Step-by-step instructions to build a great portable kitchen island
Allowing for extra storage, usable counter space, and of course more wine, this DIY kitchen island will boost the value and utility of your kitchen, provided you have some free time, tools, and just a bit of skill.
Phase 1: Gather tools and wood
First, collect all of the tools needed for this project:
1. Power saws (A miter saw works great for frame cuts, although you can use any saw for straight cuts. A jig saw is good for rounding the corners of the top.)
3. Kreg Pocket Hole Jig (We used the R3 model)
4. Counter sink bit matched to the size of your wood screws
5. Random Orbit sander, or regular sandpaper if you want to use your muscles
2 1/2 inch pocket hole screws
1 1/4 inch pocket hole screws
1 1/4 inch wood screws with tapered heads
Wood : For the frame and slats we used all pine
(3) 2×4 x 8 ft
(4) 1×4 x 8 ft
(1) 1×3 x 8 ft and at least 1 ft more (sometimes stores carry 2′ pieces)
(1) 1×2 x 8 ft
Top: you can use 3/4 in x 16 in x 48 in spruce panel. Or get creative with multiple 1x4s, plywood covered with laminate, or plywood covered with decoupage. Examples include brown paper bags, beer labels, maps, and book pages. Scour the internet for ideas.
Related: 18 Different Types of Lumber
Phase 2: Cut list
The first major step is to make all of the necessary cuts. The above handwritten list details everything you’ll need. We used a miter saw and a stop block to ensure uniform length for the pieces – it is essential that each piece is the same length.
Once the first piece is cut, use it as a template for the rest. It is possible to shave down a piece to get the same length, but don’t go beyond 1/8″ as it will stray too far from the design. Remember that the final shelf width will determine the slat lengths, so cut them after you’ve finished the frame, to ensure that you can measure them to fit.
Phase 3: How to use pocket holes
For the pocket holes, reference the manual that came with your jig system. Remember to adjust the drill bit collar and the hole guide jig to the appropriate thickness. Keep in mind that 1x material is actually 3/4″ thick, 2x material is actually 1 1/2″ thick, and so on.
Joints must always be glued at pocket holes. Pocket holes are used for butt-joints and putting glue between the end of the piece with screws and the face of the piece you are attaching. This makes for a very strong joint. The pocket hole screws essentially serve as clamps and dowel joinery in one.
All pocket holes can be pre-drilled now. Align the outside of the jig to one edge of the wood. Use the outside hole guide for one hole then make the jig flush to the opposing side for drilling the second hole through the other hole guide.
All pocket holes should be made on the same side of the piece, and this side will be assembled to the inside of the island so the holes are not visible once completed (see pic).
2 pocket holes per end in: (2) 6″ 2×4 short top apron, (2) 36 1/2″ 2×4 long top apron, (2) 36 1/2″ 1×3 long bottom shelf sides
1 pocket hole at the top of each end of the (2) 36 1/2″ 1×4 long wine shelf sides (the 1×2 cleat will prevent using a pocket hole on the bottom of each end of these pieces)
Step 4: Assemble the Legs / Short Sides
You will need: (4) legs, (2) 6″ short 2×4 side apron, (2) 11 1/2″ short 1×4 wine shelf, (2) 11 1/2″ short 1×3 bottom shelf and a scrap piece of 1×4 to ensure the short shelf sides are set in the proper distance for attaching the long sides flush with the face of the 2×4 legs.
1. In your 6″ 2×4, pre-drill pocket holes with the Kreg jig setup for 1 1/2″ material. This piece is so short the opposing pocket holes will overlap in the middle but this will not affect fastening.
2. Attach 6″ 2×4 to each leg. Using a flat bench and the Kreg clamp (face clamp) to ensure everything is flush will help immensely. Put the clamp on the joint and turn the assembly upside down on a flat bench, pushing the 6″ apron until the top is flush with the top of the leg. This ensures the top plane is flush. Once everything is lined up glue and run 2 1/2″ screws into the pocket holes. Make sure not to over tighten, as these coarse pocket hole screws with pull themselves right through pine.
3. Pre-drill the countersunk holes in the short shelf sides as shown with “o” on the sketch. Both holes must be within 2″ of the ends to ensure they hit the leg when you screw them together.
4. Use the scrap 1×4 to get the proper inset and put glue between the short shelf sides and legs. Next use 1 1/4″ wood screws to fasten the short shelf sides to the legs, as shown in the sketch. Use your adjustable drill, setting the slip at a medium number on the dial. The drill will slip and not drive the screw any further. Adjust the number upward until the screw makes a secure joint. Your drill is now set for all future assembly on this project.
Repeat this process for the other 2 legs and sides.
Note : We chose 1 1/2″ space up from the bottom of the leg to the bottom of the 1×3 side shelf board and 7″ between the top apron and the top of the wine shelf side, to enable using scrap 2x4s as spacers. Use (1) 2×4 laying between a flat bench and the bottom of the low shelf to get the proper spacing for the bottom shelf. Then use (2) scrap 2x4s stacked on their side to create 7″ of space between the bottom of the 6″ apron and the top of the wine shelf.
Step 5: Attach cleats to Wine Shelf long sides
1. Pre-drill holes in (2) 34 1/2″ 1×2 cleats. Do not counter sink too far because this is the riskiest spot for the screw tips to come through the outside face.We used (4) shown in sketch with “o”.
2. Ensure the bottom of the 1×4 and 1×2 are flush the entire length. Leave 1″ at each end to accept the short sides of the wine shelf already assembled on the leg sides.
3. On the same side of the 1×4 the cleat is on, pre-drill your (1) pocket hole at each end at the top (see sketch in next step).
Step 6: Finish Main Assembly
The sketch above shows the horizontal pieces on the side. The dotted ovals are pocket holes on the back side as shown. (1) wood screw with a pre-drilled countersunk hole at each end of the long shelf sides will hold it in place, allowing you to install the pocket hole screws on the back side.
We puttied these holes, making the assembly easier. If you plan on staining the entire piece, use only the pocket holes on the backside, so that no holes appear on the face of your wood.
1. Pre-drill countersink hole on each end of long shelf sides 3/8″ from end, as faces of the short shelf sides are only 3/4″ wide. Drill from the side opposite the cleat on the wine shelf – cleat will remain inside and the screw will come from the outside.
2. Lay a bead of glue down the cut end of the short shelf sides, then screw both the wine long shelf side and the bottom long shelf side into the short shelf sides, making the tops of short and long sides flush. Do this for both sides.
3. Place assembly on flat surface and ensure everything is true and tight, making necessary adjustments. Run the pocket hole screws in from the inside for utmost stability.
4. Flip the assembly upside down on flat work bench and insert (2) 36 1/2″ 2×4 top aprons. Depending on cuts, the lower shelves may give enough friction to hold these apron pieces where they belong. If this is not the case, use a strap clamp or have a helper hold the apron long pieces flush with the front side of the 2×4 legs and flush with the top of the legs. (see pics) Glue and pocket hole screw.
Step 7: Slats and Finish
The wine shelf slats should fit between the 1×4 sides and rest on the cleats without binding or being too sloppy (see pic). Make the bottom slat ends flush with the outside of the 1×3 bottom shelf sides (see pic). You may now do some finishing (staining, painting, decoupaging, etc). This is much easier to finish before the slats are installed.
Use wood filler in countersink holes on long shelf side faces, and top holes on the inside of the wine shelf sides. Fill in joints between legs and other pieces if you desire a smoother finish between the separate pieces. Once dried, sand smooth and flush.
For the bottom slats, hand sand all top edges so there are no sharp corners (see pic). The wine shelf slats require no sanding, as corners are not exposed and the 90 degree edge keeps bottles from rolling.
For staining or painting, follow all directions on labels for these products. The project can be done in a single day, discounting curing times on the finishes.
Step 8: Install Shelf Slats
1. The wine shelf: Place the (2) 11 1/2″ 1x2s at each end, then place the remaining (7) 11 1/2″ 1x4s (see sketch), spacing them evenly. The space between slats should be about 15/16″ but this is not always possible. Try different spacers (magazines, books, hex nuts, wedding bands, etc) until finding something that works. Next, attach them.
2. Bottom shelf: Place the (9) 13″ 1x4s along the frame for the bottom shelf (see sketch). Mathematically speaking, this spacing should be 5/8″ but many factors make it tough. Do the same as you did for the wine shelf. When you are happy with the look, attach the slats, ensuring the ends are flush with the long shelf sides.
Step 9: The Top
There are endless options for this aspect of the project. You could use (2) 1x8s which would grant 15″ width or (10) 1x2s or (3) 1x6s. You could use 3/4″ plywood faced with 1x2s and contact cement some laminate down. You can use the same plywood and decoupage the top and sides as mentioned earlier. You could lay tile on the 3/4″ plywood. There are many more options.
We purchased a 3/4″ 16″ x 48″ spruce stainable panel. These are strips of spruce that have been glued together in the factory and sanded smooth to create a solid board, giving the appearance of knotty-pine hardwood floor on a smaller scale.
If you’re rounding corners, use a circular object to trace the radius at each corner. This will give all corners the same radius. Trace the edge to get your corners. Cut this off with a jig saw with a scroll blade, staying outside the line. Use a random orbit sander to sand those new rounded corners smooth down to the line. This is a good time to sand every corner of the top all the way around to remove any sharp edges.
Stain the top and let it dry. If you want it darker apply a second coat of stain. After you are satisfied with the color, you can seal it.
Step 10: Mounting the Top
All wood will expand and contract. The bigger the piece is, the more the effect is pronounced. Thus, we need to solidly attach the top, yet leave some room for movement. As shown in the picture, we used tiny metal brackets. The hole in the horizontal leg is elongated.
This way the board can move laterally. Use one screw on each hole so it can twist a bit if needed. I used #6 1/2″ screws and pre-drilled the holes in the top. Be careful not to drill all the way through.
There are other options. Look up “figure 8 desktop fasteners” – these allow each area to pivot with movement. You will need a forstner bit to cut out the hole in the apron top to accept the fastener flush with the top. There are also table top fasteners that are Z shaped and require a dado to be cut in the apron.
Step 11: Finally lets put it to use
First of all, wine can be stored on the top shelf. We wanted an inch of space between the slats to provide the bottles with a nesting spot. The lower shelf could hold decorative baskets or bowls, adding character or simple functionality. Remember, this is your project for your kitchen, so finalize the island to your tastes and surroundings. Make it your own.
This tutorial, including images, is published with generous permission by mejones.
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