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Custom Ikea Kitchen: Side Panels


These are my old cabinets. They're boxes hanging on the wall. The kitchen I grew up in had cabinets like this, and the kitchen in my last house was like that.

So at first, when we were planning our Custom Ikea kitchen project, I wasn't even sure why I would need side panels for my new cabinets. What's wrong with looking at the side of the box?

Here is the problem: Ikea cabinets don't touch the wall. Note the gap where the cabinet meets the wall. Ikea cabinets hang on metal rails -- both the upper and lower cabinets hang on a rail. As such, there is a gap of about 3/8" along the back of the cabinet.

And also the cabinets are white, which doesn't match the drawers. Put that together with the gap and you've got a situation that needs to be covered up. Side panels are just mandatory for Ikea kitchen cabinets.

(You can get brown cabinets, but those are brown on the inside also, which we think would make the interior of the cabinets to be far too dark. We definitely wanted the cabinet interiors to be white!)

So here is where I made a mistake. Please bear in mind that I'm no expert; this is my first kitchen build. I bought some half inch plywood and added a strip of hardwood along the edge and I made it so it would cover from the wall to the front edge of the cabinet. But it turn's out that is too small.

The problem, as you can see in this photo, is that you will see a visible white line all around your doors and drawers, which is kind of unsightly. The internal white cabinets are visible!

Quite by coincidence, some friends of mine are also building an Ikea kitchen and I got a close look at actual Ikea side panels and I noticed that they built them deeper than the cabinets. The trick is to size them so that they are now the same depth as the door and drawer faces.

With a deeper cabinet side, the white front edge of the cabinet is now shrouded in shadow and it looks a lot better. In this photo, I've moved one of the side panels forward so that it is flush with the front of the door and drawer faces, and it looks much much better. (Note that the cabinet doors have enough clearance that they don't hit the side panels).

I used these 1" Pan head screws to fasten the panel to the cabinets from the inside. You need to be careful with screw sizes, as we dont want the screw to poke out through the outside face of the side panel!

The panels that I built are now too small. I need to either toss out the old panels and make new ones, or add a piece of 3/4" cherry along the back or front edge. I haven't decided yet.

Here are a few details about our pantry. The wall is about 32 inches wide, so we wanted a 30" pantry. Ikea does sell 30" pantry units, but only full-depth ones. (ie: 24" deep units.) We wanted a shallow 14" deep pantry, as this is a traffic area and we can't spare any more floor space. Ikea does sell 24" wide shallow-depth pantries, but that does not maximize our space. They also sell 15" wide pantries, and we could have bought two of those, and placed them side by side. But we would then have a divider down the middle, which again is not an ideal use of space. We want a wide open cabinet.

So what we did is buy three smaller cabinet units and stack them on top of each other to make our own pantry: This bottom cabinet is a shallow base unit with drawers. You can see the dividing line where the next unit is sitting on top of it.

The next two photos show the middle unit and the top unit. The middle unit is a 30" tall upper cabinet unit, and at the very top is a 20" tall upper unit.

This photo is from back when I was assembling and installing the units. Note how I have installed two pieces of 3/4" thick plywood on the walls. As mentioned previously, Ikea cabinets hang on metal rails, and that is how I installed the bottom unit. For the two upper units, I was concerned about getting the vertical spacing absolutely perfect so that they could hang on the rails, but still perfectly mesh with the lower unit. So I dispensed with the metal rails.

Instead the two upper units are just resting on top of each other, and in turn on top of the base unit. I then fastened a screw through the back of each cabinet, into these pieces of scrap plywood. The plywood pieces are positioned directoy over a stud, and they fit into the 3/4" gap that is behind the back panel of ikea cabinets

So to sum up, these side panels are decorative, and also cover over the gap that is at the back of Ikea cabinets. In addition to that, with our custom pantry, which is made up of three stacked units, the side panel is also structural. The side panel helps hold together the three units and turns the whole thing into one custom pantry cabinet.

Some of the Tools/Supplies Used In This Project: (Affiliate Links)

Stanley Leverlocks -- love these tape measures
Other auto-locking tape measures
Robertson Screwdrivers
Robertson Screws
AKA Square Screws
Robertson Driver bits also
Picquic — some of the best “multi-bit” screwdrivers around
(But get the ones with Robertson tips!)
Torx Screwdrivers (If you must)
Painter's Pyramids
Dowelmax Company
NOTE: at the time of publishing (May 2023) Dowelmax is not currently available on amazon. It has been in the past, so I am keeping the following links, but right now only the link above to "" is known to work.
Dowelmax Dowel Joinery Kit
Dowelmax Drill Guides for 1/4" Dowels
Dowelmax Dowels

Minwax Oil-Modified Polyurethane
3M Finishing Pads / Scotch Brite

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See Also:

Custom Ikea Kitchen : Intro and Bulkheads

Custom Ikea Kitchen: Cabinet Fronts