Building cabinets to house California Academy or Cornell drawers without mortgaging your house.

 You are visitor number   since 29 January 2004 

Kelly Richers, Moth Collector "Extraordinaire"

"Extraordinaire" means "out of control"…

After working with cabinets that are no longer available through any known source, and yet having found them to be very serviceable, I "unbuilt" one, then got the dimensions to build my own. These cabinets hold 12 Cornell drawers or 14 Cal Academy drawers when finished, and have an openable door, which is an advantage over the type where the door falls off when you remove clips.


3 sheets of what we commonly call 3 / 4" plywood. It isn’t anymore, and you need to keep this in mind when doing dimension work. They are 4 ‘ by 8 ‘ and you can build 2 cabinets with three sheets. Cutting the parts for 2 cabinets at a time is a good way to go, also, as you can then assemble them as needed. These run about $27.00 per sheet, finished one side, and you need three. Cost, about $81.00

One package of screws, wood, #8 by 1 and 1 / 2 ", 100 per package. Cost, about $3.00

Three packages of screws, wood #6 by 1 / 2 ", 100 per package. Cost, about $8.00

7 lengths of 12’ right angle metal, used for hanging ceilings (that’s the section where you find it in the home improvement store. It is perfect, as it has rolled edges and is malleable enough for straightening if messed up. It costs about a whopping $1.79 per 12 foot section, and you need 56 pieces, each 15" in length, so the cost is minimal compared to, say, anything else on the planet I have found. Cost, about $21.48

One set of two hinges for each cabinet. I use 3" long by 3 / 4" wide hinges with three holes. Color is unimportant, they come in brass color or silver color. Cost, about $2.89 each set of two, so $5.78 total.

Cabinet handles. I buy them from the home center and all mine match, as I get a common one from the decorative handle section. Mine cost about $1.99 each, so total cost is $3.98 or so for two cabinets

That is about $123.24 for the materials to build two cabinets. You also need several tools, such as a drill or drill press, table saw and screwdriver if your drill is not convertible. A tape measure or yardstick (more easily used) is also needed.

You will need at least two drill bits, something equal to the #6 and #8 screws above, and a larger, 3 / 4" bit.

Assembly instructions:

Cut the wood. This is best done at your local high school or junior high that still teaches woodshop, or on a larger bed saw than most people have at home. You are trying to cut very large sheets straight, and the straightness is important. Dimensions are important, because if done properly, the door stays shut of its own volition. Cut the following:

2 backs, 19 and 1 / 4" X 40 and 1 / 2". They must not be cut short along the 19 and 1 / 4" side, or the drawers don’t fit…

4 sides, 19’ X 41 and 1 / 4"

2 bottoms, 20 and 3 / 4" X 19 and 3 / 4"

2 tops, 20 and 3 / 4" X 19 and 3 / 4"

2 doors, 20 and 3 / 4" X 40 and 1 / 2" (They look better if the grain runs the long dimension)

2 bottom inserts, same cut as above, but cut out just under 3 / 4" along both sides all the way except for 3 / 4" of the front. The resulting shape will be a very fat T with a real little top. Make allowance for the saw blade width in this cut, because when you screw the sides to the insert, if you cut too deeply, the drawers won’t fit…

After the cuts are done, now, we will talk about the risers for the drawers. Cut the right angle into 15’ pieces. A band saw does quick work on this. Then drill small #6 sized holes in each 15" piece from the inside of the angle, along only one of the sides, spaced out. I put a hole in the middle, and one about an inch from each end. This should leave you with one flat shelf side and one side with three holes to screw into the cabinet. You will need 28 of these for each Cal Academy cabinet, and 24 for each Cornell cabinet.

This is best done on a drill press, as you can do all you need in a fairly short time

Since I use screws with flat heads, and they need an inset, I then take a real large drill bit, say a 3 / 4" or so, and make a bevel in the riser so the screw will sit flat. This will keep the drawer from being cut by the screw head.

The next step is to lay out one of the sides and decide which is the top and the outside. Assumedly the finished side is the outside, so you want to work on the other, or inside side. Lay the side piece down so the finished side is down, and with a pencil, mark "top" on the top with an arrow pointing in the direction you want to be the front.

Make a light pencil line down from the top to the bottom 1 _" in from the front. This will provide a nice straight front for your risers. Who cares about the back, as you will never see them. Mark down this line from the top, for California Academy drawers, at: 3 and 1 / 2", 6 and 1 / 4", 9", 11 and 3 / 4", 14 and 1 / 2", 17 and 1 / 4", 20", 22 and 3 / 4", 25 and 1 / 2", 28 and 1 / 4", 31", 36 and 1 / 2", and 39 and 1 / 4". Go to the back and do the same thing about three inches in from the back side. Draw lines from front to back starting 1 and 1 / 2" from the front (at your line) at each of these measurements, making nice parallel lines. This marks the top of each of your risers.

The only difference between this cabinet and a Cornell cabinet is the spacing of the risers and the fact that there will only be 12 on a side.. For a Cornell, mark from the top at 4", (there is a wider space here because the sample cabinet I used had an insert at the top also, which I do not use) then every 3 and 1 / 4" down from that point (7 1 / 4", 10 and 1 / 2", 13 and 3 / 4", 17", 20 and 1 / 4", 23 and 1 / 2" etc.)

Place a riser with the straight side on the top, and the part to be screwed in under it even with the front line. Drill small number 6 holes where each hole falls for each riser. Do this individually, as there is no assurance that each riser is drilled at the same place (at least when I do it) and don’t bump the whole mess to misplace the risers. Then screw in each one. You can drill and screw in each one as you go, avoiding any problems, but I use the drill to screw too, so I do them all at once.

When one side is done, do the other, making sure you mark a top and make a mirror image, so that it will all look pretty when you are done. Otherwise you will end up with the same side twice…

Now to put it together. Again, drill your holes first and bevel them carefully as you are now working on the outside or finished side. The back goes between the sides, so screw one side to the back , using four # 8 screws spaced evenly (one about 1" from each end and the other two somewhere evenly between. Use five screws if you want, because no one cares. Flip it over without ripping out the screws and do the other side. Then put it on end and screw on the bottom. You might want to make sure the insert fits first, because this is your check to make sure everything was put together properly. The insert fits flat against the bottom piece. Note that they extend 3 / 4" beyond the sides at the front.

Voila, you have a cabinet, sort of. Flip the partially done cabinet over. Put the top on the same way and now it can stand up the way it belongs.

To attach the door, drill holes for the hinges (no need to bevel these) starting 9" from the top and 9’ from the bottom along the right side of the cabinet so the hinge can swing freely out. Remember that the hinge has to swing out, and try it first, but the hinge part can actually rest on the edge and you have a little more room, it seems, as well as being able to center the part that has to be drilled into the 3 / 4" dimension of the door itself. Drill and attach both hinges and the door is on. I find laying the cabinet on its side makes putting the door on easier, and less hair-raising than putting it on standing up.

The handle goes on the left side of the front part of the door, centered, about 1" in from the side-leave room for the 3 / 4" overlap or it won’t close completely. Your cabinet is done. Now if you can just find room for it…