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How To Build Base Cabinets For A Kitchen Island

This tutorial is part of a larger project – my Kitchen Island. Below I’ll show you how to build base cabinets for an island using basic plywood you can get from any lumber store.

how to build base cabinets

This kitchen island is going to be counter height, which is usually 35″ to 36″. Depending on the top I go with (which as of right now has not been decided), this should end up at about 35-3/4″ tall.

The base frame underneath the cabinets will be 3-1/2″ tall, and the toe-kick at the front is 3″ deep.

Here’s a rough model of the island. I made this model in Sketchup and so far its just helping me figure up my dimensions. (Final design and textures have not all been completed.)

kitchen island rough model

The island is made of 3 separate base cabinets, 2 narrow cabinets and a wide one in the middle. Here are some detailed diagrams of the cabinets:

base cabinet dimensions
Wide middle cabinet

base cabinet layout
Wide middle cabinet

narrow base cabinet dimensions
Narrow cabinet (1 of 2)

narrow base cabinet layout
Narrow cabinet (2 of 2)

I’m using 3/4″ plywood except where I noted in the diagram.

If you need some help cutting and handling plywood, read How To Handle and Break Down Plywood.

I use pocket hole joinery to secure plywood pieces together for the carcass. With 3/4″ material, you’ll use 1-1/4″ pocket screws. If the pocket screw is going into 1/2″ material, you’ll use 1″ pocket screws. Learn more about the pocket hole joinery process here.

Carcass, noun; the plywood frame that is the basic structure, support, and shape of the cabinet, without any shelving, face frame, hardware, doors, drawers, or top.


Cutting Rabbets

As you can see in the diagrams above, I use rabbets (which are grooves cut in the plywood at the edge of the board) along the inside tops of the sides.

For this I use a stacked dado blade set on my table saw.

It’s easiest to stack your dado blades wider than you need, and use a sacrificial fence to make the rabbet exactly as wide as your plywood.

stacked dado blade set
dado blade in line with sacrificial fence

On a scrap piece of 3/4″ plywood, cut a rabbet to make sure you have the sacrificial fence positioned correctly.

rabbet cut in plywood for test
gauging width of the rabbet

You also want to get the depth of the rabbet just right. The plywood may not be exactly 3/4″ thick, which means the rabbet may not need to be exactly 1/4″ deep.

What’s important, is that you have 1/2″ of thickness left in the plywood. This helps with your overall dimensions and measurements:

gauging the depth of the rabbet

Similarly, when you cut rabbets in 1/2″ plywood, make sure there’s 1/4″ of thickness left over.

Another thing you’ll notice when cutting rabbets in plywood, the blade will tend to push the board up away from the blade, making the depth inconsistent.

To keep this from happening, you’ll want to use a feather board to hold the plywood down firmly against the table saw through the entire cut:

using a feather board for cutting the cabinet plywood

Assembling With Pocket Screws

Once the rabbets are cut, you can drill your pocket holes along the bottom and back edges of the sides, and along the bottom of the back.

When attaching the pieces, use clamps to keep the boards in line while inserting the pocket screws. Without clamps, the boards will shift when you tighten the screws.

attaching the base cabinet pieces with pocket screws
applying clamps to attach base cabinets
lining up clamps properly for attaching base cabinets

Apply good clamping pressure right in line where the pocket hole is for each screw.

Once the sides and back are secured to the base (and to each other), attach 2 cleats in the rabbets at the top of the sides. Use pocket screws and glue.

securing cleat 1 to the base cabinet carcass
securing cleat 2 to the base cabinet carcass

Since you’re drilling into the 1/2″ thick part of the plywood (in the rabbet), you’ll want to use 1″ pocket screws when attaching the cleats.

The cleats go at the front and the back of the top of the cabinet carcass. The length of the cleats will hold the sides square and straight, while giving you a way to attach the top to the cabinet later on.

Furring Strips

Glue the furring strips to the outside of the narrow cabinet side piece. Then glue the outer side piece to the furring strips.

Gluing the furring strips to the narrow base cabinet side
Gluing the outer side of the narrow base cabinet to the furring strips

This gives the outside walls of the narrow cabinets more thickness to support the wider stiles of the face frame.

Complete the narrow cabinets with pocket screws just like you did with the wide cabinet.

Securing sides to the base of the narrow cabinet
Securing the back to the base of the narrow base cabinet
Securing the cleats to the narrow base cabinet
Three base cabinet carcasses complete

Next we’ll be adding holes for the shelf pins and attaching the 3 cabinets together in preparation for the face frame (coming soon).


  1. How to Build Base Cabinets For A Kitchen Island (you are here)
  2. How to Build Shelves For A Kitchen Island
  3. How to Build Dovetail Drawers
  4. Kitchen Island Trim For A Rustic Island
  5. How to Build Cabinet Doors

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About The Author
Adam has been woodworking for the last 10 years. He considers himself a 'Small Shop Woodworker' and practices his hobby in his garage. With the lack of time, space, and proper tools, he always finds ways to get great results without over-complicating or over-thinking the process. Various shop jigs, table saw sleds, and tricks of the trade have served him well. God has blessed him with a beautiful family, as well as a passion for teaching others about woodworking. You can read more about Adam here.