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How to Build a Custom Kitchen Island

DIY kitchen remodeling expert Paul Ryan builds an affordable kitchen island by using stock cabinets, beadboard, a stainless-steel countertop and glazes.

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Step 1: Cut Stock Cabinets to Size

Begin by choosing the look and type of material you would like to work with, including stock cabinets, molding, toe kick, glazes, feet and corbels (Image 1).

The stock cabinets may have to be trimmed down so that the height of the cabinets is the same. The easiest way to do this is to adjust the height of the toe kick. Using a square to determine where to cut the height of the toe kick, line it up from the existing toe kick and make a straight, level line (Image 2).

Before making any cuts, inspect the cabinet for any staples, nails or screws and remove them before cutting. With a trim saw, cut along the toe kick reference line (Image 3).

Tap the toe kick a few times with a hammer and one side of it should pop right off. Cut the other side of the toe kick.

To create a recessed toe kick on both sides of the island, measure 3 ½” along the side of the toe kick and use a reciprocating saw to make cuts (Image 4).

Step 2: Add the Beadboard

Beadboard panels add texture to the unfinished side of the cabinets. It’s wise to use ¼” shims on the cabinets where needed to fill in extra space and to ensure the beadboard lines up evenly on both sides. Then, use 5/8” nails with a finish nail gun to fasten the shims to the cabinet (Image 1).

Using clamps to hold the cabinets in position (Image 2), make sure everything lines up plumb and square.

Rip the beadboard to size with a table saw.

Nail the beadboard to the base cabinet so that it accurately lines up with the front edge of the two wall cabinets, flush with the front of the beadboard (Image 3). When nailing beadboard, make sure to nail into the grooves so as avoid haing to fill in nail holes.

Step 3: Add the Toe Kick and Oak Wrap

To fasten the cabinets together, drill holes and screw in 1¼" screws (Image 1).

Add in the other sides for the toe kick. Carefully spread wood glue to create a stronger and longer lasting bond (Image 2), then nail the toe kick into place.

Next, glue on nailing blocks, and nail into place (Image 3).

Using a chop saw, cut oak wrap (veneer) to go over the toe kick.

Spread wood glue on oak wrap, press firmly in place (Image 4), make sure it’s flush and nail in place with 5/8" nails.

Step 4: Add the Feet

Choose feet for the kitchen island.

Set the foot over the filler block and mark it equal distance from the corner (Image 1).

Glue the foot to the filler block (Image 2), clamp into place (Image 3), shoot a nail into place and take the clamp off and put another nail just off center (Image 4).

Spread glue on filler block and nail it directly into the island (Image 5).

Add corner molding to hide corners where the beadboard meets the oak. Cut to size, put on a very thin bead of wood glue, and press into place (Image 6). Secure with finishing nails.

Oak is a very hard wood and can split or crack. Always place the nail in at least one inch from the end to avoid splitting the molding.

Step 5: Add Decorative Molding

Use a chop saw to cut rope molding down to size. Place a piece of oak on the chop saw behind the rope molding so it doesn’t split (Image 1). Make miter cuts at a 45-degree angle. Nail it along the bottom of the island (Image 2).

Step 6: Prime the Cabinets, Drill for Hardware

Prime the cabinets, molding and toe kick.

If you choose to do so, upgrade the stock shelves to a more durable laminated particle board. When cutting through any laminated material, cut slowly to prevent the board from chipping, splintering or tearing.

Determine the horizontal center of the drawer, measure and mark. With a combination square, find the vertical center of the drawer, make another mark and pre-drill holes in the cabinets for the hardware. Before drilling a hole through a drawer, clamp a piece of wood behind. This prevents the back of the drawer from blowing out when the drill bit goes through.

clamp a piece of wood behind before drilling hole

Step 7: Add Corbels to Support Countertop

Corbels need to be added to support the countertop of the island. Using two brackets to support the countertop, space each one an inch and a half from the edge. This will create even spacing for the corbel (Image 1).

The screws holding the corbels need to be screwed in perfectly, about an inch down from the top of the corbel. Transfer the mark to the island and drill a hole for the screw (Image 2).

Attach the corbel onto the bracket, making sure that it is perfectly lined up with the top of the cabinets (Image 3).

Step 8: Glaze the Island

Before putting on the countertop, it’s best to do final painting and glazing. Glazing the island will add color and bring out the texture of the island. Begin painting with the glazing gel (Image 1).

With a cotton rag begin wiping the gel, going with the grain of the wood, until you have the desired texture (Image 2). If you wipe too much off, simply apply more glaze and wipe again until you achieve the desired look.

Step 9: Add the Countertop

After the glaze has dried, the pre-manufactured island countertop (in Antique Matte Finish to match the glaze) is ready to go on. Before placing the countertop on the cabinet, make sure to measure all the way around so that there is an equal overhang on all sides (Image 1).

Fasten 5/8" screws through the plastic brackets and anchor them into the solid wood undersurface (Image 2).

The new custom made kitchen island is complete and ready for placement (Image 3).

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