Build a Classic Bathroom Vanity
The vanity is built from three cabinets, each made from 5/8″ thick white melamine. The side cabinets have a top, bottom, back and two gables. The centre cabinet is open at the top for the sink and has a partial front which holds a false drawer front and acts as a stop for the doors. The left side of the vanity will be visible after the installation so I used 3/4″ thick paint grade plywood for that gable, rather than melamine. Because of this difference in thickness, the top, bottom and back of the left cabinet are 1/8″ narrower than the right cabinet – refer to the cutlist for the specific dimensions or work them out yourself if the size is different.
You will need two sheets of melamine for this vanity and I recommend initially cutting the pieces slightly oversize. This makes it easier to manage all of the pieces and also gives you an opportunity to ensure your saw is cutting square and to make any needed adjustments before you cut everything to the final dimensions. I like to plan the work so I can cut all pieces that have the same width or length without having to reset my saw. There are a lot of pieces so it helps to label them as they’re cut.
Before assembling each cabinet, apply iron-on edge banding to the front edges of the melamine. Experiment on a scrap to determine the best temperature and how quickly to move the iron. Rock the iron ever so slightly over the edges to ensure they are fully glued. Once the banding has cooled, use a sharp chisel to flush trim the excess. Follow up with a hard sanding block angled slightly to smooth the edge of the banding. If one or both of the outside gables are to be painted, do that now. Prime and paint the front edge as well as both faces.
Iron it On
Iron-on edge banding is used to cover the front of the melamine. Use enough heat and pressure to melt the glue, but not so much that you scorch the banding.
Trim it Off
Skew the chisel to prevent chipping the edge banding as it is trimmed flush with the panel. Follow up with a sanding block so the corner is not sharp.
Keep it Square
Bedrosian uses glue, screws and small dominos to join the top and bottom to the sides of each cabinet. The back is attached last and helps to square up the cabinet.
Cope and Stick Joints
Mating router bits are used to machine the rails and stiles for the doors and drawer fronts. Bedrosian uses a Veritas right-angle sled to cope the ends of the rails. A backer board minimizes tearout with the cross-grain coping cut.
Assemble in Stages
Assemble the doors and drawer fronts in steps. Glue a rail and stile together and apply enough clamping pressure to close the joint while checking for flatness. Adjust the clamp position to get a perfect 90 degree joint.
Bring it Together
Glue in the centre panel and then slide the two halves of the door or drawer fronts together.
Bedrosian uses a dovetail jig to rout the dovetails for the drawers. Start with longer boards to dial in the fit then cut them to length and rout the tails and pins following the instructions for your jig.
Drawer Bottom Grooves
Use a dado blade to cut a groove so the underside of the 5/8" plywood is ½" above the bottom of the drawer. This allows room under the drawer for the drawer slide.
Square it Up
Use a clamp across the diagonal to square up the dovetailed drawer before the glue sets.
Extend the height of the top drawer so both drawer fronts can be mounted to this drawer.
Rest the drawer slides on temporary spacer boards so they are level and at the correct height. Remove a spacer for the next drawer slide.
Bedrosian uses 1/8" plastic shims to achieve a consistent gap between all of the drawers and doors. Each drawer front is fastened to the drawer with screws and then later with the drawer pulls.
Nice and Level
The vanity requires a solid platform that is shimmed level and fastened to the floor. Trim the front and side faces with painted MDF and cover the exposed corner with moulding.
Start to assemble
As you assemble the cabinets, be sure they are square and pay attention that the front edges are flush. I use a pair of small dominos at the end of each gable to help with the alignment of the top and bottom panels. Alternatively, you can machine a small rabbet in the ends of the gables to register the top and bottom. Dry fit the cabinet using clamps so you can drill pilot holes through the gables into the top and bottom. Use glue and screws to fasten the pieces together. The back goes in last and it extends the full height of the cabinet. It should fit snuggly inside the gables, and be tight against the back edge of the top and bottom panels. Ensure the cabinet is square before screwing it in place. The outside face of the painted gable will be visible so I skip the screws and just use glue and dominos.
The three cabinets sit on top of a 4-1/2″ tall base that can be made from plywood or melamine. The toe-kick boards will be attached to this base during installation. Once on top of the base, the cabinets are joined together with screws through the gables, making sure the front edges are aligned. Do not use glue since you may need to separate them for transportation.
Machine the rails and stiles
Take a break from the heavy lifting of the MDF as you turn towards the seven drawer fronts and two doors. The width and height of each piece is critical to ensure there’s a consistent 1/8″ gap between the drawer fronts and doors. Everyone’s dimensions will differ, but I will add the dimensions I was working towards to give you an example to follow.
Start with the centre cabinet and subtract 1/8″ from its width; this is the width of the false drawer front which works out to be 23-7/8″ for my vanity. This is also the combined width of the two doors. Since there needs to be a 1/8″ gap between them, they are each 11-7/8″ wide. Using the same 1/8″ gap on both sides, the remaining drawer fronts have a width of 15-13/16″. The height is computed the same way; with a 1/8″ gap between the top drawer and the top of the cabinet and with the bottom drawer flush with the bottom of the cabinet. Each drawer is then 7-1/16″ high and the doors are 21-7/16″ high.
I decided on a simple Shaker-style profile for this vanity. You could also opt for a square profile on the inner edge of the stiles and rails, as this is easily machined without specialty cutters.
The rails and stiles are machined from 2″ wide by 13/16″ thick maple, although poplar would also work. Prepare extra stock for test fitting your joinery. I used a Freud adjustable rail and stile router bit set (Number 99-762) and started with the stile bit. When assembled, the back of the MDF centre panel was flush with the back of the maple rails and stiles, though this doesn’t have to be the case for everyone. To achieve this, adjust the height of the router bit until the groove is offset from the back of the rail or stile by the thickness of the MDF. Once set, rout the groove and the profile in all of the stock. Even though this is the stile bit, it is used for both the rails and the stiles.
Switch to the rail bit, which will cope the ends of the rails. Use a test piece to dial in the height of the bit so the rail and stile are flush when assembled. You can also use this test piece to work out the length to cut the rails so the finished door or drawer front is the correct width. For this router bit set, I needed to cut the rails 3-3/16″ less than the finished width. Use a backer board to avoid tear-out when coping the ends of the rails.
The centre panels are made from 1/2″ thick MDF cut to size and rabbeted to fit in the groove of the rails and stiles. I like to prime the MDF before I glue it in place. The water-based primer I use raises the fibers on the MDF so I spray several coats, sanding between coats. I want a smooth surface that is ready for paint. Be sure to prime both sides of the door panels.
Complete the doors and drawer fronts
Everyone assembles frame and panel doors differently, but I’m going to share my approach here. Assemble the doors and drawer fronts in several steps, starting by gluing each rail and stile together to form an “L.” Apply light clamping pressure to close the joint while adjusting the position of the clamp to ensure the “L” is 90 degrees. Do not use too much pressure or you may lift the stile so it doesn’t sit flat. It doesn’t take long for the glue to set and you can apply a thin bead of glue in the grooves and insert the centre panel. The final step is to apply glue and slide the two L pieces together and clamp the joints tight. If each L was glued at 90 degrees, the resulting drawer front or door will be square without any gaps.
Even if you carefully set the height of the rail and stile router bits, it’s likely that the door and drawer fronts will need sanding to get a smooth and paint ready surface. Do this for all sides and then break any sharp edges and slightly round over the corners. Slight imperfections in the surface will stand out on the painted surface so extra attention will pay off. Prime and paint both sides of the doors and the drawer fronts. I used my HVLP spray gun for this project, but a brush or small roller can also be used. Limit the amount of paint on the inside corners so they remain crisp. Although not required, I paint the back of the drawer fronts since a portion will be visible when the drawers are open.
Determine the drawer sizes
Before cutting the wood for the drawers, I recommend that you carefully read the installation instructions for your drawer slides. This vanity uses Blum Movento undermount slides which have specific requirements for the drawer dimensions. The width of the drawer is calculated from both the thickness of the drawer sides and the width of the drawer opening. Using 5/8″ sides, the width of the drawer should be 0.4″ less than the width of the opening. Be sure to account for the slight difference between the left and right cabinets. The depth of the drawer should match the drawer slide which is 500 mm (about 19-11/16″). The underside of the drawer bottom needs to be 1/2″ above the bottom of the drawer; use this dimension along with the thickness of the drawer bottom when grooving the drawer stock. The final consideration is the maximum height of the drawer, which is limited by the approximately 7″ spacing between the drawer slides. A 5″ high drawer will leave enough room between the top of the drawer and the bottom of the next drawer slide. As noted below, the top drawers are higher.
Dovetailed drawers suit this vanity
With the dimensions finalized, it’s time to start making the drawers. From the front, it appears this vanity has eight drawers, but there are only six since the top two drawers on both sides are combined to hold taller items. I resawed 5/4 maple to get enough 5/8″ thick stock to make the six drawers, including some extra for machine setup. There are a number of ways these drawers can be made and for this vanity. I chose through dovetails machined with a dovetail jig. The drawer bottoms are cut from 5/8″ thick prefinished birch plywood that is rabbeted to leave a 1/4″ tongue on all four sides. This tongue fits in a groove that’s milled in the drawer stock. I find it easier to pre-finish the inside of the drawers before they are assembled, and I typically do that before I mill the slot for the drawer bottom. Assemble the drawers, being sure to glue in the bottom panel for extra strength. As always, check for square before the glue sets so you can make any adjustments. The two top drawers are 7″ high and they need to have a 3″ extended front to attach both of the drawer fronts. Glue this in place after the drawers are assembled. Refer to the instructions for your slides to complete the drawers. The Blum slides require 5mm holes and slots in the back of the drawer as well as a pair of mounting clips on the bottom.
Undermount slides hold the drawers
Mount the drawer slides on the inside of the cabinets at a height so they will be hidden once the drawer fronts are installed. For this cabinet, a 7-3/16″ spacing between the slides will work. Rather than using a ruler to mark the spacing on the cabinet, it’s easier and more accurate to use spacer boards cut from scraps of melamine. Use both spacer boards to install the upper slide and remove one for the next slide. The bottom slide sits on the bottom of the cabinet. Use a self-centering drill bit for the pilot holes to ensure the slides don’t move when the screws are inserted. Offset the drawer slides from the front of the cabinet by the thickness of the drawer material (5/8″); this ensures the drawers will be flush with the front of the cabinet when they are closed.
Mind the gap
If you have not already done so, position the three cabinets on the base and screw them together. Before inserting the drawers, adjust the drawer slides so they are at their middle height; this will allow for fine-tuning up or down after the drawer fronts are mounted. Also check that the lateral adjustment clips on the bottom of the drawers are set to their middle position. The two doors are installed before the drawer fronts. Drill for the 35mm hinges in the doors and screw the clips into the centre cabinet. Adjust the hinges so the doors are flush with the bottom of the cabinet and there is a consistent 1/8″ gap between them. Make further adjustments so the doors are centered in the cabinet; there should be a 1/16″ gap between the outside of the cabinet and the doors.
The drawer fronts are fastened to the drawers with 4 pan-head screws through oversized holes. Start with only the bottom drawers installed and position the drawer front so it is flush with the bottom of the cabinet and 1/8″ from the side of the door. Clamp the drawer front in place and mark through the holes in the drawer onto the drawer front. Drill pilot holes and install the screws; the oversize holes allow some adjustment of the position. Work your way up the left and right cabinets taking time to maintain a consistent 1/8″ gap. The false front in the centre cabinet should fit with a 1/8″ gap on all sides. Screw it in place, offsetting it from the front of the cabinet using small urethane bumpers (Lee Valley item # 00S20.03). This will make it flush with the doors and drawer fronts, which use the same bumpers so they close gently. Open and close the drawers and doors several times and use the fine adjustments with the drawer slides to get a perfect fit. When you’re satisfied, drill and install all of the handles. The final piece that makes up the face of the vanity is a small painted trim piece fastened to the right side. This will be scribed during installation for a tight fit to the right wall.
The vanity is installed on top of the platform which should be positioned with the front face 19″ from the back wall and the left face 55″ from the right wall. Once in place, use shims to level the platform both side-to-side and front-to-back. Be sure all four corners and several points in between are supported. Secure the platform to the floor with metal brackets. The painted toe-kick boards cover the outside faces of the platform and extend to the walls. You can miter the exposed corner but I prefer to use a small piece of moulding to hide the joint. Measure up from the platform and out from the side wall so you can cut an opening for the plumbing in the back of the centre cabinet. Install the vanity and push it tight to the back wall and then to the right wall. Mark and scribe the trim piece for a tight fit to the right wall. Screw each cabinet to the wall in several places, making sure you find the studs. All that’s left is to install a top and the plumbing and you can congratulate yourself on a job well done.