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Is it worth it to DIY your own kitchen cabinets?

Is it worth it to build your own kitchen cabinets from scratch, with no experience and no tools? Many people will tell you “no,” but my answer is “it depends.”

I myself am without experience, was without tools (until recently, that is) and am currently building my own kitchen—and for me, I think it’s definitely worth it. In this post, I discuss why I made this decision, my cost analysis, and what I think it takes to do a project like this yourself.

Why I chose to build my own cabinets

My husband and I bought a house in March 2022 and since then I have been on a mission to update as many things as possible on a set budget. One of the big ticket items on my list was remodeling the kitchen because it felt very dated, despite being just 15 years old, and had a horrible layout for the space.

The "before" of our kitchen, March 2022

My first order of business was to get a quote from a licensed kitchen contractor in the area. That company quoted me about $85k to fully redo the kitchen, although notably their quote lacked many things I specified, including new appliances, tile backsplash, natural stone counters, and a custom paint color for the cabinets. The cost for inset cabinets alone within that quote, which specified stock cabinets and included installation, was about $45k.

On to the next option. Next, I requested a quote from an online ready-to-assemble (RTA) cabinet company that ships nationwide. These arrive in flat lay boxes and you assemble the contents like Ikea furniture. The company quoted me about $20k for unfinished inset cabinets constructed of plywood and hardwood using nail and wood assembly. Which, honestly this is not a bad price for what I wanted – I just didn’t want to spend that much!

At the same time I was working on the RTA quote, I had begun diving deep on YouTube and watching a lot of videos of people building their own cabinets. XO MaCenna’s channel, where she had recently begun filming her adventures of doing a gut remodel of a home she’d recently bought (including a DIY kitchen build), was a huge inspiration to me. If she could do it, surely I could, too.

My cost analysis

One thing I am very good at is budgeting. I rationalized that if I could spend less than $20k to build my own cabinets, inclusive of tools which I would also have to buy as I had none at the time, then that would be a successful endeavor. As it turns out, my actual build costs will be closer to $8k when all is said and done. I am building 21 cabinet boxes total, so that equates to about $381 per box.

Here is a breakdown of what I've spent on my project, including some projections on material costs since I'm not quite finished:

Two important notes on my cost analysis:

1) Price shopping can make a huge difference in your budget. I was very good about price shopping EVERYTHING for this project. I purchased tools I needed strategically, such as around holidays when sales were good and purchasing certain tools from the same brand so I could use the same lithium batteries for all of them. I also purchased all of my plywood locally for my kitchen build. I had gathered from YouTube videos that plywood is typically most expensive at stores like Lowes and Home Depot, but until I started price shopping I didn’t realize just how much more expensive their prices can be. Plywood from my local shop is almost exactly half the price of plywood at the big box stores – plus, my local store carries higher quality plywoods that come in a wider variety of wood species and finish options.

2) Remember, tools are an investment and their cost can be amortized over time. Depending on how you look at it, my all in materials-plus-tools cost of $8k could be even cheaper if you amortize the cost of my tools across a number of home projects for which I will use them. For instance, I used many of these tools to finish remodeling one of our bathrooms and I have eventual plans to remodel our two other bathrooms, laundry room and all the closets in the house, too.

Some of my most-used tools

Is DIY the right option for YOU?

While my DIY costs might be cheaper than paying someone else to make custom inset cabinets, that doesn’t mean cheaper alternatives don’t exist. If you are open to overlay or partial overlay cabinets, it’s honestly better to just buy cabinets off-the-shelf since there are many affordable options available for under $8k (or less, if your kitchen is smaller than mine), both brand new and secondhand. Just remember, there is usually a trade-off between cost and quality, and less expensive options are usually made of particle/furniture board that do not hold up well over time. So, if you decide it’s better to buy, I definitely encourage sourcing plywood box construction if at all possible.

Costs aside, just because it’s possible to make cabinets cheaper, DIY isn’t always the right option for everyone. If you are a novice woodworker like me, you need to consider whether you have the patience to learn and the time to do the work…and the re-work that inevitably comes with novice territory. The old adage that “time is money” is true for a reason.

The reality is that I spent a solid three months researching tools, construction methods, and woodworking tips before picking up my first power tool. And, when I got started on my bathroom vanity build (which was my test run for the kitchen), I quickly realized that mistakes happen and that everything takes longer than you anticipate. I have been working on my kitchen for 15 months now – nine months of which have been active cabinet construction – and have had to juggle that with a part-time job and a steady stream of vacationers to sunny Florida who need me as a hostess. And, I am still far from done!

Kitchen progress as of June 2023

Of course, living in a constant mess, which goes hand-in-hand with gut reno work, is not for the faint of heart, especially when it drags on for this long or has the potential to strain a relationship.

Ultimately, if you possess the tenacity and time to learn and work hard on something new, perhaps building your own kitchen cabinets – or any kind of cabinet for that matter – could be for you, too.

Happy nesting,



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