Canadian Woodworking

Medicine Cabinet

Author: Dale Winhold
Illustration: Mike Del Rizzo
Published: December January 2007

The original medicine cabinet was made of wood or metal, and was a place where Grandma stored her health remedies.


The reason medicine cabinets are put in the bathroom instead of the kitchen is not known. Today we find the bathroom location very convenient for storing all manner of toiletries, cosmetics, and of course, medicines. While they are often mounted on the wall, medicine cabinets can also be recessed into the wall between the studding.

This cabinet is easy to build and has nice clean lines. You can build it in a few hours with a minimum of tools. I used two ¾” x 16″ x 96″ knotty pine boards from my local building supply store. Such boards are already planed to the right thickness and are quite inexpensive. When selecting wood for shelving look for the flattest boards you can find. You might find it more convenient to do your initial sanding with 150 grit sandpaper on both sides of the boards before cutting them to size. Of course, you can substitute any wood that strikes your fancy. (Note: If you can’t find 16″ pine boards you can buy 9″ boards and glue them together).

The Box

• Lay your boards on a workbench and mark out the parts for the sides (A), divider (B), the inner top and bottom (C), and outer top and bottom (D).

• Cut the seven pieces for the box to size.

• Cut ½” x ¾” rabbets on the back of each side piece (A). You can do this on your table saw or on your router table.

Easy Build

• Mark out and drill 5mm holes for the glass shelf clips on the sides (A) and the divider (B). I marked out three holes 1″ in from the front and back, 7 ⅞” down from the top, and 1¼” apart. Alternately, you can drill two sets of three holes exactly where you want the shelves to be located. (Note: Purchase your glass shelves and shelf clips before you begin the project, as the clips come in a range of sizes).

• Rout a profile on the sides and front of the outer top and outer bottom pieces (D). I put a 45º chamfer on the edges for a finished look. A ⅜” quarter round would also look nice.

• Finish sand all the parts to 180 grit.

The Backs

There are two backs, a narrow one (E) on the left side and a wider one (F) on the right side. This makes the back of the cabinet easier to assemble. It’s best to glue up stock for the backs slightly oversize, and then trim to fit.

• Cut and glue up material for the backs.

• Once the glue is dried, remove any excess glue carefully, and then cut the backs to finish size.

• Finish sand both sides of the backs to 180 grit.

Assemble the Cabinet

• I used #20 biscuits to assemble the carcase of the cabinet. If you don’t have a biscuit joiner you can use dowels or you can screw the case together and cover the screw holes with wood plugs.

• Ensure that you position the divider (B) in the right location, so that the doors will fit properly.

• Dry fit the cabinet to make sure everything fits in its proper place.

• Glue and clamp the carcase together and let dry (at least 2-3 hours).

• Once the glue dries, remove the clamps and clean off any excess glue.

• Glue and nail on the backs (E, F) using 1 ¼” finishing nails.

• Glue and nail on the outer top and outer bottom (D).

• Apply your chosen finish, such as clear lacquer, varnish or oil.

The Doors

• Cut the rails (H, I) and stiles (G) for the doors ½” longer than the finished dimension shown on the materials list. This allows you to cut the piece to the correct size with mitres.

• Using your table saw or router table, cut a ½” x ½” rabbet along the one edge of all the door pieces. This will provide space for the glass to sit in.

• Using your table saw or a miter saw, cut 45º mitres on the ends of all the door pieces.

• Glue and clamp the doors together. While I used butt joints, you can reinforce the mitres with biscuits, splines or dowels. When clamping the doors ensure that they are square and that the joints are tight. Let them sit until the glue is dry (at least 2-3 hours).

• Once the glue is dry, remove the excess glue and finish sand with 180 grit sandpaper.

• Apply the same finish as you used on the box.

• Once the finish is dry, attach the hinges to the doors. I used European hinges which require 35mm holes. The holes are drilled 3 ½” from the bottom and from the top. The edge of the hole is ⅛” from the side of the door or 38mm to center. The hole is ½” deep.

• Screw the hinges in place. The important thing is to have the hinges perfectly parallel to the edge of the door. To do this, set the hinges in place and use a straight edge along the back of the hinges.

• Put the glass and mirror in the rabbet of the door and silicone in place. Be careful not to get silicone on the glass because it will make a big mess. You may even want the glass company to do this for you. Let the silicone dry before continuing.

Final Steps

• Set the two doors in place. Align the door so it is centered from top to bottom. Open the door to its open position with a ¼” spacer at the back of the door, then screw the hinge plates to the sides. Repeat this with all hinges.

• Attach handles in desired position.

• When mounting the cabinet, make sure you screw into studs in the wall, and countersink the screws for a finished look. Use the appropriate length screws for mounting the cabinet.

• Adjust the doors and put in the adjustable shelves. Now stock it up!

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