HOW TO: Small Kitchen Island Prep Cart with Compost

small kitchen island cart
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Build this cute kitchen island cart!  Customize to fit your family's needs and kitchen space!

Just two more days until the weekend!!  If you don't have a project yet, I sure could help you out with that!

We've been Grandma's neighbors up at the Momplex for about a year now.  If you remember, my Mom decided not to move in, so we played musical houses, and Grandma Tim (my father-in-law) has made our former little house quite cozy.  All is pretty much good ... except we went from a family of three in 1150 square feet to a family of four in 800 square feet (not counting the downstairs playroom that the kid's toys have taken over) and the garage.

I'm all about living small, but in Alaska, where the weather forces you to spend most of your time inside from October to April, with small children, this is very hard to do.  We are in the works of designing a larger family home, planning to start building in the spring.

In the meantime, we've been making do in our small quarters.  The kitchen is especially tough.  Our daughter has had food intolerance challenges, so we all eat a whole foods diet.  That means there's no such thing as popping a pizza in the oven and even ordering takeout is challenging and rare.  And it gets even harder - we harvest all of our meat from the wild, field dress it, then freeze it, and then thaw and prepare it.

To keep the kids from craving sweets or junk food, I have to keep their tummies full and whole foods always available to them.  I feed them before they even have a chance to get hungry.  The kids just ate brown rice with moose meat for breakfast.  

So you get the idea.  We spend alot of time in the kitchen.

The kitchen is very small, with a U-shape that isn't quite big enough for an island, but too big to not have something in the middle.  It's like you want to grab something out of the fridge and put it somewhere ... but there is nowhere for it to go.  

Another challenge is the trash.  Right now it's under the sink.  A common occurance is one of us will be cutting veggies and the other at the sink, preventing access to the trash.  We usually just pull the trash out at dinnertime, and set it in the middle of the kitchen.  Not the prettiest solution.

We need something to ground the space, add extra countertop storage, and hold the compost/trash.

So I built this for about $60 bucks!  

It's a small kitchen island cart, about 20" x 20", with the top counterheight.  I say small, but it's actually a really nice size that manuevers well and is the perfect size for food prep.  Let's call it cute, shall we?

Since it's so small, I knew that adding drawers would be a hazzard - I could just imagine my toddler pulling the drawer open, and then tipping the whole thing over on himself.  So instead of a drawer,

I hinged the drawer face on, McDonald's style (but upside down), so the trash is in easy reach.  I really thought and thought and thought (and might still do) about adding a hole in the top where food scraps can be pushed into the hole into a compost bin, like this -

As done by the Art of Doing Stuff 

Or even just having one of the planked top 1x4 boards hinge up.  The reason I ultimately decided not to do this is because this is the only trash in the entire upstairs (with the exception of the bathroom).  And we have a baby that isn't quite potty trained.  Probably don't want a big hole looking (and smelling) right at the trash while I'm food prepping, you know?  Maybe I'll do some mods when the baby is out of diapers.  

Or maybe integrate a bucket just for compost in one corner like this one by Blanco.

Another mod that I didn't quite get figured out is the paper towels.  We don't use alot of paper towels, but it would be handy to have them on hand.

I didn't know if we'd have the space to surface mount (as done by Better Homes and Gardens above).  This is my first choice, and I wanted to see how we use the island with the space before adding a paper towel roll to the side, since it will increase the island width by about 4".

Here's a few other cool options -

In place of a drawer, from Southern Living

Or this door hung organizer that I built for our old house (you can get the plans here).

Whoa, I really went off topic there, didn't I?  I'll let you know when I figure out exactly what I want to do with the paper towels - I just like to see how the family uses the piece for a little while, and then add mods then.

So back to the project -

The sides are full 3/4" plywood, so you can hang whatever you want off the sides.  I have a small towel bar on one side, and hooks on the other.

I have a small trash can in there, and the back opens up for full access.  Someone commented on Instragram (you all are so smart!) that the front door doesn't really have a purpose, and you are correct.  The smaller, front door really is useless with the back opening up so wide.  I think it looks nice, but you could save yourself alot of time and just fill the opening in with 3/4" plywood.

This isn't a complicated project by no means, but you will need a Kreg Jig for sure to build it.  Anything mobile like this you'd definitely want to screw together regardless.  I use a similar building process for this project that I do for many of my projects, so even if you don't need this kitchen island cart, there's lots of tips and tricks that will help you with other builds in this video that I did with all the building steps -

Thank you for taking the time to watch!  The detailed plans follow (if this is the homepage you'll need to click READ MORE below).  Enjoy, and please pin if you plan to build!

XO Ana 

small kitchen island cart dimensions
dimensions shown above


Shopping List

24" x 48" x 3/4" thick plywood or MDF project panel

3 - 2x2 @ 8 feet long (if buying select or hardwood, you can get away with less)

3 - 1x2 @ 8 feet long

1 - 1x6 @ 16-1/4" long

1 - 1x4 @ 12 feet long

material for doors, depending on type of drawer construction

3 sets of hinges

3 magnetic clasps (if not using self closing hinges)

2 knobs and 1 pull

4 - 2" casters on bolts (overall clearance approximately 2-1/2")

Common Materials
Cut List

4 - 2x2 @ 32-3/4" - legs

4 - 1x2 @ 15-3/4" - side trim

2 - 3/4" plywood @ 15-3/4" x 24" - side panels *see plywood diagram below

4 - 2x2 @ 16-1/2" - tie in trim

1 - 1x2 @ 16-1/2" - door/drawer trim

1 - 3/4" plywood @ 15-3/4" x 16-1/2" - bottom *see plywood diagram below

2 - 1x2 @ 15-3/4" - bottom shelf outside trim (panels sides)

2 - 1x2 @ 16-1/2" - bottom shelf outside trim (drawer sides)

4 - 1x2 @ 18" - bottom shelf slats

1 - 1x6 @ 16-1/4" - top drawer

6 - 1x4 @ 20-1/4" - tabletop

Tape Measure
Speed Square
Safety Glasses
Hearing Protection
Kreg Jig
Miter Saw
Table Saw
Brad Nailer
Power Sander
General Instructions

Please read through the entire plan and all comments before beginning this project. It is also advisable to review the Getting Started Section. Take all necessary precautions to build safely and smartly. Work on a clean level surface, free of imperfections or debris. Always use straight boards. Check for square after each step. Always predrill holes before attaching with screws. Use glue with finish nails for a stronger hold. Wipe excess glue off bare wood for stained projects, as dried glue will not take stain. Be safe, have fun, and ask for help if you need it. Good luck!


Step 1

Build two of the end frames.  As I mentioned in the video, joining the 1x2s to the 2x2s is not necessary for structure, it just keeps that joint snug.  You could attach the plywood first, and then just nail the 1x2 trim on second.

Step 2

Drill 3/4" pocket holes on the sides and tops of the plywood side panels, on the inside.  Attach to the 2x2 legs.  Also nail and glue (1-1/4" nails) to the 1x2 trim pieces.

Step 3

If you don't have a right angle drill and are adding the hinge down drawer face, consider attaching it first as you won't be able to do this after assembly without a right angle drill.  Attach trim pieces to side panels to tie the project together.  Use glue at all joints.

Step 4

Drill 3/4" pocket holes around all four sides of the bottom plywood piece.  Attach wtih 1-1/4" pocket holes and glue.

Step 5

Step 6

As with all doors/drawers, they should be made to fit. I like to leave an 1/8" gap around all sides - this will vary depending on the type of hinges you are using. I used simple butt hinges that actually took up more like 1/4" - so measure your hinges and factor in that width before building the doors. I used a router to build my doors (am working on a video of how to do that to share soon with you!) with the frame 1x3s and the panel 1/4" plywood. Here's an easy way to build doors using just the Kreg Jig that will give you a similar look.

Step 7

I built my island top out of 1x4 boards first using pocket holes on underside, stained and finished it, and then attached it through the pocket holes drilled in the side panels and also with a couple of 2" long screws through the 2x2 top pieces above the doors. The overhang is even on all sides, approximately 3/4".

Step 8

After painting the entire project, I drilled holes for the caster wheels and added the caster wheels.

Finishing Instructions
Preparation Instructions
Fill all holes with wood filler and let dry. Apply additional coats of wood filler as needed. When wood filler is completely dry, sand the project in the direction of the wood grain with 120 grit sandpaper. Vacuum sanded project to remove sanding residue. Remove all sanding residue on work surfaces as well. Wipe project clean with damp cloth.

It is always recommended to apply a test coat on a hidden area or scrap piece to ensure color evenness and adhesion. Use primer or wood conditioner as needed.



Sun, 01/03/2016 - 18:06

I am almost 5 feet tall and prepping food at my standard kitchen counter really hurts my back and neck so I've been using a chair from my pup style kitchen table. But, preparing food on a surface that people sit on doesn't really appeal to me and people look at me funny when they see me doing it. 

Anyway, I am going to build this at a lower height so that I can just wheel it over and chop away! It will surely save my back. 


Thanks Ana!