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How to Build a Recessed Medicine Cabinet:

Build a Custom Bathroom Fixture to Increase Storage Space

© 2009 by all rights reserved; content may not be copied, rewritten, or republished without author’s written permission. Author’s Google profile

Recessed Medicine Cabinet





This article was updated on 8/11/18.

Building a custom recessed (or inset) bathroom medicine cabinet will maximize your available storage space. Bathroom framing is often doubled to allow for plumbing. You won’t find a matching offset fixture at a home improvement store.

Because of this, this article provides general building plans that covers the steps without listing dimensions. A bath remodeling project is the perfect time for this project. All bathrooms must make as much use of available space as possible.

This medicine cabinet is built into the wall, virtually flush. Claim the wall cavity space that’s otherwise wasted. It is a perfect project for rainy days; it is so small that it can all be completed inside wood shop.

So How Was This Woodworking Plan Developed?

This project plan is based on the my personal bathroom remodeling job; it’s part of my Perpetual Remodeling Syndrome project. What prompted it? The existing medicine cabinet was a contractor-grade unit and very shallow.

Medicine Cabinet Rough Opening I designed an offset cabinet back around a wall stud and and a water supply pipe. This doubled my storage space. But every situation is different, so no hard dimensions are given in this article. Start with the rough opening you have or develop and just follow the steps below.

Click on the small photos for a larger view.

Project Material and Tool List

  • Your choice of lumber (these pictures depict poplar, luan plywood, and red oak)
  • A wood finish (baths are humid, so choose a penetrating finish like as tung oil or Danish oil)
  • Titebond III wood glue (excellent waterproofing properties)
  • Homemade wood putty (Save your sawdust from the project and mix it with a bit of Elmer’s Glue; the color match will be perfect.)
  • Shelving material (Acrylic (Plexiglas) was used rather than wood because it’s thin and strong)
  • 1/4” shelf pegs or supports
  • Door handle or drawer pull
  • Wood screws
  • A pair of self-closing hinges
  • Biscuit joiner and biscuits
  • Table saw
  • Drill press and bits
  • Four 90 degree picture frame clamps

Start with the Box Frame

The first thing to do is make the wall opening if it’s not already there. Generally, this entails cutting out the drywall flush with the inside faces of adjacent studs and adding a header at the top and a matching 2” X 4” member at the bottom of the opening.

Be sure the rough opening is square. The measurements between diagonal corners must be equal.

Next, design to box frame to fit into the opening. This frame is the heart of the cabinet and is the first component to be built. Since the joints won’t be visible and won’t undergo any stress, no time-consuming wood joinery techniques like mortise and tenon or dovetail joints are required.

Just glue and finish nails will do the job. I used poplar for mine.

Time to Put the Drill Press Into Service

Medicine Cabinet Rough Opening Now, lay out and drill the holes for the shelf pegs on the inside of the sides. The more holes drilled, the more shelf height options you’ll have.

To be sure they are exactly the same height, lay the opposing side pieces aligned side by side on your work bench and mark straight across with a straight edge.

Next, drill the holes that will secure your cabinet to the rough framing in the wall opening screws should be sufficient, 2 on the right hand side (1 near the top, 1 near the bottom) and 2 on the left.

Medicine Cabinet Rough Opening Dry fit the pieces and make sure that the box is exactly square. Apply glue and nail it together.

Now when you cut the luan plywood backing and nail it to the box frame, it will hold the box square while the glue dries.

Cut and Assemble the Cabinet Face

I made my cabinet face from 1” X 3” red oak. Since your box frame's leading edge will be flush with the drywall surface, the face will hide your box’s leading edge, as well as trimming out at the wall.

Medicine Cabinet Rough Opening Miter your corners at 45 degrees and use a biscuit joiner to join the face at the corners. Glue and clamp it up using the picture frame clamps. Allow the glue to dry.

When the glue is dry (overnight), secure the face to your box using finish nails and a nail set. Then putty all joints and nail holes. Finally, sand the project completely and apply 1 to 3 coats of finish. When it’s dry, set the cabinet into the wall cavity snugged up to the wall. Make sure it’s plumb and secure with wood screws through the holes you drilled earlier.

Finally, Build and Install the Medicine Cabinet Door

There’s a lot of decorative options on this step. I built mine simple and to match the face. The door frame is constructed like the face was, only smaller to allow not only for a 3 dimensional look, but also to allow adequate room to mount the hinges on the face.

Be sure to check all these details before cutting.

Attach a rectangular piece of luan plywood to the back. It should be large enough to sturdy the door frame while still fitting into the inner edges of the face.

Medicine Cabinet Rough Opening Finally, finish the door and mount it on the cabinet face and add a door pull if desired. Install the pegs and shelves and the project is complete and ready to be loaded up with toiletries.


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© 2009 all rights reserved; content may not be copied, rewritten, or republished without author’s written permission. Author’s Google profile