a few dollars more, the time and headaches saved during installation are well worth the cost - this is why professional cabinet makers use these methods all the time. Low-cost flat-pack cabinetry will rarely include these convenience features and retro-fitting them is nearly impossible.
If you are a motivated woodworker with the necessary machinery, you'll have the option of hand-crafting selected aspects of the cabinetry yourself, making this project a "labor of love" instead of a run-of-the-mill home improvement. This might be achieved through building dovetailed drawer boxes, making raised panel doors, using unique hard-to-find lumber, adding hard-carved details, and endless other ways that you can tailor this cabinet-making concept for your own unique purposes.
For all other cabinet parts that I don't supply and that you don't want to make yourself, they can be easily outsourced to a wide range of suppliers at many different price points. This DIY cabinetry service provides you a full list of these suppliers and the cabinet design software provides the dimensions they'll need in order to accurately manufacturer those components.
If you make a mistake or happen to damage a particular cabinet component during assembly (which I've done more times that I'd care to admit....), it can be easily refabricated using the CNC machine. Unless you specified an expensive/unique panel material when originally creating the cabinets, the replacement part can usually be reproduced from left-over material. Though there is a nominal cost for this work, try calling a large flat-pack cabinet manufacturer and asking them to re-run an individual cabinet part for you....
When constructing or assembling an item for their own home, most people (especially woodworkers and avid DIY-ers) will take more time and care, and produce a better final result, than if a low-wage laborer were performing the same task in a factory. The same is true when it comes to installation - you tend to achieve a better result than an installer rushing to finish a job on a flat-rate project bid.
Finally, although I do charge for my consulting time, you'll have access to a skilled professional that can assist with complex cabinet designs, material selections, or installation challenges. When you purchase flat-pack cabinetry from various manufacturers, you are fully reliant on whatever assembly and installation instructions they provide, which are usually quite limited. By working with me, if you require an hour or two of on-site assistance with an installation or with some other tricky part of the project, those resources are available to you. It's kind of like the "cabinet doctor" making a house-call, if needed.....
In addition to the benefits achieved by following this unique cabinet-making approach, there are also a number of useful benefits which come from using the CNC design and machining process:
Precision of the machined components - all cabinet parts will usually be accurately sized to within 1/100 of an inch. In addition, the interlocking joinery (blind dados in most cases) of the cabinet components makes for a very strong, rigid box that is nearly "idiot-proof" during assembly. The design software creates labels for each machined cabinet part, which identifies which cabinet the part belongs to and what the part is (side, back, deck, shelf, etc.).
Speed - you simply can't cut out the parts and machine the joinery for cabinet panels using traditional woodworking machines as quickly as can be done on the CNC. And due to the interlocking joinery of the parts, assembly time is drastically reduced as well. For the fully-installed cabinetry that I produce for my high-end clients, addition of the CNC manufacturing process reduced the average labor time per cabinet from over 3 hours (on average) to under 45 minutes.
The cabinet design software automatically compensates for variations in material thickness, so assembled cabinets are EXACTLY the required size and don't vary due to undersized plywood thickness. Before producing the final cutting files, the actual sheet goods which are to be machined are precisely measured for thickness, and the software then revises the dimensions of every single cabinet part based on these variations (try performing that process manually and see how long it takes....). This capability allows you to string together a long line of cabinets and know the total length will be accurate as well as insuring that internal cabinet components like drawer boxes and shelves will fit properly and not bind.
The cabinet design software also uses a sophisticated "nesting" process for the cabinet parts, resulting in greater material yield from the 4x8 panels and providing info on exactly how many sheets need to be purchased. Given the cost of sheet goods these days, the cost savings from this feature alone can be significant.
Nearly all mounting holes for hinges, drawer slides, and other system hardware for frameless cabinetry can be predrilled by the CNC machinery. This means that the hardware can be quickly and precisely mounted to the cabinet panels, usually prior to final assembly, making the hardware installation convenient and fast.
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Who is this method of cabinet making best suited for?
The woodworker who wants to build a VERY nice set of cabinets with their own unique touch, but who lacks the machinery to process full-sized sheets of plywood into accurately sized cabinet parts. You may have the equipment to build your own high-quality raised panel cabinet doors, or fully dovetailed drawer boxes, but still need to obtain all the cabinet box panels.
The home builder or contractor who is looking for the lowest cost fully-custom cabinetry and is willing to assemble and install the cabinetry using their own labor force, saving thousands of dollars compared to using a full-service cabinet company.
The competent homeowner, with good hands-on skills, that needs a high quality set of cabinets, but can't find exactly what they are looking for in the stock collection of mass-produced cabinets.
Someone looking to earn some sweat-equity by assembling and installing a set of custom cabinets for their home.
Who is this approach not suited for? Keep these questions in mind as you consider a do-it-yourself cabinet project:
If you can't put together a piece of inexpensive knock-down Ikea-style furniture, then save your money and hire a skilled professional.
If you only own a screwdriver, hammer, and pair of pliers, but don't know what they are actually used for, this concept isn't for you.... You'll need to own a decent set of handyman-caliber tools (cordless drill, basic hand tools, level, ....) and have previous experience using those tools in order to insure a reasonable degree of success.
If you've never tackled a previous home improvement project yourself (replacing a door, remodeling a room by yourself, etc.), this concept is probably not for you....
If you give up on a project after encountering a problem, and immediately start blaming everyone else who was involved in the project, this endeavor is not for you. Assembling and installing a set of cabinets in your home will ALWAYS involve some kind of unexpected challenge. Floors are not level, walls are not plumb, and these issues have to be managed when completing an installation.
Like any endeavor in life, you tend to get better with practice.... So don't immediately tackle a large set of kitchen cabinets if you've never completed a simple cabinet assembly and installation job before. Start with some utility cabinets, laundry room cabinets, closet cabinets, or a bathroom vanity - something small enough in scope that you can get the hang of things, before moving on to a more challenging project.
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I offer the following services for you to select from - not every task will be required in any given cabinet project. In most cases, you can select individual services that are shown, if your needs are highly specific.
Cabinet panel parts cutting - using the cabinet design software and CNC machinery, full sheet of plywood are rapidly turned into processed panels for cabinet assembly. This is the core element of this service and provides the greatest cost savings.
Drawer box production - though I do not produce dovetailed drawer boxes, there are several styles of strong and attractive drawer boxes which can be cost effectively produced on the CNC machine.
Edge-banding - this process is required on panels used for frameless cabinet construction, as well as many interior parts for all cabinet types (shelves, partitions, etc.). I have an edgebander which automatically trims the edges and ends of the banding and makes this process very efficient. For prefinished sheet good stock, matching prefinished banding can also be applied, eliminating the need for any finishing.
Door boring for euro-style hinges - I have a Blum machine which quickly/accurately creates the 35mm/8mm hole group needed for the highly-popular concealed Euro-hinge design. If you make your own doors, or purchase doors without the hinge holes drilled, this work can be performed.
Ordering of cabinet hardware - drawer slides, door hinges, and other specialty items available to wholesale cabinetmakers only can be provided for your project. Many of these suppliers are "wholesale to trade" only, though some online suppliers are less restrictive. In many cases, my pricing will be lower due to the fact that I order "standard" items in case quantities.
Spray finishing - as mentioned earlier, if your project requires finishing and you lack the experience or equipment to apply a quality finish, I can quote pricing on this service.
In addition to the services above that are primarily intended for cabinet production, I can also provide a wide range of general-purpose CNC machining services, which may be applicable to cabinetry as well as many other types of woodworking projects:
CNC Engraving - lettering, graphics, and nearly any other style or design can be engraved onto solid wood, plywood, plastic, solid surface material (Corian), and even soft stone like marble, travertine, and slate. This allows you to personalize a project in a multitude of ways.
CNC Carving - similar to engraving, the CNC machine can create 3D-relief carvings using commercially available 3D artwork. Though quite time consuming, even with the use of CNC, the time to create these upgrades is still only a fraction of the time and cost it would take to do this work by hand.
CNC Inlaying - this process involves the machining of mating male and female pieces that allow one wood species to be inlaid into another. Using a special form of engraving known as V-carving, inlaid work can now be rapidly done using CNC, including the ability to incorporate very fine inlay details. Using more traditional inlay methods, other materials such as stone, glass, or metal can also be placed into a wooden surface.
CNC Turning and Indexing - often times referred to as a CNC lathe, an indexer allows machining, engraving, carving, and inlaying to be done "in the round". Complex shapes not possible using traditional lathe-turning techniques are possible using these methods.
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Dozens of books have been written on how to design, construct, assemble, and install cabinets. The intent of this section is to provide some simple definitions and explanations for the most common cabinet components mentioned on this page. For further information, see the list of recommended books and website links at the bottom of this section.
The following list describes the typical collection of parts that make up a cabinet - since there are numerous applications for cabinetry, not every cabinet will contain every component described below:
Panels for the cabinet boxes. These panels are nearly always produced from large sheets (4' x 8', typically) of veneered plywood, melamine particleboard, or MDF. Specialty prefinished plywood that already has a durable (UV cured) clear coat on it is often used to avoid finishing labor and expense.
Solid wood face-frames or edgebanding, if the construction style is frameless. On face frame cabinetry, the wooden frames are attached to the cabinet boxes (to conceal the exposed edges of the panels) and doors and drawer boxes are then mounted to the face frames. On frameless cabinetry, edgebanding is applied to the exposed panel edges and doors and drawer boxes are mounted via specialized hardware to the cabinet box panels.
Cabinet faces - doors, drawer fronts, applied panels, etc. These components are the "visible" portion of most cabinetry. As such, there are literally thousands of different styles, species, colors, and finishes. Doors and drawer fronts are often outsourced to companies that specialize in building only those parts, which keeps the costs low. Those components may come unfinished or can be pre-finished by the manufacturer so they are ready to attach to the completed cabinets.
Drawer boxes - like the cabinet faces, there is an incredible range of drawer box construction methods and prices. Simple melamine and prefinished plywood boxes can be cut using CNC. Fully dovetailed solid wood boxes are available from many manufacturers.
Functional hardware - door hinges, drawer slides, and other specialized hardware. Modern, Euro-style hardware can add incredible convenience and flexibility to any style of cabinetry. Self-closing fully concealed drawer slides, soft-close door hinges,
Decorative hardware - these are the handles, knobs, and pulls that are mounted to the cabinet exterior.
Recommended Books and Online Resources
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If you have any other questions which are not answered in the sections above, please feel free to contact us for more information:
Name: John (JC) Ming
Phone: 770 704 4566 or 404 401 9796 (Cell)
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