Build Your Own Kitchen Island

Need some extra counter space but don’t want to invest in a massive remodel? One crafty 417-lander shares the secret to turning spare parts into a do-it-yourself kitchen island.

BY Matt Lemmon | Photos by Kevin O'Riley

Jun 2015


Ethan Berneking lives in an older home with many great features, but there is one big limitation: a scarce amount of kitchen counter space. To fix the problem, Berneking built an island to go in the middle of his spacious kitchen. He started with a free-standing, adjustable chrome shelving unit he had in storage. “It looked nice to begin with,” he says. “It didn’t need much more than some steel wool to take off the rust.”

The hardest part, Berneking says, was building the wooden top he attached to the metal cart. It’s hard to find a single slab of wood for sale that will be the exact dimensions you want (in this case 18-by-28 inches). He chose oak for this project, but a builder could pick his or her own wood of choice, or even use reclaimed lumber from pallets.

By the time Berneking added industrial-looking casters to the bottom of the cart and the custom oak top he had built, the spare parts became a stylish kitchen prep area. “A lot of people are going for that finished, industrial look,” Berneking says. “ I think it fits that.” 

Ready to make your own new kitchen island? Read on for Berneking’s step-by-step directions.


free-standing shelving unit
4 casters
one piece of oak (size dependent upon your desired island size)
wood stain
wood screws
wood dowels/biscuits
wood glue



power drill
drill bits
sander or sandpaper
wood clamps
circular saw or chop box
tape measure
carpenter’s pencil



1. Determine the dimensions of the desired counter space. This might be different depending on your kitchen size/layout. Berneking’s counter was 18 inches wide by 28 inches long. This allowed him to use a 1-by-12-by-72-inch piece of oak, which is a size available at most hardwood stores.

2. Cut your board. First cut to the initial 1-by-12-by-28-inch length (this will yield a 1-by-12-by-44-inch piece). Next, cut the remaining portion to a piece that’s 1-by-6-by-28 inches. These two pieces will be joined together to create one countertop. Remember when measuring your dimensions that a blade will typically eat a quarter inch of wood.  Measure accordingly.  

3. Join the two pieces of lumber. Measure and mark the exact halfway point on the two board sides you will be joining. Use a heavy nail to make your punch mark. Using a drill bit the same size at your wood dowels, drill four or five ⅗-inch-deep dowel holes. Make sure that your holes line up on each piece of lumber. Remember that these two pieces of wood must become one. Once you have four or five well-aligned dowel holes, put a smear of wood glue on each dowel, and drop them into their spots. Join your two pieces of lumber using the dowels. Ensure that the boards are resting perfectly flat and set your clamps. Allow the wood glue to rest for 24 hours before unclamping.

4. Sand the countertop until smooth and seamless. If there are any small imperfections or cracks, you can work some wood putty into the crack. Sand until you are satisfied.

5. Pick your wood stain and color. Apply the stain using a clean paintbrush. Use paper towels to remove the excess stain. Repeat to desired darkness. Sand lightly, and apply your clear coat finish (Ethan used polyurethane). After each layer of clear, let dry and sand with fine grit. Repeat for 3-plus layers or until satisfied.

6. Attach your finished piece of oak. Use scrap lumber and a few 1¼-inch wood screws to attach from the bottom. This step will be determined by the type of island base selected.

7. Attach the casters.

8. Crack open a cold one, and enjoy your handiwork!