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How to Make DIY Closet Built-Ins

This Old House General Contractor Tom Silva helps a homeowner turn a new closet into an organized storage station, complete with drawers, cubbies, and a coat rack.

General contractor Tom Silva takes us along as he helps a homeowner solve an all-too-common issue: coat and shoe storage.

Rather than letting these items collect in the entryway, Tom and the homeowner build a set of built-in closet storage shelves, complete with shoe drawers, cubby holes, and a coat rack. Made from plywood, Tom uses box joints and dados to create strong cabinets and shows the homeowner how to scribe the shelf for a perfect fit.

How To Make DIY Closet Built-Ins

  1. Measure the interior dimensions of the closet. You’ll need these dimensions to build the base cabinet. The cabinet needs to be off-center to ensure the drawers clear the door, so be sure to account for that when designing it.
  2. Using a table or track saw, cut the drawers to width (approximately 6 inches). Cut enough plywood to create a front, back, and two sides for each drawer you plan to build. Cut these pieces to length on the miter saw.
  3. If desired, use the table saw fitted with a dado blade and jig to cut box joints in the end of each board.
  4. Install the dado stack in the table saw to equal the thickness of the plywood. Set the saw fence to approximately ½-inch from the blade, and adjust the blade’s height to approximately ⅜-inch. Pass each drawer piece over the dado blade to create a groove for the drawer bottom.
  5. Tape the two drawer fronts together, one on top of the other, and use the jigsaw to cut a groove in both simultaneously. Use the sander to clean up any rough edges.
    Note: You can make a template and use a router fitted with a templating bit to create perfectly consistent results, as well.
  6. Sand each drawer component and assemble the drawers using wood glue and brad nails.
  7. Using the track saw, or table saw, cut the top, sides, back, and bottom for the cabinet to hold the drawers.
  8. On a flat work surface, place the cabinet sides. Draw two parallel lines across both panels and center the drawer slides on these lines, so they’re perfectly in line. Using the drill, attach drawer sides to the interior of each side panel. Attach the corresponding slide pieces onto each drawer as well.
  9. Assemble the front, sides, back, and bottom panels to each other using wood screws and glue. Slide the drawers into the cabinet and check for smooth function.
  10. Install the cabinet inside the closet. Be sure to push it to the side of the closet away from the hinges to ensure the drawers will clear the door. Level the cabinet with wood shims and attach it to the studs with wood screws.
    Remove the paper and place it on a piece of plywood. Place the inside edge of the framing square on the lines and trace the outside of the framing square onto the plywood. Cut along these marks with the jigsaw to create a perfectly scribed benchtop for the cabinet.
  11. Cut a piece of heavy paper slightly smaller than the closet’s depth and width. With the paper in place, use a framing square held against the wall to trace a line on the paper using the inside edge of the framing square for reference.
  12. Using the same methods (track saw, table saw, miter saw, and dados), assemble a series of small cubbies. Squeeze glue into the dados and place shelf boards inside. Nail through the outside of the cubby and into the shelf board.
  13. Install the cubby cabinet in place and secure it by screwing from the inside of the cabinet and into the studs.
  14. Cut three strips of plywood approximately 4 inches thick. Cut one of these strips to fit between the cubby cabinet and the far wall. Using a level, secure this board to the back wall of the closet with screws. Cut the other two boards to the difference between the front of the cubby and the back wall. Attach one of these boards to the wall and the other to the cubby, using a level to ensure they’re flat and aligned with the board on the back wall.
  15. Attach the coat rod brackets to the shorter board and cut the rod to fit between them. Cut a shelf board to sit on top of the boards.
  16. Give everything a thorough sanding before painting.