Estimating Cabinet Material by Hand

An experienced cabinet builder with no design experience gets advice on making his first materials list for a project. February 13, 2009

I am a cabinet builder at a cabinet company and I want to do a side job for a friend. I have the whole thing drawn up but I donít know how much material to order. There is about 25 running feet of uppers and bases and I am making raised panel doors. I donít know how many board feet of lumber to order. Please let me know if there is an easy way to estimate my material.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor F:
You said you are a cabinet builder - not a cabinet estimator or designer or cabinet layout man or shop owner - just a builder. If that is the case, you havenít needed to know the quantity of your materialls to be a good builder. Someone else figures and orders the wood. And you put it together.

I don't really know an easy way. Since you have it drawn up, now you can tally up all the solid wood in your drawing and do the math to figure the board feet involved. Something good to know: width in inches x length in inches divided by 144 equals board feet. This is also good to know: add thirty percent extra to total net board feet to compensate for waste.

Waste is caused by defects such as knots and also your saw kerfs and most importantly caused by the fact that your parts will not necessarily be neatly, exactly, and evenly extracted from the "random width and length" form that hardwoods are sold in.

These days, rather than calculating the board feet in every piece of wood needed in a particular case I rely on something that only comes with experience. I take an educated guess based on my years of experience. Typically I order in increments of 25 board feet. In other words I round up or down that amount - 150 brd ft, 175 brd ft, 200 brd feet and etc. I do this with common American hardwoods because I know any extra can get used for the next job in that species. With exotics I am much more careful and exacting.

I do know a slight short cut. Measure your cabinet faces - height by length. Multiply the height of the solid wood area by the length of it all in inches. Divide that total by144. That is the total board feet. If your job is euro that is close to your net total discounting - the part of the panel hiding in the groove. If youíre doing face frames add some board feet for the parts where the doors overlap the face frame. Either way donít forget to add 30 percent for waste and mistakes etc.

From contributor K:
I use the running feet multiplied by the cabinet heightsí in feet and this is a board foot number to start with. I use 40% waste factor. For instance you want a door two foot wide and three feet tall. That is six board feet. I would order about eight or nine board foot to build it. That is assuming you are talking one inch thick material (also called 4/4).

From contributor S:
I'm guessing you don't have any cut list or estimating features in whatever you drew the kitchen up with. Some programs have this. Or maybe you drew it by hand.

Anyway, I don't have those features either so here is what I do: for plywood I draw a bunch of rectangles and go through each cabinet figuring up length and width and draw them out on the rectangles representing plywood sheets. This is my cut list and shows me how many sheets of plywood I need. For example you can get four stock size base cabinet sides out of one sheet with some left over for bottoms or shelves.

For doors/ drawer fronts/ face frames I guesstimate and add for waste. Length x width in inches / 144 = bf like others have said. I just calculate the whole cabinet front for example; 12" base cabinet = 12x35/144 = 3bf rounded up and has some waste factor already included. Then add 25 or more bf at the end of all your calculations. This is my method and seems to work out well for me.

From contributor F:
Speaking of sheet goods, there is a software program with a free trial version that can be had from the net - Cutlist Plus. The trial version only lets you process a limited number of differing part sizes but if you use your head a bit it can get you through a job through multiple trail runs. It wonít be too fast the first time you use it with learning and all but it is very handy because you can print out the different cutting strategies and have them right at the saw.

From contributor F:
Sit down with a pad of paper and figure out each part you'll need and how to best use your stock. Whatever you come up with, add extra. At least 1 sheet of every thickness you'll use. For hardwoods figure out your total bd. ft. and add 30-40% extra. In the beginning you'll need it! If it's a wood that's more defect prone go even higher. If you have a little left at the end youíre ok, but if you have to order more mid-job, well, you don't want to have to order more mid-job.

From contributor R:
I agree with taking the square footage of the faces on the walls and bases then add the 30% should get you very close to what you need. As far as the plywood is concerned divide your cabinets into the sheets. Walls you can get four strips at 11-1/4 x 8 and bases two strips at 23-1/4 x 8. If you go with a separate toekick figure you can get six base sides out of a sheet and etc. You will get the hang of it once you start your layout. Donít forget to make your story pole.

Thickness in inches x width in inches x length in feet divided by twelve will give you board feet. Since you are most likely using 4/4 stock for the face frames and doors you can use the formula contributor F gave you but if you go to 5/4 or thicker add the thickness as well.

From the original questioner:
Thank you for your help. I work at a shop that has project managers that draw up the projects. I simply build based on their cut lists. I did draw this job up by hand, and do not have access to any software to draw it up. So thank you to those who helped.

From contributor D:
I would recommend E-Cabinets because it is a powerful program. The learning curve is steep but with a little time and effort you can be up and running.

From contributor I:
I can tell you how I learned to do it back when my pencil and paper were my CPU. For sheet goods I would take small graph paper supplied by my lumber supplier and then make grids on the sheets that represented 4x8 sheets of plywood. I would then start with cabinet sides and draw each one on the graph paper until a sheet would not take another one, then go on the next sheet. Then towards the end when I had stretchers or small shelves I would go back and fill in the sheets as best as I could to get the best yield.

For face frames I would do pretty much the same thing but not as detailed and would just make sure to order strong until I got to the point I pretty much knew based on the size of the project what it would take for lumber. Now it is much easier with programs like E-Cabinets, which you can download for free, configure to your standard, and get a very accurate cut list in moments.