How Much Did I REALLY Save Building Our Cabinets?

A kitchen-full of cabinets!

A kitchen-full of cabinets!

Regular readers here know that I spent the past two years building a kitchen-full of cabinets and basically just wrapped it up a couple of weeks ago.  On that post, a reader recently asked a good question and I started to answer, but then realized my answer needed to be a full post of its own. Here it is!

Here’s Cat’s question:

Can you comment on the cost of doing it yourself vs having someone else custom make the cabinets?

Apparently I’ll do more than comment, Cat – I’ll write a whole post. =)

The Short Answer…

It’s tough to say exactly how much we saved since there are so many different variants on cabinet features and finishes that play a role in the pricing of cabinets, but I do have a few data points that seem to indicate I saved us a boatload of money on the cabinetry AND got us cabinets that are custom-made for our space and of a much higher quality than we would have otherwise ended up with on this budget.

And now for the much longer answer…

Data Point #1 – Our Cabinets

  • Total Linear Feet – ~ 54
  • Total Cost – ~$6K
  • Cost Per Linear Foot Installed – $111

About the Cost – I haven’t been super meticulous about tracking the cost of the cabinetry once I had the bulk of the boxes constructed and put into place, but my best estimates put it at around $6K. However, this also includes approximately $1K in assorted woodworking tools that I directly purchased in order to build the cabinets. For the most part these are really nice tools (have I mentioned how much I love my table saw lately?) and we’re planning on keeping them.

About the Construction – The cabinets we ended up with are painted poplar faces and frames (a mid-tier finish, I think, pricewise), but the boxes are constructed with high-end 3/4″ formaldehyde-free birch plywood, which isn’t quite the highest end, but I couldn’t source baltic birch plywood, which is the highest of the high end for cabinet boxes. In non-woodworker terms, they’re made out of very good materials.

About the Features – I also have a lot of high end and custom features built into the cabinets that we wouldn’t have been able to get if we had tried to go “off-the-shelf” or even semi-custom. Things like the toe-kick drawers and the floating bench seat that opens two ways for ease of storage access or the six-foot wide by 7.5 foot tall pantry with two different depths, or the in-wall spice cabinet built between the studs… these would have all been either very expensive add-ons or high priced custom orders.

Data Point #2 – Mama and Papa PoP’s Recent Cabinet Quote

  • Total Linear Feet – ~44
  • Total Cost – ~$28K
  • Cost Per Linear Foot Installed – $636

The kitchen Mama and Papa PoP recently downsized from was absolutely huge, so Mama and Papa PoP are planning a remodel to expand their little 9.5×9(ish) kitchen into the little breakfast nook right next to it to make the kitchen feel bigger and more usable. When it’s done, it’s going to be a similar size to ours, I’m pretty sure theirs will be ~9.5×16(ish) where ours is 11×16.5 including our dining/pantry area.

The total linear feet of cabinets is not *quite* as large as ours, but close, and they’ll end up with a similar finish (painted wood) and 3/4″ plywood boxes, so very similar construction, but I don’t think the cabinet features will be quite as fancy as ours. I don’t think that includes things like toe-kick drawers, but it will include a number of pull-outs in the pantry and under the sink, and lazy susans in the corner, so definitely some very useful add-ons are included here!

Data Point #3 – A Quote for a Friend with a Larger Home

  • Total Linear Feet – ~80 (for the upper and lower wall cabinets)
  • Total Cost – ~$41K (for the wall cabinets, the island cabinets were another $6K)
  • Cost Per Linear Foot Installed – $513

The finish and features on these cabinets haven’t yet been decided, but the materials allowance allows for high-ish end materials, but doesn’t really talk about the cabinet features, which is usually a later stage in the quote and where it can climb some more. It’s also for a bigger kitchen, so there’s some efficiencies in terms of cost there. Both of those facts probably account for the majority of the reason the $/linear foot is lower than Mama and Papa PoP’s.


Data Point #4 – IKEA Kitchen Planner

  • Total Linear Feet – ~50
  • Total Cost – ~$7K ($6K + tax + delivery)
  • Cost Per Linear Foot In Flat Pack Boxes – $140

Just to be really complete, I also went to the IKEA website and used their online kitchen planner since it’s well known as having decent quality cabinets at good prices. With IKEA, it’s all very standardized sizes and they don’t offer all of the cabinet types that I wanted, so that means I would have had to make some pretty big compromises on features and lose some space due to filler units, etc. This estimate also doesn’t include items like crown molding or end panels or filler units, which would add cost.

The construction of the cabinets also wouldn’t have been quite as good. The IKEA cabinet boxes (even if you opt for wood doors – which are more expensive) are particle board covered with melamine. That’s fine, and it should last a while (our old cabinets were particle board covered with melamine and they were in there for about 30 years – but were molding and in pretty bad shape when we removed them.) Real wood and plywood cabinets should last much longer.

And there’s the features I wouldn’t have… I wouldn’t have had my beloved in-wall spice cabinet. Or my toe-kick drawers. Or my thin cabinet that I use to store my cookie sheets vertically. My pantry would have been three 24” units uniformly deep instead of two 36” units (which really does affect how much stuff you can store!) with two different depths for the top and bottom which I find much more visually interesting. We probably could have made the bench seat floating(ish) to accommodate the cool table we built, but it would have taken some modifications to get the cabinets it consisted of to be okay to sit on as a bench and have the tops open on hinges as well. None of these are necessarily deal breakers. But after using them, I can attest they are definitely NICE to have. =)

Extrapolating From These Points…

Looking at these four data points, I probably saved us in the neighborhood of $1K if we were okay with really basic cabinetry. If we were redoing a kitchen in a rental, we would go this way in a heartbeat! Sorry, renters. =(

But for custom-made cabinets made out of nice materials with some fancy features… I probably saved us at least $20K, likely even a bit more. It also took me 2 years from start to finish (though there were some seriously lazy lulls in there when I didn’t work on it for a while), so that’s ~$10K per year. I don’t even want to try and estimate the number of hours I put in on this labor of love to try and get to an hourly rate. The best I’ll give is that it’s somewhere between minimum wage and what I earn at my full-time job. =P

Luckily I really did enjoy *almost* every minute of working on this giant project, and only injured myself a few times, the worst of which resulted in getting a fresh tetanus booster! Not bad for a person as injury prone as I am. =)

And if we ever move (heaven forbid), I’d probably do it again. But I don’t think I’d do it for anyone else. The pressure that I’d put on myself requiring both perfection for others (I know too many spots on my cabinets that aren’t perfect!) and a significantly faster timeline (custom cabinet orders usually take ~6 weeks) wouldn’t be worth it. Not to mention I’d feel terrible if they didn’t LOVE them!

So, Cat – I’m sorry for giving you such a long answer. But as it turned out, you asked a really good question. =)

Any other cabinetry questions? Have I convinced anyone to build their own kitchen-full of custom cabinets?

15 comments to How Much Did I REALLY Save Building Our Cabinets?

  • Jason

    great breakdown. I’m impressed you only spent $1K on new tools. When I build furniture, and people see it, they ask if I could build them something. I tell them they can’t afford me…:-)

  • Jason

    when I go for tools, I go all the way…I have a SawStop cabinet saw, a 8″ jointer and a 15″ planer…and a bajillion hand tools, routers. However, besides the table saw and jointer, all my big tools and many of my planes and chisels were purchased used, including the planer, a big Jet drill press, a 14″ Delta band saw, one of my big routers…So, if I amortarize the cost of my shop tools in my furniture, the savings diminishes…But it does come in handy to have a full shop.

    • If we had the space it’d be awesome to have a full shop – but sharing a 1 car garage with a car and a car enthusiast, as well as all of our other random projects and tools… space is at a premium sometimes. =)

      But we’ve been able to do pretty well with jigs to substitute in! I have a great jig that makes cup holes for hinges instead of going out and getting a drill press (and it stores in a 6″ cube box. I built a jig to have consistent spacing when I was using a hand router to build my cabinet doors instead of buying a router table. Definitely single purpose kind of jigs, but they got the job done!

  • How awesome that you saved money even over the basic options! Sounds like the dollar value of your time came out pretty well for custom cabinets, especially since you enjoyed it. Well done, Mrs. PoP!
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  • I continue to be thoroughly impressed. Thank you for sharing the details!

  • I’m interested in adding some toe kicks to my current cabinets. Do you have an resources or plans you would mind sharing?
    Matt Warnert recently posted..1 Year of Blogging in ReviewMy Profile

    • I don’t have any, since I kindof just built them from an idea of a hack I had seen. Basically the person removed the decorative toe kick from their cabinet and for them it was an empty space, so they added drawer slides, a drawer, and then refaced it with the decorative toe kick material.

      But I’m not sure all cabinets have an empty front (ie a 3-sided box) for their toe kick space, so not sure how much of the structural integrity you might be removing to start cutting at different kinds of materials down there. Maybe take off your decorative toe kick and see what’s there?

  • Gasp! 28 thousand…41 thousand…DOLLARS????? Argha. I was going to comment that your time is worth quite a lot — especially given the effort you put into that one cabinet in the corner. But…at prices like that, even factoring in the value of your time would still leave you with a significant savings.
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