My second bedroom has low ceilings. I bought an IKEA closet, but somehow botched the measurements when I was seeing if it would fit. So, instead of having ~10cm of room for the top of the cabinet, I have 2-4mm on the high side. I got lucky that they fit at all. :)

However, the ceiling sags a tiny bit, such that one corner of one wall of the closet does not fit between the floor and the ceiling. I'd guess that it's about 2mm too tall. It seems like I should be able to shorten the wall by minimally sanding/shaving/sawing exactly where it strikes the ceiling.

The question is: This cabinet is made of particleboard. It seems like particleboard doesn't cut well, as it's already so soft. What is the correct and safest way to shorten this cabinet without causing structural or aesthetic damage?

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    Do you have a belt sander, or palm sander? – Tester101 Nov 22 '10 at 17:59

If you don't have a lot of material to remove, you could use a belt or palm sander to gently sand it down. Be very careful not to press too hard so you don't damage the wood, if you take your time it should work just fine.

If you have to remove a bit more material you could use a circular saw, just make sure you get a saw blade with lots of teeth. For materials like this the more teeth the better, as it will give you a smoother cut and minimize chipping.

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  • I've used a circular saw on particleboard and the results are OK (flaws were more due to my inaccuracy than the saw). – Niall C. Nov 22 '10 at 18:28
  • How important is it that I have an electric tool? Is this doable by hand? – Andres Jaan Tack Nov 22 '10 at 18:44
  • You can do it by hand, it will just take longer. – Tester101 Nov 22 '10 at 19:08
  • @Andres : If you do it by hand, I'd suggest a fine toothed 'razor saw' or possibly a jewler's jigsaw. (or course, I say that because they're both tools I have around ... others might work, but they're each something like 30-60 TPI) – Joe Nov 23 '10 at 12:58
  • @Andres Jaan Tack: Depending on how soft the particle board is, you may be able to trim it using a razor knife. – Tester101 Nov 23 '10 at 13:21

If you don't want to use electric tools, you could wrap sandpaper around a block of wood or a sponge and try to sand the top down so that it fits.

If this is to be a permanent installation, you could also try to remove part of the ceiling. If it is drywall it will probably possible to cut with a razer knife. If it's plaster, you are probably better off modifying the cabinet.

If the cabinet is raised up on legs at all, it might be easier to cut them down than to modify the top.

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    +10 for adjusting the legs instead of the top... – Alex Feinman Feb 25 '11 at 18:50
  • The best tool I've found for removing plaster has been a hammer and chisel. You can get pretty accurate in where and how much plaster you knock out with that approach. Utility knives tend to hit the plaster and just stop; jab saws will saw through the plaster once you punch a hole big enough to get them in using the chisel. – Jeremy W. Sherman Jul 29 '12 at 21:08

Here's how I cut laminated particle board:

  • Put heavy masking tape over the general area that you're going to cut. This will help (at least a little bit) to keep the laminate from chipping on the edges.
  • Mark the final cut line right on the masking tape.
  • Get a fine-toothed blade for whatever saw you prefer. For a circular saw, 60 or more teeth should work pretty well. (I use a circular saw because I feel like I get straighter cuts, and because the teeth always enter the board in the same direction. A jigsaw might work in a pinch, but because the blade moves both up and down, it'd probably chip the laminate more. See the next step.)
  • Make sure that the teeth of the sawblade will enter into the front of the piece, or whichever surface is more exposed/visible. The side where the teeth come out of the piece are far more likely to be "blown out" and chipped by the teeth of the blade.
  • Make a practice cut on a scrap piece if you have one, so you can get the feel for how fast to cut the material.
  • Try to cut slowly enough to keep a straight line and avoid chipping, but not so slowly as to let the blade burn the particle board.
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    I have tried the masking tape trick, and found (at least for me) that just using a blade with more teeth helps more than the tape. – Tester101 Nov 23 '10 at 13:14
  • Yup, I agree that the blade is more important than the masking tape. – Chris Jaynes Nov 23 '10 at 13:54
  • Chris is on the right track here. A plywood blade is best, but if you don't have one, the more teeth the better. most important is making sure teeth of the blade enter the wood on the "show" side. the back side is gonna chip every time. Also clamp a straight edge to the piece to use as a guide for your circular saw. Really helps make a nice straight cut. Finish off the cut edge by sanding it with a vib or DA sander with a med grit paper, 150 will be fine for particle board. Good luck – shirlock homes Nov 28 '10 at 22:02

I would try a hand held electric planer. Far easier to remove lots of material vs using a sander. The sander will work, but of course it will be super dusty and take much longer.

I'm not a huge fan of sanding on particle board, all that glue and resin dust in addition to the regular wood in can't be very healthy. If you go the sanding route - I'd strongly advise wearing a respirator.

Good luck!

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Sometimes we need to get back to old fashioned methods. Try a rasp or surform. Both can remove material very efficiently, while still providing good control. Finish off with sandpaper if you want a better finish.

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    A rasp on cheap particle board, wouldn't that do more damage than good? – Tester101 Nov 23 '10 at 13:18
  • I think you might have more luck getting a nice edge with your teeth than you would with a rasp. :) Seriously, though, I've never had any luck sanding particle board back to a fine edge. – Chris Jaynes Nov 23 '10 at 17:01
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    A rasp can remove material fast but doesn't have to leave as rough a surface as some appear to think. Rasp straight for bulk removal and gradually turn it on an angle as the target is approached, finishing off with the rasp at about 45 degrees to the direction you're rasping. The finish can be as good as you would get with a bastard file. – John Gardeniers Nov 25 '10 at 9:11

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