How to Build a DIY TV Lift Cabinet
For the longest time, I debated where to put a TV in my living room. Above the fireplace seemed like the only option, but not only is that considered a design mistake, it'd be difficult (and possibly painful) to view from the seating area. I debated this issue for quite awhile, until one day I came upon this photo on Houzz:
I had never seen a TV lift cabinet before in my life, but it seemed like the solution to all of my TV/fireplace woes. The TV could be in a nice, out of the way cabinet, and easily lifted out when necessary. And then I googled TV lift cabinets. Turns out, prices start at $1500 for an entry-level cabinet, and most are priced at $3000.
As discussed during my desk remodel, I don't have that kind of money. And even if I did have that kind of money, I have better things to do with it than blow it on a single cabinet. But, given that I could purchase the lift mechanism separately, I could totally build a DIY TV lift cabinet.
Something to know: you don't need to be an expert woodworker to build this cabinet. It's built primarily with pocket/Kreg Jig holes and screws. I don't even own a table saw, let alone know how to make fancy cuts with them. However, some general experience working with wood is highly recommended. Basically, a DIY TV lift cabinet shouldn't be anyone's first project. Go check out this simple Monitor Riser/Desk Organizer (yes, it's both!) if you're just getting started.
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DIY TV Lift Cabinet: Plan and Rational
I'm a big planner, especially on projects that seem overwhelming. So much so, that I actually created a Project Planner to help me keep things organized. While it's great for almost everything else I do, it was a little too small for the DIY TV lift cabinet, so I ended up sketching out my plans on a sheet of graph paper.
I spent a long time figuring out exactly what dimensions would work for the cabinet. I purchased a 43" TV, and, fun fact, that 43" measurement is diagonal (clearly a marketing ploy to make you think you're getting a bigger TV.) The actual width of the TV is 38.4", so I was able to get away with a 43" internal width.
As for the height, the most affordable (aka, cheapest) motorized lift mechanism I could find was 38" tall in its lowest setting. That meant that the internal height of the cabinet needed to be at least 38," preferably a little more for error purposes. However, 38" internal height + 3" legs + 1.5" top = 42.5" tall cabinet, which is massive. It might not seem that way on paper, but let me assure you, this is large. Therefore, I went with the absolute minimum internal height I was comfortable with, which was 38.5." As expected, the cabinet is massive, but the lift mechanism fits (with about 1/4" of space spare.)
Finally, the depth of the internal space was based on the depth of the TV (3.4") plus the depth of the lift system (3.9".) Thus the minimum depth was 8.3." Since I had no constraints in this dimensions, I just went ahead and gave myself plenty of room and planned for a 14" depth.
To assemble the cabinet, I planned to independently make four different sections: the back, two sides, and the bottom. Then I'd attach them together and add a few front supports. Finally, I'd add a hinged top, as well as doors to the front. Typical cabinet doors require a table saw (which I do not have,) and while I've cobbled together similar working alternatives in the past (desk remodel, tilt-out trash can,) since I was spending a fair amount of money on this project I wanted to make sure the front was something of quality. So instead, I decided to use a regular piece of 3/4" plywood for the doors, and instead create a faux-drawer look with paint and a circular saw. Full details can be found in the process section.
DIY TV Lift Cabinet: Materials
- Two Sheets of 3/4" Plywood- I used this Birch Plywood from Lowes. It was plywood, and it was fine. I was neither thrilled nor disappointed.
- Five 2"x 2"x 8' Boards- So, lets chat a bit. 2" x 2"s can reliably be found in what I lovingly call the "crap wood" (officially called "whitewood boards") section of you local Home Improvement store. They're typically less than $3 a piece, but most will be warped, twisted and generally a mess. You will need to spend 10-15 minutes digging through the pile to find 5 boards that are mostly straight. Bring some scissors, because this will be easier if you can open new packs. Then, when you get home, you'll need to spend another hour or so sanding them. Alternatively, 2" x 2"s can occasionally be found in the Pine, Poplar and Oak sections, where they tend to be straighter and less ugly. However, you'll pay $20-$40 per board. $15 versus $100-$200. I'll let you make your own choice, but know I purchased these.
- One 2" x 10" x 8' OR 1" x 10" x 8'- My original plan and build featured two four feet long 2" x 10" pieces for the top. I wanted the width to match the frame made of 2" x 2"s, which is why I made that choice. However, once built, when the top is in the "up" position, it occasionally tilts the cabinet backwards because it's so heavy. I added some weights to the front of my cabinet to stabilize it, but if you're making this build, I'd recommend using a 1" x 10" instead to avoid this issue.
- Three Mortise-Style Door Hinges- These are for the top. You can probably get away with two if you're making a 1" thick top instead of a 2" thick top.
- Four Surface Mount Cabinet Hinges- These are for the doors of the cabinet. I'm not going to say installation is a breeze, but no drill press is required, making it simpler that most other alternatives.
- Four 1 5/8" Size 8 Screw Eyes- After assembling most of the cabinet, I realized the top could flop back and seriously hurt someone. So I grabbed some screw eyes and a chain to connect it to the front of the cabinet.
- #16 Single Jack Chain- For connecting top to front of cabinet.
- 8 Cabinet Pulls of Your Choice- I used these.
- Motorized TV Lift System- There seems to be a huge price range for these devices, from $150 up to $600. I purchased the very cheapest one, since $150 already seemed like a lot of money to spend. It was easy enough to install, and seems to work well so far. If that changes, I'll come and update this.
- Finish of Your Choice- I used Cece Caldwell's Hickory Hardware on the plywood pieces, and Valspar's Muted Ebony on the frame.
- Black Paint- You only need a little bit to paint the "drawer" lines on the cabinet door.
DIY TV Lift Cabinet: The Process
Step 1: Make Sides
After sanding the daylights off of the 2" x 2"s, I cut two of the pieces into four 43" pieces. Then I cut two 14" pieces off of a third 2" x 2".
I cut two 37" x 14" pieces off of the 3/4" plywood, then prepped the pieces by lightly sanding and adding Kreg holes on all four sides (check out my Kreg Jig Guide if you're unsure how to add these.) When arranged with the 2" x 2" pieces, a side looked like this:
Note that the plywood is flush with the 2" x 2"s. This is important. The inside of the cabinet needs to be flat in order to easily install the lift mechanism and cabinet door hinges. Since the plywood isn't as thick as the 2" x 2", I put another piece of 3/4" plywood underneath the plywood to make it the same height as the 2" x 2".
Then I glued and screwed the 2" x 2"s to the plywood as shown above. At the end of this step, you should have two sides that look like the side in the above photo.
Step 2: Make Back and Bottom
The process of "cut plywood, add Kreg holes, attach to 2x2s" gets repeated again for the back and bottom The back piece of plywood should be 37" tall x 43" wide. The 2x2s should be on the top and bottom of the back but not the sides, since the back will attach to the legs that are already on the sides of the cabinet. See photo below.
You might notice that in the above photo, my bottom 2x2 has Kreg jig holes in it. These aren't necessary, and actually, never received screws despite my initial intentions. You can ignore them.
Also note that while many pieces of furniture have a flimsy 1/4" back in order to save money, this cabinet does not. This is intentional. The lift mechanism will attach to the back of the cabinet, so it needs to be sturdy, thus the 3/4" plywood.
The bottom piece of plywood is 43" x 14", and has 2x2s on three of the four sides. Since the bottom will hold the entire TV setup, I also added Kreg holes onto the 2x2s for extra support.
Note that the plywood piece in the above photo is not flush with the 2x2s. This is because the bottom of the bottom won't be seen, so I can put the Kreg holes on that side instead of the inside of the cabinet. Basically, when I assemble the cabinet, the inside of the cabinet will still contain the flush part of side of the bottom.
Step 3: Assemble Cabinet
I was lucky in that when I dry fit my four pieces (two sides, back, and bottom) they fit snugly. I was able to adjust them, making sure the tops were level and the pieces were as flush as possible without difficulty. Then I clamped the pieces together and added screws everywhere I saw a hole.
Finally, I added two 2x2 pieces to the front of the cabinet- one across the top (43" long) and another spanning from the top to the bottom of the cabinet (37".) Each of these 2x2s had two Kreg holes on either end that secured the piece in place.
Step 4: Make and Add Top
I just want to reiterate one more time that while I used a 2" x 10" to make the top of my cabinet, I highly recommend anyone attempting this use a 1" x 10" instead. The 2" x 10", when lifted up, shifted too much weight to the back of the cabinet, causing it to destabilize. A 1" x 10" would be much safer.
After a thorough sanding, I cut the 2" x 10" x 8' board in half. Then I added six Kreg holes to one of the two 4' boards. Finally, I connected the two pieces together using Kreg screws.
To connect the top to the cabinet, I screwed three hinges to the top of the cabinet. Then I laid the cabinet on its back, and placed the top next to the cabinet, shimming the cabinet so the top and hinge made a 90 degree angle. See picture below.
Then I screwed the hinges to the top.
Step 6: Make and Add Doors
Each of my doors came out to be 20 3/4" x 37", however you should definitely determine these measurements based on the cabinet you've created. I did not cut the plywood for the doors until after the cabinet frame was complete and I knew the exact measurements I needed.
Once I'd cut my plywood and confirmed that the piece did fit in the door opening, I drew three lines on the piece, splitting it into four equal sections.
Then I set my circular saw at a really tiny depth...
And sawed across the lines. This creates a depth in the wood that looks like a drawer.
I also have a Kreg Rip Cut guide that helps me cut straight. My freehand circular saw skills are non-existent, so there is no way I could have done this without the guide. In fact, I use the guide every single time I use my circular saw, and wouldn't be able to do most plywood projects without it. If you don't have a table saw, I highly recommend it.
Then I took the doors upstairs, stained them, and painted the lines with some black acrylic paint and the world's tiniest paintbrush. This was a bit tedious, but it made a huge difference in the look of the doors. They look so much more like real drawers this way.
I then painted the frame of cabinet, since I figured it would be easier to do this before I added the doors.
Finally, I attached the doors to the cabinet using the surface mount hinges. This is much easier to do with two people- one person to hold the door, the other to screw the hinges into place. I was so thankful my dad was visiting and able to help me out!
Step 7: Finish Remainder of Cabinet and Add Drawer Pulls/Knobs
I finished the sides and back pieces of plywood, as well as the top, with one coat of Cece Caldwell's Hickory Hardwood stain. Then I added cabinet knobs to the front of the cabinet. I took zero pictures of any of this, but it was a pretty straightforward process that went exactly how you'd expect.
Step 8: Added Safety Chain
Given that the top of the cabinet was so heavy, if it flopped backwards it could injure someone and/or pull the screws out from the hinges. So to avoid this issue, I added a chain to keep the top in place when raised. To do this, we (I recruited my dad for this part so I could get some pictures) pried a screw eye slightly open:
Slipped the end of the chain over the edge:
Then closed it back up:
I drilled a pilot hole into the top/cabinet, and screwed each screw eye into place.
Since the chain I purchased was one 15 foot length, to "cut" it to the right length, we opened a link with pliers at the place we wanted to "cut." The length we needed slipped right off!
I added a chain on either side of the cabinet for extra security!
Step 9: Install Lift Mechanism/TV
There was a fair amount of "following the instructions" for this part. I didn't run into any major issues, but it did take me a bit of time to figure out what to do. The installation instructions for the mount I purchased can be found here (if for some reason you ordered the exact same one and don't have instructions.)
And then the cabinet was done!
DIY TV Lift Cabinet: Cost Considerations
I had a couple Lowes coupons, so I was able to to reduce the price a bit. I paid about:
- $96 for two sheets of plywood
- $10 for five 2" x 2" x 8' furring strips
- $8 for three door hinges
- $5 for the 2" x 10" x 8' top
- $4 for a 100 count pack of 1 1/4" Kreg Screws
- $7 for a 15' length of chain
- $2 for four screw eyes
- $13 for four cabinet door hinges
- $20 for a 10 pack of cabinet knobs
- $3 for a paint sample
- $150 for the TV lift mechanism
So it cost me about $170 to build the cabinet, and another $150 for the lift mechanism for a total of $320. Considering TV lift cabinets start at $1500, I consider this a major win. That being said, it was probably the most expensive DIY I've ever done, but I'm pretty proud of the result!
No really, I'm in love with it. It completes my living room, and allows me to have a peaceful TV-free space until it's time to watch TV!
Plus, the lift mechanism is so easy to use. Walk over, lift top, press button to raise TV. Done.
And the drawers actually look like drawers!! I'll be honest, I wasn't entirely sure how they'd turn out when I started- I've never done tried this before!
If you too want to hide your TV, go ahead and save this post to Pinterest so you can find it and build a DIY TV Lift Cabinet later! And if you do end up building the cabinet, let me know in the comments below! I'd love to see what you've made and hear about your experience!