Sunday, August 19, 2012

the great cabinet caper

So I mentioned I had been up to some nonsense with some cabinets.  Specifically, these cabinets:

Though the circular saw (kindly lent by a friend) is helpfully in there for scale, it's not necessarily clear  from this picture that you're looking at something about eight feet wide.  I picked up this gem through craigslist for $100.  (Yes, I am a bargain shopper.  And yes, I thought that was a bargain.)

I didn't necessarily have a plan right at the outset, but by the time I got it home it was falling into place: I would use the section with the two facing doors to replace my main bank of upper cabinets.  As I may have mentioned, I have a very small kitchen.  The cabinetry is in an L-shape, with a window at the corner, so there are basically two small runs of cabinetry.  The larger (no, really) one looked like this:

(That item off to the right is a vintage spice cabinet I picked up at the thrift store.  It even has suggestions for which herbs and spices to use with which meals.  So awesome.)

Anyway, my goal would require me to split off the frame that joins the third door, chop the extra length off all the shelves, add a bottom (which was totally missing), add a side (on the side where I'd sawed things off), and extend the depth of the cabinets (which at just over a 9" inside depth wouldn't fit my plates).  And add reinforced rails to support attachment to the wall.  And wrap the trim around the newly-cut side.  Oh, and did I mention the paint job?

I think there might be a motivational - or demotivators - poster slogan to the effect that there's no limit to what you can do when you don't know what you can't do.  This is frequently true in my case, although it is equally true that I often plunge in and find out that I can't, in fact, do whatever it is.  So, of course, I set to work.  First I did a lot of sawing.  Some of it was decidedly less than competent sawing, but somehow I made it through.  Then I spent an exhausting amount of time at the Big Orange Store, buying a 4 x 8 piece of 3/4" plywood and a bunch of 2 x 3 framing lumber, and having a very, very patient employee cut them for me on a REALLY AWESOME SAW.  I think I was in there for about ninety minutes.  They move all their stock around every ten minutes, and it took me half an hour just to find L-brackets.  Sheesh.
So anyway, I got the stuff home.  I had already cut off the part that attached the third door, and cut off the extra length on the top and the shelves.  Then I attached my new 3/4" plywood, and I had a new bottom and side:

What I forgot to buy at the store was a try-square.  So I eyeballed the joint between the sawed edges of the shelves and my new side panel.  The good news is that I measured the edges of the shelves square; the bad news is that I just couldn't get the saw that accurate (especially since I had to run the saw up against the cabinet frame).  Further bad news is that I didn't eyeball it square.  The good news is that I was pretty close (only off by a degree or so), and I didn't shim them unnecessarily.  But the ultimate problem is that I didn't shim it very well:

Then I added my 2 x 3s.  As you may know, "dimensional lumber" is sold in "nominal" measurements.  That is, if a piece is sold as eight feet long, it is really eight feet long.  But a 2 x 4 is actually 1.5" x 3.5".  Similarly, 2 x 3s are actually 1.5 x 2.5 inches.  So I figured if I attached the studs behind the existing shelves, the cabinet would be 1.5" deeper, and I could sink deck screws through the pieces to attach the cabinet securely to the wall.  I'd already taken on a lot of operations I don't have the skill for, so I decided not to get ambitious with the joinery.  I attached the studs with the brass L-brackets (look in the corner):

Then it was on to more difficult operations.  I had to get matching trim on the new side of the cabinet. Fortunately, I had cut off a large section of the top, so I had some extra trim I could use.  It took me a bit of trial and error to figure out how to do the angles, because the top curve is not actually trim - it's the top of the cabinet itself, which has a rounded edge.  (Did I mention these cabinets are a century old?  How did they do all this work with no power tools?)  My results weren't perfect, but I did get the trim to wrap around:

After that, the cabinets got a second sanding, a second scrubbing, two bleachings of the doors (they looked like they had some mold), caulk (you can see I'd already started the caulking in the picture above), and paint.  Then my DH and I went to town on the previously-existing cabinets, and got ourselves a nice blank wall to work with:

You can see where I attached a ledger board (the horizontal 2 x 3) up there.  (I also painted - I've been painting the kitchen walls yellow one section at at time, as I demolish things on the walls).  I measured like five times so I would have half an inch of clearance between the top of the cabinet and the ceiling.  And the cabinet didn't fit.  I measured again just to see whether I was mistaken, and I wasn't; the cabinet was simply defying the laws of physics, growing when it got into the vicinity of the ledger board.

So, I moved the ledger board, and we put it up there and tried to sink it in.  It was impossible.  What I had failed to realize was that, when I moved the ledger board down 3/4", I did not also re-drill the holes in the wall (which go through the studs, so they need to be pre-drilled) 3/4" lower.  So we took the cabinet off and I re-drilled the holes, and we tried again.  This time, most of the deck screws went in (I set it up for twelve, and at least seven are in there correctly, with three questionable and two absent.  Typically cabinets have four, though typical cabinets do not weigh 100 pounds).

Then, after I painted the wall behind it to match the cabinet, with my husband (who did most of the work of securing the cabinet) napping, I decided I would just nip over and hang the nice pot rack I got at Amazon so that whole wall would be done.  No major carpentry project - just assemble the cute little kit and sink some quick screws in the wall!  Of course, I decided to improve on the wall anchors that came with the kit (not strong enough!).  I had measured, and sadly it wouldn't align with the studs, but I happened to have two extra toggle bolts.

In theory, you can either sink deck screws into studs, or put toggle bolts (which hold 100 pounds each) through the drywall; either there are studs, or the drywall is hollow, and will hold the bolts.  Except this never works for me.  There is always some major piece of solid lumber lurking behind the drywall where there are no studs (and no, this wall is not lathe and plaster).  I ruined the second toggle bolt trying (of course it wasn't the first.  That way I would only have had to patch the wall once.  This way I could make two giant holes in the wall).  And then I thought, "That must be a stud.  I can use a deck screw."  But when I went to pre-drill it, of course, it wasn't.  I figured I would still use one toggle bolt, but naturally, the second time, it wouldn't go in straight, and landed at a wonky angle.  Do I care?  I do not care.
At this point I was close to nervous collapse.  But the wall looks pretty good:

I have FIFTY-TWO INCH cabinets.  Take that, stupid expensive kitchen designer people.  (The lumber and hardware were about $80, which seems like a lot, but that means all my upper cabinets will be $180.  Oh, plus $35 for the pot rack.  TAKE THAT, IDEABOOKS THAT RECOMMEND $250 POT RACKS.  WHAT IS THAT ABOUT?!)

And you know that third cabinet door I removed?  I cut it in half, and the two pieces will be the doors for a cabinet over my stove.  This time I'm building the box from scratch, which, as I may have mentioned before, I expect to be easier.  After that, I will learn to make a sink base completely from scratch.  Stay tuned...I hope to redo the whole kitchen by Christmas.


P.S.: I am linking up to Susan's Metamorphosis Monday


  1. Aww, you're too sweet, but same to you!!
    Love what you are doing here... I wish I were as crafty, you really have a gift.

  2. That is great that you can do all of your cabinets yourself. They look good to me! I've never been good with measurements myself. My dh and I always have to pay someone to do that kind of stuff. You definitely have a noteworthy talent!!!

  3. I agree with the others, although talented might be an understatement. It looks great!!

  4. I am seriously impressed with the amount of work you've done by yourself and the skills you're cultivating. Bravo!

  5. I think you should make that poster....I would totally buy one. ;) Thanks for the great post, I thoroughly enjoyed it! ~Alice