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.