Cost of Making vs. Buying Cabinets

I've recently been discussing this topic with our of our Family members off the board, and the conversation was so interesting I wanted to bring it up here. I imagine this has been discussed before, but I'd like to hear the opinions of some of our woodworkers.

We need cabinets. Lots of cabinets in several rooms. I think it's cheaper to make them. Everyone else I talk to seems to think it's not cheaper or barely cheaper. Here's my thinking:

I looked around and the cheapest cabinets I could find, ready made and off the shelf, at a big box store, for a 24" wide, 30" tall, 24" deep cabinet with a door, with hinges and handle hardware would be about $150, and that's pressed board.

So I looked at what the materials would cost for me to make it with 3/4 ply + wood + hardware + glue/misc = and I come up with $50. And for the sake of discussion, even if I'm wrong (as my husband says) and I've underestimated by 50%, then that's still $75 or half of the cheapest stuff I could find off the shelf, which really isn't even comparable to what I'm talking about making. For this discussion, I'm considering maple wood and maple plywood. I'm not including costs of my time or the cost of machinery, and I'm not talking about drawers either, which I know cost more. I'm talking just plywood, wood, screws, glue, finish, and hardware.

I contacted a business in a nearby city that makes cabinet doors. For maple they gave me a ballpark figure of $50/sq.ft. So for a door to fit this size cabinet, that's $250 just for the door. Now to make upper, less deep cabinets, let's say $50 for 24" wide, 30" high. So for one linear foot of uppers and lowers, that's half of $75 + half of $50 = $62.50/linear foot of homemade upper and lowers. When I look in magazines or online, I find a rule of thumb that cabinets cost anywhere from $300 to $1000 and up per linear foot.

So am I the only person on the planet who believes firmly that cabinets are cheaper to make? By the way, I don't suggest for a second that it's an easy job--I know it would be an enormous amount of work to make a room full of cabinets. But I do think it's cheaper. A lot cheaper.
 

allen levine

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maple plywood costs more than 50 bucks a sheet, Im sure of that.
6 sq feet of maple for stile/rail paneled door, figure youll need closer to 9 or 10 sq feet when all is said and done.(add more if you are making face frame.
If maple is 3.50 a bf near you, that's another 35.00 in maple.
Good set of hinges, youd need 4, 20.00 minimum, and a handle another 5.00 if you aren't going for a 25 dollar handle.
If you want shelves, you should have enough from sheet of plywood.(and if you want 1/4 inch plywood for back another 10 bucks for a quarter sheet. don't forget glue stain/ and or finishing products)

For one cabinet, I believe if its basically just a storage cabinet, not part of an entire run of cabinets, Id purchase it somewhere.

the savings start once you start doing a run of cabinets, then you can count up how much youre saving.
 
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Victoria BC
If I were you I would make the boxes and buy the doors. I know several cabinet makers locally and most will buy the doors. The smaller shops can't compete with the big outfits, the cost of specialized machinery etc. I make my own doors but I'm not trying to make a living at building cabinets. Unless you want something way out there get a quote on having them made. Try this outfit, http://www.eroko.com/ . Set up an account and fill out the form to get a quote, then see if you feel if it's worth trying them yourself.
 

allen levine

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you mentioned 2 feetwide , and 30 inches tall, so figure 2x3 foot. Doors to cover that are approx. 6 sq feet, a little less, but figure if youre making hardwood doors, you will always need extra lumber. so 8 sq feet? 7 sq feet? 50 bucks for a sheet, add on cost for small sheet of 1/4 for back, hardware and finish. I don't know what kind of hardware you are going to purchase. but total cost for you Im betting is over a 100.00

that's a wide door for a cabinet.(personally Id make it 2 doors)

if the maple is two sided plywood, why use birch for the interior?

ofcourse, it all boils down to do you want to look at the cabinet all the time and say to yourself, yep, I made that......its a good feeling.

I often question things I make versus the cost for a decent product available commercially, but self made products are the reason I enjoy woodworking.

draw it all out, write down the costs, it will be easier with everything in front of you to figure out if you want to go ahead with the difference in costs, home made or store bought.
 
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Karl Brogger

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A 24" base cabinet, with one flat panel door, and one drawer with a slab front I would be charging about $380. That's 3/4" white two face birch for the box sides and deck, with a 1/4" Baltic Birch back. Dado'd together with a 2-1/4" stretcher on the front and back below the drawer, and a 3-1/4" nailer across the back. Drawers are solid birch for the box, and a 1/4" Baltic Birch bottom, dovetailed with Blum 563H soft close slides. The door gets Blum soft close, 120 degree hinges as well. Not including overhead, just the cost of material and hardware, (also excluding finishing), that accounts for about 40% of the cost of my cabinets.


Is it cheaper to make yourself? Sure. Have you got the toys and time to do it well is another question.

Not that long ago I was buying the birch plywood I use for boxes for $52 a sheet when I bought a unit. It's up to $75 a sheet now.

Not including hinges, when I make doors for other shops, I charge $45 a piece regardless of size. That's for a flat panel door. It comes out in the wash, some are big, some are small. Expensive or difficult to work species get a percentage tacked on above and beyond that.
When I do drawers for other shops, I have a base charge for the drawer box, then a modifier for the volume of it.


$50 a square foot for a cabinet door is pretty outrageous. say the average door is 15x30, that's 3.125 sq/ft, or a $156 door. That's stupid expensive, and I need to raise prices if that's the case.
 

Alan Bienlein

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No it's not always cheaper to build your own cabinets if there is a ready made version of exactly what you want commercially available.

The cost savings come into play when you want something specific that's not available any where. The last time I bought a ready made cabinet was when we first moved to Texas back in '98 before I had a shop and reacquired all the tools I had sold off because of the move. Since then I have built the bedroom set for my daughter, custom built in cabinets in the tv room, our master bath cabinets, our entertainment center that has since been re purposed, our kitchen cabinets and our bed room set. All of these items could not be found commercially available with the features we wanted to fit the specific space.
 

Jim DeLaney

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For your 30" high, 24" wide cabinet, You'll get two cabinets (sides and bottom decks) out of each sheet of plywood - with extremely careful cutting! ($25.00 per cab)

Add a sheet of ¼" ply for the back (four 24" backs and four drawer bottoms per sheet (again, with careful cutting) (About $12.00 per cab)

Solid stock for the door(s) and drawer fronts - assuming frame and panel doors, two doors per cabinet - about 6 ft², allowing for a bit of waste, another foot² for the drawer front.

Solid stock for the face frame 11 lineal feet, about 3" wide or about 4 ft²

Drawer sides and back - about six feet of ½" Baltic Birch. It comes in 5 ft square sheets, so you'll nee about 20% of a sheet per drawer - about $8.00 per drawer.

Knobs and drawer pulls - maybe $15.00 per cabinet.

Hinges - two per drawer - so about $15.00 per cabinet.

Finish? Probably somewhere around $30.00 per quart. A quart will likely do four cabinets, so $7.50 per cab.

Glue, screws, nails, etc. - about $5.00 per cab

That's somewhere over a hundred bucks per cabinet for materials.

Even gang cutting, dadoing, and rabbeting will be time consuming, and then there's assembly and finishing.

So, how much is your time really worth?
 

Carol Reed

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I'm with Brian here. Make the boxes. Good tracksaw, good set-up, no-math techniques and you are golden. Buy the fronts and doors. Lots of suppliers out there. That is my plan with the house - should I ever get permission to build it!

I think it is the best strategy for least cost, timely completion, and total customization.

There is another issue when it comes to cabinet construction and that is the amount of space it takes while under construction! When I did my Mom's kitchen, the garage was fun, the patio was fun, and the kitchen was a mess for the duration.

When my brother had to do his house, he assembled a box and hung it. All prefinished materials. Once they were all hung, careful measurements were taken (openings marked!) and an order went in to the door and drawer front company. At the same time, an order went in for prefinished dovetailed drawer boxes. Another for drawer slides, hinges and handles. It went together very well and he is happy. Should also point out my brother Ron is so tight with a nickel that I know what a screaming buffalo sounds like.

In retrospect for my house, I will mill hinge holes and install drawer slides before the boxes are assembled.

FWIW.
 
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allen levine

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Cynthia, I only added a few extra board feet because when I use a common wood species, something I know I will use up the road, I tend to purchase 10-15% more than I know I need, because if I make an error, or have a disagreement with any machine as in chew something, off cut, I would 100 % rather have the extra wood on hand, ready to re-mill and continue the project than have to shut down, make a trip to the lumber yard, spending another 20 dollars on tolls and gasoline, not to mention time.
If Im using something that costs me 10 dollars a sq foot, then Im cutting the purchase a lot closer, and hope I don't have to make that trip again.
 

Leo Voisine

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East Freeetown, Massachusetts
I'm not going to go through the numbers, as that is rehashing.

I doubt it would be cheaper, maybe, but only marginally.

That's not why we build our own cabinets though - we do it cause we wanna do it, sometimes.

However;
I am remodeling my house, including my kitchen.

I will be building my own cabinets and I expect to do it a LOT cheaper than buying.

I expect this because I want all real Cherry, soft close, custom built - and the entire kitchen.

My friend remodeled his kitchen some years ago and bought cheap maple - less cabinets - for $7000.

My budget is $5,000 not including counter tops.

I think one cabinet is one thing to talk about - but an entire build is a different animal.

If you compare a plywood cabinet to a MDF cabinet - that is not a fair comparison.

Also - the finish alone is not a fair comparison - a hand applied finish is going to be better.

If you want to compare the difference in cost - you need to same built process.

My guess - pocket screws, MDF, quickie spray finish - one coat, REALLY cheap hardware - CHEAPEST doors you can fine ------ yeah you can make it cheaper.
 

Roger Tulk

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I talked to a nice young lady at HD a cople of days ago, and asked her if it would be cheaper to make fence panels than to buy the ready made ones they sell. She said, "No, but the ones you make will be better than the ones we sell." I think that's generally true of most of the things you see for sale. Your plywood and natural wood cabinets will not necessarily be cheaper, but they will be better.
 
Thank you for all the thoughtful replies. Allen, I agree, and I always buy 15-20% more. I was calculating differently for wood needed for a door because I thought a frame and panel door would not be solid wood, and I could use plywood for the panel. I figured for a simple shaker style door, 3-4 bf/door would be plenty.

Karl, I'm sure your cabinets are beautiful and worth every penny. I suggested Birch ply because I can buy 3/4" pre-finished for $50 sheet, so I was thinking that would be fine for the interior.

Thanks Brian for the link to eroko. It's a wholesaler, so you need to have a company to get any info. I'll have to talk to DH about how to approach that (I'm sure there's a way).

Jim, for the purposes of this exercise, I'm valuing my time at zero. It's worth more than that to me, but I don't do this for a living, so I think it's a mistake to put a dollar value on my time.

Karl said, do I have the skills and the tools? That's a good question. I would definitely need some better tools. I think I have the skills to do a good enough job, although I work very slowly. I need to do a sketch-up thing (I'm terrible at sketchup) and get some prices from a few companies. Then, I'll estimate the materials I would need, and the tools I would want to buy, and go from there. I would do some cabinets for my sewing room first, and try to hone my skills before moving to the kitchen. Leo, we'll have to agree to disagree. I believe I could do nice cabinets for cheaper than I can buy something comparable. I can buy 1" rough lumber, hickory or Madrone/Arbutus for $4.50 bf, and I really like both of those. When we eventually redo our kitchen, it will be a massive gut job including some structural changes. If I could save some money on 40 feet of cabinets, then I'm definitely going to do that. Although I'll probably be crying in my soup about half-way......
 

fred hargis

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I'm somewhere in the middle of all the suggestions. For a onesy-twosy job I'd sure look at what's available. But if you need lots you can save some money, but more importantly get a much higher quality product. I also agree with buying the doors, but for making the doors and drawer fronts is really quite fun to do, so I would do that myself. Also, there is a million way to build cabinets and if you build the boxes without the toe kicks (they are a separate frame that installed first, boxes on top) your plywood goes further (it's the 6 sides and bottoms Jim alluded to). The tops are just stretchers across the sides. The other downside to building your own is the time it takes. I didn't build our last kitchen because I wasn't sure LOML wanted to wait for me to complete them. But with a good, organized, production setup you can realize some serious savings (IMHO). For sure, if I was buil,ding my own I would use prefinished plywood....the effort it saves in finishing the interiors is huge, and the finish they apply is so tough it's hard to damage while your working the wood.
 
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Rob Keeble

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Ok there are two very important related subjects here that have been excluded from your very first post.

Most if not all the guys responding are very capable woodworkers in my opinion from what i have seen of their past work.
I still after years of being at this hobby battle to make a single "cabinet" from any sort of ply, square. Not that i have not tried, not that I have not fiddled with getting all sorts square and setup. Perhaps its only me but lets not discount skill here. Making cabinets is a skilled trade. When one has made 10 cabs and have to fit them and they dont stack next to each other what then???? Money is spent.

Its not just the making. Its also the install. You have to know how to go about it. And question i ask is would you let a rookie have at your cabinets even if you purchased them you would want a guy like Chuck Thoits doing the install. Chucks kitchen, Karls work , they did not just start woodworking.
Lets get real.

Then, lets look at tools. There are guys that given a track saw and job site saw can do amazing things. Then there are people given a fully fledged table saw plus other stuff still dont get it right. The difference is skill. Skill does not get hatched in a single exercise. Here we end up discussing hand cut dovetails for a few days on a post, next we prepared to go to making cabinets and not mention to someone reading this post that making cabinets may look easy but its not what they show on those darn reality home reno shows where the whole place gets a reno in the space of a hour long show.

I am not saying you or anyone else cannot do it Cynthia, but, how long do you wish to be at it, and i dont see a factor for the waste aspect being calculated in.
Maybe i am the only dumbass here prepared to be honest. But recently despite having gone to extreme lengths of drawing up a literal cut sheet on sketchup and printing it out and even having it in my hands in the shop, I made a mistake such that one single cut had me waste a whole sheet of BB ply for the project i was making and that was a single cabinet for my new router table.

There is the matter of being so patient and methodical, in presenting the ply to whatever you use to cut it. Chuck mentioned even track saws slip, Carol a highly experienced woodworker mentioned clamp it down. Yeah but i guarantee you there will be the one time you cross that line and dont do it when you get cocky with the process and boom you got waste or a cabinet out of square.

Consider this, many of the woodworkers here i admire and learn a great deal from, have a specific dedicated way they are comfortable with cutting a dado. They have fine tuned their approach whatever it is over time and having done many. The result is they get repeatable dado joints like a person that goes and practices hand cut dovetails. They make many of these tasks look darn easy. I dont consider myself stupid, but i am not in the trades. I can use tools but have great respect for skilled trades. We underestimate this factor and in my view in society today we totally undervaluing the people that can and have over many years learnt not only the techniques but graduated to the status of journeyman. Look up the history of that word. It has real meaning.

I step into a guy like Larrys shop and its a whole different world. Take Karl he recently invested tens of thousands of dollars in his business not just with the huge sander he has but we forget he has a Streiberg panel saw to break down sheet goods.

I am not suggesting that you cannot do it, or it cannot be done in my view slightly cheaper, but ask yourself about the value and what overall finish you are prepared to settle with.

Its going to be a labor of love. And if you do not love doing it and are not prepared to soldier through the learning curve and waste and end up with perhaps if you lucky a break even situation, I say think again. Consider Carols suggestion of getting cabs in knock down kit form from a reputable vendor and outsource your doors etc and just do final build and fit.

Have you even looked at how square your walls are and what condition the floors are in relative to the walls. I guarantee you they not square and that is not only from experience of my own fitting really crappy home depot melamine laundry cabs but from seeing what others here have gone through in their install.

My final suggestion is have a go at making a pair of cabinets say they going to be for your shop and make them to the standard you would accept from a pro. Then evaluate the whole exercise from a point of view of materials used time involved and waste as well as consider the new tools you have purchased to get to this stage. Then if you happy with the results go for it.

Best of luck with whatever you decide.
 
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I'm not going to go through the numbers, as that is rehashing.

I doubt it would be cheaper, maybe, but only marginally.

That's not why we build our own cabinets though - we do it cause we wanna do it, sometimes.
I know several people who got into woodworking to build their own kitchen cabinets. It isn't when you have to start by buying all the tools as well as the wood, and the costly lessons along the way. So it would depend on who you ask, as well as custom touches wanted, verses standard cabinets, etc.

EDIT, forgot to add, I agree with Leo's last line wholeheartedly.
 

glenn bradley

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No it's not always cheaper to build your own cabinets if there is a ready made version of exactly what you want commercially available.

The cost savings come into play when you want something specific that's not available any where.
Ding, ding, ding, ding; we have a winner :). If you calculate "everything"; wear and tear on cutters, electricity, finish prep-application-cleanup, hardware, material, etc. I would think that a "door factory" is going to win against the homeowner every time. When comparing your cabinets, be sure you are comparing apples to apples. Your prefinished plywood box will cost more than a melamine covered MDF or MDO box from the BORG. Just check your options and then ask yourself the important question; "do I want to build these or do I just want them in?". I like building stuff and am rarely in a hurry so I generally build. However, for something like a kitchen, I would probably buy since I don't enjoy that type of work. I will add that one of the few places I hear of people saving money by building their own is kitchen and bathroom cabinets (???).
 
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I went through this thread a couple of times. Chuck wrote that he spent about 4898.90. His original bids were $8800, 8600, 14,500, and 13,000. Looks to me like he saved some money making them.

.... For sure, if I was buil,ding my own I would use prefinished plywood....the effort it saves in finishing the interiors is huge, and the finish they apply is so tough it's hard to damage while your working the wood.
I would too. I can get prefinished birch ply 3/4" for $50/sheet. Who cares what wood is in the interior. When you walk into a room you see the exterior of the cabinet.

Rob, your points are well-taken. I have no illusions that my work is as good as something Chuck or Karl or Larry would make. It's not. But I do think it's good enough. I'm not a Journeyman Cabinet Maker and never will be. I took up this hobby around the time I joined the forum, about 4 years ago. The question for me is a) can I do it, b) can I do it well enough that DH, and I won't be embarrassed when someone walks in the room, and c) could I save some money.

A long time ago on the forum I asked how hard it was to make cabinets, and the general answer I got was "not that hard". Yeah, I get that it's a lot of work, and cumbersome to work with so much material in a small hobby shop, but I would stick with a simple design, and I'll practice first with some cabinets for my sewing room. I took up the hobby to make bookcases, and mine are almost done. I've made lots of mistakes, but they're mistakes that the average person walking in the room will not see or even understand. They look good. Very good, even. I wouldn't have to buy any tools to make a lot of cabinets, but I would anyway because I could do a better job with better tools. I know more now about tools and machinery than I did 4 years ago. I think it will still cost less than buying them.

I did our bathroom cabinets, and they look good. I made some awful mistakes with them, but the few people who have seen them thought they were beautiful. And I won't make those same mistakes on any future cabinets. What we'll do is go out for bids, then I'll see what the materials would cost, and I'll let DH decide if he wants to pay someone else to make them. I think that when he sees how much comparable cabinets cost to buy, he'll prefer if I do them. We'll see.
 
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