How to add detail to a cabinet side

By Pinktoesandpowertools | Woodworking Tutorials

Built-In cabinet side detail

Have you ever wondered how woodworkers add the decorative details to the sides of cabinets and built-ins?  Details like that can take your project from ho-hum to striking and they really aren’t that hard to do.  In this post, I will show you how to add detail to a cabinet side like I did for this project:


How face frames work for adding detail to a cabinet side

The first thing you need to understand is how face frames can work.  There are two ways to attach face frames.Two ways to attach face frames

When I built the Living Room Built-Ins and Pip’s Built-In Bookcases, I used the first method and kept my face frames even with the cabinet sides, which means if you look at the cabinet from the side, the face frame is even with the cabinet and it all looks flat, like it is one piece.  For the Living Room/ Home Office Built-In project, I used the second method and the face frame overlaps the cabinet’s sides.  That means that if you look at the cabinet from the side, the face frames stick out toward you.  We will then use them, along with some other boards to create a frame around the outside of the cabinet side.

Wood boards needed to add detail to cabinet side

Wood for adding detail to cabinet side

This is what the cabinet looks like from the side.  The face frame sticks out .75″ because it was a 1×2 board (actual width is 1.5″) and the cabinet sides are .75″ thick plywood.  So 1.5″ face frame – .75″ plywood cabinet side = .75″ sticking out.  Perfect for using  .75″ thick 1×2 and 1×3 boards next to the face frame wood to create the frame around the cabinet side.

Surprise electrical outlet

Attaching the cabinets together

Built-In cabinet side detail

Using this method, your frame will not be exactly even because a 1×3 board is 2.5″ wide–so three sides will be 2.5″ wide (the green and pink sides).  The edge of your 1×2 face frame is .75″ wide and a 1×2 board is 1.5″ wide.  If you add .75 + 1.5 = 2.25″ (the side with the blue and red pieces next to each other).  I was ok with a .25″ difference in the widths because I didn’t think it would be noticeable and I don’t think it is and I can be picky about those kind of things.  If you are an absolute perfectionist, you will have to rip down a board to 1.75″ wide and use it for your 1×2 board so you get .75 + 1.75 = 2.5.

Built-In desk side detail


Built-in hutch side detail


How to add detail to a cabinet side

And there you have it!  I think it adds a lot of visual interest.  I kind of wish I had used this method before now–the only down-side to doing it this way is if you have limited room and every inch counts for storage.  You end up adding an additional 1.5″ of width to the cabinet (.75″ on each side) just for the detail and if you need that 1.5″ in the drawers or inside of the cabinet, this isn’t a good option.

What do you think–was it a good choice or do you prefer the simple lines of a plain cabinet side?

Want to read more about this DIY home office built-in bookshelves and desk project?

Dining Room Built Ins {The Before Pictures}

Dining Room/Home Office {The Plans}

Dining Room/Home Office {Drawer Glides}

Dining Room/Home Office {Drawer Fronts}

Dining Room/Home Office {The Reveal}

Dining Room/ Home Office {How to make a Desktop or Countertop}

Dining Room/ Home Office {How to make a hanging file drawer with a Dremel}

Dining Room/ Home Office {How to Install Inset Door Hinges}

Dining Room/ Home Office {Make a pencil drawer}

Dining Room/ Home Office {Styled Bookshelves}

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