In many bathrooms, a picture or a small shelf hangs above the toilet. But you can make better use of that space by building an attractive cabinet that offers about three times as much storage as a typical medicine cabinet. This article will show you how to build it. The simple joinery and store-bought doors make this a great project for the woodworking novice. Assembling the crown and base is a bit tricky, but we’ll help with that process too.
By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine
The total materials bill for our bathroom cabinet was $140. You’ll need a miter saw to cut the trim. A table saw and a brad nailer will save time, but you can make all the cuts with a circular saw and drive the nails by hand if you prefer.
The height and width of your cabinet may differ slightly from our measurements, depending on the bifold doors available at your home center. So choose your doors first and then alter the lengths of the sides and the top, bottom and middle shelves if necessary. Bifold closet doors are sold as a pair, usually joined by hinges. Each of our doors measured 11-15/16 in. wide, and we cut them to length as shown in the photo below.
The easy-to-install hinges we used are available online (see the Materials List). All the other tools and materials, including the cabinet doors, are available at home centers. You may not find the exact crown and base moldings we used, but most home centers carry a similar profile. Any 2-1/4-in. crown molding is appropriate for this project. We used “base cap” molding for the base. For a more contemporary look, you could skip the crown and base altogether, since they’re purely decorative.
Store-bought closet doors make it fast and simple
Building cabinet doors is a tricky, time-consuming job. But you can avoid all that fussy work by buying closet doors and cutting them to fit the cabinet. We’ll also show you a fast, foolproof way to hang the doors using special hinges.
1. Build a basic box
Cut the plywood parts to size. The dimensions we used are given in the Cutting List. If you don’t have a table saw, click here to learn how to make long, straight cuts with a circular saw. To make the short end cuts, use the homemade guide shown in step 4.
2. Assemble the cabinet
Assemble the cabinet box with glue and screws, followed by wood dowels for extra strength (Photo above). You can buy long dowels and cut them into short pieces, but dowels precut and fluted for woodworking are easier to work with. This assembly method is quick and easy and gives strong results. But because the method requires lots of wood filler to hide the fasteners, it’s for painted work only. If you want to use stain and a clear finish, biscuits or pocket screws are a better choice.
Drill 1/8-in. pilot and countersink holes for the screws using a drill bit that does both at once ($6). Attach the top, bottom and cleats to one side, then add the other side. Mark the middle shelf position on the sides, slip it into place and screw it (there’s no need for glue).
Before you drill the dowel holes, make sure the box is square by taking diagonal measurements; equal measurements means the box is square. If necessary, screw a strip of plywood diagonally across the back of the box to hold it square. For clean, splinter-free holes, drill the dowel holes with a 3/8-in. brad-point bit ($5),making the holes 1/8 in. deeper than the length of the dowels. That way, you can sink the dowels below the surface of the plywood and fill the holes with wood filler.
3. Drill shelf support holes
With the box completed, drill holes for the adjustable shelf supports (Photo above) using a brad-point drill bit. Most shelf supports require a 1/4-in. hole. Drill shelf support holes using a scrap of pegboard to position the holes. Wrap masking tape around the drill bit so you don’t drill all the way through.
4. Cut cabinet doors
Cut the doors using a homemade saw guide to ensure a straight cut (photo above). To make a guide, screw a straight 1×3 to a 14 x 18-in. scrap of 3/4-in. plywood. Then run your saw along the 1×3 to cut off the excess plywood and create a guide that steers your saw perfectly straight and indicates the exact path of the cut. Simply mark the doors, align the guide with the marks, clamp it in place and cut. And be sure to lay the door face down so any splintering takes place on the back of the door.
5. Mount hinges on doors
Screw the hinges to the doors 3 in. from the ends (Photo above). A self-centering drill bit positions the screw holes for perfectly placed hinges. The fronts and backs of louvered doors look similar, so check twice before you drill. Stand the doors against the cabinet, setting them on spacers to create a 1/8-in. gap at the bottom. The gap between the doors should also be about 1/8 in.
6. Position Doors
Clamp each door into position and screw the hinges into place (Photo above). Screw the hinges to the cabinet from inside for a foolproof, exact fit. If the doors don’t align perfectly because the box is slightly out of square, don’t worry; you can square the box when you hang it. The hinges also adjust up or down 1/16 in.
7. Cut the crown molding
Measure the top of the cabinet (including the doors) and cut the plywood crown and base frames to that size. Set your miter saw to 45 degrees and cut the crown molding with it upside down and leaning against the fence (Photo above). Clamp a block to the fence so you can hold the molding firmly against it. Also miter a “tester” section of molding to help you position the sidepieces when you nail them into place.
8. Nail the crown molding to the frame
Nail the crown to the frame. Nail the mitered corners only if necessary. If they fit tight and are perfectly aligned, let the glue alone hold them together.
9. Center the crown molding
To avoid splitting when attaching the crown molding, pre-drill nail holes. With the sides in place, add the front piece of crown molding. Cut it slightly long and then “shave” one end with your miter saw until it fits perfectly. Center the crown on the cabinet and fasten it with screws driven from the inside. Then center the cabinet on the base and attach it the same way. Screw both the crown and the base to the cabinet (Photo above).
A quick finish
Brushing paint onto louvered doors is slow, fussy work, but you can avoid that hassle by using spray primer and paint. First, remove the doors and hinges. Cover the dowels, nails and screw heads with wood filler and sand the filler smooth. Also fill any voids in the plywood’s edges. Sand the cabinet box, crown, base and doors with 120-grit paper. Spray all the parts with a white stain-blocking primer (such as BIN, Cover Stain or KILZ).When the primer dries, sand it lightly with a fine sanding sponge. Finally, spray on at least two coats of spray paint. High-gloss paint will accentuate even tiny surface flaws, so consider using satin or matte.
To hang the cabinet, locate studs and drive two 3-in. screws through the top cleat. Then rehang the doors. Close the doors to check their fit. Nudge the bottom of the cabinet left or right to square it and align the doors. Then drive screws through the bottom cleat.