Half Wall Built In Cabinets

Finished and install cabinets

This is the first in a series of articles describing the finishing of the half-wall system in my basement. The half-wall stands about 40 inches high and 11 feet long. When finished, the TV will hang on the main wall above, and the half-wall will have 2 built in shelving units for holding AV components and books. The half-wall will be capped with a painted top.

This article covers the construction of the boxes for the two lower cabinets. Each box is built with 3/4" hardwood plywood joined together with pocket screws. The 1/4" back is cut to allow access to an electrical outlet, and shallow holes line the sides for adjustable shelf pins.

Table of Contents

Half Wall Rough Opening

Box Design

The boxes are designed to fit into the two openings framed into the wall.

  • Each of the openings are roughly the same size, 27" wide by 34" high and approximately 19 1/2 inches deep.
  • The bottom of the face frame is to be proud of and taller than the 1/2" thick, 3 1/4 inch high baseboard in the room.
  • The rough opening on the left is significantly out of square, and space is required around the box for shims.
  • Although the half-wall is built square to the room, the main wall behind it follows the concrete foundation, and the cavity for the boxes is deeper on the left than the right.

Both boxes are built to have outside dimensions of 29 1/2" high, 26" wide, and 19 1/4" deep. The side panels are 28" x 19", and joined to the 26" long top and bottom with pocket screws. The back is 1/4" plywood attached directly to the back.

Cutting opposite sides with circular saw

Cutting the Plywood

The ripping capacity of my table saw maxes out at about 24" wide. I was able to use it to create the 19" width for the boards, but it's too small to safely cut the 26 and 28 inch dimensions. For these cuts, I used my framing squares as a guide for my circular saw.

To ensure that the parallel sides of each box are the same length, I clamped them together in pairs so they could be cut at the same time. After cutting one side of each board square, I lined them up together using my finger, and placed a square across the opposite edge to guide the circular saw. This helped to keep the final boxes square.

Drilling shelf pin holes

Shelf Pin Holes and Box Assembly

I made a quick drilling jig to cut the shelf-pin holes from an old plywood drawer front. There are 11 holes spaced 2" apart, 4" from each side. I used my portable drill press jig to help guide the holes straight and ensure they are only 1/2" deep.

Finally, I cut pocket holes in the sides, and gave everything a quick sanding with 150 grit paper in my random orbit sander. I cut the backs using similar methods to the sides, and attached them using glue and 18 gauge brads.

Assembling the face frames

Face Frames

I don't think I did my math correctly when I sized the boxes, and the gap in the rough opening is larger than I was originally intending. To cover it, I beefed up the face-frame proportions. The top is 4 1/2 inches in width, and the bottom 5 1/2 inches before being scribed to the floor. The sides are 3 1/2 inches in width.

The face frames were constructed out of poplar, and they are simple frames with very little detail. After assembling the frames, I decided that a chamfer detail along the edges would look nice, but it was too late. As a unit, the frames were to large to safely pass across the table saw, and I was unable to find a chamfer router bit at any of the local hardware stores.

For me, this is progress in the hobby. The finished cabinets look good as they sit, and I've found a new detail I like. Next project, I will be more aware to use it early.

Painting the boxes

Finish and Installation

When I build my son's desk, I had noted I would pre-finish the parts of the next project. However, for a couple reasons, I went ahead and built these boxes before paint. First, unlike the kids desk, the size of the boxes gave a lot of room to maneuver the brush and coat everything easily. Also, it was still winter when I built the boxes, and the garage was cold. I had to move everything to the basement where there isn't enough room to spread out all the pieces.

I primed all the (non-glue) surfaces of the box, and gave the inside 2 coats of finished paint. I attached the face frames to the boxes using glue and 18 gauge brads after the paint had dried.

Cabinet installation platform

This image shows a quick platform to support the cabinets built mostly of construction lumber. The bottom board is pressure treated and attached to the floor using concrete screws. On top of the 2x4's rests 2 runners made from 3/4" plywood. The plywood is shimmed to ensure the box is level when resting on the platform.

A hole was cut in the back panel for the outlets using a jig saw, and then the completed cabinets were fit into the openings. I shimmed the sides against the rough opening, and attached the boxes with with a screw in each side. I'll go back and fill in any nail and screw holes after the trim is installed on the half-wall.

The next installment in this series will cover the half-wall top. One end will be curved to match the wall, and the thickness will need to be beefed up from a standard sheet of plywood to match the thicker face frames.
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Copyright 2015 by Joseph Bobek, all rights reserved.