Ready-to-assemble (RTA) cabinets are a great option for DIYers looking to save money on their kitchen or bathroom remodels. RTA cabinets come unassembled, allowing you to put them together yourself without the high cost of hiring a professional. While you can purchase RTA cabinets from many home improvement stores, you can also make your own custom RTA cabinets from scratch. With some basic woodworking skills and the right materials, you can create cabinets tailored exactly to your space.

Getting Started with RTA Cabinet Materials

When embarking on an RTA cabinet project, the first step is gathering the necessary materials. Here are the key components you’ll need:


RTA cabinets are typically constructed from plywood, solid wood, or a combination of both. Plywood offers affordability and stability, while solid wood brings natural beauty. Some popular wood species choices include:

  • Oak – Hardwood known for its attractive grain patterns. Durable and budget-friendly.
  • Maple – Very hard, smooth wood that takes stain well. Provides a clean, refined look.
  • Hickory – Dense hardwood with dramatic wood grain. Adds rustic, natural style.
  • Birch – Affordable hardwood with nice even grain. Works well for painted cabinets.
  • Pine – Soft wood that’s inexpensive and can be stained or painted.

Opt for plywood sheets with attractive veneers for cabinet boxes, and use solid wood for frames and doors for optimal mix of form and function.


Cabinet hardware includes hinges, drawer slides, pulls, and any other functional pieces that allow cabinet doors and drawers to operate smoothly. Opt for durable hardware designed for frequent use. Here are some of the most common types:

  • Concealed hinges – Mounted to interior cabinet walls and doors. Allow doors to open wide.
  • Knobs or pulls – Attached to doors/drawers to provide grip for opening. Select style based on design tastes.
  • Undermount drawer slides – Mounted under drawer to provide smooth slide action. Full extension slides maximize drawer access.
  • Shelf supports – Metal or plastic brackets that hold up adjustable shelves. Look for corrosion-resistant materials.
  • Casters – Rolling wheels that allow cabinets to be moved as needed. Great for movable storage.

Take care to choose hardware in a finish that complements your cabinet style.

Adhesives & Fasteners

Glue and fasteners join all the pieces of an RTA cabinet together in sturdy construction. Examples include:

  • Wood glue – Provides powerful adhesive properties for joining cabinet components. Look for water-resistant varieties.
  • Pocket screws – Screws inserted at angles to create strong joints without visible screw heads.
  • Brads – Thin nails hammered into edges/faces of cabinet pieces during assembly.
  • Staples – Like brads, but U-shaped and used in cabinet assembly and attaching veneers.
  • Edge banding – Iron-on veneer edging that hide plywood edges on exposed cabinet ends.

Finish Materials

Finish materials give cabinets their completed look, whether stained, painted, or laminated:

  • Wood stains – Available in gel, liquid, and wipe-on forms. Penetrate wood grain to impart rich color.
  • Paint – Covers wood surface fully. Use high quality cabinet paint for hardest finish. Opt for spray application for smooth results.
  • Wood veneers – Thin sheets of real wood in various species, to adhere to plywood for beautiful look.
  • Laminates – Affordable wood-patterned sheets that cover cabinet surfaces for instant finished visual.
  • Polyurethane – Clear top coat that protects stain/paint and creates a durable finish. Choose matte, satin, or gloss sheen.

Designing Your Custom RTA Cabinets

With your materials selected, now you can start designing your cabinet layout. Measure your space carefully and sketch out plans, keeping these tips in mind:

Cabinet Dimensions

Standard cabinet widths are 12”, 18”, 24”, 30”, and 36”. Depth is typically 24” for base cabinets and 12” for wall cabinets. Custom sizing is possible too. Standard interior heights include:

  • Wall cabinets – 30” to 36” tall
  • Base cabinets – 34-1/2” is common
  • Drawer boxes – 5-1/2” is typical

Cabinet Styles

Determine the look you want. Some popular kitchen cabinet door styles include:

  • Shaker – Classic flat center panel with clean straight lines. Timeless and versatile.
  • Slab – Simple flat door with no contour. Provides minimalist look.
  • Raised panel – Door features raised center between recessed edges. Traditional elegance.
  • Louvered – Door contains series of angled wood slats. Offers breezy, cottage feel.
  • Glass inset – Glass mounted inside frame. Helps open up smaller kitchens.

Mix and match door styles for visual interest. Use different styles on upper and lower cabinets.

Storage Solutions

Think about interior storage needs. Possibilities for optimal use of space include:

  • Lazy susans – Spinning shelves make items accessible in corner cabinet.
  • Roll-out trays – Sliding trays in base cabinets double storage capacity.
  • Vertical dividers – Makes the most of tall cabinet height with stacked storage.
  • Wine glass holders – Undercabinet racks keep glasses secure and accessible.
  • Spice pull-outs – Drawers with dividers organize spices neatly.
  • Wastebin cabinets – Hide trash bins in lower cabinet for clean look.

Work Triangle

Arrange your cabinets to optimize work zones for an efficient kitchen workspace. The classic kitchen work triangle situates the stove, sink, and refrigerator in an equilateral triangle about 4-9 feet apart from each other.


Don’t limit yourself to standard cabinet sizing if going custom. Consider special sizes like extra tall pantry cabinets, angled cabinets in corners, or low drawer cabinets for rolling carts to slide under. The possibilities are endless!

Once you finalize your design, create a cut list noting all cabinet sizes and hardware needs. This will make the building process much smoother.

Constructing RTA Cabinet Boxes

With your plans complete, it’s time to start constructing the cabinet boxes. Follow these tips for success:

Cut Panels to Size

Cut plywood or solid wood pieces to required dimensions according to cut list. Use a circular saw or tablesaw for straight cuts, jigsaw for curves. Sand cut edges smooth.

Join Frame Pieces

Assemble cabinet frames using pocket screws, wood glue, and brad nails. Apply glue to joining edges, clamp pieces together, drill angled pocket holes, and drive screws to secure.

Attach Walls

Glue and nail cabinet walls between front frame and back frame. Check corners with square to ensure 90 degree angles.

Install Bottoms

Cut plywood bottoms to fit flush front-to-back and side-to-side within cabinet walls. Glue and nail into place.

Attach Face Frames

Glue decorative face frames to cabinet front. Use pocket holes and finish nails for secure hold. Sand corners smooth.

Add Interior Parts

Insert pre-made partitions, shelves, and drawers as needed. Use shelf pins combined with glue to adjust shelves.

Insert Drawer Slides

Mount drawer slides to interior cabinet walls according to hardware specifications. Ensure proper alignments.

Add Cabinet Backs

Cut thin plywood back panel to size. Glue and nail to fit opening at rear of cabinet box.

Building each cabinet box systematically in this manner ensures sturdy construction. Repeat for each cabinet in your kitchen design.

Creating Cabinet Doors & Drawer Fronts

With the cabinet boxes built, now you can construct doors and drawer fronts to match. Here’s how to achieve a professional custom look:

Cut to Size

Cut solid wood pieces to required dimensions for doors and drawer fronts according to your cut list.

Join Frame Pieces

Assemble door/drawer frames using wood glue and clamps or pocket hole joinery. Use scraps from plywood sheet cuts to make center door panels.

Install Panel

Glue recessed door panels into grooves in door frames. For slab doors/drawers, omit separate panel.

Add Profile Details

Use router or shaper to cut design profiles along door/drawer edges as desired. Add bevels, rounds, ogees, or grooves.

Install Glass Panes

For glass doors, adhere glass panes into recessed grooves in door frames using silicone caulk. Insert rubber bumpers.

Attach Hardware

Install hinges, pulls, and knobs according to manufacturer specifications. Ensure proper placement and alignments.

Take time in constructing doors/drawers to achieve flawless results. Smooth sanding and rounding over sharp edges will provide a refined finish.

Applying Finish Treatments

The final step is choosing a finish to give your DIY RTA cabinets the desired completed aesthetic. Consider your options:


For rich wood tones, apply gel or liquid wood stains in the color intensity you prefer. Multiple coats may help achieve very dark colors. Use a pre-stain conditioner for blotch-free results on soft or porous woods like pine or birch. Topcoat with polyurethane.


To cover wood grain fully, opt for cabinet-specific paint in your color choice. Priming first is a must for even coverage. Spray painting makes for the smoothest finish. Remember to use high quality painter’s tape to mask off areas at risk of drips or overspray. Apply two to three coats of clear polyurethane over paint for durability.


For instant finish on a budget, adhere laminate sheets to cabinet surfaces using contact cement. File edges smooth and use trim to hide seams where necessary.

Weathered Finish

If aiming for a worn, vintage look, sand painted/stained cabinets with coarse grit sandpaper once dry. Distress edges and corners for an antiqued appearance. Seal with matte polyurethane.

No matter which finish you choose, take time to properly prepare surfaces and apply products according to manufacturer directions. The end results will appear professionally outfitted.

Assembling and Installing DIY RTA Cabinets

You’re nearly ready to enjoy your hand-crafted RTA cabinets! Just a few final steps remain:

Test Fit Pieces

Prior to final assembly, test fit cabinet parts together and make any needed tweaks for proper alignment. Adjust as needed before permanent construction.

Join Cabinet Boxes

Based on your kitchen layout, screw cabinets together through inside overlapping edges. Drill pilot holes to prevent splitting.

Add Decorative End Panels

Cut panels to size and attach to exposed cabinet ends for an integrated look. Use adhesive and nails or screws.

Install Adjustable Shelves

Insert shelf pins and slide in shelves at desired heights inside cabinets. Ensure shelves are level and sturdy.

Attach Doors and Drawers

Using hinges/slides as guides, mount doors and drawers onto cabinet fronts. Adjust until correctly aligned with even gaps.

Apply Protective Topcoat

Seal painted or stained finishes with 2-3 coats of clear polyurethane for durability. Allow proper dry times between coats.

Mount Cabinets Level

Screw through cabinet backs or build secure ledgers to affix cabinets to wall studs. Use shims as needed for plumb alignment.

Once fully assembled and installed, your DIY RTA cabinets will look like high-end built-ins customized to your space, all without the designer price tag! Enjoy the satisfaction of creating quality cabinets with your own two hands.

Frequently Asked Questions About Making RTA Cabinets from Scratch

What tools do I need to make RTA cabinets from scratch?

Some essential tools for constructing RTA cabinets include:

  • Circular saw or tablesaw to cut wood pieces to size
  • Jigsaw for cutting curves and openings
  • Router for cutting grooves and door profiles
  • Sander for smoothing wood after cutting
  • Drill and driver for installing hardware
  • Nail gun for efficient nailing
  • Clamps to hold glued pieces in place
  • Safety gear like gloves, eye protection, and respirator mask

What is the easiest cabinet style for a beginner DIYer to tackle?

The easiest cabinet doors for beginners to construct are slab door styles. Slab cabinet doors feature simple flat panels without any contours or inserts, eliminating the need for complex joinery or router work. Beginners may also find it easier to apply laminate finishes rather than dealing with staining or painting.

What thickness plywood should I use?

Good cabinet construction plywood thicknesses are:

  • 3/4″ for cabinet sides, tops, bottoms, and shelves
  • 1/2″ for cabinet backs and drawer bottoms
  • 1/4″ for cabinet floors and door/drawer panels

High quality plywood with attractive veneers looks great and resists warping. Many home stores sell plywood with prefinished sides ideal for cabinet building.

What is the most expensive part of making DIY cabinets?

The doors and drawer fronts often end up being the most expensive cabinet components because solid hardwood is ideal for achieving high-end custom looks. Opt for durable species like maple, cherry, or oak to construct frames and panels for doors and drawer fronts.

How are face frames attached to cabinets?

Face frames create a decorative finished look on the front of the cabinet. After constructing face frames, they are glued and nailed onto cabinet box front edges. Pocket screws inserted at angles also help reinforce face frame joints. Adjustable cabinet clamps are useful for holding frames in place during installation.

Can I make DIY cabinets look built-in?

To make DIY RTA cabinets appear like built-ins once installed, attach matching panels to exposed cabinet ends for a seamless look. Use filler strips to eliminate gaps between cabinets and walls. Crown molding installed across the top also enhances the custom look. Painting or staining all cabinets the same color helps unify the look as well.


Constructing your own RTA cabinets from scratch takes some woodworking skill and patience, but the payoff is custom cabinets tailored to your space at a fraction of the cost. With smart planning and by following sound cabinetmaking techniques, even novice DIYers can achieve beautiful results. Focus on sturdy construction, precise joinery, and a flawless final finish, and your hand-built RTA cabinets will look like they came straight from a highend showroom. The ability to create quality custom cabinets yourself not only saves money, but provides the deep satisfaction of building something with your own two hands.