DIY How to make a kitchen island using pre-fabricated cabinets.

Today we are going to show you how to cut costs by building and customizing an island using unfinished, pre-fabricated (stock) cabinets from your local home improvement center.

Click here for Materials and Tools List

We are going to divide this project into three segments, each with a video and written instructions.

Segment 1 : Building the island. Video DIY Kitchen Island, (above).

Segment 2 : Painting technique; watch for updated post and video tutorial.

Segment 3: Preparing and caring for the butcher block

Segment 1: Building the island

The level of experience needed to build this island is intermediate to advanced. It will involve from 3 to 5 weekends from beginning to completion, depending on the expertise of person building the island.

Step 1: Measure

Measure to ensure you have enough space to build your island. A minimum of 36 inches of clearance is required on each side of your island to move and sit comfortably. In this case we chose 42 inch clearance between outermost appliance.

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Important: If you are creating a dining extension/space, include your chairs, pulled out to accommodate a seated diner in your clearance measurement.


Step 2: Design

Design your island based on available space and individual needs. Ask yourself a few questions. Do I want the island to be a working space? Do I want more storage, drawers or cabinets? Do I want an eating area?

Layout and placement of cabinets

Once you have decided how you will use your island and what features you will add, you can layout your floor plan to make the most of your space. Place drawers and cabinets facing the stove as a work station with space for hand held appliances or a hidden trash bin, for instance.

Using stock cabinets

To cut costs we are using pre-fabricated cabinets which come in standard sizes. We wanted additional storage, working space, an eating area, and a place to hide the trash and recycling bins. We purchased one 18″ and one 36″ cabinet. If you are installing a feature such as sliding trash bin hardware or glides, take into consideration the size of cabinet you will need to accommodate the dimensions of the bin or hardware. Remember these are individual cabinets. You can add or subtract cabinets according to your needs.

Cost friendly unfinished 18” and a 36” cabinets
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We purchased a 36” cabinet to accommodate the trash hardware insert dimensions.

Step 3: Select cabinets based on desired finish

Decide if you want the cabinets stained or painted. We wanted the island to be a strong focal point so we choose paint as the finish.

Pre-fabricated cabinets come either finished (stained) or unfinished. If you prefer stained cabinets and discover the stain color option on pre-fabricated cabinets do not match your current cabinets, you can buy unfinished cabinets and purchase a matching stain. If you prefer to paint your island, creating a focal point for your kitchen, remember, some woods are better than others for paint or stain. The best woods for painting are pine, poplar and birch. Your local retailer can help you with the selection based on whether you wish to paint or stain.

Step 4: Make a color sample

Whether you decide to paint or stain the cabinets of your island, choose the color and make a sample on scrap wood. This is helpful for practicing a technique that is new to you and also gives you a color sample for matching accessories, etc. You have the option of painting or staining the cabinets and trim materials before or after construction of the island. The advantage of painting the cabinets before construction is that you don’t have to apply protective coverings on the floor or other cabinets before getting to work. I chose to paint the cabinets before construction to save time at the job site. I am applying a distressed paint technique in an energetic, fun red. Watch for the upcoming tutorial on this technique.

Step 5: Mark island layout

Measure and mark the floor with painter’s tape for placement at desired clearance.

Step 6: Set cabinets in place

Set cabinets on your marked layout. The weight of the cabinets and your chosen island top is sufficient to keep the island in place without additional screws or glue.

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Step 7: Connect cabinets together

In order to secure the cabinets and prevent shifting, fill gaps. On the back insert pieces of wood (filler) between the gap of the two cabinets you are joining. You can use a longer piece of wood as filler from top to bottom of cabinets. We reused the left over materials for fillers to save money and reduce waste. If you decide to reuse left overs, you can place two pieces of filler instead of one long piece.

Secure cabinets with clamps, pre-drill holes and screw in place. Repeat this process in front top and bottom, also on back top and bottom.

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Cabinets clamped at the bottom front and back top

Step 8: Prepare cabinets for beadboard

The pre-fabricated cabinets need to be finished on each side and the back. Our finish will be beadboard. We added 1/2″ thick wood filler around the perimeter on the back of the cabinets to create a “FLUSH” surface that bead board could be nailed to. Depending where you get your cabinets, you may not need to add filler to make a flush surface. You may have to improvise in some situations.

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Step 9: Find center of cabinets

One of the cabinets is 18″ and the other cabinet is 36″. We needed to find the middle on the back of cabinets to nail a 1/2″ trim/support board in the center. Nail the bead board on both sides of the back of cabinets to finish.

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Step 10: Measure and cut beadboard

Most cabinets come in standard sizes, but measure width and length of cabinets before cutting the beadboard to ensure the measurements will work for you.

The beadboard sheet is 48″ by 96″. We cut the board on the long side first, in half. That cut creates two 23 7/8″ inch boards. Next, cut individuals panels at 30 1/2″. You will need a total of 4 pieces of 30 1/2″ by 23 7/8″ if using the cabinet sizes suggested in this tutorial. Adjust to meet your needs.

Using miter saw, we cut a full sheet beadboard in half, lengthwise
Cut individual panels

Step 11: Install beadboard

Nail the beadboard to one side of cabinet, on the back cabinets and then the other side. When nailing the beadboard, make sure it is level.

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Step 12: Cut and nail 1″ x 4″ trim

Measure and cut the 1″ x 4″ (we cut the upper and bottom corner at a 45 degree angle to eliminate the sharp edge) to fit. Using a nail gun, nail the top trim and the bottom. We also cut the bottom trim 3/4″ longer so that the trim on the back cabinet would meet with the side. Measure and cut the upright trim pieces for sides to fit. Nail in place. We used longer nails for the trim to penetrate beadboard and secure to cabinet.

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Measure and cut to fit 1″ x 4″ trim for the top and bottom edges of island back. Leave the upright trim pieces (sides) for later.

Step 13: Build table frame

Cut the 1″ x 4″ boards to 1″ x 2″ to create the table frame. You will need two long pieces of 54″ and two short pieces of 22 7/8 “. Make a 45 degree cut at the end of each board. Glue the mitered corners and nail them together.

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Step 14: Prepare table legs

Measure and cut table legs at 30” (or to desired height). Make sure they are level.

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Cut a notch (on two sides only) at the top end of both legs, so that the table frame can rest on it.

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Step 15: Attach table legs to table frame

Pre-drill screw holes on inside legs. Apply construction glue to legs and table frame, drive screws to secure legs.

The table leg must be flush with the table frame. If this is not the case, you can insert wood shims to fill gaps before securing with screws.

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Step 16: Attach table frame to island cabinets

Apply all purpose construction glue to the back of table frame and attach to island. Make sure the table is level before driving screws to secure table frame.

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Cut to fit and attach 1″ x 4″ trim uprights at the end of table between bottom and table frame. This will also create additional support for the back of the table. Using the same process, add another trim upright in the middle of the island to support the table frame.

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Additional support is created by installing trim uprights below table frame at each end and in the center of the island.

Step 17: Cut butcher block

Butcher block countertops are in stock in most home improvement stores (varies from store to store). We bought a block that was longer length than necessary to allow an overhang on the sides of both the island and table frame. We purchased two butcher blocks of 108″ x 25″. The combined length of the cabinets was 54″. We cut the counter top at 62″to have an overhang of 8″ (4″ on each side). We cut the second butcher block for the table at 58″ to allow a small overhang on each side.

Measure, mark, and cut butcher’s block to your needs.

Step 18: Prepare butcher block

This step is part of segment 3 of the series on DIY kitchen island. Click link for tutorial video.

Step 19: Attach butcher block

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Place the butchers block on top of island. Find the middle of island and table frame and mark it.

Set butchers block on top of island and mark the center of butcher block and the center of island cabinets. You will use these marks later to align the center of the block to the island center before attaching permanently. Remove butcher block and apply adhesive to the frame. Place block on island and align with marks made earlier. Make sure the butcher block is level on the island. Adjust if necessary. Drill holes from the bottom of the frame up to secure the table frame to the block with screws. Length of screws should be shorter than the total thickness of frame and butchers block combined.

Repeat the same process for the table.

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Step 20: Touch up paint

This step is part of Segment 2 of our series Painting technique. This technique can be also applied to any type of furniture. Watch for upcoming video tutorial and additional post.

Step 21: Caulk gaps

Apply black caulking (or the color of your choice) to the gap(s) between the butcher block counter top and the 1″ x 4″ trim on back of island. Remove excess caulking with a damp rag placed on your finger and drag along wet caulking from left to right without stopping. This gives a smooth, even finish. Also apply caulking between the 1″ x 4″ trim boards that connect to the butcher block table top and any other area that has a gap. This step gives you a professional finish and prevents spills and dirt from settling in the crevices.

TIP it is good idea to keep a damp rag to clean your fingers when applying caulking.

Each of these small, but important details will give your kitchen island DIY project a professional looking result.

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This insert for the trash bins needed a 36″ cabinet.
The energetic red of the island makes a bold statement!
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This project is a custom made piece of furniture that not only enhances the look of your kitchen, it increases the value of your home!

I hope you enjoyed this project.

For more DIY projects please follow us on the blog and on YouTube.

Until next time, adios!


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