If you’re early in the woodworking learning curve, you need to know that amazing cabinetry does not require years of experience.

If you're early in the woodworking learning curve, you need to know that amazing cabinetry does not require years of experience, an arsenal of complicated joinery techniques, or a workshop full of expensive tools. All one really needs is a strong work ethic (building huge built-ins is a big task!), access to some basic tools, and the following "Sawdust Girl Fundamentals."

Do your own cutting

Because large sheet goods and long lumber are cumbersome, difficult to transport, and heavy, it's often tempting to have the lumberyard break down your lumber for you. But unless they are VERY particular about accuracy, trusting your own cuts will save you time in the long run.

My "must-have" tools for cutting: a circular saw with a decent rip guide and a mitersaw. That's it! Well-tuned, the mitersaw handles lumber for face frames while a circ saw set up as shown below cuts sheet goods as accurately as a tablesaw for one-tenth the price.

Equipped with a premium, 40-or-more-tooth blade and a saw guide, a circular saw makes a precise, tear-out-free cut.

Choose simple joinery

Dadoes, rabbets, tongue-and-groove, mortise-and-tenon, dowels, biscuits—these joints require precision, equipment, and skills that may overwhelm a beginner. Instead, opt for simple butt joints, securing them with glue and screws [below]. They're plenty strong for most cabinet applications, especially once they're stiffened by face frames and bolstered by neighboring cabinet boxes.

Self-drilling, multi-material screws, such as these from Spax, prevent splitting while eliminating the time-consuming job of drilling pilot holes.

Use a pocket-hole jig to build and attach face frames to the cabinet. Where it's impossible to build a face frame separately and attach it, I fasten it to the cabinet piece by piece with glue and nails.

Keep things square and level

Two places to avoid skimping: squaring and leveling during assembly and installation.

Out-of-square cabinets cause gaps, leaning, and can weaken the units. Make sure each box is perfectly square before moving on. Corner clamps and right-angle braces [below] double as an extra set of hands while squaring the case during assembly.

Build your own right-angle braces, such as this one from woodmagazine.com/brace, to hold large workpieces square during assembly.

Installing your built-ins perfectly level is just as important. Level and plumb your cabinets in every direction. You might have to get "shim-happy" but that's OK! No house is exactly level; there will be imperfections in your floors, walls, and ceiling. So use as many shims as you need.

Once you've built some confidence in these basic skills, you'll be ready to take on an entire houseful of amazing built-ins. Now if you'll excuse me, I have some cabinets to build!