Cupboards for my Workshop

Since my shop is only about 17’x11′, it can get a bit cozy at the best of times. As I’ve continued to work in it, I’ve realized that having a decent storage system and constantly cleaning up as I work are key to maintaining a safe and productive environment. So instead of tidying up my space, I decided to build some cupboards to enhance my storage game. After all, what’s the point of tidying if I don’t have anywhere to put all of my shit?

I started off with a 4×4 sheet of 1/2″ GIS plywood that was left over from building my workbench.

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Using the table saw, I sliced the plywood into four one foot wide by four foot long strips. These would become the long sides of my cupboard boxes, which in turn meant that my cupboards would have a depth of about one foot.

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On each strip, I marked out three dados – one on each end, to accept the end caps of the cupboards, and another in the middle, where a divider would split the box into two compartments, each two feet wide.

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I cut the dados on my tablesaw, using a box joint set that makes perfect 1/2″ dados with flat bottoms. For the dados on the ends of the long strips, I set up a sacrificial fence so that the blade didn’t come into contact with my actual fence, which is made of metal, and eats sawblades for snacktime.

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These are the finished sides of the cupboards. That line down the middle does not go all the way through the pieces.

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Next, I cut the end caps for my cupboards. I needed six – one for each end of the two long boxes, and two more to split those boxes into two compartments. I made my end caps 12″ deep to match the width of the long pieces, and about 16″ tall, as that’s the height of the space where I want to hang my cupboards. This means that the final product will be two large cupboards, split into four 24″x16″ compartments.

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With the end caps cut, I could assemble the large boxes. I glued the end caps into the dados that had been cut into the longer pieces, tacked everything together with my brad nailer, and then put it all in clamps to dry.

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At this point, my 11’x17′ shop had two 2’x4′ boxes taking up most of the useable floor space in it. I found myself moving the boxes constantly to keep them out of the way while I continued to work.

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Once the glue was dry, I cut some thin clear pine strips and tacked them around the front edges of each box, giving them a nice veneer that hid the edges of the plywood. While it’s easy to work with, and was cheap scrap left over from a previous project, the pine was actually too soft for this application. I fully expect it to be dented and scratched and chipped after a few years of hard use. In retrospect, something harder would have made more sense for this application, as the fronts of the cupboards will get a lot of abuse.

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Here’s a shot of both boxes with the face trim complete

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With the cupboard boxes functionally complete, it was time to start on cupboard doors. This was actually the real challenge of the project, since making the boxes consisted of scaling up techniques that I’ve already learned.

I started by cutting the outer frame pieces from some more clear pine, again left over from a previous project. I cut everything just a bit long, and was careful to avoid knots that might lead to trouble down the line. Once the pieces were planed and jointed, it was easy to see how they’d fit together.

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I wanted to make rail and stile doors, which consist of an outer frame and a floating inner sheet of plywood, so the first step was to cut a dado on the inside of each of the rails and stiles that would accept the plywood that makes up the majority of the door surface.

The dado is 1/4″ wide, and was cut with a couple of passes across my standard table saw blade. The key to this technique is to flip the piece end over end with every pass, keeping the cut centred while slowly edging the fence out from the blade, sneaking up on a dado width that snugly accepts the plywood centre. Once I found that width, I left the fence in place, and used it to cut all of the other dados to the same width.

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Because my saw blade isn’t 1/4″ wide, this approach left me with a bunch of garbage material down the centre of my dado. Once the width was determined, I could move the fence and take another pass to hog this material out. The finished dado fit snugly onto the plywood that would form the inside of my doors.

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With the dados cut, I fashioned a tongue on the ends of each rail (the 16″ vertical edges of the cupboard doors). The first step was to figure out the length of each rail. I laid the stiles out on my cupboard boxes, set the rails on top, and worked out the final length of each rail, taking into account the fact that I was going to cut a tongue onto the end of the rail to fit into the dado on the stile.

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The next step was to slice off the outer edges of the piece in a series of passes perpendicular to the table saw blade, leaving a tongue the width of the dado exposed. Because the tongue is the same width as the dado, it will butt into the dado on the accepting piece, creating a tight joint.

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With the tongues and grooves cut to size, the doors could be dry fit together to test my cuts.

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Once I was sure that everything was the right size, I glued each cupboard together. It’s important to note here that the plywood in the centre of the frame is floating. It is not glued into the frame, because it’s meant to leave space for the materials to expand and contract with the weather, without cracking the door.

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Once the glue dried on the doors, I gave everything a thorough sanding and test fit my hinges. These are european-style hinges that allow the cupboards to open to 90 degrees, with the doors entirely perpendicular to the boxes. In this shot, the cupboards are upside-down. When hanging on the wall, the door will open upward, toward the ceiling.

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Once I was sure that everything would fit, I removed the hardware and masked the pieces off for painting.

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The cupboard boxes were painted the same grey as the walls of the shop, and the face trim was painted white. I used an alkalyde paint that I had left over from painting the trim on the outside of the garage. It’s meant to harden with a tough shell that resists damage, so my hope is that it will help the cupboards stand up to the abuse that they’re sure to receive in the shop.

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The cupboard doors got the same white paint job as the trim. My 12′ work bench comes in really handy when painting 8′ of cupboard doors.

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After letting the paint cure for a couple of days, I hanged the cupboard boxes on the wall above my work bench, screwing scraps of 2×4 into the studs in the wall, and affixing the cupboards to those scraps with 1 1/2″ wood screws. This probably isn’t the strongest way to hang cupboards, but it seems to be holding up ok, so here’s hoping that it doesn’t all come crashing down on me sometime soon.

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Finally, I re-attached the hinges, and added some cheap friction slides that help the doors to stay open in their eternal struggle with gravity.

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Look at all the space that I have on my workbench now that my shit is packed away into cupboards! I still need to do some organizing, especially in the left-most compartment, but it’s a start.

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This project has been a long time in the works. There were a lot of stops and starts and distractions, so it took me four or five weeks to get them done. If I worked straight through, I suspect that I could have finished them in two hard weekends of work with no problem.

All in all, I’m really happy with how they turned out, and my experiment with rail and stile cupboard doors was a success. I’ll have to use that joint again, perhaps for some cheap picture frames, or maybe a box with slats for sides.

2 thoughts on “Cupboards for my Workshop

  1. That’s a ton of work for cupboards. Were you testing out the dados? Because that seems like overkill.
    But yeah, if you have a space for everything, it is much easier to keep things clean. Otherwise stuff just piles up in a corner, until you trip over it.

    • I’m not a professional, so with every project I try to test out a new idea or method that I haven’t used before. That’s why a lot of my projects appear to take the long way around something that might have a simpler solution.

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