Easy How to Build a DIY Kitchen Island-Kitchen Series

January 26, 2023

Hi! I'm Nicole

Fearless DIY. Sharing building project tutorials and interior design tips. Let’s build something beautiful together. For more projects, design tips and behind the scenes, follow me @designtobuild.nicole

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Early in my marriage, my husband and I found our dream kitchen island while house hunting. We ended up not buying that house and I have longed for that island ever since. During my recent modern kitchen remodel, I made that dream a reality. My very own kitchen island. A large DIY kitchen island with plenty of room for our entire family to gather around. Not to mention, lots of storage space. Oh and the counter space I now have! It’s truly a dream come true!

After taking out the annoying bar peninsula that’s only purpose was to take up space and close in the kitchen, I needed to replace all of the base cabinets I had lost.

Using one of the giant cabinets from that peninsula was key to getting some storage back. I was able to use this large 3-drawer cabinet as the base for my new DIY kitchen island. It was the perfect size and a great foundation to build off of, while still being functional.


Let’s jump into the free plans….

How to Build a DIY Kitchen Island

First let’s take a quick look at the peninsula that used to jet out and the cabinet I wanted to be sure to salvage….

A kitchen with a peninsula bar jetting out and blocking off part of the kitchen space

Removing this peninsula opened up so much space….

Open space in a kitchen with a mismatched floor and a huge black and white rug

Plenty of room for a large kitchen island.

Materials Needed for DIY Kitchen Island:

(Amazon Affiliate Links Included)

Tools Needed:

(Amazon Affiliate Links Included)

These instructions require the use of a Kreg Jig. If you have never used one, here’s a very easy-to-follow tutorial. 

Step One: Draw it out

Being the visual person I am, I really needed to see the space this island was going to take up, before deciding on its dimensions. To get this visual, I used scrap wood and painter’s tape to “draw” the space out….

Open space in a kitchen with a DIY kitchen island drawn out with boards

One thing I wanted to make sure of with this large island, was to have adequate walking space between the sliding doors and the island. Ideally, and to ensure you’re up to code for resale purposes, you’ll want to have a clearance of 3 feet around all four sides of the island. This means 3 feet away from all walls, appliances, etc.

Step Two: Determine your base

As I mentioned before, removing the peninsula took away some key storage cabinets. I knew I wanted to implement at least one of these cabinets in my kitchen island.

Starting with one lone cabinet, I built out my DIY kitchen island….

One 3-drawer cabinet sitting in the middle of a room with white hardwood flooring

Step Three: Build the front open shelves

Next to my base cabinet, I wanted wide open shelving for more storage options.

Side Panels: I cut a piece of plywood to fit along the side of the base cabinet (as shown below). When making these cuts, cut the length to fit the depth of your base cabinet.

For the height, you’ll want to account for a 2×4 base. I added this base for more stability. This was especially needed for the end piece that we’ll be adding in a few steps.

I then cut another board the exact same size and dimensions. (Set this board aside for now). …

So, basically the height of your plywood will be:

  • The height of your base cabinet minus the width of the 2×4 (1 1/2″).

The length of your plywood will be:

  • The same measurement as the depth of your base cabinet.

Attach the plywood to the side of the base cabinet, using a nail gun. You now have one side panel attached…

Side panel of a 3-drawer cabinet

Note: Be sure that your 2×4 base is flush with the front of the cabinet base. (This is necessary to attach the trim in a few steps). The 2×4 shown above still needs to be moved back to be flush with the base of the cabinet front. If you scroll down two pictures you’ll see exactly where the 2×4 needs to sit).

Next, I measured out where I wanted my shelves to go. This is solely personal preference. Using a pencil, I marked on the attached side panel, exactly where I wanted each shelf to go.

For my bottom shelf, I planned to house some of my larger appliances (i.e. crockpot), so I left more space between the bottom and the middle shelf.

For the middle shelf, I wanted to add baskets, so I made sure there was plenty of room for the height of the baskets.

I chose to make my top shelf more of a cubbie like shelf. My plan was to store away things not so easily seen here.

Shelf Support: I cut six 1x2x8’s to the same length, and attached them, using my nail gun. To determine the length of the supports:

  • I made sure the back of the supports were flush with the back of the base cabinet.
  • On the front side of the supports, I left a 3/4″ space. This allows room for me to be able to attach the front trim that will cover up the front ends of these supports.
  • To determine the placement for these supports, I used guides. I cut each of my guides according to the pencil markings of where I wanted my shelves to sit. Here is how I cut my guides:
  • Guide 1: Measure from the 2×4 to the pencil marking for the bottom shelf. Cut two scrap boards to this length and mark both as Guide 1.
  • Guide 2: Measure from the 2×4 to the pencil marking of the middle shelf. Cut two scrap boards to this length and mark both as Guide 2.
  • Guide 3: Measure from the 2×4 to the pencil marking for the top shelf. Cut two scrap boards to this length and mark both as Guide 3.
  • Using guide 3, attach your TOP support first. You’ll place both guides, resting on the 2×4, spaced apart, and flush against the side panel. Place your first support on the top of these 2 guides. Make sure the support is level and attach to the side panel, using a nail gun. Once again, make sure the support is flush to the back of the side panel. 
  • Now you’re ready to attach your MIDDLE support, using guide 2. Follow the same step as above to attach this support.
  • Lastly, attach the BOTTOM support, using guide 3. Once again, follow the same steps as you did for the top support.

When all is said and done, it should look like this…

Supports added to the side of a 3 drawer cabinet

I was now ready for the back side of my open shelves. To determine the dimensions for this plywood sheet, I measured how long I wanted my kitchen island to go.

I then cut my plywood to be:

  • the same height as my cabinet top
  • the length that I determined I wanted my island to be (minus the cabinet length; There’s no reason to run this board behind the back of the cabinet).
  • Note: you’ll attach this board to the back of your base cabinet. Therefore, you’ll want to cut it to be a little bit wider to have plenty of space to attach it to the base cabinet.
  • You’ll attach this plywood sheet to the back of your base cabinet, using a nail gun.

You should now have something that looks like this…

3 drawer cabinet with a sheet of plywood behind it for the start of the DIY kitchen island

Now you’re ready to attach the other side panel. Attach the base of this plywood board to a 2×4, using L-brackets. 

Note: Once again, be sure that your 2×4 is flush with the front of the cabinet base. (This is necessary to attach the trim in a few steps).

It should now look like this…

Back and side panel added onto a 3 drawer cabinet

Before adding my remaining supports, I attached my bottom trim piece. Cut your trim piece to fit. It should be the length of your island, as well as the width of the space underneath the base cabinet…

Front trim piece added onto a diy kitchen island

Attach remaining supports: Attach remaining supports for the shelves to the end side panel. To do this, follow the same steps you went through to attach the first set of supports; using your 3 sets of guides.

3 drawer cabinet with a back panel, side panel, trim piece and shelf supports added on

Cut shelves to fit: Cut 3 shelves to fit on top of your supports. They should have the same depth as each of your supports. In other words, the front of each shelf should be flush with the front of each support…

3 drawer cabinet with open shelving next to it

SIDENOTE: At this point, I realized my bottom support should have gone just below the trim piece. This would have avoided that empty space below the bottom shelf. It would have allowed my bottom shelf to sit flush with the trim piece. You can make this correction now, by moving the bottom supports. Or you can continue with my instructions. I’ll share how I easily covered up this empty space a little further down in this post.

I love the additional storage these large open shelves provide.

Step Four: Build the side open shelves

On the back side of my DIY kitchen island, I added a smaller section of open shelving. This shelving faces out from the side of the island. It provides a nice view from the sitting area that faces it in my bay windows.

And who can’t use a little extra storage? Perfect!

Birds eye view of sitting area in modern kitchen makeover

Once again, you’ll want to determine the dimensions that fit your space.

Build the base: To start with, I built a base for these side shelves, using 2×4’s. I cut the 2×4’s to fit the dimensions that I wanted my shelves to be. I then stacked two 2×4’s on top of one another to build up my base. I attached the 2×4’s on top of one another, using 1 1/2″ wood screws.

I didn’t worry about attaching the 2×4’s to the part of the kitchen island that was already built. This section is not going to go anywhere, with all that I’ll be building around it. Therefore, the 2×4’s shown below are freestanding and not attached to anything….

Base for a shelving unit made out of 2x4's

Keep in mind the 2×4’s for your upright supports will take up 1 1/2″ on the right side and the back side. Therefore, your shelves will be 1 1/2″ less on the right side and back side. Just something to keep in mind, when determining the dimensions you want your shelves to be. 

Cut upright 2×4’s: Cut the 4 upright 2×4’s to be flush with the top of your already built section of the island.

Drill pocket holes: Drill 1 1/2″ pocket holes in one end of each of the upright 2×4’s, using a Kreg Jig. Attach with 2 1/2″ pocket hole screws, according to the placement as shown below…

Uprights for a shelving unit made of 2x4's

Cut base shelf: Cut base shelf to fit; as shown above. Attach to base 2×4’s, using 1 1/2″ wood screws.

Cut side and back panel: Cut side and back panel to fit. Attach to upright 2×4’s, using 1 1/2″ wood screws.

Side view of diy kitchen island

Add shelf supports: Cut shelf supports to fit. Cut guides for placement, using the same technique as you used for the front shelf supports.

Shelving unit with supports for shelf

Cut shelf: Cut middle shelf to fit…

Side shelves to diy kitchen island

The back side of your DIY kitchen island will now look something like this…

Back side of a DIY Kitchen island being built

So, as you can see from above, I had a lot of empty space. I had thought about adding more shelving to the other side to utilize this empty space. But in the end, I decided against this.

This is always something you can do, if you choose to. Simply follow the steps I’ve already shared and you’ll easily be able to add more shelves.

Step Five: Build the back of DIY kitchen island

To build the rest of my DIY kitchen island, I completed the following steps:

  • First, I attached a 2×4 to the back of my base cabinet. I cut the 2×4 to the full height of the base cabinet and attached using 2 1/2″ wood screws…

2x4 added onto the back of a cabinet

  • I then built a shell for my back panel and side panel to attach to. I did this by:
  • Measuring how far out I needed this section to go (the same depth as the side shelves I just finished building)
  • I cut a 2×4 for my base, to get me to this depth. I drilled 2 1/2″ pocket holes on one end of this 2×4. (“1” on diagram below)
  • Then I cut a 2×4 for my outer upright (since this 2×4 will be attached to the base 2×4, I subtracted 1 1/2″ from its total height. So that in the end, it’s the same height as the upright attached to the back side of the base cabinet). (The picture below should give more clarity). I drilled 2 1/2″ pocket holes on one end of this 2×4. (“2” on diagram below) (Note: the pocket holes on the top of this 2×4 are not necessary).
  • I attached all of these boards together, as shown in the picture below, using 2 1/2″ pocket hole screws.
  • For the top 2×4, I made sure everything was square and cut this board to fit. I drilled 1 1/2″ pocket holes on one end. I then attached it using 2 1/2″ wood screws on the outer end and 2 1/2″ pocket hole screws on the end closest to the base cabinet. (“3” on diagram below)

Diagram for DIY Kitchen Island

Add back board: Now I was finally ready to add my back board. Because of the way my plywood was cut, I had to add two separate boards. I attached my plywood sheets to the 2×4 uprights, using 2 1/2″ pocket hole screws.

Side view of an open shelf unit in a kitchen made of plywood

Here’s another view…

Open shelving made of plywood

And a view from another angle…

Back side of a diy kitchen island made of plywood

Step Six: Add trim

My next step was to add trim all along the bottom of the island. You could either use 1×6 boards to trim yours out. Or rip your plywood to the desired width and use that to trim out your island.

I chose to use my left over plywood. I wasn’t worried about the rough edges, since I planned on painting the entire bottom of my island.

I then ripped strips of plywood to give my island a slatted wood look. I cut the length of these strips to fit and attached using my nail gun. My strips are each 3 1/2″ wide.

Wood slatting going around a plywood base box

I cut my trim pieces to fit around the perimeter of my front open shelving. This also covered up that gap I talked about earlier….

3 drawer cabinet with a 3 shelf unit made of plywood next to it

I also cut trim to fit around my side shelves…

2 shelf unit inside a diy kitchen island

Step Seven: Add the counter top

While I wanted to go with a piece of butcher block countertop, I ended up with a much less expensive option. Because my DIY kitchen island is 4 1/2 x 5 1/2 feet, I would have had to order a custom-made butcher block. And that turned out to be pretty darn pricey.

So, I went with the next best option: an Edge Glued Board from Menards. Actually two of these boards. They come in different sizes. I chose the largest dimensions and greatest thickness available. I then cut them down to the size I needed. I love the smooth surface these boards have…no sanding required.

3 drawer cabinet with a 3 shelf unit next to it and a countertop on top

One of the features I really liked about butcher block, was being able to do my own finish on it. The edge glued boards allowed me this option also. I chose this method for my finish

Having to get two boards meant I also had a slight crease running down the center of my countertop. No worries. I filled this with wood filler and was able to stain over it. While the crease is somewhat noticeable, it’s not an eyesore and barely stands out.

If I had this to do over again, I would actually stack two of these boards on top of one another for a thicker countertop look. Something I can easily add in the future, if I decide to do this later.

While the base of my island is 41″ x 61″, the countertop is 4 1/2 x 5 1/2 feet. I chose to extend the countertop out about 12″ from the island base, to add a breakfast bar.

This enabled us to add 3 bar stools for comfortable seating.I love how the seating side faces the kitchen and makes conversation easy for whoever is working in the kitchen. (Amazon Affiliate Link Included)

If I had the option to reattach the countertop, I would. I forgot to add long metal supports underneath…extending from over the island base to out under the breakfast bar. Because of this, I can already see the extended bar warping somewhat. Which will only get worse with time.

Eventually, I’m either going to have to remove the countertop or add a beam from the floor to the bottom of the bar on the two outer corners. This would keep the bar from continuing to warp and not allow it to be pushed down anymore.

Here’s the countertop stained and ready for use…

3 drawer cabinet with a 3 shelf unit next to it and a countertop on top

I then got to work on filling all of those nail holes. And it was time for paint. I chose my go to black paint color. Sherwin Williams Tricorn Black. I absolutely love my new countertop against the black base…

Kitchen island with a tan countertop and black base

Changing out the original cabinet fronts with these shaker style ones, made a huge difference too…

Shaker drawer cabinet with a 3 shelf unit next to it

Amazing how adding new hardware can change the entire look. These beautiful Champagne Bronze pulls are stunning against the black paint… (Amazon Affiliate Link Included)

3 drawer black shaker cabinet with champagne bronze hardware

And with our new flooring and lighting…absolutely perfect!  (Amazon Affiliate Link Included)

LVP flooring with black sliding barn doors and modern pendant lights hanging over a center island

There are days I still walk into this kitchen in awe of what I built. It truly is the focal point in my newly remodeled kitchen.

Counter stools pushed up to a breakfast bar

Gotta have these bar stools?? Here’s the link!!

I hope you found this post on how to build your own easy DIY kitchen island to not only be informative, but attainable. It really is an easy DIY project. Follow these step-by-step instructions and make your inexpensive kitchen island dream come true.

DIY kitchen island with a sitting area next to it

Let’s go beyond the design to build something beautiful together!

Full view of diy kitchen island with baskets, a plant and modern light pendants

Be sure to Pin This Post to your Pinterest Board for later…


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Pendant Lighting 

Bar Stools

Champagne Bronze Pulls

Chairs in sitting area

Rug in sitting area

Kreg Jig

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