How to Build in Wall Cupboards

Updated February 21, 2017

If there is one thing that makes a kitchen shine, it's good-looking wall cupboards. Once the basics of building them are covered, you can focus on creating the look you really want. For accuracy in cutting out the parts, it is recommended that a table saw be used. The standard measurement for wall cupboards is 30-by-12 inches. Use birch or oak plywood for all the cabinet parts that will be visible and lesser expensive plywood for shelves and other parts that will not be seen. The backs of the cupboards are made from ¼-inch plywood.

Set the fence of the table saw at 30 inches. Cut the sheets of ¾-inch plywood across the grain until you have enough blocked out to cut into end panels for the wall cupboards. You will be able to cut four end panels for each block cut. The left over strip can be used for the face frames. While the saw is set at 30 inches, cut as many blocks from the ¼-inch plywood needed for the backs of the wall cupboards.

Next, set the fence of the table saw for the length of the widest cupboard. Keep in mind that the shelves are going to be 1½-inch shorter than the actual width of the cupboard. For example, if the cupboard width is 30 inches, the shelves will be 28½ inches long. Each block will yield four shelves. Continue this until all the material needed for the shelving is cut.

Set the fence of the table saw at 11 inches. Rip all the blocks at this width until all the shelves are cut. Next, cut two nailing strips per cupboard the width of the shelves from the 1-by-2-inch lumber.

Place the end panels on a worktable. Measure from one end and mark the end panel at 1½ and 10¼ inches. From the other end of the same end panel mark it at ¾, and 10 ¼ inches. Place the framing square on these marks and draw lines across the width of the end panels. For cupboards that will only need a top and bottom shelf, mark the ends at 1½-inch at the top and bottom.

Assemble the shelves and the end panels. Apply glue to the ends of the shelves, place the shelves on the lines and secure them with the 4d finish nails through the end panels and into the shelf. Turn the cupboards over and measure and cut the backs from the ¼-inch plywood you blocked out in Step 1. Secure them to the cupboards with the box nails.

Set the fence of the table saw to 30 inches. Cut the sheets of the ¾-inch plywood until you have enough for the 2-inch face frame ends. Keep in mind that the top rail (the piece that fits between the ends) is also 2 inches wide so the extra can be cut into top rails for the face frame.

Set the fence of the table saw at 2 inches. Rip the blocks from Step 1 until you have enough 2-inch material for the face frame ends and any rails that are shorter than 30 inches. Next, set the fence of the table saw at 1½ inches and rip enough plywood to make the bottom rails for the face frames.

Cut all the rail pieces to length. Remember that the top rails are 2 inches and the bottom rails are 1½. Place the ends with the rails for each cupboard.

Place the rails between the ends, one at the top and one at the bottom and secure them with the corrugated fasteners. For the cupboards that are over 30 inches wide, cut a stile to divide the opening. Stiles are made from the 2-inch material and are 26½ inches long. Apply glue to the front edge of the cupboards, place the face frame with its respective cupboard and secure it with the 4d finish nails. Set the nail heads with a nail set and fill the holes and joints of the frames with wood putty. Sand the cupboards once the putty dries.

Measure the height and width of the face frame openings, add 1-inch to each and cut the doors accordingly from the ¾-inch plywood. Install the hinges and knobs according to manufacturer's instructions. For more information on this, see "How to Measure Kitchen Cabinet Doors" in References.


Be careful not to sand across the grain as this can show up as scratches when applying finish. Dress up the front edge of the shelves with screen mould. Be certain to apply glue before securing the mould to the shelves.


Always wear safety glasses when cutting plywood. Do not leave power tools unattended in the presence of children. Do not apply a finish to the cupboards without proper ventilation.

Things You'll Need

  • Table saw
  • ¾-inch plywood (birch or oak)
  • ¾-inch plywood (fir, pine, etc.)
  • ¼-inch plywood
  • Framing square
  • Wood glue
  • 4d finish nails
  • 1d box nails
  • Corrugated fasteners
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About the Author

Michael Straessle has written professionally about the construction industry since 1988. He authored “What a Strange Little Man,” among other books, and his work has appeared in various online publications. Straessle earned a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in professional/technical writing.