Built in Dining Room Cabinet

At long last, I have completed a built in cabinet for my dining room. Actually, I didn’t really complete it – the guys from the stone place were here today and they completed it. The cabinets have been done for months, though this project goes back even further than that.

There is a small bump out in my dining room. The space is about 10 feet or so wide, and a little more than a foot deep. There are three windows in the space, and some recessed lights above. In my head, since I originally saw it nearly twenty years ago, I have always envisioned a built in cabinet there. Someplace to store the fancy dishes, and oversized serving platters, and glass vases. A place to line up all the food for a buffet dinner with family. It would have three sections – the two sides that fit within the bump out and a center section that was proud of the others, but didn’t stick all the way out in to the dining room. Without the deeper middle section, it would be too shallow to store a serving platter or a big bowl.

Fast forward about 15 years and I finally got around to starting the cabinet. The basic shell of each is 3/4″ veneer plywood. Bottom, sides and back so they are extra sturdy. The face frames are 3/4″ maple. These were all assembled in my father’s shop. The face frames were leaned up against the wall – so that we could mount the doors to them (once we made them) and the cabinet boxes were moved to my house.

To install them, I made a simple base of 2x4s that were shimmed to be level and screwed in place. The two side cabinets were placed on the left and right sides, and finally the middle section was set in place. The three components were screwed together, and also to the back wall and the base. Now I had a firm, level cabinet. I added some stretchers with scrap plywood or boards, to give me something to mount the face frame to across the opening, and also to give some extra support to the cabinets and the eventual stone top. Then I made my biggest mistake. I cut a few quick pieces of masonite and put them on top of the cabinets. Within hours, maybe minutes, there was stuff on top of the cabinets. Then there was stuff inside them – even before I made the shelves, or mounted the shelf standards. Suddenly they were “in use” and all the pressure was off.

The cabinet boxes in place, with stuff on top….

Roll the clock forward a year, or maybe two. Maybe longer, but I am not going to admit that here. Now we’re in a pandemic, I have started to make my shop more functional and decide this would be a good time to finish the cabinet. I tasked my father with making the doors – he had the face frames and all the tools – and at the time we were all keeping our distance and only visiting outside – so working in the shop together was off limits. The door rails and stiles are maple, and the panel is veneer plywood.

Four drawers, all assembled, waiting on fronts.

I set about making the drawers. The drawers are also 3/4″ veneer plywood, with edge banding to cover up the plywood edge. The bottoms are 1/2″ plywood – I hate when drawer bottoms sag over time. Finally, the drawer fronts are 3/4″ maple as well. For the longest time I could not decide if I was going to stain it or not, so it was built with maple. Had I known I would stain it I would probably have built with poplar or something. In any case, the drawers are very basic, but I was pleased with how they came out. I believe they are the first proper drawers I made myself. Same for mounting them on the drawer slides – another new experience. They are full extension, as I hate it when drawers only open part way and you have to fumble about to find things in the back of them, but they are not soft close and they are not bottom mount. That is something I hope to try down the road. In the end, I am pleased with how they came out. Not perfect but still a level up moment for me.

Installed in the cabinets, ready for the fronts to be mounted.

Now that everything is assembled, it is time to apply the finish – stain and then polyurethane. First I tried gel stain. Hated it. Too splotchy, too difficult to apply evenly. I ended up sanding it back off the doors and starting all over. I searched all about to find just the right shade of brown that I was looking for and eventually managed to apply a pretty decent stain. Then it was on to the poly. I believe there are three coats of General Finishes Arm R Seal. After a while, they all seemed to blur together. This was not my favorite experience and while I am happy with the end result, getting there was a big headache and more stressful than I would like. The youtubers make it look so simple with their fancy HVLP gear and time lapses for the spraying. Done in 5 minutes and everything is pristine. Sounds like a dream.

Now that the finish was on, I could mount everything and also add the hardware for the door and drawer pulls. I should also mention, there is a toe kick on the cabinet and there is a finished front on that as well, along with a cut out for my forced air HVAC vent. At this point I also mounted the brass shelf standards in the center section and made the shelves for each of the cabinets. The insides are all lightly finished with wipe on poly, but are still the natural wood color. With the hardware and shelves in place, the woodworking was done. Hooray! But it still had the masonite tops. And still, there were things on top of the cabinets. Going to have to move all that eventually, so I can get the stone tops installed.

The finished cabinet.

Over a year later my wife and I visited some places to select a type of stone, and then arranged for it to be installed. Thankfully, we agreed on something pretty quickly and it was easy to come by. No lengthy lead times or supply chain issues. The end result was today, when the men came to install it. Now it is actually complete. Done. Finished. Now all that is left in the dining room is to figure out what to do about the light fixture over the table. Not going to worry about that today. At the moment, I am going to savor the word finished.

A close up of the stone.

Thanks for reading along.

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