Making the Paul Sellers’ tool cabinet – Bottom unit

Hey Paul,

I just wanted to send this email to you again. I am not sure you had a chance to read it the first time. 

We have conversed via email several times over the past year.  I had been an attorney here in the US for several years and recently quit my job to fulfill my love for woodworking.  The change has had its difficult moments, but has been amazing.  You have helped me through this passage and I am grateful.  The online woodworking classes have also been amazing. 

The next project appears to be a tool chest.  I am excited  to make the tool chest but would love to also make the cabinet your chests sit on.  Six months ago I attempted to make a cabinet for my tools but failed as my skills and ability to design such a cabinet were inadequate.  I would love to make a storage cabinet for my tool chest to sit on, much like the ones in your workshop. 

I know the main structure is frame and panel construction and that you purchased the wood from Home Depot (I believe Home Depot calls it whitewood (superstrips 1″ x 4″ x 8′)).  I was wondering if you could write up a post on your blog or email me about the construction of these cabinets.  I just don’t know how each of the frame and panels are connected to each other and how you attach the back panel.  

 I think a post like this will be perfect as many of your readers, like myself will be building the tool chest which this cabinet would compliment.

I would greatly appreciate some assistance on this as my workshop is truly bare of storage and I have refused to purchase cabinets from the store in hopes I can make them myself.  

As always thank you,

 B A


Hello Brandon

These cabinets are made from regular construction grade lumber called studs, perhaps scant is the nearest equivalent in the UK. In other words it has knots throughout each piece and there is nothing special at all about the wood. The wood is a softwood and usually a hybrid known in the US as spruce-pine-and-fir (SP&F). Other woods are suitable too. Pine, hemlock, fir, spruce and so on. If you use southern yellow pine, make certain it is dried before further machining. Even then, be prepared for further movement. It’s commonly used, widely available but not necessarily the best choice because of stability. I like it and I would use it. Especially for the main carcass, which is locked in by adjacent components. The doors are another thing. None of the components are longer than 4’ long so cutting studs to shorter lengths or even in half will get the stuff into even a small compact car.

Having said all of that, this is abou the cheapest wood you can get and it will work very well for this.

All of the cupboards follow the same manufacturing procedure comprising frames mortise and tenoned at the corners with plywood panels enclosed in grooves centred in the stiles and rails. The method I use is simple and fast. The outcome is stable, strong and inexpensive.

When I buy the wood it is by no means machined straight and square. Usually it has a higher level of moisture than is suitable for cabinets and so the first step is to get that moisture down to around 7%. I do this by taking it into the workshop, stickering and stacking very spaciously; usually for a month or so if possible. I use a moisture meter for testing moisture content (MC) and cut the lengths of pieces in the center to establish the interior MC. Another alternative way is to weight a couple of marked pieces and check them weekly until there is no further weight loss. This will match equilibrium with the average atmospheric moisture level and should remain acceptably stable both during construction and after completion. Failure to do this will result in some shrinkage that can be repaired later as needed. I would rather acclimate the wood and minimize shrinkage or expansion and other possible movement such as twist.

The back, side and door panels are 1/2” (12-13mm) baltic birch plywood. A good interior grade works fine for this unless you have a damp workshop. then you might consider a water or weatherproof grade.

Almost ever piece of wood can be reworked by hand or machine into a specific finished size. By cutting to near length the wood yields the thicknesses and widths you need. The project is made up of framed panels all around as follows:

2 end panels

1 1/4” x 22” x 36 3/4” framed with plywood panel

2 door panels

1 1/4” x 22” x 31 1/4” framed with plywood panel

1 top

1 1/4” x 23” x 48 1/2” framed with plywood panel

1 bottom

1 1/4” x 19 1/2” x 45” framed with plywood panel

1 shelf

1 1/4” x 17 1/2” x 31 1/4” framed with plywood panel

1 back

1/2” x 33 3/4” x 45” plywood sheet

Each end panel is made from two stiles a top rail and a bottom rail. The stiles and top rail of every panel is made from 1 1/4” x 3” stock. The side bottom rails and the bottom rails of the two doors are 1 1/4” x 4” stock. The cutting list is as follows:


End panel – two

Top rail 2 @ 1 1/4” x 3” x 19” long

Bottom rail 2 @ 1 1/4” x 4” x 19” long

Stile 4 @ 1 1/4” x 3” x 36 3/4” long

Panel 2 @ 1/2” x 17” x 30 3/4” long plywood


Door – two

Top rail 2 @ 1 1/4” x 3” x 19” long

Bottom rail 2 @ 1 1/4” x 4” x 19” long

Stile 4 @ 1 1/4” x 3” x 31 1/4” long

Panel 2 @ 1/2” x 17” x 25 1/4” long plywood


Top – one

End rail 2 @ 1 1/4” x 3” x 20” long

Long rail 2 @ 1 1/4” x 3” x 48 1/2” long

Panel 1 @ 3/4” x 18” x 43 1/2” long plywood


Bottom panel – one

End rail 2 @ 1 1/4” x 3” x 17 1/2” long

Long rail 2 @ 1 1/4” x 3” x 45” long

Panel 1 @ 3/4” x 14 1/2” x 40” long plywood


Shelf panel – one

End rail 2 @ 1 1/4” x 3” x 17 1/2” long

Long rail 2 @ 1 1/4” x 3” x 45” long

Panel 1 @ 3/4” x 12 1/2” x 40” long plywood


Panel 1/2” x 33 3/4” x 45” plywood

Start the panels by milling the stud stock to the finished sizes as shown above. These are dead sizes. It is up to you whether you use machines or do the whole by hand. if you do use hand planes to reduce the stock to 1 1/4”, this is a lot of hand planing, so consider ripping on a saw or planing to thickness using a planer. I like to joint the faces on the jointer and then thickness-plane to thickness. I then surface plane the surfaces with the smoothing plane.


  1. Paul you mention the use of a moisture meter can you publish its brand and or your recommendations, likewise details on your metal detector if you use one. Whats available in the market is extensive for these things and price range about as large its hard to know what is value for money. Thanks Phill

  2. Thank you Paul. I have a couple questions about the build but will wait to see if you have another post that will most likely answer my questions. Thanks again.

  3. Hi Paul,
    The stile and rails look more like 2″ not 3″ to me , is 3″ correct?

    1. In the US a 2 by is 1 1/2″ not 1 3/4″ like the UK. I started out with the US 2 by but refined the stock by jointing and planing to get the quality surface and straightness I need for making the panels.

  4. Paul- If you have time to describe how you finished the work, it would be much appreciated. I used cheap common pine to do my wall unit bookshelf from your book and it is unsuited for stain. Did you use a paint finish on your cabinet here for the same reason, since you use inexpensive materials? I’m wondering how to seal and otherwise cover the many knots and so forth so they do not show through the finish, either because of uneven areas around the knots or from tear-out, or from just bleeding through.

    Thank you for describing your cabinet- I’ve been eyeing them in the background of your videos since I need to add some storage!

    1. Aha- Maybe this is how you did the finishing and will save you retyping:

      If so, then just two specific questions: 1) Knots sometimes have cracks and pits around them. Do you fill and, if so, with what? 2) Did you cut the Zinsser clear shellac and, if so, by how much? I have a lot of trouble brushing that stuff without getting brush marks, much as I try to keep a wet edge.

      1. Any commercial filler like Elmers (US) or Brummer (UK) will work. I also seal the knots with knotting or heavy shellac, which stops bleed through. No, I don’t or cut the Zinsser. You can eliminate brush marks by applying with a folded pad. Apply fast strokes with no lingering or retouching nce applied regardless of method. there’s a tendency to labour like you might with varnish or polyurethane but you don’t have this luxury with shellac. It’s quick on and leave alone. Steel wool will usually cut through to level… even brush marks.

  5. I’m working on this and will soon have the next section done. All will be revealed.

  6. Paul,

    How critical is it that the stiles and rails be 1 1/4″ thick? Home Depot here in the US has “whitewood” that is 1″ x 4″ x 8′. It is a full 1″ thick, not 3/4″. This would be much less work than sawing and planing the studs or 2×4’s down to size. Is the extra 1/4″ critical? Does it change the appearance of the fram and panels? Thanks.


    1. 1″ is thick enough but 1 1/4″ is better for these as whitewood (there is of course no such wood) is usually SP&F and quite soft. If you have access to a thickness planer that would be the way to go with regards to thickness.

  7. Tonight I bought all of the 2×4’s to build the frame construction for the bottom tool cabinet. I brought a small handsaw with me and cut all of the wood in the parking lot of Home Depot to fit in my compact car. I probably purchased one extra 2×4, however the total cost was about $35.

  8. Sorry George, ran out of time before the US trip and still in the thick of it. will do what i can soon.

    1. Thanks, Paul. Would love to put this together, but can’t quite figure out how you attached the bottom to the ends. I look forward to the update when you are able.

  9. Hi Paul, will there be any updates on the assembly of the cabinet soon. I’d like to make this my next project. Thank you.

  10. Was there ever a followup on assembly. Anything on upper cabinet as well

    1. No I do not believe so. Paul had mentioned he may do a series where he builds a cabinet similar to the ones hanging in his school in the US. The design can then be adapted for whatever you plan to use the cabinet for.

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