How to Build a Maple Bathroom Vanity for Under $200

While doing a quick remodel of a small half bathroom in our home, I was met with the challenge of selecting a vanity for the sink. It didn’t take much searching to see that my options were: a) A cheap, pressboard cabinet in the $150-200 range; and b) A somewhat higher-end wooden version (though, painted wood, to give a hint at that quality) with a pricetag around $600.

Finding neither option acceptable I decided to build my own, but with two goals in mind: 1) A total project cost of less than $200; and 2) A cabinet that would be completed over the course of just a couple of weekends.

Economic Parts List

Let’s jump right into the parts list:

  1. Vanity top: $79
  2. Bathroom faucet: $29
  3. Two pair of European hinges: $8
  4. Drawer pulls: $6
  5. 4’x8’ sheet of ¾” birch plywood: $45
  6. Three 8’ 1×6 maple: $24

Total cost in materials: $191. Naturally, prices will vary (I have access to rough-sawn lumber at a very good price and neither the vanity top nor faucet are top-tier (though they are perfectly acceptable for this project)), but this is a pretty budget-friendly build regardless.

Sketching out woodworking plans

Getting the Dimensions Right

The first step is to put together some of the general measurements you’ll follow throughout the project. Let’s start with the height. A comfortable finished height will be around 33″. The width and depth will be determined by the one variable we cannot control—the actual dimensions of the purchased vanity top. In my case, the top is 25″ wide and 22″ deep. The top overhangs the sides and front by 1/4″ and is 1″ thick. This gives me a carcase size of 24-1/2″ wide, 32″ high, and 21-3/4″ deep.

Since this design includes a faceframe constructed from 3/4″ maple, the carcase needs to reflect that, so the depth dimension has to be reduced to 21″.

Busting down sheet goods to managable sizes

Bust Down to Create Oversized Parts

The case is pretty simple, comprised of two sides, a bottom, and two nailing strips. I start a project like this by creating oversized components. For this task I’ll reach for my circular saw and a straightedge, cutting the two sides and the bottom slightly larger than the finished dimension. Note that the bottom fits into dadoes in the sides, so this piece will need to be longer than the finished distance between the sides.

If you struggle with cutting parts out of large sheets, you are not alone. If, like me, you have a very small shop, the task gets even trickier. My approach serves me well and allows me to accurately and safely make these cuts in tight quarters.

The first step is to have three supporting areas. The easiest way to do this is to have three saw horses of the same height (two saw horses and an adjustable roller stand work well, too). On top of my saw horses I have mounted sacrificial 2x4s. With support on each end, the middle saw horse is positioned directly in the middle of the cut. This way, when the cut is made, the two sides are supported on the outside ends, with the middle saw horse supporting the inside ends of both.

For my guide I’ve always searched out the straightest piece of lumber in my shop of an appropriate length, clamped it to the proper marks and cut the part. I recently acquired a pair of self-clamping straight edges—one 50″ and one 36″. These easily line up to the marks, clamp tightly to the sheet, and make this task easier than ever. I now swear by these and will be purchasing the 100″ version for making long cuts in 8′ sheet goods.

Once these oversized parts are cuts, a couple quick passes at the tablesaw and all of the parts are precisely sized.

Route dadoes to house the bottom piece

Dadoes Holds the Bottom

For strength and alignment purposes I wanted to seat the bottom into dodoes on either side. The cabinet has a 4″ toe kick, so the bottom needs to be aligned precisely at the top edge of the toe kick. The easiest way for me to get this exact is to cut the dodoe, then remove the material for the toe kick prior to assembly.

Again, a self-clamping straight edge paired with a plunge router makes this a pretty easy task. Limiting my cutting depth of no more than 1/8″ per pass, three quick passes with the router and each side is complete.

Once routed, corresponding 3″x4″ notches were cut for the toe kick with a saber saw. In addition, my installation required a reveal to accept wall trim along the bottom of the back, so those notches were cut at this point, as well.

Route dadoes to house the bottom piece

Pocket Holes for Fast Joinery

While we were easily able to nail the pricing requirement for this project, the second “must have” is that the build goes together quickly. This means, I need strong enough joints for a solid cabinet, but don’t have the luxury of sitting around waiting for the glued carcase to set up. Since there are minimal parts and the fasteners can be easily hidden, pocket screws were employed to hold the joints together while the glue dried, as well as to reinforce the joint.

Completed carcase

Casework Complete

At this point the main casework is ready to be finished sanded. When that is complete, the faceframe work can begin. It’s always best to take a tape to your actual carcase when determining dimensions for the parts that need to be cut, as they might vary slightly if you’ve made any minor errors along the way.

Maple toe kick

Solid Maple Toe Kick

The first piece of trim is a solid piece of maple stock, cut the fit between the two toe kick notches. Cut to size, finish sand, and glue and clamp to the case.

Clamped-up faceframe

Building a Faceframe

The faceframe and doors are what really make this project look great. Faceframe construction is sturdy, simple to build, and quite common (there’s a very good chance your kitchen cabinets are built using this construction method).

Faceframes add rigidity to the carcase and allow for the use of European hinges—hardware that is both easy to install and adjust.

The faceframe for this design has five components—two rails, two stiles, and a divider. The rails and stiles are 1-1/2″ wide and the divider is 3-1/4″ wide (1-1/2″ for each door, plus 1/4″ for the space between the doors). The faceframe extends beyond the sides and bottom by 1/16″.

I could turn to my pockethole jig for the joinery for a frameframe (perfectly acceptable and quite common), but I chose to use FF-sized biscuits. While that didn’t speed things along, it was the end of the weekend and I had the luxury of an overnight glue-up for this step.

Attaching the faceframe

Attach the Faceframe

After the glue dries, all surfaces are planed and sanded smooth and prepared for glue-up. With the cabinet on its back, the faceframe is positioned on the cabinet and simply glued and clamped in place. A simple enough step to fit in one evening after work.

Planing the faceframe

Getting a Perfect Fit

After the glue has set up, it’s a good time to test fit the vanity top. If there are any gaps they are planed flush for a good fit.

The easiest way to anchor the cabinet while performing this step is to put some weights in the bottom, using some drop cloths to protect the wood surface.

Ripping lumber at the tablesaw

Building the Doors

The two doors are built from maple, with a 1/4″ birch plywood panel. Each is sized to have 1/4″ spacing along all edges. Again, the most accurate method is to measure the faceframe and get precise dimensions from the actual build.

Grain-matching can go a long way in woodworking. In this case I wanted the two stiles that meet in the middle to have a matching grain flow. An over-sized piece of maple ripped into two thinner pieces creates the right edge of the left door and the left edge of the right door.

The doors use mortise and tenon joinery, with a groove along the inside edge to house the panel. The first step is to mill the rails and stiles for each door to finished size, remembering to account for the mortises when determining the rail length.

With the parts cut to size, center a 1/4″ groove, 3/8″ deep along the inside edges of all eight parts. I just set my tablesaw blade to a height of 3/8″, center it on the board and make a pass. Then I adjust the fence outward, making another pass, then flip the board and make a pass on the other side. This ensures that the groove is centered on each piece.

Ganging door parts

Milling Door Parts

Before marking the mortise and tenon locations, their dimensions need to be determined. The general rules for sizing these parts are:

  1. Tenon thickness should be 1/3 of the thickness of the stock. These doors use 3/4″ stock, so the tenon will be 1/4″ thick.
  2. Tenon length should be five times the thickness of the tenon, making these tenons 1-1/4″ in length.
  3. Tenon width should be half the width of the workpiece getting the tenon. These rails are 1-1/2″, making our tenon 3/4″ wide. However, I prefer to use as many common machine setups as possible, so instead of putting a 3/8″ shoulder on each end, I put a 1/4″ shoulder, matching the setup for the tenon faces.

After the measurements are determined, gang all similar parts to be marked for mortises and tenons accordingly, a step that saves a lot of time measuring and marking.

Haunched tenons

Haunched Tenons

Because the panel groove runs the length of the rails, the stiles need to be machined in a manner that fills in that groove. This is accomplished by creating a haunched tenon, which is just like a standard tenon, but with additional material left on the outside edge of the joint to fill appropriate voids.

Since the grooves for these panels are 3/8″ deep, the haunched portion of these tenons is 3/8″ long.

Chamfered door edges

Chamfered Edges

When mounted, these doors will be proud of the vanity top edge. To make a more natural visual transition, a chamfer gets routed along all four edges of both doors.

Applying a finish

A Water-Resistant Finish

A bathroom vanity is one of those projects that you know will be subject to a bit of daily wear and tear. By its very function, it will be exposed regularly to water (your mileage may vary, depending upon how many children with which you live).

Starting on the inside, a protective finish of water-based polyurethane is applied—this required three coats. Due to the cabinet being closed up, a water-based finish is used to eliminate odors.

For the exterior, I wanted to use the strongest finish in our repertoire, which is Waterlox. Not wanting to skimp on this step, it was just a matter of applying layer after layer until everything appeared perfectly sealed. In this case, it took six coats.

Installing a bathroom vanity

Installation

Cabinet installation is very easy. The cabinet is set into place and the entire piece is held in place with four 2″ #10 screws, countersunk into the nailing strips and driven into studs.

Attaching a vanity top

Putting the Top in Place

The vanity top is secured to the cabinet with adhesive silicone caulk. An even bead along the entire cabinet edge will securely hold the top.

Drilling holes for European hinges

Attaching the Doors

European hinges are mounted using circular mortises in the door. The manufacturers direct users to employ a 35mm forstner bit, which I do not own. Instead, I use a 1-3/8″ bit, which works perfectly fine. In fact, a fellow woodworker pointed out to me that 1 3/8″ converts to 34.925mm, meaning we’re within 1/10 of a millimeter using the English measurement. Close enough for me!

The mortise locations should be 3-1/2″ inches from the top and bottom of the door and centered 7/8″ in from the edge.

The doors then attach directly to the edges of the faceframe and the hinges themselves offer three points of adjustment that ensure your doors will be straight.

Custom built bathroom vanity

Just Like That

A couple hundred dollars, a couple weekends, and you’ve got a custom-built bathroom vanity for a fraction of what it would cost to have one made for you.