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I need to replace a vanity.

It's a generic 3 drawer, 2 door, 36" vanity, with one detail. On the right hand side is an angled cabinet, say, 15-20 degrees back, to narrow the counter top to fit it by the toilet. At that point, there is a separate cabinet, with a pair of "roll top desk" doors, that go side to side.

The angled back, and the companion cabinet make this a piece I can't really find off the shelf.

I do not need to replace the second cabinet, pretty sure I can reuse that.

But I would like to replace the main vanity. The sink area of the current one is "funky", as sink areas can get after 20+ years.

The main vanity was assembled out of a particle board main cabinet, with some kind of white surface (melamine?), and an oak face frame, oak doors, oak drawer fronts.

I was thinking of building mine out of plywood (birch?) and oak as well.

I am not an experienced cabinet maker. I am not an experienced wood worker.

But I look at the original, the simplicity of it's construction. And I look around the internet, and the wonders of YouTube. I was considering pocket screw joinery, and, all in all, it looks pretty straight forward.

It seems to come down to whether I can cut square pieces.

I have a small table saw (you get them at a home center for $150-$200). I have access to a power chop/miter saw. I'm willing to buy the assorted jigs and clamps and what not for the pocket screw stuff.

I'm willing to "build it twice", once out of pine for the face frame, and just get twice the plywood. "Cut twice, measure once."

I have the original for a plan, I can make measurements from it, and it can act as an assembly guide. They just nailed and stapled this thing together with butt joints.

Naively, this looks doable to me. The pocket hole joinery looks simple and mechanical and sturdy. I have a fence on the saw, and I found some techniques on cutting the panels and dealing with larger pieces of plywood (always an issue for me, particularly with the small table saw). But with a circular saw, and some saw horse techniques I saw on YouTube, it seems doable.

The hardest part seems to be cutting the angles. Angles of the cabinet wall, angles of the face frame stiles, angle of the shelves inside. Table saw should do that, I worry about about getting the lines right (cut on the line? Outside the line? Inside the line? What's a good tolerance here).

The face frame will be sanded and stained.

I do not have to make the counter top, I do not have to install it. I have a contractor for that.

What I don't know is...what I don't know. What I don't know is how far over my head am I. What I don't know is do I need special blades for the saw (I have the generic one it came with)? Are there tricks for installing drawer slides? Door hinges?

I don't see a need for dados or anything like that. I was thinking of making the drawers, they would have simple panel fronts, but I may order the doors (they're shaker style -- again, these seem pretty simple to me, but they would need a dado to trim the grooves and make the tenons). I guess I would need a small dado for the bottom of the drawers. Not sure about that yet.

I also don't know how to finish the inside of the cabinet, but I can come back to that.

So, as I said, I don't know what I don't know.

Is this project folly? Part of the problem is we've spent a lot of time trying to find an off the shelf solution and can't. We've even enlisted custom cabinet makers, but they're -- not really responsive. So, I'm feeling empowered by 5 minute internet videos, power tools, and gizmos. I don't want to rush it, but...it just doesn't seem that hard.

I have visions of that bridge at the end of "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" and Sir Robin running off "That's easy!".

So, just looking for the gotcha's. What am I missing. Skill and experience, obviously. Is that enough to condemn the project?

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2 Answers 2

It sounds like you have a very sensible and thorough approach to the project. Just a few suggestions:

Saw Blade

Most blades that come with table and miter saws are fairly low end. If you are cutting plywood for finish carpentry, you want a high tooth count blade for smooth cuts. Check out one of the blade manufacturers for the range and you will find some recommended for this type of work. The cost is worth it and it will last through many more projects.

Angle cuts

This is where your cut-twice idea is a good idea. You are just trying to replicate a given angle. Measure the angles either with a protractor, or, if the piece being matched is an angle cut across a short dimension (rather than a long bevel) lay it up against the angled saw blade to check.

Use scrap wood to make a try cut angle based on your best estimate. If it is off, adjust the blade or angle guide slightly and try again. When you have the exact angle, cut the good wood.

If you need to make an angle cut on a wide board on the table saw, consider an adjustable taper guide that runs along the fence.

Materials

It wasn't clear to me whether you were going to make the face frames out of pine or just make mock ups and then use oak. For the actual frames, use oak. It is both more rigid and much less prone to seasonal change. All woods shrink and swell somewhat, even when well sealed, but softwoods much more so. You could find shifting of doors and binding drawers if you use a wood that changes much.

Cutting on/next to marking lines

It doesn't matter. What does matter is consistency. You need to know where your mark is in relation to the exact measurement, and cut accordingly. And do the same thing every time.

For example, if you measure a board using a rigid rule, and you mark with a pencil, you can have the far edge of the pencil line at the exact distance. The thickness of the line is within the length you want. Then make a line across the board using a square at the exact spot. Many woodworkers use a scribing tool instead of a pencil to get a finer marking. In this case, you would cut leaving the line behind, since it was within the length you wanted.

Also realize that when your finished cabinet meets other surfaces, such as the wall, it will almost never be an exact fit, due to slight irregularities in angle and levelness of the wall. This is where trim strips come in. While there is a technique for scribing an exact contour to fit a cabinet to a wall, that is a bit more challenging. Unless you are going to do that type of trimming, leaving a cabinet a hair shallow or short is much better than too deep or too high. Shims and trim work wonders.

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A willingness to try and a model to follow is all you need to succeed. The rest are details. Confidence comes from seeing how to succeed. Fear and uncertainty come from seeing what can go wrong.

Since you know exactly what the finished product will be, you have at least 80% of the problem already solved. Your acceptance of perhaps having to do it twice is a very healthy way to learn. With that and a bit of luck, you probably won't have to do very much of it twice.

I use my cross cut circular saw blade for almost everything (in wood). When there is danger of chipping or creating other cosmetic flaws, usually masking tape over the center of the cut goes a long way to protecting it. That and using only moderate speed of feeding the wood—give the saw time to do its job.

Dive in and enjoy the process!

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