In a recent post, I discussed how I designed the basic structure of my modular cabinets, and the needs and criteria that factored into some of the decisions I made.
With a frame designed and built, the next step is to add the side panels.
Other Posts in this Series
- Part 1: Designing the Modular Cabinets
- Introduction to T-slot Hardware and Fasteners
- Part 2: Adding Sides to Modular Tool Cabinets
- Part 3: Durable and Low-Friction Work Surface
Slotting in the Sides and Back
I considered a few different materials for the side panels, and ultimately went with plywood. Given the strength of the aluminum frame I went with 1/2″ plywood because I didn’t need any additional rigidity.
I purchased 1/2″ prefinished Birch from one of my favorite local hardware stores Dunn Lumber, with each 4′ x 8′ sheet costing ~$60.
This is a place where you have plenty of options and materials to choose from, from MDF to unfinished plywood. You could also look at using 1/4″ plywood or hardboard for the back of the cabinet, especially if you plan to push it against a wall, or maybe even no back at all.
I used the same 1/2″ prefinished plywood for the internal support panel, which was wasted because it is never seen once everything is assembled.
It was at this point I discovered a flaw in my plan. In my previous post I talked about using a modular design that was based on 26″ pieces. But by going with this size, that means I was only able to get three 26″ x 26″ panels from a 4′ x 8′ sheet. Fortunately, I have made good use of the offcuts, but it pains me every time I buy another sheet. This meant I had to buy two sheets to build my tool chest.
Initially I looked at using Faztek’s panel retainers, but at $2.85 a piece I felt I could find a more cost effective solution.
For the sides, the obvious answer was to use no fasteners at all and instead simply use a 26 7/8″ x 26 7/8″ panel and slot it to fit into the extrusions’ center channels.
My first attempt to rabbet down the edges so they could slot into the frame reminded me how things can go horribly wrong in seconds.
Whilst using a Dado stack, one of the pieces caught and went flying across my garage. I now know what I was doing wrong but I am glad I was using Benchdog Push-Blocs and was standing to the side of the saw.
See Also: Bench Dog Push Block Review
A Safer Approach
After letting the adrenaline fade, I decided it would be safer to do this on a router table. My Kreg Router Table Top was still sitting in its box, so I assembled it and made good use of my partially assembled table as a temporary setup.
This got me thinking about my next build, which would be a permanent router table. I suddenly realized how addictive this was going to be!
After a bit of experimentation I decided to standardize on routing each side 3/32″. This allows the plywood (shown in blue) to slide into the T-slot.
The reason to route both sides is to allow a second piece of 1/2″ plywood (shown in green) to be attached to this piece, making that side flush with extrusion. This is important when it comes to installing the drawer slides.
I already had a Freud 1-3/4″ (Dia.) Adjustable Tongue & Groove Bit Set with 1/2″ Shank (99-036) handy, and found this to be clean way to remove the excess material. It just happened to be set up to cut the right amount into the panel to fit into the extrusion.
Drawer Slide Supports
After checking out Home Depot for Drawer Slides I started to appreciate how this would be another expensive part of the build. I looked around and finally settled on GlideRite Hardware 20″ 100 lb side-mounted soft-close full-extension drawer slides on Amazon. At $96.51 for 10 pairs, I’m happy with the cost and quality.
To install the slides I used some 1/2″ plywood offcuts (in green), and added three supports on each sides. One at the front, which takes most of the weight of the drawer when it’s open, and two further into the cabinet. These were attached using 3/4″ staples with my Dewalt DWFP1828 18 gauge finish stapler. This allows the slides (in red) to clear the extrusion when the drawers open.
While this approach requires a little more work, it is a more efficient use of space. If I had fastened plywood panels to the sides of the T-slot extrusions instead, I would have lost 1/2″ of horizontal space per side, or 2″ for a two-bay cabinet as shown above.
Cutting Some Corners
Finally, I had to cut the corner off each piece so they can slot into the frame when two pieces of extrusion meet at 90 degrees.
Installing the Drawer Slides
The drawer slides were attached to the sides using wood screws. I cut spacers for laying out the drawer slide placements, and there are other ways this could be done. I will discuss it further in a later post.
Finished Cabinet Sides and Back Panels
At the end of this step, the back and side panels are in place, and the drawer slides installed.
In my next posts, I will talk about adding a workbench top, and how I designed and built the drawers.
While I went with drawers, the design could just as easily be adapted with shelves, either adjustable or fixed. You could cut panels to serve as bottom shelves, although in that case I would advise mounting plywood in a different way, since slot-mounting it would be ill-advised for horizontal load-bearing applications. With a shelved cabinet, you can easily add hinged doors to help keep dust out.
Tools and Materials
- Benchdog Push-Blocs (via Amazon)
- GlideRite Hardware 2075-ZC-10 Drawer Slides (via Amazon)
- Dewalt DWFP1828 18 Gauge Finish Stapler (via Amazon)
- Kreg Router Table Top: Info via Kreg | Buy via Amazon
The more I read about your build, the crazier and more infeasible it seems. 😛
Impressed with your skill and attention to detail though. Just seems way to complicated and expensive to me. I keep thinking, I could build a nice wood-framed box more easily and cheaper – and I’m not likely to do that either. Still more work than it would be worth to me. I’d be more likely to find some nice modular units and build my shop and counter-top based on their existing dimensions.
None of this is meant as criticism of what you’ve built though. It’s beautiful.
I agree, 80/20 is cool stuff for some projects. But for a basic cabinet it looks like it requires way more work and expense that just building it from wood or even some square steel or aluminum stock and welding it up.
Great article, Ben! Could you continue totaling the costs at each stage of the build for this specific cabinet?
So the hardware from last time, plus the two pieces of plywood and the drawer slides.
It’s all in there, but it would be nice to see another screenshot of your materials spreadsheet with updates at each stage of the game.
Thank for the feedback!
I am planning to do a separate post that tallies everything up and provides some commentary on decisions I’ve made, pros\cons and alternatives. I had original included it but it sent the post off in a weird tangent and I felt was better as a standalone post.
I’m curious, if you don’t mind saying. I think I’ve seen Stuart say it before. Where are guys located, state-wise? I think one of you mentions Menards, which I haven’t seen since moving from the midwest to northeast.
I’m in Kirkland, WA. Just outside of Seattle.
interesting – In the other article I figured you got rails with slots that mated to whatever your side board material would be. Not that it would take that much effort.
Leads me to 2 questions – 1) did you attempt any other profiles or rigging it to cut only one side for the side panels (I can see where the center panel needed to be as centered as possible so that’s an equine of a different hue)
2) did you try or consider thinner board for the sides and some flavor of a shim or shim stick (think stick to go in rail that fills the rest of the rail hole). and letting that hold everything?
Just curious as it sounds like you did some trial and error fitments. Amazing amount of work.
Side question how’s that router table thingy and what router are you using with it.
Thanks for thepostings.
Yes I did play around with different profiles. For this post I wasn’t telling the full story, if you look closely, the back panels are trimmed only on one side. It was only when I got to the side panels did I realize that this would cause issues with the drawer slides. I have found it easier to just continue doing both sides, because it’s easier to repurpose a side when I need to and I don’t have to think about it.
In terms of materials. I do think I dug myself a hole that I was then unable to get out of. I loved how this first cabinet looked, and I wanted the next cabinets to match. So I kept buying 1/2″ from the same company. If I was starting from scratch I would have spent more time doing the research.
When I got to building the drawers it got me thinking about using the same 1/4″ plywood instead. I think 1/4″ would work really well for the back, and it’d be held in place on four sides so there wouldn’t be a lot of room for flex. This would remove the need to route down the edges, and some wedges\shims could add some additional support. You could use the same on the sides if you then created some 7/8″ ish supports for the drawer slides so they are flush with the extrusion.
I think with a bit of creativity you could create the same look and stability with thinner stock, and it could knock off as much as $100 of the build…. I might explore this idea with my next build. The 1/4″ plywood comes from the same company as the 1/2″ so it wouldn’t cause me any OCD issues!
For the router, I’m using a Kreg Table Top, with their Router Lift and a Dewalt DW618. I’m very happy with this setup but I am building my own top at the moment so I have a single piece that fits on top of my cabinet. I’m going to post about this soon…
Thanks for reading!
Your experience with the dado blade – may be why the EU bans them. Glad that you had a learning experience rather than a trip to the ER.
I’ve used ones for years on my Unisaw – but the sliding table and making cuts in several incremental passes make it safer.
There is lots of energy in a spinning 10 inch blade – stack some additional blades together with a dado set – and its easy to see how you can launch a piece across a room.
In our cabinet shop – we also used a big sliding table saw and our Oliver rip fence had an machine-driven work feeder to help keep folks out of trouble. There is nothing like proper training (and retraining) , however, when it comes to safe table saw operation. That’s one reason why I cringe when I see newbies and wannabe’s looking to buy a cheap table without investing in how to use it.
Yeah dado blades… I think I did this about a year ago and haven’t installed it again. Now I have a functional CNC and router table maybe I’ll put it on ebay!
When I return to the UK I am not entirely clear what relationship it will have to the EU, but maybe that’s good excuse to get rid of it!
You should make the tops with Festool holes to add something extra. Extra assembly tables, cutting tables, clamping tops, so many uses.
I built an oversized MFT table, with systainer drawers in 2016, google search “custom MFT work station” and it’s the first set of photos that show under the Images tab. Welded steel angle iron made for a less expensive frame, plenty sturdy but still purpose built as yours are. 80/20 rails only served as the clamping perimeter.
Hey John, it’s nice to meet you, I have some of your photos pinned on Pinterest! When I started my build I didn’t have any Festools so went down the drawers route. I have a feeling one of my cabinets will get repurposed at some point to store Systainers.
I am close to finishing my riff on an MFT table and plan to share that in a future post 🙂
I have looked at welding, it seems like a useful skill to add to my repertoire.
I have seen that table before.
Two thumbs up!
The extra images in festoolownersgroup appear dead/expired 🙁
Is there a series on pinterest?
Nice to see this project continued! It’s coming together nicely. I really like the wood and aluminum combined look
Agreed. Your shop looks like a place that is relaxing, inspiring, and efficient all at once.
Thanks for the feedback! Yes it absolutely achieve those goals for me, when I do get the time at the weekend it is certainly a place I feel relaxed and productive!
I’m thrilled it’s inspiring others 🙂
It looks like you will have some very shallow drawers at the top or a pull-out shelf and a shallow drawer. How thin is it? I like shallow drawers and have thought about them, but mostly have gone with shelves.
I’m wondering if there is a system for attaching drawer slides directly to the 80/20 frames. That might be useful.
Hi Ktash – they are 2″, leaving about 1.6″ of usable space. In part 4 of this series I’m going to dig into this a bit more. They work really well for pens, knives, small tape measures etc.
I believe Stuart attached his drawer slides directly to the frame in his build:
I’m not 100% certain how he fastened them….
Yes, there are ways to fasten drawer slides directly to T-slot.
My prototype build started with button head socket cap screws and t-nuts with the second hole of the drawer slides I selected, and offset angle brackets for the closes hole at the back. Then, when I decided to go with anchor fastener construction for the frame, I moved from standard-sized extrusions (that I had been buying from 80/20’s ebay store) to custom-cut extrusions and anchor counterbore machining services.
My drawer slides are attached with one screw at the front, and one at the rear. I had to go with pricey 10-32 t-nuts, though, because economy t-nuts aren’t available in that size.
The depth rails have to be pretty closely measured or calculated, and taking into account the channel center to edge spacing.
For the 15″ drawer slides I use, the depth rails come out to be 10.313″, and for 21″ drawers slides, 16.625″.
You have to be careful, though. My slides are bottom-mounted, and can work with material 1/2″ to 5/8″. 12mm or 1/2″ plywood? Low-profile socket cap screws or button head screws work okay. But then I built another frame and ordered drawers with 5/8″ sides. I had to shim the horizontal rails to allow for fastener clearance. My rails are designed for #6 or maybe even #8 flat head screws. Even #10 flat head socket cap screws were too proud. Low-profile and button head screws aren’t short enough either. I swapped in slightly longer rails, reusing the existing one for a different build, and had to adjust the rail connectors since the cabinet opening was now a little wider than what the drawers were built for. But it was either that or modify and refinish the dovetailed drawers.
The benefit of mounting to T-slot directly is that drawer spacings can be adjusted, and that’s something I’ve done quite a bit. If you use wood screws and plywood, your options can be more limiting.
In another project, I couldn’t get hole spacing to work, so I went with 2020 extrusions, which are 2″ x 2″ with a 1″ base extrusion size. I found that 1515 extrusions and hardware are easier to work with, at least the anchors.
This series is very interesting and much more useful and informative than one that just shows the “correct” steps to make your cabinet/bench.
It would be great to have these from you or guest writers in the future.
I definitely have some more posts planned. They are all based on projects I’ve done or am doing, as opposed to a project I’m doing to write the post. That’s probably helps make them more down to earth… I’m glad my approach works 🙂
great work bud….thanks for sharing
i know im a bit late with this comment but this project is amazing and im taking inspiration for my year 12 woodwork project for HSC down in Australia, appreciate the work on this one mate great job !!!
I am very curious show you still like the MFT and the top you chose, after having plenty of time to use it?
when routing the tongues for adding the side panels. did you make the cut in a single pass using the tongue bit (IE two blades stacked with a shim) or did you use the groove bit and make a pass on either side? Thanks
I started by routing in two passes but I have now built a Freud stacked bit with all the right dimensions. It works really well!
I can post a picture on IG if it helps.
Hi Ben, what *actually* went wrong on the dado cut? I’m about to do something similar and you have me wondering if I should……..
Your T-slot workshop inspired me to build, a T-slot framed workbench with storage and a clamping track saw guide. I used the same 1.5″ section that you did and built an entire top with T-slots that serves to readily clamp anything. Works great.
Doing so has me thinking about extending the use of T-slot framing to build kitchen and bathroom cabinets.
I wonder if I can pick your brain on my idea.
Given the strength of T-slot profiles, I’ve thought to use the 20 mm profiles (0.79″). I like the idea of minimal but strong components.
The 1.5″ seems like overkill to me. I think I could put a truck on my workbench 😉
As both cabinets I have in mind run from side wall to side wall, I thought to mount drawer slides onto the vertical T-slots – no plywood in the frame at all.
Drawer fronts would overlay the T-slot profiles to give a minimalist appearance.
Might even use the Blum Legrabox drawer system, https://www.blum.com/us/en/products/boxsystems/legrabox/programme/
The T-slots seems like a great material for kitchen and bathroom use. Stable. Waterproof. Reusable. Adaptable.
Any thoughts on the viability (or sensibleness) of the idea appreciated.
In case Ben can’t chime in, I have experience combining Blum with t-slot extrusions.
I haven’t used Blum Legrabox, but I have used Blum undersized drawers.
In my implementation, I have the drawer slides attached to smooth black-anodized 1530 extrusions. The drawers – which I ordered for some cabinets and built for others – are flush with the front and can have overhanging fronts.
You need to measure depth cross-members so that the rear of the drawers have enough clearance. If you want standard depth cabinets, you’ll have to get creative with placement, with additional vertical members to support the rear of the brackets, or some kind of brackets. I went with shorter workbench depths so that a front and rear screw hole was perfectly centered with t-slots.
I have a different setup with 1″ series 2020 profiles because the hole placement worked out better.
I went with 8020 for a recent build, and the black anodizing was sloppy on some extrusions (which they replaced), and chipped/scratched/marred on others. If going with black for kitchen or bathroom cabinets, I might choose the all-anodize option and hope for better handling and shipping care. With the pre-anodized extrusions, the finish can be marred if cut and machined and moved around by the manufacturer.
I used 1530 for my workbench legs as it allowed for foot blocks to which I attached larger self-leveling feet with ball-swivel non-slip pads. Smaller feet can be used directly in tapped extrusion ends, but I tend to prefer larger feet for stability and to help better spread heavy loads.
I use smooth and partially closed profiles for one of my workbenches, and think it would work well as vertical members if the hole placements can be figured out.
It’s viable, but not having plywood in the frame will either limit leg positioning a bit or require greater complexity. Whether you have greater overhang at the rear, or use additional vertical posts for rear slide support, you’ll need to figure out how the side panels will be covered. Plywood drop-in panels work well, otherwise you’ll need to think about a panel that sits on the outside of the t-slots, which will mean exposed screws and plywood edges.
You should also check code requirements regarding dimensions or construction, if there are any, as well as common practices such as for toe kick dimensions. That’s where t-slots become a bit challenging, but there can be simple solutions, such as simply raising the floor of the horizontal cross-member extrusions.
One issue I ran into was that drawers with 5/8″ side walls fit openings slightly differently compared to those with 1/2″ side walls, requiring the cabinet opening to be lengthened slightly. You can potentially shim t-slots at joints if needed, but it’s best to get things perfect in high visibility joints.
If you’re going to be building multiple cabinets, I’d recommend ordering a set of drawer hardware and a couple of test extrusions and tweak the fit. This is less needed if you go with Blum RTA metal boxes where you just add the front.
Stuart – Much appreciated.