What is Cabinet Making?

CW Deziel
CW Deziel
It takes years of training to become a cabinet maker.
It takes years of training to become a cabinet maker.

Cabinet making is a woodworking trade that involves designing and building cabinets. It is a precision trade that requires a variety of stationary power tools, hand tools, and measuring equipment, and involves many tasks that are useful in other trades, such as furniture making. A cabinetmaker must be able to accurately dimension, cut, and shape lumber; do complex joinery; and apply a finish to completed projects. Related cabinet making jobs include marquetry and woodcarving, glass cutting, and design consultation.

Woodworkers may specialize in creating cabinetry.
Woodworkers may specialize in creating cabinetry.

Unlike a construction carpenter, a cabinetmaker usually works in a shop equipped with a variety of precision power tools. The centerpiece of a cabinet making shop is the table saw, which is usually much more powerful than one on a construction site and more accurately tuned. Among the other common power equipment in a cabinet making shop are a heavy duty jointer and planer for making accurately dimensioned lumber, a lathe for turning spindles, a drill press for boring, and a table-mounted router for shaping. A cabinetmaker is also likely to have a wide assortment of chisels, hand planes, mallets, clamps, and screwdrivers. No cabinet making shop would be complete without a large, flat assembly table.

While most cabinets can be completed in a cabinet making shop, occasionally a cabinetmaker will work on-site. For example, when constructing a built-in cabinet, most of the cutting and milling will be conducted in the shop, but the cabinet will be assembled in place. Since this sometimes requires modifications to the building structure and surrounding walls, a cabinet maker should also have a grasp of basic carpentry, drywall, and painting techniques. The sense of aesthetics and proportion possessed by a good cabinetmaker is a valuable asset to the homeowner seeking cabinets that blend with the house decor in a pleasing way.

It usually takes more training to be a cabinet maker than it does to do work in other woodworking trades. Many of the cutting, shaping, and joinery procedures are complex and require a degree of precision that takes years to develop. While an aspiring cabinetmaker can get appropriate training by taking courses offered by community colleges and vocational schools, most employers also require a period of formal apprenticeship. Apprentices working in an established cabinet making shop usually begin by doing many of the most routine and time-consuming cabinet making jobs, like cutting trim and doing simple assembly, until they have developed sufficient familiarity with the tools to attempt more refined ones.

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Discussion Comments


My husband has a nice woodworking shop, but there is always a new tool or piece of equipment he needs!

He has made many nice pieces of furniture, and the next project he wants to tackle are some custom cabinets.

He has watched several DIY cabinet making shows and has narrowed down the particular pattern he wants to use.

This seems to be more challenging than what most people realize. I don't have the craftsmanship or patience for this type of work, but appreciate those who do.

I have several pieces of high quality, well built furniture in my house, and think having cabinets built like this would be a great addition to my kitchen.


I have not been to a cabinet making shop, but am able to enjoy the benefits of one every day.

The house we moved in a few years ago has custom built cabinets in the kitchen. This is the first time I have had cabinets this well made.

I can see the precision and quality work that went in to making these cabinets. If I was having a house built, this is something I would not have spent the extra money on, but I really enjoy them now that I have them.


@titans62 - I agree. Of course now you have mass produced cabinets make in small factories, but as far as solid wood, handmade cabinets go, I think it is a good industry. I don't see it going away anytime soon, either.

One of the cabinet making tools I never really thought about until I read this article was the wood lathe. I even have a couple spindles on my cabinets at home, and I didn't think of what went into making them.

Unfortunately, I don't have custom cabinets, but how much would it cost for them? I know about how much it costs for manufactured cabinets that you can buy from the stores, but I have never really looked into the price difference between those and what someone makes by hand.


@kentuckycat - I never really thought about that, but I bet there is some sort of software out there on the market to help people with their cabinet making plans. When you think about it, though, people have been making cabinets long before computers were around, so I'm sure a lot of people still just use a tape measure and paper to draw their designs.

Having a program might be nice, though, if you were making custom cabinets and wanted to give your clients a better idea of what the kitchen was going to look like, or if they wanted to see a few different designs.

What I really wonder is how many hours it takes just for one cabinet. I'm sure it would get easier as you did it more, but there would be a lot of time with just planing and sanding the wood, then you have to do the staining or whatever finish it is going to have. Cabinet making doesn't seem like something for the weekend woodworker.


We had custom kitchen cabinets put in our house when we were remodeling the kitchen. They look great, so we really like them.

We are fortunate enough to have a local cabinet maker who specializes in doing custom jobs. I like the fact that he uses local wood, too. Because of that, you are usually able to get some types of wood that you can't find in a normal store. We ended up having ours made out of a local birch species. I know of some people who have gotten more rare woods like apple and butternut.

What I never really asked was how he came up with the final design. Is there some sort of cabinet making software that these people use where they can put in the dimensions and play with the design they want to use before they actually cut the finished products?


I agree that anyone who can make cabinets is probably among the best woodworkers. Just the level of detail that is involved is usually pretty impressive. The fact that you have to make the cabinets fit perfectly on a wall or something just adds to the difficulty. Cabinets aren't something like a table or furniture that can fit almost anywhere in a room if they are relatively the right size.

Cabinet making does seem like a good career path, though, if you have the talent to do it. Quality cabinets are always in demand and usually cost a pretty good price.

I wasn't aware that there was any sort of cabinet making school. Do most community colleges have something like that, or just certain ones? I have a few friends who are really into woodworking. It might be worth looking more into it and seeing if there might be a few classes they could take to learn about cabinet making.

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