New kitchen cabinets, part one

Old kitchen

Old kitchen

One of the major projects on our new house was to put in new kitchen cabinets. We knew before buying the house that many of the lower kitchen cabinets (base cabinets) were damaged. Initially we thought we would try to buy some replacement parts, but as we realized that every base cabinet was damaged in some way, we simply decided to replace them. Ellen did some internet research and discovered that the maker of our cabinets, Mills Pride, was no longer in business. She found some cabinets from Sunco which she thought would match very well. We ended up buying them from Good Value Center. We were quite happy with the service in general. It only took a couple weeks to get them, and they were packed quite well.

This cabinet was completely missing the drawer

This cabinet was completely missing the drawer

The cabinets arrived on Friday the 9th of January. On the 11th, Clare and I spent several hours at Lowe’s putting together a delivery order for all the tile materials we would need like plywood and cementboard. We also got new energy-efficient windows, which will we install once it gets a bit warmer. The materials were delivered on the 12th, and I got to work.

Damaged cabinet

Damaged cabinet

I decided to work on assembling the cabinets while I was waiting for the delivery from Lowe’s. It took me about 2 hours to assemble the first one, but after that it got much easier. The Sunco cabinets have 1/2″ plywood sides and backs, and 3/4″ solid oak faces. They are put together with a cam locking system. I was quite impressed how accurate most of the cuts were. The sides fit into the front and back with a groove, and then get locked into a place with a cam system, which only requires turning one screw about one rotation. The drawers had to be assembled with regular screws, but the holes were all pre-drilled, and were quite accurate. For the first cabinet I screwed the screws in by hand, but for the other ones I used my beloved Black and Decker 18 volt cordless drill, which sped things up quite a bit. I was intrigued by the subtle variations between cabinets. While they were mostly the same, some of the details were slightly different, like the color of the screws, or the type of cushion on the drawers and doors. Some had a soft plastic cushion (the little piece that keeps the drawers and doors from banging shut), while others had more of a squishy foam-like cushion. There is also a fair amount of color variation. Some of the cabinets match the wall cabinets very well, while others don’t match as well.

Taking off the old countertop

Taking off the old countertop

Once I had some of the cabinets assembled, I started working on ripping out the old ones. Once again, Ellen had a very good idea of only ripping out the cabinet adjacent from the sink to start off with. This way we could continue to use the sink for awhile longer. It was quite easy to get out this cabinet, since it was half falling apart to begin with. After a bunch of sweeping up, I then toyed around with the arrangement of the cabinets.

About 2-3 inches of the unfinished floor would be showing here even with the new cabinets

About 2-3 inches of the unfinished floor would be showing here even with the new cabinets

During this toying around I also noticed that there was a piece of the laminate flooring missing near the entryway. The piece was only a couple inches wide by a couple inches deep, but would definitely be noticeable. I decided to try to fix it by cutting out some of the pergo that would be covered up by the new cabinets. I cut out a small section using a circular saw, and then later a reciprocating saw. That stuff is very hard! The circular saw was actually sparking a bit when I was cutting it, though I must admit that the blade was quite dull. Once I had a section cut out, then I cut out a piece which would fit in the missing section. The next part was quite tricky. The pergo is installed with a tongue and groove type locking system. The piece I had just cut had no groove one side. Fortunately I had just purchased a router for 50% off at Sears with a Christmas gift card, and I now had the perfect use for it. I used a 1/8″ straight cut bit to cut a groove in the pergo piece. Since I hadn’t used the router before, I practiced on a few other scrap pieces first. It took most of one day to get it done, but in the end, it turned out pretty well.

I used the reciprocating saw to cut out a section of pergo which would be covered up by the new cabinets

I used the reciprocating saw to cut out a section of pergo which would be covered up by the new cabinets

On the 14th, I finally installed the cabinets, which went fairly smoothly. I used 2 1/2″ long cabinet screws to secure the cabinets to the studs. To secure the cabinets to each other, I used nuts and bolts. Since the sides of the cabinets are 1/2″ plywood, but the face is 3/4″ oak, there is a 1/2″ gap between the sides of the cabinets, so a screw would not work very well. I read somewhere online that I could use one of the pre-drilled holes for the shelving to put in a nut and bolt, which worked quite well. Ellen said that she just used screws in the face of the cabinets, which I did for some of the other cabinets, even though drilling into the face of the cabinet made me nervous.

I used a clamp and some electrical tape to secure the scrap engineered hardwood so I could use my router to put in a groove. The piece on the right was a practice piece.

I used a clamp and some electrical tape to secure the scrap engineered hardwood so I could use my router to put in a groove. The piece on the right was a practice piece.

Once I had the cabinets secured, then I could start working on the counter top. After much debate, we eventually decided on porcelain tile. We entertained all sorts of different options, including formica, granite, and granite tile. We wanted something a bit fancier than formica, but a granite counter top would have cost about $2,000-3,000, even doing it ourselves. We then considered slate tile, after seeing it in a couple other homes, but we were worried it might be too porous. Then for awhile we tried to find granite tile, which would have only been about $400, but we decided it would be too difficult to get it flat. A large sign at Home Depot pointed us to porcelain, saying that it was relatively easy to install, very durable, low maintenance, and not too expensive. We ended up with Roman Stone Noce from Lowe’s, which we liked because it came in 6×6″ tiles, and also had v-cap (sink rail) and bullnose pieces available.

After a bit of work I was able to get the scrap piece of pergo to lock in place

After a bit of work I was able to get the scrap piece of pergo to lock in place

Standard base cabinets are 24″ deep, so I thought that I would be able to get away with virtually no cuts for the counter top, using simply 4 6×6″ tiles. Once I had the cabinets in I began to lay out the tile and decide how deep to cut the plywood. At this point I realized that the 6×6″ tiles are actually 5 13/16″ square. This is not uncommon, but now I had to think hard about how to go about this. If I used a 1/16″ grout spacing, then 4 tiles would come out to 23 1/2″, plus about one 1/2″ for the v-cap, which was exactly 24″. But this would mean that there would be virtually no overhang on the counter top, which I thought would look odd. I then considered a 1/8″ grout spacing, which would get me to 24 1/2″, but I still didn’t think that was enough of an overhang, and I didn’t really like the look of the 1/8″ grout spacing. So in the end I used a 1/16″ grout spacing, which left about a 1″ tile in the back of the counter top, which doesn’t look too bad.

Close-up of cam system on new cabinets

Close-up of cam system on new cabinets

Once I had finally made up my mind about the depth of the counter top, I cut the plywood. For this piece, I actually used a scrap piece we had moved from Spencer. Then I cut the cement board. The counter top was about 67″, and the cement board is 60″ by 36″, so ended up using a 7″ piece of scrap we had brought from Spencer for the corner piece.

first cabinet assembled

first cabinet assembled

Since the cabinets had come with corner blocks, my plan was to attach the plywood from underneath the cabinets, up through the corner blocks. After a few minutes of fiddling around with this, I quickly realized that this was not possible. I tried several different screwdrivers, but I could not get any of them to fit in the space, because the rails from the drawers and the cams were in the way. So instead I decided to screw the plywood down into the sides of the cabinets. I carefully pre-drilled all the holes, and experimented with a variety of screws, including drywall screws and deck screws, both of which I happened to have on hand. The particular piece of plywood I chose was fairly warped, so it was a bit difficult to get it to straighten out. Eventually I realized the point of cabinet screws, which had a section near the head which is not threaded. This allows the screw to tighten the gap between the two materials, since it is still being more deeply secured into the one material, which traveling freely through the second material, but being forced together by the pressure of the head. So eventually I went out to Ace and bought some wood screws for this purpose.

Inner view of cabinet

Inner view of cabinet

Once I had the cement board cut and had played around with the tile layout some, I was ready to take a break on these cabinets, and start work on the sink cabinets. The cement board gets attached to the plywood with thin-set mortar, which I only wanted to mix up once. So after three days, I was finally ready to rip out the sink cabinets. That adventure will be continued in part two.

top view of the cabinet. I didn't end up using the corner blocks

top view of the cabinet. I didn't end up using the corner blocks
hidden hinges on cabinet

hidden hinges on cabinet
I also used the clamps to secure the cabinets to one another while I secured them to the studs

I also used the clamps to secure the cabinets to one another while I secured them to the studs
Instead of screwing the cabinets together, I used these bolts, since the 1/2“ plywood sides left a gap between the cabinets

Instead of screwing the cabinets together, I used these bolts, since the 1/2“ plywood sides left a gap between the cabinets
Nut and bolt holding cabinets to one another

Nut and bolt holding cabinets to one another
Plywood and cementboard cut. Now testing out the tile layout.

Plywood and cementboard cut. Now testing out the tile layout.
I decided on a 1/16" grout joint

I decided on a 1/16" grout joint

3 thoughts on “New kitchen cabinets, part one”

  1. Wow that was a good detailed story about your project. I only miss a photo of the kitchen cabinets in totally finished. You must be a real handyman, how long did it take to finish it all? I am not so handy as you are i think but i am going to try to built outdoor kitchen cabinets this summer. Was nice to read your post thanks. Do you have some good tips for outdoor work?

    Stan

  2. Stan,

    Read on 2 parts 2 and 3 for more details and more pictures. My only advice for outdoor cabinets would be to make sure that they are sealed really well (either paint or stain+polyurethane).

    Rob

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