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How to Create a Kitchen Pass-Through

Host Karl Champley shows you how to transform a clutter-magnet wall into a cabinet and pass-through loaded with storage.

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Step 1: Prep the Area

Clear the area on both sides of the pass-through wall and remove any pictures or other items. Spread sturdy drop cloths on the floor on both sides of the wall to protect the floors and make cleanup easier.

Use a pencil and straightedge to mark the portion of the wall for removal. Remember: The end post of the project wall is load-bearing, so it will remain as part of the final design. Never remove a wall stud or post if removal will harm the structural integrity of the wall.

Step 2: Remove the Wall

Use a crowbar to remove the baseboards in the project area of the wall. Use a razor knife to score the drywall along the marked line. Remove all of the drywall using a hammer, crowbar or other means (Image 1).

Always wear safety glasses and a dust mask when cutting or removing drywall. Wear work gloves when removing drywall to protect your hands from sharp edges, drywall screws, nails or other objects (Image 2).

Use a reciprocating saw to finish the demolition (Image 3). The project wall wasn't solid all the way to the ceiling and was strengthened with plywood instead of wall studs. When working with a more traditional wall, make sure the studs aren't load-bearing, then cut through them as close to the ends as possible with the reciprocating saw. Trim out the bare surface at the ceiling with lumber and paint to match the rest of the project at completion. Clean up the project area.

Step 3: Modify the Storage Cabinets

For this project, Karl chose two similar -- but not identical -- pre-made storage cabinets purchased from a home improvement store. One is a regular under-counter cabinet, and the other was originally an overhead cabinet.

Remove the cabinet doors and drawers and set them aside. Starting with the larger cabinet, use a straightedge to run a level line and mark the area of the center backing that will be removed. Don't remove the backing behind the toe kick or the drawers.

Use a circular saw to cut out the center of the backing section (Image 1). Switch to a jigsaw to cut the rest of the way to each edge. Use a paint scraper to clean off the glue from the back of the cabinet. After cleaning up the edges on both sides, pop out the perfectly cut piece.

Repeat the same process to remove the backing from the smaller cabinet (Image 2).

To retrofit the smaller cabinet as a glassware cabinet, build an internal frame by gluing, then nailing strips of wood to the remaining part of the backing. Then flip the unit over and nail plywood to the strips to form a new back. This design "steals" some of the depth from the smaller cabinet and gives it to the larger cabinet for more toy storage.

Use plywood and a nail gun to build a plywood box to match the toe kick on the larger base cabinet. The toe kick on the project cabinet is 4" high and 9" deep, leaving a 3" overhang when it's mounted to the bottom of the 12"-deep cabinet.

Step 4: Level and Secure the Cabinets

With the toe kick in place, lift both of the modified cabinets into position and check to make sure they're level and even with each other. Attach the two cabinets using screws across the top.

Cut a wood strip to match the cabinet width and two to match the cabinet height. Apply a bead of glue to each wood strip and nail them into position across the bottom and up the sides of the cabinets.

Put the entire unit in place, check to make sure it is level and anchor it to the wall by driving screws through the wood strips on the sides.

Step 5: Install the Countertop

Measure the combined depth of the cabinets and cut a piece of 3/4" plywood to that width. Cut the plywood to the desired length for the overall countertop — including the overhang past the wall post.

The plywood for the countertop will slide into place around the post at the end of the cabinets. This will help keep the countertop stable where it extends past the post. Use a measuring tape, pencil and straightedge to measure and mark where to cut out a slot to go around the post.

Measure and mark a line 1' in from each side of the plywood and 1' from the post end.

Use these lines to draw the arcs for the curve at the end of the countertop: Anchor the tape measure where the two lines intersect at one corner of the plywood, hold a pencil against the tape measure at the 1-foot mark and rotate the pencil and tape measure around the anchor point to draw the arc. Repeat for the other corner.

Use a jigsaw to cut out the arcs. Hold the jigsaw firmly and guide it by twisting the back of the saw.

After cutting around the edges, cut the slot from the plywood to slide around the load-bearing wall post (Image 1). Don't discard the slot piece.

Use the plywood as a template to cut a piece of backer board the same size and shape as the plywood.

Slide the plywood in place on top of the cabinets. Trim the slot piece to fit between the post and the wall, and slip it into place (Image 2).

Step 6: Attach the Plywood to the Cabinets

Use screws to attach the plywood to the cabinets. Drive the screws down into the middle (backs) of the cabinets. Also drive screws up through the underside of the four corner brace blocks into the underside of the plywood top. Don't drive the screws down through the plywood into the side walls of the cabinets: They can easily split.

Apply heavy-duty adhesive to the backer board and press it into place, then secure it to the plywood with screws. Don't forget to trim and install the long, narrow piece of backer board to cover the slot between the wall post and the rest of the wall.

Allow the adhesive to cure according to the package instructions.

Step 7: Dry Fit the Tiles

Lay out the tiles for the countertop on the backer board for a dry fit. Allow an even space between the tiles and mark for any needed cuts. If you have trouble getting the spaces even, use small, plastic tile spacers, available in the tile section of home improvement stores.

To mark for a curved cut, make a template with a piece of scrap cardboard. Position the cardboard on top of the backer board and mark it from underneath. Cut the cardboard along the line, then trace the cardboard onto the tile.

Pros use a wet saw -- which can be rented or purchased -- to cut tile. To cut large tiles without a wet saw, use a tile-cutting blade on a circular saw. Always wear a dust mask and eye protection before cutting tile with either type of saw. When cutting the tile, run the blade over the tile several times to get a nice, clean groove. If the cut edge of a tile isn't perfectly smooth, clean it up with the saw blade or with some sandpaper.

Step 8: Set the Tiles

Attach a long piece of trim along the perimeter of the countertop. Wrap the wood trim around the entire length of the countertop, attaching it with glue and nails.

Use a notched trowel to apply mortar over the backer board. Spread the mortar with the flat side, then create grooves in the mortar with the notched side. Wear rubber or latex gloves for easier cleanup when working with mortar and grout.

Tap the tiles into place before the mortar begins to dry (Image 1). Allow the mortar to cure according to the package instructions.

Mix sanded grout according to the package instructions. The grout should be about the consistency of cake batter; only mix as much grout as you can apply before it starts to harden. Always use sanded grout when creating wide grout joints between tiles.

Apply the grout using a grout float (rubber-covered trowel). Make sure to press the grout into all of the spaces between the tiles, then gently scrape away some of the excess with the float.

Let the grout dry to a haze, then wipe away the excess with a large, damp sponge. Allow the grout to cure according to the package instructions (Image 2). Seal the grout with a grout sealer according to package instructions.

Step 9: Finish the Project

Trim out any raw edges or openings to match the rest of the room. In this project, 1x6 lumber was used to build a trim "box" to cover the raw edge where the wall was removed and added other trim around edges and openings.

Blend the load-bearing wall post to match the rest of the room. Stain and seal the post.

Re-install the cabinet doors and drawers according to the manufacturer's instructions.

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