Remember a couple of posts ago when I explained the stupid horrible plumbing chase that had to be built in the back corner of the pantry? To refresh your memory, it holds the supply and return lines for a radiator above the dining room, and had to be built after we removed the old exposed pipes on the dining room side of the wall, only to realize that burying the pipes neatly inside the wall wasn’t technically an option in this case, as we had planned.
Stupid. So, so stupid. I have a couple of regrets about things I’ve done throughout this renovation, and this is a big one, not because I care so much about the pantry but because I envision this as part of the kitchen someday and I’m going to have to find a way to work around it then, too. In any case, instead of the nice simple awkwardly long rectangle I thought the pantry would be, it became an awkwardly long rectangle with an awkward plumbing chase and I became even less inspired to work on it. I do give my main man Edwin props for drywalling it so nicely and finishing all those outside corners so well, but that did not make me like it.
ANYWAY, it took me a long time to figure out quite how to effectively use the space in the pantry. I was inclined to just do open shelving all around and try to ignore the awkwardness of the chase completely, but that seemed sad and lame. I didn’t care all that much about the pantry being particularly nice, but after putting off working on it for so long and knowing how excited Max was about it, I decided to try to up my game and figure out a way to camouflage the stupid chase and eliminate its awkwardness from my life. The little skinny top section doesn’t really bother me, but that big stupid part at the bottom is what I wanted to never see. It sticks out over 2 feet into the room and just fills me with rage when I look at it.
Have I mentioned how I feel about the plumbing chase? No bueno.
So I had this concept. WHAT IF: I just custom-built a little cabinet to fit between the wall on the left and the side of the chase on the right? What if I took it a step further and additionally built a drawer to go inside of the cabinet. And then what if I made the face of the drawer extra-wide so that it would cover the front of the chase, giving the illusion of a cabinet that spans the full width of the space? And then what if I achieved total world domination because my cabinet would be so boss that all who entered my pantry would pledge their allegiance to me as their sovereign overlord?
I found the cabinet idea appealing also because as much as I like open storage for lots of things, I don’t want it for all things. Since the rest of the plan for the space was open shelves, being able to stash ugly stuff away in an enormous, deep drawer sounded fancy and fun.
Problem was, I’ve never built a cabinet and didn’t really have much of an idea how, but I figured I could probably figure it out. I had the tools and I had the idea and I had a lot of the wood already from my scrap pile so it seemed like an interesting and possibly fun challenge that I would definitely not regret at all.
I don’t even recall making that SketchUp rendering, but I’m pretty sure it happened after I built the thing and knew I didn’t take enough pictures of the process to really explain the construction and stuff because I was figuring a lot out on the fly. My big disclaimer here is that I know this isn’t the most amazing way to build a cabinet (nothing is joined in any kind of advanced technical way) but it worked and seems very sturdy, so I guess I did OK.
So. I pretty much designed the frame to be similar in construction to what I can remember of putting together IKEA base cabinets. They’re built kind of like this, I think. I used a scrap piece of 1/4″ ply for the backing instead of the thinner masonite-y stuff you get with an IKEA cabinet. I also added that middle piece on the top because my cabinet was a little deeper and I wanted more support to affix the top to at the end.
The drawer is an inch narrower than the frame to accommodate some stock drawer glides I found at Lowe’s. I think I bought the nicest option, which extends fully and I think held more weight than the other options. They take up a 1/2″ on each side.
If you only look at the pile of pre-cut lumber, it would appear that I am very super organized in my approach to things. In fact I did this because I didn’t realize I was out of wood glue on the night I started with these shenanigans, so I decided to spend my time pre-cutting all my lumber without the satisfaction of assembling anything. This turned out to be kind of nice in the end because assembly went really quickly and I felt like a real badass in my filthy basement.
I cut all of this on my table saw, by the way, which is possibly my favorite tool investment ever. The table saw is really the star of this whole pantry showdown because I used it so much to cut down pieces of scrap wood into smaller dimensions. This would all be possible with a circular saw and a cutting guide, too, but it would take a lot longer and it would probably be harder to get things as precise as you want them with something like this.
Anyway, onto assembly! The quick and easy way of assembling cabinets, I gleaned from flipping through a cabinet-making book in the checkout line at the hardware store, is a combination of wood glue, finish nails, and drywall screws. After applying a line of wood glue, position the other piece of wood, and use a liberal amount of 2″ finish nails to attach them together. Having an automatic nail gun is important for this part—I think it would be almost impossible to do with a hammer and nails just because things would get too out of whack.
Nail guns, by the way? WORTH IT EVERY TIME. It took me way too long to spring for a finish nailer, and I use it constantly. Aside from making you feel like way cool, it’s just so handy for all sorts of things, from trim-work to simple building projects. I have this Porter Cable air compressor and the older version of this finish nailer, both highly recommended. If you’re doing a big-ish renovation project, I’d recommend going straight for the pneumatic options and ignoring the corded or cordless electronic stuff. I made that mistake and in my experience they don’t work nearly as well and are more prone to breaking/jamming, and the price difference really isn’t that big.
After everything was all nailed up, I drove a drywall screw in about every 6 inches at all the joints. I think I used 1.25″ coarse-threaded screws. Even though they’re called drywall screws, they work well at joining wood together and I prefer using them over wood screws. They’re cheaper, and I find that I tend to end up stripping wood screws but not drywall screws. The metal is harder? I don’t know. I’m not a scientist. I don’t have all the answers.
Anyway, fast-forward a bit and the cabinet and drawer is installed! Like magic. This space is only 32″ wide and the floor slants a little over an inch. It’s weird. There aren’t any real signs of settling and if you look at the joists in the basement, I think it’s actually been like this since it was built. I think the whole kitchen was an early addition and they just made an error in keeping the floor level with the original section of the house when they were building it, which is kind of cute. This was the mid-1800s or so, so I’m going to go ahead and say they had several valid excuses like having lots of dysentery but not lots of advanced modern tools.
Because of this, I opted to mount the cabinet by screwing the sides into the walls, rather than try to rely on the floor and bunch of shims and stuff. I used 3″ screws and went into studs on both sides, and the whole thing is super solid. Then I installed my tracks on the drawer and on the insides of the frame, slid the drawer into place, and that was about it. The glides came with some simple instructions that were helpful—it was all pretty straightforward.
Next, the drawer face! I cut a piece of plywood to the width of the room, leaving about a 1/4″-1/2″ on each side so that the drawer could fully extend without scraping the wavy, imperfect walls on the sides. Because I was working alone, I recall face-nailing it into place in a couple of places (watching my level throughout), then driving several screws through the back of the drawer into the new face to really affix it properly.
The only big thing left to do was trim it out! I opted for 1×3 for the border (scrap pieces ripped down on the ol’ table saw), and simple base cap molding to finish off the inset panel.
This is NOT how you construct standard door/drawer fronts, by the way. Doing it correctly involves more advanced (but, apparently, achievable by DIY-ers) joinery techniques and all manner of wizardry that someday I will definitely teach myself but that day was not this day. I did the same thing for that rolling cart in our laundry room so I figured that if it was good enough for there, it was good enough for here.
Yep, I’m well aware that this looks kind of shitty, but after caulking, patching, sanding, and painting, it really turned out swell. I cannot stress the importance in my life of caulk and Ready Patch enough. I first gave the whole thing a pass with my mouse sander, just to bump down transitions and rough up the previously-painted surfaces. Then, I gave the whole thing a first coat of paint. You could use primer, too, but the idea is to seal the wood and then apply caulk/patching. I’ve done this wrong in the past, but the idea is that you want to seal in the wood before you apply caulk. If you don’t, over time the wood will continue to draw moisture from the caulk and dry it out prematurely, meaning it will have to be scraped out and replaced sooner.
I really like Ready Patch for small wood patching, by the way. It dries harder than other spackles or joint compound, and sands a lot smoother than any wood filler I’ve ever used. It’s still a gypsum-based product, so I wouldn’t use it for large applications or high-traffic areas, but to patch over seams or old nail or screw holes or whatever, it’s perfect.
As on the transom window, I used the same semi-gloss Bedford Grey color for the cabinet face and the inside of the drawer. This is a terrible representation of the color, but this is what you get with iPhone photos taken at night. I think this photo was taken after the first coat of paint but before the patching/caulking, so it all looks a bit more seamless in the finished product. This is also a preview of the top and the shelving that came next, which is pieces of our old countertops! I just ripped the 2×12 boards to the dimensions I needed, sanded, and stained them a bit darker. Then I face-nailed the pieces into place with 2″ finishing nails.
The last piece of the puzzle was installing the baseboard and toe-kick below the cabinet. The baseboard on the right is just standard 1×2 lumber, and the toe-kick had to be cut with my circular saw in order to account for the significant slope in the floor. Later on I finished off the baseboard on the lefthand wall with 1×3, but it isn’t in place yet because I had to do some more repair to the wall before I could install it. In a perfect world I would have taller baseboards in here (anything under a 1×6 tends to look too dinky in an old house), but then the baseboards would block the drawer from moving out, and I wasn’t willing to rebuild the entire cabinet just for the sake of taller baseboards in this glorified closet.
I don’t want to spoil the fun of the the big reveal by showing the totally finished result, so that’s about it! I’m totally happy with how the drawer turned out, and it packs a real punch storage-wise! Even though it’s not nearly as tall as a traditional base cabinet (it’s only about 18″ high), the drawer is deep enough to hold tons of cleaning supplies (Swiffer pads, gallon jugs of white vinegar, etc. etc.) that we needed a place for, but didn’t necessarily want out in the open. And because it sticks out about 27″ into the room, it helps eliminate some of the awkwardness of the overall length of the space, too. So that’s cool.