Modern Cabinet (With Automotive Paint)

I was contacted a few months back by a friend of mine to build a custom cabinet for his aquarium. I was given free reign with the design and I decided to go with a modern look to the cabinet.

I decided to go a little unconventional with the finish on this cabinet and use something I am very familiar with, an automotive finish. I chose to got this route because I knew that I wanted an ultra smooth finish. I knew that because he was using it for a large aquarium it was going to have to be built sturdily. My plan was to use a quick and simple method of joinery with the type of joinery that I was going to be using. Breaking Down Parts

I started this project by breaking down all the parts according to my cutlets available in my plans. The track saw has become a vital tool for me in this instance.

nail gun assembly

I began the assembly by attaching the two sides and the middle divider. I first glued and tacked them in place with the brad nailer.

counter sinking screws

I then countersunk and attached each one with screws.


I attached the bottom cleats that would eventually support the lower shelves using a combination of glue and brad nails.


At this point I took inside measurements of both sides so that I could cut the bottom shelves to fit.


As before, I used a combination of glue and brad nails to attach these to the cleats. You will notice in this picture that I used the help of a squeeze clamp to bring the cabinet together and square it up.

upper cleats

I attached the upper cleats that will eventually support and attach the top. I used pocket screws for this and used one of my clamps to prevent the cleat from shifting while driving the screw.

shelf pins

Before losing access to the inside of the cabinet, I went ahead and drilled the shelf pin holes. I had to make a homemade shelf pin jig out of a piece of scrap MDF because my current jig was to large to fit in the limited space.


I glue laminated the top and bottom of the cabinet with two 3/4″ pieces of MDF. I glued both sets up at the same time, this took a lot of glue and most of my clamps to complete the process.

track saw

I squared up both the top and bottom pieces after the glue dried and cut them to their final dimensions.


I decided to bevel 3 sides of the top and the bottom. I started by cutting the long bevels at the table saw.


I didn’t feel comfortable cutting the short bevels at the table saw, so I used the track saw. This took a little bit of trial and error, but in the end I was able to sneak up on the cut, getting the exact reveal to match the front.


I made a center mark on the top and bottom and the center of the cabinet itself. I used these marks to help line up the cabinet to attain the proper amount of reveal around the cabinet. I then made reference marks on the ends and the center so I could attach the bottom.


I then predrilled through the top using my reference line.


After that I flipped the cabinet on it’s back and used the predrilled holes to attach the bottom to the cabinet with screws.

attaching the top

Next I attached the top, using the cleats that I attached earlier in the process.


I used the miter sled to cut all of the face frame parts down to size. I snuck up on all of the cuts to make sure that I could get a perfect fit.

face frame

I attached all the face frame pieces by using the combination of glue and brad nails.


Here you can see the benefit of cutting the parts to fit. I had to used my mallet to tap the pieces into place, but this ensures the there will be a gap free fit.


I filled all nail and screw holes with drywall compound.


I sanded all the drywall compound smooth and made sure that all of the surfaces on the face frame were sanded to an even plane. priming

I primed the cabinet twice with an automotive, high building primer. The first coat of primer soaked into the MDF. I had to sand that smooth so that I could prime it a second time.


One final sanding after the second priming ensured that I had a nice smooth surface to spray the paint on.


I am using the mix system at work to mix up the color that I want.


Unfortunately, of  all the cool colors to choose from, the owner of this cabinet wanted black.


I sprayed the cabinet with two coats of black base after a coat of sealer. The main purpose here is to make sure that all of the cabinet has even coverage.


After the base is dry, I sprayed two coats of a matte clear on the cabinet. As you spray it on to the surface it is shiny and wet, but once it dries it is completely flat.

modern cabinet DSC_0016 moderncabinet moderncabinets top of modern cabinet

Here you can see the benefit of a sprayed on finish. You can achieve a level of smoothness tat otherwise is unavailable.

This cabinet can be adapted for many other things. If you would like to build one for yourself, we have plans available here.

4 thoughts on “Modern Cabinet (With Automotive Paint)

  • September 10, 2016 at 8:00 AM

    hi matt- loved your utube n blog on this project. especially the automotive prime/finish really interested me. always thought the colour finish on mdf based cabinets are done with 2 pac poly system. would you be able to tell us main difference / benefit in using automotive finish vs 2 pax poly please? or can you achieve same finish with 2pac poly at all? or is it that extra level of finish 2pac can not achieve ? I am an architect / interior designer always searching for finishes options : ) thanks matt!

    • September 10, 2016 at 10:04 AM

      Thanks man, I don’t really have any experience with 2pac finishes. Just from my little bit of research, it seems like it would probably spray fairly smooth as well. To be honest with you, the main key component in a slick finish is the prep work. The priming and sanding prior to the spraying are paramount.

  • May 20, 2017 at 1:39 PM

    Very great post. I simply stumbled upon your weblog and wanted to mention that I have really loved surfing around your blog posts. After all I’ll be subscribing in your rss feed and I hope you write once more soon!|

  • July 23, 2017 at 12:34 AM

    Hi Matt this is amazing work. Wondering how much that could cost for the primer,base, sealer and Matt clear. For the job u did. Is it expensive … thanks great work

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