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Shop Kitchen

About twenty years ago, I got some rough cherry boards from Grandpa’s garage attic. He had cut down a cherry tree in his yard back in the 1930s, sawed it into boards, and put it up in the attic to dry. It sat in my barn for more than 10 years before I could figure out what to do with it.

A few years ago, I decided that it was time to renovate the Collins Tool Company shop kitchen—make a nice place where we could fix lunches, and also demonstrate our tools. I didn’t have enough of the cherry to build boxes, and I didn’t want to buy a bunch of expensive plywood, so I decided to use it for the kitchen project.

Original, hand-drawn plan

The challenge was to make something that looked nice with a minimal amount of material. As with all large projects, I started with a plan. To the left is the drawing I worked from. There was no SketchUp at the time.

In this article, I’ll show you how I went about building the cabinets. Although it took longer than simply screwing boxes to the wall, it went faster than a regular on-site cabinet install of similar appearance and quality.

I started by laying out a 2×4 base frame on the floor. The plywood bottom was scribed to the walls, and two plywood dividers and an end cap were pocket-screwed to the bottom. One of the dividers covered a joint in the base. Cleats were screwed to the back wall, and a full length stretcher was let into the front of the dividers.

(Note: Click any image to enlarge. Hit "back" button to return to article.)

Valves and loops were already attached to the water supply, so the pipe positions were plotted on the base. The jig saw was used to connect the dots. Cauls were screwed to the underside of the base and the cut-out was reinserted.

I determined the drawer height, and screwed a back wall cleat parallel under the top cleat, keeping the space even with plywood hangers.

Drawer support rails were pocketed to the dividers and the end cap. Cauls were used to prevent crabbing from the pocket screws.

Intersecting stretchers were pocketed together.
Drawer dividers fit between stretchers and cleats to carry drawer slides.
2×4 nailers were fastened to joists in the ceiling to carry sub panels, shelves, and frames.
Shelf cleats were screwed to the wall at a permanent height.
I started the trim work by mitering and gluing the outside corners to join end panels to face frames.

I cut slots into the rails and stiles with a 1/4-in. dado blade on the table saw. The panels are 1/4 in. thick, and the rails and stiles are joined with 1/4-in. splines, inserted perpendicular to the stiles. The panels are free-floating.

To make the face frame tight to the bottom shelf and sub panel, the panels were scribed to the walls. The wall stiles of the panels were made a little wider to allow for this. The scribes were spread to match the existing gap between the face frame and the bottom shelf. After scribing and cutting, the face frame fit tight to the shelf, and the panel is tight against the wall.

Cherry always cuts well, but when it’s been sitting around for 70 years it cuts like butter. Here is a joint being scraped flat at a sheering angle where the grain changes direction.

I pocketed the face frames together with the side panels, and, after trimming to scribes, clamped them to the sub-frames. Upper rails were held down from the ceiling to accommodate a specific size of crown molding (see photo, left).

The range cabinet face frame was pocketed together with wing cabinet frame using an improvised support system. It was then installed as a unit.

The entire corner face frame unit held in place before fastening. Bare sub-panel will be covered with a range hood.
Face frame for the base unit is pocketed together and fastened to the base unit.

The counter top began with a double layer of particle board with overlapping joints. A length of 1×2 cherry was glued to the edge, planed, and scraped flush. Plastic laminate was glued on with old formula contact cement, making sure the cherry was thoroughly coated. The edge was then beveled with a router. The backsplash was made of particle board, with a strip of cherry glued to the top, then beveled with the router.

I cut the sink out with a Coping Foot on the jig saw, which showed that the saw can cut much closer to the backsplash with this base. This old building is made of block. I covered the walls with 2-in. foam board before framing the inside with 2×4 on the flat. I also removed the old steel framed windows from the block, and replaced them with custom-fit vinyl.

I ran crown molding all around the room. Some of that action can be seen on a video at (check out the “Miter Clamps” video). Birch plywood was used to make four jamb extension boxes for the entire office area. Finish strips were glued to the plywood after all the edges were first hollowed with a Ply Prep router bit. The boxes were siliconed to the vinyl window frames.

A stool nosing was glued flush to the bottom board of the box, with returns glued on the horns. Poplar casings and birch jamb extensions were stained in an attempt to match the cherry.

Below is a view of the kitchen from the office. The wood was finished with a wiping-polyurethane.

And now I have a confession to make…

This project stalled in October 2006. It is the same today as it was then (except for the clutter; we really cleaned up for these pictures.) We’ve certainly put the area to good use, but its completion is long overdue.

One reason for the delay is that I ran short of material. I do have all the rails and stiles for the doors, but nothing for drawer faces and door panels. However, I have a generous friend with some old cherry, and I will be talking to him soon—now that I’ve put myself in a spot by writing this article!

If you are especially interested in this project, I would not be especially upset if you prodded me on a little bit.


15 Responses to “Shop Kitchen”

    • Mr David O'Leary

      I must be a carpenter (finally) because our kitchen cabinets are waiting for their doors too. And a door for the kitchen itself, now that I come to think of it…

  1. Martin Kulik

    I wish my shop even Started to look like this. I work on others, but rarely have time to do anything on mine. As I have read many articles here and talked to Gary I have realized that something should get done to show my skills not only for customers, but also for myself. Any proud finisher should be able to showcase their work at any time and any day. Good luck and please keep us posted with your upcoming finish work.
    Martin Kulik

  2. Chuck Kiser

    Doors and drawer fronts are over rated. I like the clean contemporary look.

    • Ron gill

      I agree Leave them open ! Also glass fronts would save on material and keep the cost down !

  3. Kreg mcmahon

    Looks good. Reminds me of the other side of this coin. I have my shop in the kitchen!

  4. Larry

    Nice old fashion way of building a kitchen but terribly labor intensive. I run a commercial casework shop and would have gone bankrupt long ago using those methods. Must be nice to be able to do projects like this and not worry about time costs.

  5. Eric Tavitian

    I too have a kitchen project to be finished. Mine’s a bit larger in scope,(I’m building a 20′ X 10′ galley kitchen added to the end of what is currently the kitchen in this 1952 house), but unfinished is unfinished. My soon wife to be, Becky, has been prodding me to finish parts of the house. (The kitchen isn’t the only project I’m in process of completing here). This past week I managed to finish a custom 3’6″ X 7’0″ VGDF front door to match a Craftsman style sidelight that we found @ the Habitats for Humaity Re-Store in Oxnard CA. It looks great. We are very pleased to have a tall wide door that we can get all of the furniture in the house without pulling everything apart or denting the door. (Have you seen the size of the new refrigerators these days)? Now she’s happy and I’m happy. I still have to install everything though. That’ll be next week. For the kitchen I too am wanting to use Cherry for all the exposed surfaces. I just have to wait till the money is available for that to get into my shop. I am building my boxes like I do for my customers, individually and out of 3/4″ Rock Maple Melamine with Blum hardware including Tandem slides. Your “old school” method is great for material savings but is a killer for the time spent in completing the kitchen cabinets so I am forced to use modern cabinet techniques. This house is shaping up nicely if I say so myself. All I can tell you is that it is better to have a pretty face with a sweet voice pushing and egging you on than co-workers and friends. With them you don’t want hugs when it’s finished and installed. Hey, but the kitchen you’re building is looking very fine Dave. I’m partial to “Shaker” myself. Come to think of it that’s what I’m building also. Good Job… Now finish it.

  6. Lou Manzi

    Pay me $4500 to finish your kitchen, and I’ll give my word to pay you $4500 to finish my kitchen, done.

    Really we should all barter our services to each other, be reasonable and or specific about what’s to be expected, and get on with it, I find it easier to complete someone elese’s project than my own, I can’t remain objective doing my own work, I get lost in details, options, and uncompromising approach which leads to unfinished projects.
    All my personal projects become a labor of love, and getting there is all the fun, once the end is in sight…well…its over. Then my thoughts become more esoteric, like… why do you need cabinet doors anyway, maybe cabinet doors were created by someone with too much cherry on hand, doors just get in the way, you can’t see what’s in the cabinet, if one door is open you can’t open the other door, etc. But draws, you need draws.

    Remaining objective is critical to completeing any project, it doesn’t mean not caring, it means being there is more important than getting there.
    You cannot take five years to complete a paying customers kitchen(or any other ordinary project I can think of)… for many reasons.

    I have to say though that’s a pretty sexy kitchen for a shop, maybe you could do poplar doors and draw fronts stained/painted black for a contrasting look with cherry knobs, and if you really want to finish without further ado, go overlay doors/draws.

    Lastly, you probably could have gone to ikea for a couple of hundred bucks, had your guy’s throw in the shop kitchen, and written this article about the cherry heirloom project youv’e been working on for five years… and made us all jealous. 2006 huh, where does the time go?
    The challenge is over, cost, quality, design, materials, and appearence requirements have all been met, your done, the rest is cake. Find someone you know who meets your stanards and pay/barter with them to finish the job for you, it will be a relief… just say’n.

    “Hate me…? You haven’t even met me.”

  7. Nathan Thompson

    I’m guessing this must be finally completed by now. It does look really great. Loved what you did with the corner face frame, it does give it a neat look. I myself am in the middle of a kitchen completion, this post provides that much needed push.


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