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You’ll Never Believe This Reader DIY’ed These Cabinets for $500… And It Was Her First Custom Build DIY Ever

A few weeks ago, we asked you guys to send in rooms in your home that were inspired by past EHD projects, Lisa responded with an AWESOME version of the mountain house powder bathroom, then threw in that she recently did a wildly impressive DIY project in her home if we’d like to share it on the blog. “LIKE TO?? WE’D LOVE TO” – that was my initial reaction when she told me she DIY’ed these cabinets herself…for less than $500…in 10 days. And it was her first custom build DIY ever. You guys seriously will not believe it. How cool is that?? I had to get some more information on how this was humanly possible so I asked her a boatload of questions, and whether you’re a DIY newbie or expert, she has lots of great tips everyone needs to know for any DIY project (not just building cabinets).

First, let’s show you what she did!

BEFORE

We all know someone (or are the someone 🤚) that has this garage in their life. And for some reason it’s CONSTANTLY the project that’s sitting there, waiting to be organized but the actual doing of said garage org is quite difficult to find time for (because let’s admit, it’s VERY time consuming, laborious, and well, not the most fun thing to do with your Saturday probably). UNLESS you turn it into a full-fledged design project and make it look REALLY PRETTY (just wait for it). Lisa had been wanting to do something with this space because there was a major problem that needed to be solved in their everyday living.

The problem at hand: “Since we do not wear shoes in the house, and the stairs are right outside the main entry door to the house, we would try to wear our shoes as we were coming down the stairs from the inside of the house and it was like a death trap. I would cringe every day so we needed a landing area for our shoes and storage for household items.”

So basically, Lisa needed a “mudroom”… desperately… so she created one. DRUM ROLL PLEASE!!!

AFTER

stair sticker tiles | floor tiles

Can you even believe that’s the same space??? IT’S BEAUTIFUL. I’m still in shock it cost her $500 and took her 10 days… LIKE HOW. Well, I asked her how the heck she did it, don’t you worry. It’s time to get down and dirty with some Q&As with Lisa.

Q: What inspired you to start the project?

This was actually my first DIY where I built something with my own two hands back in December so there were lots of youtube videos involved! 😂 I built everything in the garage photos and I only started the DIY because Covid struck and my husband wouldn’t let anyone in the house so I decided to learn myself. I think my biggest tip for anyone wanting to start a project is: anyone can DIY – you just need to navigate all the bumps along the way.  I’m kind of the epitome of that since I make a TON of mistakes and am slower than your average human. I said I wanted to cry multiple times building these cabinets but you never know how capable you are unless you try and I’m so glad I did! 

Q: How long did this project take?

This project took me ten days to build. Since this was one of my first projects, I was so hooked and obsessed with DIYing once I got that first build under my belt. Power tools are incredibly empowering and it’s a feeling like no other when you build something with your own two hands. I was so excited that I worked in the garage uninterrupted the final weekend where I spent 12 hours on Saturday and 8 hours on Sunday finishing the project. 

stair sticker tiles | floor tiles

Q: What’s the cost breakdown?

I only spent around $500 on this entire project and my neighbor received a quote for $6,000 for a similar layout. Woohoo savings! 

Cost breakdown:

  • I bought 4 pieces of 4’x8’ MDF sheets and 8 pieces of 24″x48″ precut MDF for the shelves which totaled about $300. 
  • The bench I made out of a common board and spent around $80.  
  • The stair sticker tiles I had leftover from my first DIY project which was remodeling my powder bathroom. I also installed shiplap on the walls so I used leftover scraps from that project too so I consider those to be free – I’m repurposing. 
  • Floor tile on the garage floor was from Amazon and I bought 2 packs for $40.
  • Miscellaneous costs were paint, wood glue, screws, and nails 

So that’s the total for materials – since I had never done any building DIY projects in the past, I had to purchase all the power tools. The cost is a bit painful in the beginning since power tools are so expensive, but the money you save in the long run is so worth it. I purchased a finish nail gun – my first purchase – and it’s one of my favorite tools.  Funny story: I realized after I watched my IG highlights why I ended up making the bench for one of Santa’s helpers. I bought a miter saw that came with a 7-1/2” blade. I thought it was a great buy because it came with a laser so you get accurate cuts every time since you can see exactly where you’re cutting with the laser – great for someone beginning in DIY. However, I didn’t realize how limited I was since it could only make a 7” long cut. Due to the short blade, I could only buy around a 12” wide piece of wood or else the blade was too short to cut through the entire piece of wood. Had I known the disadvantages of buying that size, I would’ve stopped being cheap and bought the larger one that cuts 12” – so much more versatile. Once I decided to make the cabinets, I invested in a table saw and omg it’s a total game-changer. I can cut wood up to 32”, big difference from 7”. 😂  I also bought a Kreg jig pocket hole system which is really fun to use. This is the tool that makes the pocket holes that holds the wood frame of the cabinet together and the screws are hidden in these “pockets” so that is definitely a must buy.

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Q: That’s awesome you were able to reuse a lot of material from your bathroom project. Can you give us more info on the peel and stick tiles?

Sure! The tiles are actually two different kinds of peel and stick tiles and they’re water resistant – you can actually put the thinner one in a shower! The smaller print one is from Etsy and I like how I could waterfall the edges of the stairs since it was paper-thin. The other sticker flooring was thicker and not as pliable so I used that for the garage floor landing area. 

Q: Where there any big mistakes you made? What takeaways do you have?

The cabinets and bench I made from MDF. I struggled SO much with the bench. I was so excited to get rid of the clutter in my garage that I jumped into the project with literally no idea what I was really doing and just tried to learn as I go. Examples include: cutting wrong measurements and not making a cut list – there’s a reason why they say “measure twice, cut once”. When making the bench I didn’t realize how much the actual bench itself would shrink from adding the pieces of wood that would frame the front/back and the drawers – so in the end it was so shallow it could literally house shoes for an elf! I also didn’t make a wood cutting list and I was just winging it so there were a ton of mistakes.

After struggling with the bench I learned that DIY projects take a LOT of planning so you don’t make so many mistakes and waste material. When I started building the cabinets, I watched so many youtube videos so many times I felt like I could build it in my head before I even started. That alone gave me more confidence going in. Granted I still made some mistakes…but I just felt much more prepared. By the time I got to making the final bookshelf, I kept doubting myself that I was doing something wrong because it was so much easier and I actually built it without any mistakes! I vividly remember jumping up and down when I completed that one! The bookshelf was actually one of my favorite parts of the design. We turned it 90 degrees from the cabinets so it would be facing us. That way when we took our shoes off we would still be walking on the tiles and not on the dirty garage floor. Also aesthetically it was more pleasing since you see the side profile of the cabinet from the front view as opposed to our stinky shoes.

When I started building the cabinets, I was having difficulty aligning the right angle of the cabinets. Regardless of how hard I tried to hold the pieces together, every time I drilled a screw the pieces would move. Using multiple clamps of different sizes helped with this process and now I’ve become a clamp hoarder. In my search for more clamps, I found this tool which locks the wood in a ninety-degree angle and your corners always end up perfectly flush – you’ll feel like a professional carpenter. Now any time I build a cabinet I always use this tool! 

Also, I always seem to struggle with painting. I believe I painted the shiplap wall four times. I used a satin finish and you could see brushstrokes on so many pieces of wood. I tend to stretch out my paint – meaning, I try to get as much paint off my roller before I add more paint. I learned that is clearly not the correct way to do it. With the pressure of pushing the roller into the wood trying to stretch out the paint, combined with the inconsistent amount of paint on the roller, I ended up with a horrible paint job. After a lot of sanding and changing to a flat sheen (which hides more brush strokes), I was finally able to achieve my desired results. Also, I have now discovered this product called Floetrel. It’s a liquid you mix with your paint and it extends the drying time and eliminates brush strokes. Now, I use this EVERY time I paint anything a dark color. 

Lastly, I had no idea how to install drawer slides and I wanted to cry about five times I was so frustrated. I religiously watched this video and even now, every time I install any type of drawers to this day, I watch it.

Q: WOW it seems like you learned a lot from this process. Would you mind sharing your wisdom and sharing some more of your resources for new DIYers?

Yes! Here we go:

Resources for New DIY-ers:

Tip: Now if I build anything I use this website called arc site (total game-changer) and it has saved me a ton of time and I’ll actually catch any cutting mistakes as I’m diagraming it out as opposed to wasting wood and having to recut my pieces – since wood is like the cost of gold lately. I also never used MDF before and I just bought it because it was the cheapest option and didn’t realize how heavy it was, so it was a massive struggle trying to move these cabinets once they were fully built so next time I would just buy regular plywood to make these. Building the outer box of the cabinet then adding the shelves in that order helps tremendously. The first video I saw did not recommend that so the first cabinet was a struggle. Also since this was my first DIY project cutting anything, I neglected to realize how much sawdust there would be. It literally covered every inch of my garage and it took me a full two days to wipe down every. single. thing I had in there…that was fun. 😂  So the biggest tip: be mindful of how much sawdust is created and cover EVERYTHING before you start. 

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Additionally, here are some other resources I’ve found helpful:

  • Since board and batten walls seem to be on-trend currently, here’s a website that will calculate how wide the panels should be so they can be evenly spaced on the wall. It’s great because those calculations can be tricky and frustrating and all you have to do is enter the number of panels you want and your wall width and it does all the math for you! 
  • I also like to use Planner5d. It’s a free website where you can make 3D renderings of your space. Really helpful when you’re trying to pick tiles for rooms or to visualize a layout as well. Here are some photos of renderings I’ve made with ArcSite and Planner 5d (below)
  • When building cabinets, use European hinges – they’re the best. They adjust the cabinets up, down, left, and right so you get a perfect gap between the cabinet doors.
  • This video helped immensely just watching her build it too

Q: Is there anything you would’ve done differently for next time?

Next time I would make overlay drawer fronts for the bench. I made the drawer fronts inset. I prefer the look of inset drawers and cabinets, but they are a thousand times more difficult to make because the gap around the drawer needs to be perfectly equal. When you make an overlay drawer or cabinet, you’re literally just slapping the wood on top of the cabinet frame so it is much more forgiving and labor-intensive – hence why I chose to do overlay on my cabinet doors. I now understand why having custom-made cabinets is SO expensive! The labor involved is extremely difficult and time-consuming.  

I mentioned in my previous email the initial video I watched to build the cabinet had horrible instructions and it ended up causing me a lot of time wasted and frustration. There’s a lot of “free” building plans on the internet and you never really know how knowledgeable the source is. I would just exercise caution where you get your building plans and education from, especially if it comes from the University of Youtube like mine. The next project I built after this was a desk I found on a website and although it looked pretty, the legs were way too thin and unstable almost making the desk unusable so I would just check your resources when you’re building anything. 

My husband found a solution to the sawdust problem I mentioned earlier and he bought me lots of drop cloths to cover all our items and a wet vac. We hook the vacuum up to the table saw and the majority of the sawdust gets sucked into the hose. However, it pulls a lot of electricity and we shorted the circuit breaker multiple times. I remember the first time, I shut the power off for about half an hour because I couldn’t figure out how to turn it back on and my kids got kicked off their Zoom class and they were ecstatic. So if you use one, just make sure you’re not running multiple things on the same circuit.  

Thanks everyone for reading and be sure to follow Lisa on Instagram here!

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23 days ago

Great Job!! It looks awesome and your tips are fantastic!

Jade
23 days ago

It looks great! Painting is my idea of a DYI so this is super impressive!

looks great! this is the prettiest garage i’ve seen! i did a wall of bookshelves in our old house using ikea billies and trimming them out to make them look like built-ins, and they looked great, but the ikea shelves aren’t the best quality and can’t hold a ton of weight without sagging. so i really want to learn how to do real shelves from solid wood or at least plywood. this post totally just inspired me to learn how to do it and you provided some great resources.

Rusty
23 days ago

I’m thinking of buying Kallax instead of Billys, because they’re so, so sturdy.

Trudy
22 days ago
Reply to  Rusty

And deeper than Billys. Many of my design books are too wide on Billy bookcases, which isn’t good for the books.

DeniseGK
21 days ago
Reply to  Trudy

That is why we have Kallax. My husband is a photographer in his spare time, and Kallax shelves fit his photog books including some really big ones that I thought would be a problem. The only ones that are still “turned out” are the ones he wants to display. I also love that the shelves aren’t too long left-to-right. I never could find bookends that would hold up the huge Taschen books & now I don’t need to.

Steph
23 days ago

This lady is awesome! I love her attitude and she’s a wealth of knowledge for us newbies. Give her a recurring column!!!!

Juanita
23 days ago
Reply to  Steph

Yes!! We need a Saturday morning DIY column to inspire us for weekend projects! (One of my pet peeves is reading “DIY” furniture/construction posts from women on design blogs where they describe their brilliant idea in detail, there’s one line reading “my husband figured out the plans and did all the construction work,” and then ta-da, a picture of the final product. This is like a breath of fresh air compared to those—and actually useful!)

jen
21 days ago
Reply to  Juanita

OMG YES!! That would be awesome!

19 days ago
Reply to  Juanita

Haha yes I like to show how the struggle is real 😂

19 days ago
Reply to  Steph

Awww thanks! you are awesome! I’m so glad you found the tips helpful!

19 days ago
Reply to  Steph

Awww yes puhleeeeease 🥳

Joyce
19 days ago
Reply to  Steph

Agree 100%!

Megan M
23 days ago

This is amazing and SO inspiring!! 90 degree clamps, pocket drilling jig: these are the products that I want to hear about as a woman DIY’ing in her home.

Shannon
23 days ago

This looks so good! Quick question, I’m trying to understand what she meant by “we would try to wear our shoes as we were coming down the stairs,” when describing the problem before. Can someone please enlighten me?

SS
23 days ago
Reply to  Shannon

I think she means they’d have to put them on in the doorway to come down the stairs or put them on while on the stairs because they’d need them on by the bottom but not at the top. Pretty sure the other side of the door is the kitchen, guessing there’s no space for a drop zone up there.

19 days ago
Reply to  Shannon

Hi! The other side of the door was a family room so we would leave our shoes on the stairs. Then try to put them on backwards as we were walking down the stairs 😂 this was a much better solution haha

Heather
23 days ago

I cannot believe you tackled inset cabinets on your first DIY project. I’m in awe!! It looks so good. Seriously inspiring me to get some tools!

19 days ago
Reply to  Heather

Thank you!! Yesssss you can doooooo it!!!

Elyse
23 days ago

This is an impressive project! I realized where I’d seen it before – it was on Apartment Therapy in February!
https://www.apartmenttherapy.com/500-dollar-garage-entryway-redo-cabinets-bench-36882950

kk
23 days ago

Amazing work and persistence. She is clearly very talented and quite lucky – and I love how brutally honest she is about her work process. Not be a negative nancy but I would say she seems to be doing it the hard way. Her outcome for this hall project is really the exception rather than the rule. I understand how she did it this way because of COVID, and I understand the urge to jump in but but I would say that for anyone wanting to work on carpentry projects to get on an IRL jobsite and/or assist or trail someone skilled first. Or take a real woodworking class over Zoom. There are lots of them, from highly skilled professionals. That REALLY trains you in things like construction principals, workflow, tarping, prepping, measuring, circuit breakers, sanding, cleaning, structural issues and most importantly job safety. Plus you can see what you are good at and where you suck before you are cutting expensive wood. with expensive power tools. Otherwise you get into issues of time, money , mess and saw based accidents. She says “ The next project I built after this was a desk I found on a website and although… Read more »

SS
23 days ago
Reply to  kk

I don’t know, I’d say this is how 80% or more of DIYers get started. I think it’s empowering to see her doing it rather than her finding or drawing the plans and handing them off to her husband to learn to do in basically the same way (which is what I do and he’s not any more educated than I am, just more confident and now post-many-projects he’s decently skilled, too). We literally bought the same set of tools for him to make a bed off of the old Ana White site 8 years ago. With zero previous experience and only his unearned confidence and my unsolicited oversight to get us through.

I also wouldn’t say she’s lucky, I think she managed to find that initial confidence that most of us lack. Plus she researched well at each bump and she’s probably extremely meticulous. Even given the miscalculations and whatever mistakes she made the first time around.

kk
21 days ago
Reply to  SS

Im not saying she should hand anything off to anyone. Im just saying anyone working with power tools should seriously learn about workflow, jobsite safety, and building basics.

19 days ago
Reply to  SS

Haha thanks! I think it’s encouraging to show everyone your mistakes since mistakes are inevitable. You’ll only learn by navigating through ALL the bumps snd being better the next time. I’m just hoping to show everyone if a random person like me who never touched a power tool in my entire life can make this – anyone can! 🙂 hopefully that’ll empower anyone to START a project.

Reanna
23 days ago

Love the look of the combined two patterns of peel + stick tiles!

Rusty
23 days ago

Lisa … WOW!!!😁 Wonder Woman and problem solver extraordinaire!!!
HUGE kudos to you!!!
I would’ve been chicken and bought Kallax from IKEA with baskets instead of drawers and ready-to-hang doors.🤣

My brother and BIL just finished building me a small deck with balustrading for my back porch. They’re both experienced metalworkers, not woodworkers, so it’s not perfect, but most people wouldn’t even see the nuances.
The main tools in their kit were love and diligrnce.💗

Then, my BIL turned up with a toolkit and a drill he’d bought for me!!!😳
Bahahaha🤣😂🤣 Now I hafta learn how to use a drill and actually USE it to make something….the pressure’s on!!!
No way would I take on what you did!
I’m thinking of making a big, over-sized doorstop for my outbuilding wash house. 🤣

Eliot
22 days ago
Reply to  Rusty

I just started learning to use a drill a couple of weeks ago, and my best advice is to practice on an old board or something. That would probably be obvious to most people, but I watched two videos on youtube and–brimming with unearned confidence–went right to putting molly bolts in the wall. Or trying anyway. Now I’m hoping youtube can teach me to patch drywall.

Rusty
22 days ago
Reply to  Eliot

Oh no!🤣
I have lots of scrap timber ftom the deck building so that was my plan….to pra tice!

19 days ago
Reply to  Rusty

Aw thank you! I don’t know about Wonder Woman but I’ll take it!! Look like you’ll be doing some DIY in your future with you new fancy tool kit!!

Michelle
23 days ago

So good! I’m definitely saving this for future reference. I’ve dabbled a bit in DIY building but I’m determined to learn more/do more. This is great inspiration!

priscilla
23 days ago

Great job! Love DIY!

Vivienne
22 days ago

Beautiful work, but the best part of reading this was Lisa’s growing competence & sense of confidence. And then reading sentences like this: “Now any time I build a cabinet I always use this tool! “ I like how it obviously went from a single project to a new mindset.
I don’t even know her & yet I’m proud of her!

19 days ago
Reply to  Vivienne

Aw thank you! You are too kind! 🙂

Melody Christensen
22 days ago

Lisa, You are amazing, inspiring, and humble. I love that you taught yourself, admitting your mistakes along the way, and having been married to a journeyman carpenter, I can tell you they even make mistakes occasionally. I am in total awe of what you accomplished, and I respect so much when women get in there and show they can do most anything a man can.
Absolutely beautiful job, thank you for sharing.

19 days ago

Thank you so much! It’s nice to be handier than the hubby now😂

Susan Hughett
22 days ago

My husband used to learn DIY around our house fixing/installing /making thing. Then he would do it correctly helping the neighbors with their fixes. Lesson: We all have to learn somehow.
This story was a great lesson in learning.

leigh
22 days ago

Not exactly cheap. I have built cabinets and I tell friends that its cheaper to buy them than to build them.
https://www.amazon.com/Haotian-Storage-Bench-Cabinet-FSR64-W/dp/B092VMMHF8/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=bench%2Bcabinet&qid=1632052657&sr=8-2&th=1

Emily
22 days ago

Love this! For anyone who doesn’t want to spend on tools, I recommend googling to see if there is a Tool Library in your area. I’m a member of my city’s Tool Library, and in addition to basically any tool I could ever imagine, they have upholstery cleaners, laminators, paper shredders, camping gear…. the list goes on. I pay $50/year and have access to everything. It has been a game changer for DIY projects. I’d love to see some tool libraries featured here on the blog!!

jen
21 days ago
Reply to  Emily

Super cool! I didn’t know tool libraries were a thing!!

Michelle
19 days ago
Reply to  Emily

Yes! We love our tool library so, so much. No sense buying a bunch of tools when you only need them 1 or 2 times per year.

Lisa
20 days ago

This is amazing! I’m curious if the reader (or anyone else) could ballpark the startup cost of all those power tools, too?

C C
20 days ago

Lisa is 100 percent my new hero. LOVED this article. My favourite articles are where the aspirational element is not financial – like, I can only read about handmade tile so many times before I just get depressed about not being able to afford handmade tile. But stuff like this is why I’m here. Thanks!

19 days ago
Reply to  C C

You are SO sweet! Thank you so much!

Michelle
19 days ago

Amazing job! There is nothing like learning how to do it yourself and feel that little thrill of satisfaction every time you see your work. I love the the photos of Lisa hard at work in her PJs–that is 100% my DIY aesthetic.

19 days ago
Reply to  Michelle

that just made me laugh out loud! I was contemplating submitting the photo in my Xmas jammies! 🤣 that just made my day!

17 days ago

Innovative ideas!!! GOOD JOB….

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