DIwYatt: Building Custom Shelving Between Cabinets

By | March 21, 2015

The kitchen is moving along nicely. We are getting so close we can both finally see the finish line. Last weekend, I tackled the last building project we have to do. If you remember, we needed to build two different shapes of shelves for the nook project, outside corner shelves and shelves between two cabinets. Here is the corner…empty and weird:

Nook Shelves Before

And the middle area. Even emptier and weirder:

Nook Upper Cabinets 2

We could have bought shelves with the cabinets, but we figured up the cost and we saved about $1000 this way, so we figure that’s worth drawing the project out a little longer even if we’re both tired of the kitchen project. I started out with my measurements. The upper cabinets in the nook were a standard 12 inches deep, that makes things a little simpler. ¬†Careful planning and perfectly straight cuts was a big part of this project.

Building Corner Nook Shelves Planning

I decided to make these shelves out of MDF with a pine face. To accommodate the pine face, I needed cut the MDF 3/4 of an inch short than the 12 inches. I also wanted to stick with the same look as the other shelves¬†we made, so I planned on stacking 2 pieces of MDF together to get that inch and a half thickness. (For the open shelving we used 2 x 12 boards, but the MDF was going to work fine for these because they are smaller and won’t hold as much weight.

The concept is a little difficult to explain and a little unique in itself, but I think the photos will help explain as we go along. Here’s the concept from the side so you can see the plan:

Building Corner Nook Shelves MDF and Pine Plan

The corner shelf needed to be 11.25 inches on either side of the cabinets. So I cut out a 12 inch square and marked my 11.25 inch sides.

Building Corner Nook Shelves Cutting 6

Then, I rotated the crosscut fence on my table saw to a 45 degree angle.

Building Corner Nook Shelves Cutting 5

And cut along those lines.

Building Corner Nook Shelves Cutting 8


Because I was able to use the table saw and cross cut fence, there wasn’t much straightening up needed on the side.

Building Corner Nook Shelves Cutting 9

I did this for the three shelves we’re putting on the corner, cutting a total of six triangle pieces.

Building Corner Nook Shelves MDF Triangles

I sanded off the saw marks with a sanding block I made out of two scrap 2″x4″s and a piece of 60 grit sand paper from a belt sander. The piece in the middle is scrap since we were using the pine face boards.

Building Corner Nook Shelves Cutting 10

Then, I sat my triangle MDF pieces on my pine face board and marked the 45 degree cut lines. I made those cuts on my miter saw. Time to attach everything together.

Building Corner Nook Shelves MDF and Pine

To attach the face boards, I used glue and pocket hole screws. I also went ahead and drilled pocket holes for where we’ll be attaching them to the cabinets.

Building Corner Nook Shelves MDF and Pine 3


The Kreg pocket hole system really is a quick way to join pieces together securely.

Building Corner Nook Shelves Pocket Hole Screws

I wanted to attach the pine face to the bottom triangle shelf. Then, we’ll attach that piece to the cabinets and set the second triangle shelf board on top to hide the pocket holes. Stay with me, the photos will help explain what I’m talking about.

As a side note, always label the parts that go together when building something like this so your fit is perfect for each shelf.

This is the bottom shelf piece with the face frame attached:

Building Corner Nook Shelves MDF and Pine Construction


The second triangle shelf board fits right on top like a puzzle.

Building Corner Nook Shelves MDF and Pine Construction 2

And makes it look like one cohesive shelf.

Building Corner Nook Shelves MDF and Pine Construction 3


I followed this exact process for the middle shelves except these don’t need to be triangle shaped, so it was a little simpler. I used one long piece of MDF and cut it down into the sizes I needed for my two-part shelves.

Middle Nook Shelves Cutting MDF



I needed eight total boards that size, four for the tops and four for the bottoms. These are the tops.

Middle Nook Shelves MDF

I attached the pine face to one of the shelf boards (the bottom one) just as I described in the steps above for the triangle shelves.

Middle Nook Shelves MDF and Pine Construction


Another important step was making sure the two boards fit together perfectly to avoid a ledge or bump. The glue could cause the boards to not fit exactly.

Middle Nook Shelves Cutting MDF Pocket Holes

So, I used my hand planer to remove a tiny lip from the bottom inside corner of the top board to make room for the glue so it would fit perfectly.

Middle Nook Shelves Trimming MDF

After the glue was dry, I sanded the joint smooth by hand with my 60 grit sanding block, followed by grits 150 and 220. Once this joint was smooth, I was ready to fit the second side. I clamped the second MDF board the MDF piece that was joined to the face and began to sand it to get a perfect fit. Remember, these aren’t attached yet. We’ll install the bottom boards in the cabinets (with the face frame attached) and then set the top board on top to hide all the pocket holes.

Middle Nook Shelves Pocket Hole Construction 3

Then we were ready for paint. Two coats of primer and two coats of cabinet paint later and we have some nearly finished shelves.

Painting Nook Shelves

I lightly sanded with the 220 grit sand paper between coats to knock down any bumps in the paint. This was most important in the primer coats, when the wood reacted to the wetness of the paint and raised up into bumps.

Sanding Nook Shelves


We’re working on a clear spray coat right now and then we’ll be ready to hang them. Melissa is really, really excited for that part in the process because the weird holes in the cabinets have been bothering her a lot. And, she has a bunch of stuff all ready to fill the shelves.

Nook Shelves Progress

I know this post was super long and a little hard to follow so please feel free to ask any questions in the comments below and I can explain more, if anyone is even still reading this. I know it’s a little technical…

What do you think of our plan to make these “floating” shelves in such a unique way? Worth saving the $1000 for a weekend of work or would you have preferred to just buy the ones that came with the cabinets?

Join in with a comment! (Let's all agree to be constructive here, okay? Thanks!)