Remember those multipurpose, free-standing kitchen cabinets with pull-out bins, built-in flour sifters, and lots of storage? The “Hoosier” cupboard first appeared in the United States more than 100 years ago, bringing convenience and efficiency to the hodgepodge of shelves, tabletops, hanging pans, flour barrels and storage bins in cluttered turn-of-the-20th-century kitchens. (See “Hoosier Cupboard History” further in this article.)
We believe Hoosier-style cupboards deserve a prominent place in today’s kitchens. Mother’s updated design — part workstation, part storage cabinet — retains the original’s spirit and functionality. Our version features handy dispensers for grains or flour, and a pull-out work surface, making it a perfect baking cupboard. Instead of the mixer shown on the finished cabinet, you could place your grain mill on the swing-up shelf. You could also modify these plans to create a specialized space for fermenting, vegetable storage, built-in composting — or something else entirely. The plans offer all the space and flexibility you’ll need for stashing the tools and materials to carry out your particular culinary passion.
Any homesteader or cook with average do-it-yourself skills can build this Hoosier. The materials (not including accessories) cost $575: $270 for stock cabinets, $120 for plywood, $80 for boards and moldings, and $105 for hardware, laminate and fasteners. That’s a bargain, considering similar ready-made cupboards cost at least $2,000 — and wouldn’t be built to your custom specifications. You could further reduce costs by recycling older cabinets.
Our cupboard has many unique features:
• Most of the components are sold at home improvement centers. The skeleton is made of stock kitchen cabinets. The sides, back and shelves are cut from standard 1/2-inch oak plywood. The decorative crown molding and 1-by-2 oak face frames are also off-the-shelf purchases.
• You can easily alter these Hoosier cabinet plans. Simply select different sizes or configurations of stock cabinets, and then, following the same basic steps outlined in this article, bring them together using cut-to-fit parts.
• You can accessorize the cupboard dozens of ways by adding sliding trays, flour sifters, roll-out spice racks, bulletin boards and more. Our finished kitchen cupboard features a swing-up shelf for a stand mixer, a space-saving pull-out work surface for kitchen prep, and dispenser bins for whole grains and flour.
These kitchen cabinet plans use the stock cabinets available at any home improvement center. You’ll still have to cut, measure and install parts correctly, but you won't have to build a cabinet from scratch — normally the hardest part of this type of project. When you shop for stock cabinets, look for “base cabinets” for the bottom section of the Hoosier, and “wall cabinets” for the top section. The stock cabinets must have concealed Euro-style hinges for the plans to work. Luckily, most home improvement centers sell cabinets built this way. Stock cabinets vary in size from one manufacturer to another, and you may want to select different sizes to make your DIY kitchen cabinet narrower or wider than ours, so use the dimensions in the cutting list as your guide. Cut and fit as you go, to produce tight joints.
A circular saw, drill, miter saw, jigsaw, router and straightedge jig (scroll down for instructions on how to build one) are must-have tools for this project. We also recommend that you beg, borrow or rent a pneumatic finish nailer because it will help you work faster and more accurately.
The overall dimensions of our finished cabinet are 45 inches wide by 25 inches deep by 80 inches tall. Make your cabinet taller or shorter by adjusting the heights of the side (F) and back (E) panels (see the Cutting List further in this article, and the exploded drawing for an alphabet key).
The sky’s the limit for accessories on your homemade Hoosier cupboard. The 21-inch-wide middle base cabinet, and the equivalent space between the upper cabinets, gave us the room we wanted for adding a swing-up shelf (also known as a “mixer lift”) below and dry-goods dispensers above. The 12-inch-wide side cabinets provide plenty of extra kitchen storage space for trays, cutting boards, and drawers for spices and smaller items. But you may prefer a stock cabinet containing only drawers instead of our drawer-door combination.
You can add racks, hoppers, bins, canisters and other features to your free-standing kitchen cabinet. In addition to our swing-up mixer shelf, we installed spice organizers in the drawers, and cork panels for bulletin boards inside the upper cabinets. Instead of cupboard doors for your base cabinets, you may prefer drawers. Perhaps you want to add a tilt-out potato storage bin, or a sliding system to hold containers for kitchen waste you intend to compost — just find the appropriate style of stock cabinet and the right hardware, and be sure to adjust the cabinet’s overall dimensions to make it work. For example, you can create a hopper-type cabinet by removing the side hinges from a stock cabinet’s door and replacing the hinges on the bottom. Then, install a tilt-out wire hamper basket (available from many home improvement centers) on the interior of the door. To control how far your newly created hopper opens, simply add lid support hardware.
Gather the base cabinets (A, A, B). Remove the doors and drawers, clamp the cabinets together so they're flush on the front and top, drill pilot holes into the interior sides, and secure the cabinets to one another with 2-1/2-inch screws.
You’ll have to make the back of the base cabinet the same size as the front. Because the outer edges of the face frame will protrude beyond the sides — by 1/4-inch in our situation — you must insert spacers (C) between the cabinets at the rear so the sides will remain parallel. (We used 1/2-inch spacers, but your spacers may be wider or narrower depending on how far your frame’s edges protrude.) Next, add furring strips (D) to the cabinet sides near the back and along the bottom to fill in the space created by the protrusion of the face frame’s edges in front. Again, adjust the thickness based on the thickness of the frame; ours measured 1/4-inch. When you're finished, the back of the base cabinets should measure the same as the front — in our case, 45 inches.
The next few steps require precision-cutting of plywood, which will be much easier with a jig. (See “How to Build a Straightedge Cutting Guide,” below.) Cut the back panel (E) from a sheet of 1/2-inch plywood (view the cutting diagram). Before you cut, turn the best-looking side facedown to minimize splintering on that surface. Secure panel (E) to the back of the base cabinets using wood glue and 1-1/4-inch screws.
Measure and mark the L-shaped side panels (F) on a second sheet of 1/2-inch plywood. A drywall square will help you with this task. Cut the sides using the straightedge jig, positioning it three times to get the L-shape required for each side. At the inside corner of each L, cut the last 1 or 2 inches with a jigsaw. The height of the lower leg of the L should be 2 inches taller than the top of the base cabinets. This 2-inch space will create room for the components that will make up the pull-out work surface: 1/2-inch base top (L), plus 1/2-inch glides (KK), plus 3/4-inch space for the laminate tray panel (EE), plus 1/4-inch clearance.
Secure the side panels to the base cabinets with screws, taking care to align the front edge of the plywood flush with the front edge of the base cabinets.
Refer to the cutting guide to cut the cabinet top (G) from the third sheet of 1/2-inch plywood. Secure this to the sides and back using glue and 1-1/2-inch finishing nails. Use scrap wood to temporarily support the upper cabinets (H) in the top-inside corners of the cabinet box. Again, make sure the front edges of the cabinets are flush with the front edges of the plywood side panels before securing them with screws driven in from the back and finishing nails from the side.
Cut and install the middle shelf (J), securing it to the bottom of the upper cabinets. Secure the 1/2-inch plywood panels (K) to the sides of the upper cabinets.
Screw the 1/2-inch plywood panel (L) across the top of the base cabinets — you can make the panel out of two pieces of leftover plywood because it will be hidden. Secure 1/4-inch-by-1-1/2-inch batten strips (M, N) to the sides and back of the cabinet, and install the bottom shelf (O). This space will create the cavity for stowing your pull-out work surface.
Congratulations! You've built the bones of your modern Hoosier cupboard.
The face frame pieces (P, Q, S, W, X, Z, AA, BB) will hide the exposed edges of the plywood and give the cabinet doors on both the bottom and upper cabinets a classic inset look. To determine how much side clearance your face frame will need for the door, open one of the doors and position a scrap of 1-by-2 next to it, and then close the door and measure the resulting gap — it should be about 1/4-inch. For uniformity, maintain this 1/4-inch gap around the doors and drawers at the side, top, and bottom as you install the face frames. We were able to use standard 1-by-2s for all but two of the face frame pieces, (Q) and (S).
Use sandpaper or a 1/8-inch roundover router bit to ease the edges of the pieces. Start by installing the two side pieces (P) on the front of the base cabinets. These pieces should be mitered on top and have a 3/8-inch-by-7/8-inch interior notch to accommodate the pull-out work surface. The sides of these 1-by-2s will extend about 1/4-inch past the plywood on the outside.
Install the oak strip (Q) that will support the front of the bottom shelf (O). We ripped the strip to 1-1/4 inches to minimize the lip on the front of the shelf. Make sure this piece extends past the sides the same distance as the side pieces (P) do. Secure it with glue and nails.
Next, install the oak strips (R) that will cover the top of the widest part of the side panel. They should be mitered on one end and butt tightly against the bottom shelf rail (Q) on the other.
Install the cabinet rail (S) across the top of your base cabinets. You may need to rip this to 1-1/4 inches to maintain your 1/4-inch gap between it and the tops of the doors.
To trim out the very bottom of the base cabinets, cut a strip of 1/2-inch plywood (T) and apply it to the recessed toe-kick area. Then, install the arched bottom valance (V), supporting it on each end with small scrap blocks (U). We created the arch by flexing a thin strip of wood and tracing along the edge.
To complete the base cabinets’ face frame, install the two vertical strips (W) to cover the joint between the middle and side cabinets. In our case, a 1-by-2 worked perfectly to create the 1/4-inch gap on each side; rip yours to width if needed.
To trim the upper cabinets, begin by running a 1-by-2 band (X, Y) around the top, again leaving a 1/4-inch clearance above the doors. Add the two long, vertical outside pieces (Z), followed by the horizontal middle shelf trim (AA) — we thinned out the shelf’s middle portion with a jigsaw. Add the vertical strips (BB) to the inside edges of the top cabinets.
Cut the crown molding (CC, DD) upside down on the miter saw for best results, and apply it around the top.
Measure the distance between the notches on the face frame base stiles (P), and then subtract 3/4-inch to determine the width of your sliding work surface (EE). Measure the overall depth of the top and subtract 3/4-inch to determine the depth of the sliding panel (EE). Cut the panel (EE) to size, and then use glue and nails to attach the 1-by-2 front edge (FF), and the 1/4-inch-by-3/4-inch side (GG) and back (HH) pieces.
Adhere an oversized piece of laminate (JJ) to the sliding panel (EE) using contact adhesive. Follow the instructions on the can — the manufacturer is serious about the part that reads, “You can't reposition parts after they make contact.” After the glue has set, use a router with a trim bit to remove excess laminate, followed by a chamfer bit to ease the edges. You can use solid wood in lieu of laminate and plywood for the sliding surface, but be aware that solid wood panels of that size tend to warp and crack.
Determine the location of drawer glides (KK) — we spaced ours 32 inches apart — and secure the glide bottoms to the top of the base cabinet (L). Extend the drawer glide arms, position the work surface (EE) on them, and secure the panel with a few screws. Test and adjust the smoothness and accuracy of the glide before installing the rest of the screws.
Before applying finish, we took the time to carefully sand the cabinet doors and drawers with 120-grit sandpaper because they're normally a little rough right out of the store. We sanded all the other pieces, too, keeping an eye peeled for any glue that had spread or dripped. Next, we applied a pre-stain wood conditioner because solid wood and plywood absorb stain at different rates, and conditioner helps even out the absorption. Lightly sand the entire cupboard with 180-grit sandpaper after the conditioner dries, and putty the nail holes. Apply your stain of choice followed by a couple of coats of polyurethane. A high-gloss finish will be easiest to clean, and is practical for kitchen cupboards.
We wanted to build a cabinet with traditional punched-tin panels, so we cut galvanized flashing to fit into the recesses on the upper cabinet doors, trimming the flashing about 1/4-inch larger than the panels in each direction. We applied a few dabs of adhesive to hold the flashing in place, and then worked the metal edges between the flat panel and the door rail and stile. To create the punched-tin design, we enlarged a pattern we found online, printed it, and taped it to the flashing. We then cut a piece of plywood to support the back of the door panel as we punched the pattern holes using a standard hammer, screwdriver and 16d and 8d nails.
We wrapped up work on our thoroughly modern Hoosier cupboard by installing dispensers, a heavy-duty mixer lift, and a magnetic cutlery strip, and then we flipped through a cookbook to choose which recipe we’d bake first.
We used a circular saw with a straightedge guide to cut all the plywood for this Hoosier kitchen cupboard. Wrestling a 4-by-8-foot sheet of plywood across a table saw is a hassle, and you can’t cut the L-shaped pieces with a table saw anyway. With a straightedge guide, you’ll be able to move the saw over the plywood and not vice versa.
To build a straightedge cutting guide, rip a 4-inch strip with a factory edge from a 16-inch-wide piece of 1/2-inch plywood. Use glue and screws to secure the 4-inch strip onto the remaining 12-inch piece, with the factory edge of the 4-inch piece facing the 8-inch open space on the larger piece. Run your circular saw along the 4-inch piece, cutting a strip off the lower 12-inch piece as you go.
Whenever you need to make a cut, simply line up the edge of the wider strip to a pair of marks, clamp or screw the jig down, and operate your circular saw against the straightedge cutting guide.
The Hoosier Manufacturing Co. of Indiana made the first Hoosier-style kitchen cabinet around 1900. The company marketed them with the motto, "Steps saved in the kitchen give women strength and energy for other things." Dozens of other manufacturers jumped on the bandwagon with innovation upon innovation. Today, a Hoosier-style cabinet will add extra storage space to any kitchen — plus providing a nice throwback to an era when kitchens were more than just places to microwave frozen dinners.
The Swiss Army knife of the kitchen, a Hoosier cupboard might contain a sliding top, flour sifter, bread box, cutting board, food grinder, spice rack, cookbook holder, and even an ironing board. Hoosier kitchen cupboards came in a wild array of configurations with open shelves, banks of drawers and frosted doors. Many of them sported tambour doors that could roll down to mask a mess. The Hoosier’s popularity leveled off in the 1920s, and the all-in-one workstation was eventually displaced by sprawling modern kitchens with continuous cabinets and countertops.
You can build your own customized version of this efficient traditional design. If you're thinking of modifying our plans to better suit your needs, type "Hoosier cabinet designs" into your preferred online search engine and start scrolling through the photos. You'll find hundreds of clever ideas and styles.
Spike Carlsen is a master carpenter who appreciates fine craftsmanship and woodworking challenges. Cabin Lessons, his latest book, recounts how his family built a sturdy structure on the Lake Superior shoreline. The Backyard Homestead Book of Building Projects is packed with ingenious DIY projects.
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