How To Build Frameless Wall Cabinets

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European style frameless upper cabinets are easy to build with the right tools, are affordable and are used for a variety of projects from kitchens, to bathrooms, offices and more. When I first tried to find information on how to build my own cabinets I found it a bit confusing. In case it helps others I'm going to go over what I've learned over the years. In this post you'll find information on frameless upper cabinet construction and instructions on how to build them.

These basic wall cabinets have a very clean, contemporary look but frameless cabinets are versatile. By using nicer doors, adding some crown molding and light rail trim you can achieve a more traditional look.

You can save a lot of money if you build your own frameless cabinets. While building frameless cabinets isn't very difficult it is important that the cuts are accurate and the pieces as well as the assembly is square. Before you go crazy in your kitchen with a sledgehammer and order a large pile of plywood Try to build one small cabinet to make sure you're happy with your results.

What You'll Need



You'll need 2 sides, one top, one bottom, one back, one or more shelves and one or more doors. 

Unlike my other posts, there is no cut list or cut plan because these are general instructions and the size of the cabinet will vary based on your needs. Instead I'll provide information on how to calculate the dimensions of the components you'll need to build your own cabinets to your specifications.

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The type of material you choose will depend on where you will be installing the cabinets. In your kitchen you'll want to use nicer material than in your garage.

Material for Cabinet Carcasses

The cabinet box is also called the carcass. The thicker the material you use, the stronger the cabinet will be and the longer you can make your cabinets. 3/4" material is recommended but in some situations 5/8" or 1/2" can also work. Some woodworkers use different thicknesses for different parts of the carcass such as 1/4" backs inserted into a groove with 1/2" nailing strips, or 1/2" for the back and sides and 3/4" for the top and bottom. This is mainly done to save money. If you're only building a few cabinets for yourself you can simplify the process and wind up with stronger cabinets if you just use the same thickness material (3/4") for all the components.

Plywood is better than MDF is better than particle board. If you're using plywood it's important to note that plywood comes in different grades. One grade for the good side and one grade for the back side. A1 is the best appearance grade of plywood you can get. If you want to save some money you can choose to build the carcasses out of a lower appearance grade plywood such as B2 and use the A1 plywood for exposed ends and doors. Some even like to use melamine coated particle board for the carcasses with better plywood for doors and end panels. If you plan on painting your cabinets the grade of the plywood isn't as important. 

For shop cabinets in the basement or garage you might be able to find "shop grade" plywood at your local lumber mill. This plywood would have more defects in the veneer but still have a strong core. Many people even build shop cabinets out of CDX plywood. It's not very pretty but the X in the name indicates the glues used can handle a bit of exposure to weather which could be good in a garage.

If you're going through the trouble of building your own cabinets you're already saving a considerable amount of money and it makes sense to go with plywood in most instances. For the purpose of these instructions I'm going to assume the cabinet will be built with 3/4" plywood.

Material for Cabinet Doors

You can make plain slab doors out of the same material you use for your cabinet carcasses. In our case plywood. This will be the cheapest option and the one I'll be using in this guide because there are too many options and methods to construct cabinet doors to discuss here.

If you're not happy with a plain slab cabinet door a number of companies will make custom doors for you in a variety of styles at reasonable costs.

Step 1: Calculate Cabinet Component Dimensions

Before we begin cutting and assembling our cabinet we first need to determine what size cabinet we need. If you've ever gone to a kitchen showroom you've probably noticed that the semi-custom cabinets they offer come in some standard sizes. Since we're building our cabinets we can choose any custom dimensions we want to suit our needs. There are some limitations however. The material and thickness chosen will decide how wide a cabinet we can build. In most cases with 3/4" plywood about 42" should be the maximum width but narrower cabinets will have more stability.

Standard upper cabinet depth is 12" (including door) when over a counter. Deeper when over a refrigerator and has more support. The 12" upper cabinet depth leaves a 10-1/2" interior depth. Dinner plates are usually 10" in diameter but can up to 12". If you have larger plates, or want to leave room for larger plates in the future, make your cabinets deeper. In our tutorial we'll build a frameless upper cabinet that is 18" W x 30" H x 12-1/2" D. This will leave an 11" interior cabinet depth.

Our cabinet will be made up of 6 pieces of plywood. 2 Sides, a top and bottom, a back and a door. All will be cut from 3/4" plywood. To determine the size of each component we'll use the following formulas.

(For consistency the "height" is also the direction of the grain.)

Cabinet Side Dimensions

There are 2 sides and in most case the dimension runs vertically. The height of the side is the same as our desired cabinet height. Because we're using overlay* doors the width of the side is our desired cabinet depth minus the thickness of the door.  In our case we have:

Side height = 30" (height of cabinet)
Side width = 12-1/2" - 3/4" (depth of cabinet - width of door) = 11-3/4"

We'll need 2 11-3/4" x 30" pieces of 3/4" plywood.

(Overlay doors sit in front of the cabinet. Inset doors sit within the cabinet. For inset doors the width of the sides will be the same as the width of the cabinet.

Cabinet Top/Bottom Dimensions

The top and bottom pieces have the same dimensions. The width of the top/bottom is equal to the depth of the cabinet minus the thickness of the door. The height of the top/bottom is the width of the cabinet minus the thickness of each side.

Top/Bottom height = 18" (cab width) - 2 x 3/4" (side thickness) = 16-1/2"
Top/Bottom width = 12-1/2" (cab depth) - 3/4" (door thickness) = 11-3/4"

We'll need 2 16-1/2" x 11-3/4" pieces of 3/4" plywood.

Cabinet Back Dimensions

The back of our frameless cabinet fits in between both sides and the top and the bottom. To determine the width of the back we need to subtract the thickness of each side piece. To calculate the height we subtract the thickness of the top and bottom pieces.

Back height = 30" (cab height) - 3/4" (top thickness) - 3/4" (bottom thickness) = 28-1/2"
Back width = 18" (cab width) - 2 x 3/4" (side thickness) = 16-1/2"

We'll need 1 28-1/2" x 16-1/2" piece of 3/4" plywood.

Adjustable Shelves Dimensions

Depending on the height and purpose of the wall cabinet you may want to have one or more adjustable shelves. These are peices of 3/4" plywood that rest on shelf pins which are inserted in a series of shelf pin holes inside the cabinet.

The shelf is the width of the inside of the cabinet and extends from the back of the inside to 1/4 inch from the front.

Shelf height = 18" (cab width) - 2 x 3/4" (side thickness) = 16-1/2"
Shelf width = 12-1/2" (cab depth) - 3/4" (door) - 3/4" (back) - 1/4" (space) = 10-3/4"

Cabinet Door Dimensions

Our cabinet only has one door and we are designing the cabinets to be full-overlay. This means that the door sits in front of the cabinet and covers almost all of the cabinet. In reality the door needs a little bit of space around it to prevent it from rubbing against adjacent doors or walls. 

The minimum space with most hinges is 1/16" so we need to subtract 1/8" (2 x 1/8") from each dimension. That will also give us a nice 1/8" spacing between doors from other cabinets too. 

Door height = 30" (cab height) - 1/8" = 29-7/8"
Door width = 18" (cab width) - 1/8" = 17-7/8"

If we were building a wider cabinet that required 2 doors we would still subtract 1/8" for the height but the width of each door would be (CabHeight - 1/4")/2. There would be a 1/8" space between the two doors and 1/16" space around the perimeter.

Now that we know what size pieces of plywood we need we can begin assembly.

Step 2: Assemble Sides, Top and Bottom

Should you use glue? Pocket hole joinery is pretty strong but glueing the joints in addition to screwing will give you a stronger more rigid cabinet. If you do decide to use glue, first assemble the cabinet without glue to make sure everything fits and lines up well. Then disassemble and reassemble with glue.

Edgebanding: Apply edgebanding to the edge of each of the 4 pieces that will be on the front of the cabinet.

Start by drilling pocket holes in the Top and Bottom pieces as shown and attach the Top to one of the side pieces.

Now attach the bottom to the side. Make sure the pocket holes are on the outside of the cabinet.

Attach the last remaining side, making sure everything is aligned properly and square.

Step 3: Cabinet Back

Double check to make sure the back of the cabinet is square and make sure it fits inside the back of the cabinet. If not, make adjustments to the back.

If everything fits together properly, is the right size and is square, disassemble the cabinet and repeat Step 2 above, this time with glue before inserting the back.

Drill pocket hole screws around the perimeter of the back and attach it to the rest of the cabinet as shown using glue.

Because we're using pocket screws we've built this entire cabinet without a single clamp. Normally a lot of long, expensive bar clamps are used when building cabinets or other furniture to keep the cabinet in place while the glue dries. One of the benefits of using pocket hole joinery is the screws act like clamps to hold everything together while the glue dries.

Step 4: Drill Shelf Pin Holes

Remove the fences from your Kreg Shelf Pin Jig and place it at the bottom of the cabinet as shown. The short side should be flush with the front of the cabinet. This will position the holes 37mm away from the front.

Use the second and third holes from the bottom to drill pilot holes for the hinge mounting plate.

Slide the shelf pin jig up to the top of the cabinet, keeping it flush with the front of the cabinet and drill holes for the top hinge mounting plate in the 2nd and 3rd holes from the top as shown. 

Now place the indexing pin in the bottom hole of the jig, slide the jig down to insert the indexing pin in the 1st Shelf Pin Hole drilled previously and continue your way up the side of the cabinet drilling shelf pin holes. Stop before you get to the pilot holes for the top hinge mounting plate.

Flip the shelf pin jig around and place it in the back corner of the cabinet so the short end of the jig is closest to the back as shown. Drill the 1st shelf pin hole in the last hole from the bottom. (We don't need pilot holes for the hinge in the back.)Then continue drilling the remaining shelf pin holes along the back using the indexing pin.

Repeat this step on the other side of the cabinet.

Step 5: Mark Hinge Bore Locations

On the back, hinge side of the door, mark 2 lines 3-3/16" from the top and bottom of the door. This is the center-line for the hinge bore.

Follow the instructions that came with your hinge boring jig (such as the Rockler Jig It Concealed Hinge Jig) to drill the 35mm bores for the cup end of the hinge. 

Finally attach and adjust your hinges so the door has an even overlay all the way around the cabinet.

Insert some shelf pins, and your shelf and the cabinet is done. Paint and prime, or stain and finish.


  1. Thank you. Very helpful.

  2. Hi, if your plan is to paint the carcass, would the paint itself give the plywood edge a solid wood-like appearance? Thanks.

  3. to anonymous April 21, if there are any voids in the plywood fill with wood filler and then sand the exposed edge smooth. If using an oil base paint, use oil base primer; likewise with a water based coatings. You are painting the cases so you are really defeating the "wood-like" appearance:)

    1. Thanks. I want a smooth appearance and don't want to see the plywood edge thru the paint. I basically want it to look like I painted solid wood.

  4. What type of hinges do you recommend? Thanks

  5. For posting on April 24th, for this type of cabinet (frameless) you will want to use a euro hinge. You will want to pick up an 1-3\8 or 35mm forstner bit to drill the holes. i have a drill press i use to cut the holes, but there is a jig so you can use a drill (purchased through either Rockler or Woodcraft).

  6. easy (er) when someone points out how to do it.
    Looks good Tom.

  7. Thank you for these instructions. The are very clear and helpful.

    How do you recommend mounting these to a wall? Thanks.

  8. Tom, I have found most pins that you insert to hold up the shelf will bend and give out with too much weight. How do you get a sturdy shelf with really sturdy pins, are there such things?

  9. Tom, Very good articles, both this one and the article on base cabinets; thanks for writing. Regarding a previous question, how DO you recommend mounting these to the wall? Simply through the back of the interior of the cabinet? Or do you perhaps leave 1" or so at the top and bottom of the cabinet to allow mounting positions outside of the cabinet internals (seems cleaner). Appreciate any gouge. Thanks, Chris

    1. Chris,

      I usually build my wall cabinets with 3/4" full backs that way you can drive a screw anywhere you want in the back. Wide head screws like these Fastcap screws work well.

      The leave a bit hidden at the top and the bottom doesn't really work well with frameless cabinets. To make it look clean you basically have to build at least a partial face frame.

      If you don't want to screw inside your cabinet for aesthetic reasons you can also make french cleats or buy these Z-Clips

      Will post provide more info on that in a future post.

      Hope that helps,

    2. Good thoughts. Thanks Tom.

    3. I appreciate the info about the screws to mount it, but what about the screws used to hooks the frame boxes together?

  10. Excuse me how do you conceal bottom pocket hole screws?

    1. You use the wooden plugs Kreg makes to fill in the pocket holes. Mounted at a standard height 18" above the counter you won't really be seeing under the wall cabinets though unless your 4' tall or less. Adding some trim around the bottom edge, like a light rail can also further conceal the pocket screw holes.

  11. Tom, Tx for the great cabinet descriptions. What would you recommend in case the cabinet needs scribing to the wall? Seems like maybe the back should be recessed a bit?
    Thanks, Al.

  12. Tom, I want to do an upper corner cabinet with a one cabinet "return". Basically an 'L' shape. I've thought about making a carcass with a 45 degree opening (the opening is perpendicular to the actual corner). I was wondering about clearances for the doors to open and if they make the hinges that open wide enough to let the door open far enough. I also thought about making a blind corner where the one cabinet has one door, but you have to reach deep into it to access any items. Which would you do?

  13. Would the addition of biscuits with the Kreg screws make these cabinets stronger? Or would this be overkill?

    1. Because I wanted to use pre-finished wood, I was wondering about the use of biscuits too because the glue won't stick to the finish. But the more I've researched it, it seems that the general consensus is that while biscuits are good for alignment, they wouldn't really add much if any "strength".

  14. Thanks for the clear description. I'm thinking about making frameless cherry cabinets. Although I am not an experienced cabinet maker it seems to me that the 3/4" back could be replaced by a 1/2" back. It would cost and weigh less. Since the rest of the box is held together with the Kreg pocket screws (which are great) and glue it would seem that the cabinet already has structural integrity. Is there a specific reason I am missing why the backing is also 3/4"?

    1. one reason is its easier to keep the same piece of plywood around than two. Also, if you have never made cabinets before measuring everything from one thickness of plywood makes measurements MUCH easier. You tend to end up with less wast too. The price difference is frequently very small as well.

  15. In Step 1 - Cabinet Door Dimensions, second paragraph: Shouldn't " ... subtract 1/8" (2 x 1/8") ..." actually read "... (2 x 1/16") ..."?

    Otherwise, good job.

  16. Thank you very much for info. I'm very much a beginner and this was great! But I have a very basic question I hope you won't laugh to hard, How do I hang these things on the wall?

  17. Thank you for this. Great guide and my first cabinet was a success. Went for a completely exposed look, painted white. I found the Shelf Pin Drilling Jig so easy to use, but the holes weren't the cleanest. Lots small splinters around the circumference. Maybe I was drilling too fast?

  18. Good one. Thanks for share your knowledge

  19. Eric Brookfield
    JULY 5, 2017 AT 5:40 PM
    Yes, slow and easy with a soft push in and out.

  20. Amazing post, thanks for sharing!