Tag Archives: built-in

Building your own custom-made built-in closet


I know this doesn’t fit my “husbandology” theme for my blog.  But, I just finished a cool project and wanted to post a how-to article about what I did.  So, I figured I might as well put it here!

In our new house I wanted to finish out our master closet.  It is really big, but had a lot of wasted space.  I got inspiration from an article on thesawdustdiaries.com (which Julia found on Pinterest) and wanted to do something similar.  I got a lot of good ideas and tips on building it from that site.  Here is the “before” picture.IMG_0822

Also, I must mention that I am no expert at construction or woodworking.  Any tips I give in this article is purely from what I experienced.  I am sure there are LOTS of better ways to do much of what I did.  So, if anyone who ACTUALLY knows what they are doing reads this, please don’t laugh too hard at any of my suggestions…as misguided as they may be.  :-)

Step 1: Design

I got the measurements for the room and figured out what I wanted to do with the space.  I drew it out, then changed it, then drew it out again, then changed it again, etc…  I ended up with this.

IMG_0817 IMG_0818

Step 2: Materials

Next I had to plan out what material I needed.  From reading various articles online, I decided to use 3/4″ MDF for the main construction, 1/2″ MDF for drawers,  select pine for small trim and poplar for drawer fronts.  I also wanted to make sure I wasn’t wasting boards by making the wrong cuts in the wrong places, so I planned out my cuts ahead of time…which helped me get a true list of how many I needed.  Here are my cut sheets…IMG_0819 IMG_0820 IMG_0821

Here was my materials list:

3/4″ MDF 4’x8′ – 14
1/2″ MDF 4’x8′ – 7
1/8″ hardboard 4’x8′ – 7
Select Pine 1″x2″x8′ – 27
Poplar boards 1″x8″x8′ – 5
Poplar boards 1″x12″x8′ – 2
Drawer slides and pulls – 20
Dowel rods – 8
Primer (oil based) – 5 gallons
Paint (latex) – 6 gallons

One huge Home Depot trip later with a 10% off coupon (plus 5 more trips as the project went on) and I was ready to start!

Step 3: Pre-paint

MDF does not work well with water apparently.  If it gets wet, it raises the grains and makes it really rough.  So, if you want to paint it, it is best to prime with an oil based primer first.  So, to prevent having to do millions of tedious coats on the finished product, I decided to pre-prime and paint the boards first.  I knew I would still have to touch up at the end, but had hopes that it would make it easier.  This turned out to be a great call!  It was still a pain to paint, but not nearly as tedious as the final painting was.

Bare MDF boards
Primed and painted MDF boards

Step 4: Construction

This was the toughest part…physically.  I was so thankful for my Dad coming over to help as 3/4″ MDF boards are ridiculously heavy!  The closet was divided into sections, so we would cut the boards for a section at a time, then assemble that section before moving on.

Cutting the boards in the garage
We had to be very careful to get the front of each board aligned with the sides. Otherwise, the trim at the end wouldn’t sit flush.
The first section built…woohoo! :-)
The second section done!
We predrilled for all screws so we didn’t split the boards
Cutting slots to fit together the shoe cubby boards
Fitting together the shoe cubby
In order to fit the sections together tightly, we would clamp them together before screwing in place.
Initial construction done! This is the left side…
…and the right.

BTW…I just want to point out how awesome my wife is for getting me a table saw last year! Without that saw, it probably would have taken me twice as long…and wouldn’t have looked nearly as good.  It is simply amazing!  :-)

Step 5: Drawers

The drawers were THE part of the project I was most nervous about.  I didn’t want them to feel rickety or unprofessional.  Since I’ve never built them before, I was worried.  But, I was really happy that they turned out great!

This part of the project took a lot of work…and a lot of learning as I went.  I got my plan from the same Sawdust Diaries site.  I got the plans to build the drawers here and installing them here.  This saved me A LOT of headache!  Even then, the last 10 drawers I built were WAY nicer than the first 10…because of all the things I learned as I went on.  The first step was cutting the boards (100 total for 20 drawers!).  Then, cut a dado along the bottom.  Cutting dados sounds fancy and difficult, but it wasn’t too bad.  I should clarify…having a table saw…it wasn’t too bad.  Without one…it would be the worst!  Then, take them a drawer at a time…assemble with glue then I used finishing nails to hold them together.  I was blown away by how solid they were!

My first (and only) real problem I ran into was here.  I built the first 10 drawers and planned to install them before doing the rest.  But, when I went to install them, 6 of the 10 were 1/16″ of an inch too long!  So, I had to tear apart my beautiful and solid drawers, cut off a sliver, then reconstruct them.  It was not a good day.

After that, the last 10 drawer were awesome!  I knew exactly what length they needed to be and had the construction process down.  I actually really started to enjoy making them at that point.

A stack of drawer pieces freshly cut
Dados cut into all the side pieces. Some of them have vertical dados too to install dividers
Before any gluing or nailing, I made sure to check the length
Made sure to use the square before attaching any sides
Finishing nailer…the greatest invention ever (besides the table saw)
Once 3 sides are attached, I would slide the bottom piece in place
Before gluing the last side, I would do one last measurement to make sure it was the right length
Putting down glue for the last side
The finished drawer with divider that can slide in and out. Although I should have made the slider space a tiny bit larger. After paint and poly finish on it…it was a little too tight. I had to use a hammer to get a few of them in there.
For installing drawers, first attach the rail to the drawer. Here is the jig method I used to keep uniform spacing and keep all drawers level. The jig for the drawer had an extra 1/4″ spacer which is the difference in length from the rail to the bottom of the slide.
Attaching the slide to the cabinet (without spacer)
Woohoo! It fits!
5 drawers installed
All drawers done! :-)

Step 6: Trim

I was really looking forward to the trim step because that was when it was going to start looking good…covering up all the mistakes.  :-)  I used the nailer to attach them, then wood putty to cover up any gaps anywhere.

I also built fronts for the drawers out of poplar.  I sized them slightly larger than the drawers themselves and attached from the inside with screws.

IMG_0883 IMG_0885

Step 7: Paint

Paint, paint, and more paint!  Did I mention how glad I was that I “pre-painted”?  I first used wood filler and caulk to help fill in gaps, holes, and spaces.  Then, I painted it like crazy!  The roller work was nice, but trim paint took me about 6 hours to do one coat!  After the paint was dry, I did 2 coats of  Minwax polyacrylic sealant to keep it smooth and protected.

Half of the shoe cubby painted…this makes me happy :-)
Paint and poly coat done…with drawer fronts installed

Step 7: Finishing!

All that was left then was installing the clothes rods and drawer pulls…then doing lots of cleanup.  Here is the final result!

Finished drawers with pulls and dividers
The left side finished…
…and the right side finished
The right side, view from the window
The right side, view from the window

I hope you enjoyed seeing my project.  Feel free to post questions in the comments below if you want to try it for yourself!  :-)

For anyone interested, I put in about 80 hours of work on the project.  And the total cost was around $1,600 in material (not including any tools or saws).