One Man, One Kitchen, How Many Days?

Solo cabinetmakers compare notes on the time it takes them to complete a basic kitchen job. April 26, 2006

My question is geared towards the one-man cabinetmaker shops. How long does it take you to complete a kitchen job? I'm just interested in the cabinetmaking only, not installation. I'll give you a scenario:

Assume you have all the materials you need and are ready for construction. You are making the following:
Standard 24" deep Bases and 12" deep uppers x 30" tall. Face Frame
construction with 5 piece doors (cope & stick w/flat panel)
1-36" Sink Base
1-21" Base w/1 door 1 drawer
1-18" 4 Drawer Base
1-36x36 Easy reach Corner base
1-42" Blind corner base
1-18" Base w/1door 1 drawer
1-36" fridge topper
1-33" Upper w/2 doors

1-18" Upper w/1 door
1-27" Upper blind corner w/1 door
1-30" Range topper
1-39" Upper w/2 doors

How long would it take you to do everything including staining and finish coat? I just want to see if I am too slow or if I'm on track. I am a one person shop with all the toys needed.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor A:
I'm also a one man shop, building similiar cabinets, however I don't finish anymore. It would probably take me about 3 weeks including finishing, faster if I worked weekends which I normally do.

From contributor B:
I'm one man and just built a 14 cabinet kitchen with 8' tall pantry and all 46" uppers, no blind corner in this one, and all the drawers in about six 8 hour days. I order my doors, but this included finishing. I use 3/4 maple plywood finished one side for the interiors which cuts down on T&M for finishing (well worth the extra cost).

Breakdown was as follows:
Approximately 8 hrs to cut 17 sheets of plywood to size, kreg holes, adjustable shelf holes, and dadoes. Approximately 8 hours for everything pertaining to construction including planing, sawing, kreg holes, and assembly. 2 hours for drilling doors. 3 hours of sanding. I was lucky to have this job be a clear maple so no staining. I would have added about 5-6 hours to stain the whole job including doors. Finishing took me about 2 days because of the weather - I couldn't get my lacquer to set fast and didn't want to rush it. It should have been one day. I would say 8 hours to assemble everything. I buy my drawer sides to size and prefinished with groove for bottom, so 18 drawers took about 4-5 hours. I am extremely organized and efficient with cutlists and procedures. I just don't believe in wasting time. I 'm still upgrading my equipment and I will be faster and more consistent with: blum machine, Kreg foreman, line borer, and a new compressor. Tear out and remodel for this kitchen took one week (drywall) and install was 2 days.

From contributor C:
I would say six 8 hour days is accurate with ordering the doors and that's including finishing. Like contributor B, organization plays an important role in my shop as well as planning. Two weeks later the doors come and it takes 2-1/2 to 3 days to stain and finish them. Thatís the hardest part, waiting for the doors. But when you have more than one job you can't be milling doors. It's easier to order them prior to building while you are building a different job than you are expecting doors to come in on. 3 weeks to build a kitchen this size means you need to get better tools, more organized, and outsource your doors. That or you may still be a hobbyist? But it does leave plenty of time for perfection!

From contributor A:
I'm having a hard time understanding why so many guys seem to like spraying lacquer but won't even build their own doors. I enjoy working with wood and make a pretty good living at it, but after spending 5 years or so of my life in a spray booth I am more than happy to let someone else finish my work. The doors are where I make my money. Iím not paying someone else a couple grand when I can pay it to myself.

From contributor D:
I am also a one man shop. I don't outsource anything. I average about 3/4 of a cabinet a day. 12 cabs would take me about 9 days. I make all my own doors and I cut all my own drawer boxes. Thatís using a flat panel for the doors. If they are going to be raised panel doors, you would have to add a day and half for glue up and milling and running on the shaper. You didn't mention if the bases had pullouts or not. Mine do, so thatís included in the 9 days. All my interior boxes are pre-finished - the drawers are not - I have to spray those. Then it is approximately 2 days to remove and replace the old with the new.

From contributor E:
I really don't have an answer to give you on time spent; it's been a while since I have done a common job like this. I do have a question for you - if you are a custom shop, why are you doing modular sized cabinets instead of building cabinets to fit? If you are actually doing it this way, you could save yourself a lot of time and materials by building cabinets to fit.

From contributor F:
This kitchen would take me about two weeks to complete at my current pace. I just recently went full time after many years of running nights and weekends working when I wanted. I finally mustered the courage to quit my job teaching accounting for the Air Force. One thing I've discovered is that I'm not as fast at this as I thought I was. My problem is organizational in nature. I am trying to reorganize my shop from a hobbyist set up to a cabinet shop. In other words, I'm having a hard time getting out of my own way. I have about 875 square feet of space but certainly need more. Of course there are equipment needs too. I have two major bottlenecks: finishing and cross-cutting sheet goods. I outsource my doors and drawer boxes.

Sometimes there's no place to outsource finishing. I would outsource it in a minute if I could but in our area all the shops only finish their own work. If there are any finishing shops in the area, I haven't found them. I enjoy finishing; you never stop learning but it's a major slow-down.

From contributor G:
Let me give you a different perspective. I have a small shop as well. I build only frameless cabinets. I have a panel saw, automatic edgebander and boring machine. I outsource doors and build my drawer boxes from 3/4 prefinished ply, pocketholed on the ends. Boxes are all built from 3/4 prefinished ply. Here is my schedule for this job:
Day 1 : Cut , band and bore all parts 8 hours

Day 2 : Finish doors, fillers, trim and ends 8 hours
Day 3 : Assemble cabinets, drawers, and hang doors and drawer fronts 12 hours
I do my finishing on the front end so that I can assemble the cabinet completely with doors and drawer fronts. Once the cabinet comes off the table, it gets shrink wrapped and stacked for delivery. The processes you use are what will save the time in the long run. If you are not organized, your time could easily double. A good computer cutlisting program is worth its weight in gold. Personally, I use Cabinet Solutions. There are many good ones out there that will do the same thing. I started out building face frame cabinets and made the switch to frameless about 2 years ago. It was not a painless learning experience. I used some of the ideas from the book "True32" but not all of them. I have adapted my own system that works for me and is simple.

From contributor H:
For my 2 man shop, this project would take us 1 day to build. Using the 32mm system we turn out 18 to 20 cabinets per day including drawers. We outsource the doors. Finishing would take about 3 days. For installation we would allow 1 day.

From contributor I:
Itís nice to see I'm not the only one man shop. I start by using AutoCAD LT to develop drawings of the kitchen, then I use Excel to give a cutlist for everything (sheets, frames and 5 piece cutlist for doors). I export the case part sizes to Itemizer for sheet cutlist and labels. I've got a rack for all cabinet parts - each cabinet box has 2 pigeon holes - 1 hole for case sheet parts, 2nd for frames and doors. I do sheets first (5/8" for all case parts), then plane and size all lumber for frames and doors, etc. I do the frames first (mortise and tenon) then the doors and drawers. Spray everything then put it all in the rack. One box at a time, start boring (Blum mini press drill), biscuit (delta plate joiner on 8' table), assemble in case clamps I've made. Complete each box with frame, hardware and doors and they are ready for install. After all that, that job would probably take me approximately 75 hours.

From contributor J:
I'm a one man shop. I outsource doors and finishing. I can have the set built and ready to finish in 5 days. That is face frame cabinets. Frames are pocket screwed together, plywood boxes, and the drawers are plywood sides with the sides a sliding dovetail into the front (about 20 per drawer). The frames are glued and clamped - no face nails. Hinges are installed in about 20 - 30 min. I use vertical panel saw to cut sheet goods.

From contributor K:
There are lots of details left out, such as trim, pull-outs, knobs, some mention of handling sheets of plywood and the length of time. Spend $50 bucks and hire someone who you can use over and over again and cut all of your plywood out in just a couple of hours. Come prepared with a cut list so you don't waste time. If you have a boring machine to drill pin holes, pocket-hole machine, good table saw, the job should not take 3 weeks. I outsource my doors and use pre-finished plywood on the inside of my cabinets, which saves a lot of time. Some stated that they didn't want someone to be paid out a couple of thousand of dollars to do the doors, but I only pay 20-25 dollars for doors for this type of project. That doesn't even add up to near a thousand. So, to answer your question on how long it would take - about 2 weeks if finishing goes smoothly.

From contributor L:
I would stick a few of those little cabinets together, building them as large as possible, call them custom cabinets, face frames completed and stained on day 1, plywood boxes and shelves, cut, assembled and attached to face frames with Senclamps on day 2, 1/2" baltic birch drawers and spray with nitro lacquer on 3rd day. I could build the doors in 1 day or buy them for $25.00 each - 3 days if I buy the doors or 5 if I have to build and finish the doors.

From contributor M:
I am also a one man shop (start to finish). A job that size would have to be four to five days in order to make any profit.

From contributor N:
1 day for measure, cutlist, order material, unload material
1 week to build
2 days to finish
1 day book keeping, clean up, loading cabinets, someone stopping in to talk, sending blades to sharpen, adjusting machines, cleaning out spray equipment.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor A:
I own a small cabinet shop, mostly working by myself. I've been designing and building cabinets/furniture for well over 25 years (started very young with my grandfather). The standard kitchen cabinets I have built averages 24'.

I also use Autocad on a regular basis, and of course design all of my own work.

Here is a breakdown of time for myself to complete a set of cabinets:

1. Meet homeowners and measure kitchen - 2 hours

2. Design complete cabinet job - 1.5 hours

3. Pre-mill, bore holes, dados and sand Ė 4 hours

4. Face frames complete, and sand Ė 3 hours

5. Assembly and touchup sanding Ė 4 hours

6. Drawers, shelves and edge banding Ė 4 hours

7. Front and doors, hardware - 2.5 hours

8. Two coats top finish spray - 3.5 hours

Total hours = 24.5 hours

So roughly three days, normal working hours. This can be complete within a day and a half. I don't apply any stains, costly for customer and time consuming for myself. I usually build 1 to 2 sets at a time, any more than that I bring in daily helpers (brothers).

The answer to your - all cabinetmakers work at different speeds and also rely on an outside designer to complete any plans and layout. It will also be quicker to construct frameless cabinets.

I myself feel that face frames look so much better and last longer. My parentís cabinets were built over 25 years ago and are still in good shape.