How to Build Your Own Plate Rack Cabinet
So you have all that pretty china that you've been collecting over the years and you want a plate rack to show it off. I wanted that too. I searched high and low for a plate rack that would suit my needs. What I found was that either the plate racks were ridiculously expensive, or I couldn't find one that fit the space that I needed it to fit.
Most of the plate racks within my budget were approximately half the size as the one I envisioned for the space. OK, now what? I played with the idea in my head awhile of just building my own and started drawing it out on paper. What exactly do I want the cabinet to hold, besides plates? And with that, I was on my way to building my own plate rack cabinet.
This cabinet was the first one I built and was a learning experience for me. But I still use it today—proudly, I might add. In this article, I'll show you how I did it and provide tips for you to make one yourself.
Plan and Design
Plan the Location of the Cabinet
The first thing you're going to need to do is identify where you would like to put the plate rack cabinet. Before beginning the project, it might be helpful to ask yourself these two questions:
Do you have room for one in your kitchen?
When we were remodeling our kitchen, I was told by the cabinet design company that I didn't have room for one. The only one available through the cabinet company was a small wall display that would maybe hold 10 plates and nothing else. That would not be suitable for my needs. I wanted to display more than plates, and I wanted it larger and made good and sturdy. So I had to make my own.
Do you want the plate rack to hang on the wall or sit on the counter against the wall?
If you're going to hang it on the wall, the weight of the finished cabinet has to be taken into consideration. You may have to use lightweight materials and also anchor the cabinet to the wall with the appropriate anchors.
Choose a Location
Once you've answered the above two questions, you're ready to plan the space where you want your cabinet. In my case, I had to remove a wall cabinet. My plate rack cabinet sits on top of the counter and goes almost all the way to the ceiling. It is not attached to the wall, but it still holds a lot more than a few plates.
Design the Look of the Cabinet
Once you've decided where to place your cabinet, it's time to start sketching out the plans for how you want it to look. The first step in designing your cabinet is to measure the location's height, width, and depth so you know how much room you have to work with. Write these numbers down.
Now, measure it again—just to make sure your dimensions are correct. This is a crucial step that requires careful attention to detail and accuracy. Otherwise, the quality of your entire project could suffer.
Sketch It Out
Grab a sketch pad (or graph paper) and a pencil and do a rough drawing of your cabinet plan. Go ahead and draw in your shelves where you want them, cup hooks, etc. It doesn't have to be pretty, just make sure you're giving it some thought before we get to the actual work.
While sketching out your design, it might help to ask yourself these questions:
- How tall does the dowel insert need to be in order to hold my plates? (Measure your tallest plate and add extra space to that number so that you will be able to insert and remove the plate with ease.)
- How much space should be between the plates? (My dowels are approximately 1 1/2" apart. The plates remove and insert quite nicely.)
- Do you want the plates to sit up completely straight on their edges, or do you want them to lean to one side? (My larger plates stand pretty much straight up, while the smaller plates lean toward the left.)
All of these things are questions you need to answer. There is no correct answer though, just personal preference.
Tools and Supplies
Tools You'll Need
These are the tools that I used. Though if you don't have this exact collection, there are definitely alternatives and/or substitutes that will work fine:
- safety glasses
- shop towel
- tape measure
- level and a T-square
- large, wide clamps
- small, handheld clamps
- screwdriver or screw driver bits
- cordless drill and drill bits
- miter saw, table saw, or circular saw
- rotary tool (This is used for cutting around outlets and wall switches. I used a Dremel.)
- dowelling jig (This is used to drill perfect holes for your dowels. I used Wolfcraft's Dowel Quick.)
Supplies You'll Need
These items may differ somewhat depending upon your design. But these are the ones I used:
- 1 x 10 x 3/4 lumber, for the cabinet shell and shelves
- 1 x 4 lumber, for the apron front
- 1 x 2 lumber, for the plate rack insert panels
- wooden dowels, for the plate rack insert panels
- beadboard paneling, for the back of the cabinet
- construction adhesive, wood glue, or Weldbond
- wood screws
- sandpaper and tack cloth
- primer, paint, or stain (Also, a sealer, if you like.)
- appliques or trims (optional)
Building the Cabinet
Set up the Outer Sides
Step #1: Begin by measuring and marking the two vertical pieces for the left and the right outer sides of the cabinet. (See Figure A above.)
Lay out one piece of the 1 x 10 lumber. Using a pencil, mark your height measurement—the total height you want the cabinet to be—for the left side. When you measure and mark it, you will want to do that in three different places at the end measurement: at the front, at the center, and at the rear of the end you're cutting.
Lay out another piece of your cabinet lumber, and mark your height measurement again in the same way for the other side of the cabinet.
Take the pieces out to the shop, garage, or wherever you are accustomed to using your saw. Make the cuts on these two pieces. Set them aside.
Create the Shelves
Step #2: Cut one piece of the 1 x 10 lumber to the desired total width of your finished cabinet (minus the thickness of the two sides). This piece will sit at the very top of the cabinet, inside of the left and right outer sides. (See Figure B above.)
Step #3: Next, you will cut pieces for the shelves using your 1 x 10 lumber.
Since I have three shelves (plus the bottom piece), I will cut these four pieces to the exact same measurements as the top piece that I already cut.
Note: Your plate rack will sit between any two of these shelves.
Make the Apron (and Optional Divider)
Step #4: Cut the apron from your 1 x 4 lumber. (See Figure C above.) Make it the exact same width as the shelves you cut earlier.
Step #5 (optional): If you want a divider as well, cut it from your 1 x 10 lumber. Just measure the height between two of your shelves, and cut a divider piece to fit between them.
Build the Plate Rack Insert Panel
Step #6: Make the plate rack insert panel using your 1 x 2 lumber and wooden dowels. (The size of your wooden dowels comes down to personal preference, and these can be found in the trim section of your local hardware or building supply store.)
Notice the pictures of the plate rack insert as shown in Figure D (above) and Figure E (below). You need to make two of these inserts. One will sit at the back of the cabinet and one will sit at the front. It is very important that both panels are exactly the same and line up correctly for proper insertion of your plates.
How to Make the Plate Rack Inserts
First, decide between which two shelves you plan to attach the plate rack insert. Then measure the width of these two shelves again.
Step #6A: Cut four pieces of the 1 x 2 lumber to the same width as your shelf. Take two of these 1 x 2 pieces and turn them on their sides (narrow end up). Set the other two aside for now. Clamp these two pieces together so they align evenly.
Step #6B: Decide how many dowels you will need. (My plate rack inserts hold 17 dowels, all spaced approximately 1 1/2" apart.)
Once you've decided how many plates you want your rack to hold, measure and mark for your dowels—being careful to space your marks out evenly—on both of the pieces you have clamped together.
Step #6C: Drill small pilot holes using the dowelling jig for the wooden dowels where you just marked. (I used the Dowel Quick to do this.) Drilling pilot holes first will help avoid splitting the wood.
Do this all the way down your two pieces of 1 x 2 lumber that you have clamped together, drilling small pilot holes and being careful to center them.
Step #6D: Change your drill bit to the correct size for your dowels and drill the holes again, this time to fit the wooden dowels.
Step #6E: Now cut your dowels to the proper height (according to the diameter of your plates).
Step #6F: Begin to put your wooden dowels into one piece of the 1 x 2 lumber strip. Apply wood glue, insert the dowel, and lightly tap into place. Wipe off all excess glue.
Step #6G: After inserting all of your dowels into one of the strips, glue and tap down the other 1 x 2 strip onto the other end of the dowels.
You should now have one completed plate rack insert, as shown if Figure E (below).
Step #7: Build one more plate rack insert as outlined in Steps 6A-6G.
Note: When assembling your plate rack cabinet, one of these inserts will sit at the back of the shelf (approximately 1" in from the shelf edge) and one insert will sit at the front (approximately 1" in from the shelf edge).
If you have completed your two separate plate rack inserts (as detailed in Steps 6A-6G and Step 7), you will have all the main pieces ready and can move on to dry fitting all of them.
Dry Fit the Cabinet
Step #8: At this juncture, it is important to check to make sure that everything fits properly by conducting a dry fit. (The only thing that should be assembled at this point is the two plate rack inserts, but they should not be attached to the cabinet yet.) You will need your large clamps (at least 36" wide) and an extra pair of hands if you can find them.
Note: Do NOT use glue or screws yet.
Start by placing one shelf close to the center of the unit and add the left/right vertical panels to each side. Clamp it together. Slowly add in the top, bottom, and other shelves according to your design. Be careful to align and level your shelves exactly as you have planned for in your drawing. (You're probably going to need more clamps!)
After you have everything in and clamped, place in one of your plate rack panels to ensure it fits properly. This is the time to get out your largest china plate and make sure that it fits too.
Step #9: Make any adjustments as necessary if your fit isn't quite right.
If you need to make anything a little shorter, try using your rotary tool (Dremel). Also, if you need to sand any rough edges so that the pieces fit together smoothly, do it now.
Assemble the Cabinet
Step #10: Let's assemble the pieces and make your cabinet complete. Make sure you have all of these ready at hand:
- large clamps
- drill and drill bits
- wood screws
- shop towel
- level and T-square
- glue (I suggest construction adhesive, Weldbond, or wood glue.)
Begin by making sure everything is aligned, level, and squared properly.
Step #10A: Attach one of the middle shelves first. I applied wood glue and then added wood screws to each side using my cordless drill. Countersink the screws if you like, and then cover the screw heads for a cleaner, finished appearance.
Step #10B: Continue attaching all the shelves, top and bottom pieces. Do NOT hurry the process. Take your time with each piece. Use your level and your T-square to make sure everything is where you want it to be. Use your clamps as an extra pair of hands.
Step #10C: Attach your divider if you made one. (Mine is attached with construction adhesive only. I did not use screws on this piece.)
Step #10D: Attach your front apron piece. (Mine is attached with construction adhesive and was held in place with clamps until it dried.)
Step #10E: Once you have all the shelves attached, stand your unit upright and turn it to the back side of the cabinet. You will now attach the REAR plate rack insert. (My rear insert sits in from the back edge approximately 1 to 1.5 inches. I used glue and also added wood screws.) If you decide to use glue, let it fully dry before doing anything else.
Note: Do NOT attach the FRONT plate rack insert at this point.
Finish and Paint the Cabinet
Step #11: Now you have to decide on your finishing method. (Mine is painted a shabby off-white color.)
Note: It's a good idea to paint your shelving units and the rear plate rack insert BEFORE attaching the front insert—which is why your front plate rack insert shouldn't be attached yet.
Step #11A: Once you've chosen your desired method, give the cabinet a couple of good coats of your finish, making sure to sand lightly and clean with a tack cloth in between.
Let your cabinet and rear insert rack completely dry before moving on to the next step.
Step #11B: Next, finish (paint or stain) your FRONT plate rack insert. Let it fully dry in-between coats. Lightly sand and clean with a tack cloth.
Step #11C: Are you going to clear coat or seal your cabinet? If so, do it now.
Step #11D: Attach your finished front plate rack insert panel.
Step #12: Now it's time to add your wooden beadboard panel to the back.
Measure the width and height of the entire cabinet, and cut your piece of beadboard to fit. (I tacked my panel on with several small nails, as well as a small amount of Weldbond.)
Step #13: Finish painting the entire cabinet now, including the beadboard back panel.
Note: On my rear beadboard panel, I had to cut out the bottom right corner of the back to allow for a light switch and plug-in access. You may or may not have to do that depending upon your own drawing/design. It will be easier to cut out if you do that first before attaching the beadboard to the main cabinet.
Put the Completed Cabinet in Place
Woohoo, I'm so proud of you! Look what you've built!
Now, can you lift the cabinet up and put it in place? I was lucky that my husband came home from the road just in time to see my project going on. Lucky for me, because I have a very bad back. The cabinet turned out to be quite heavy for me to lift and place by myself. You might need some additional help as well.
Once the cabinet is up, you can add decorative trims and corner pieces, wooden appliques, resin appliques, or any other decorative pieces you like. You can also add cup hooks or shelf trims if you like. When you're done, take lots of pictures, pat yourself on the back, and relax with a cup of coffee.