Let’s Talk Trash

The contents of our trash receptacles say a lot about us. I drink Twining’s English breakfast tea, have a AAA membership, and eat the occasional Boca Burger.

No matter how many years of experience you have at your craft, you can’t afford to stop learning.

Kitchen cabinet making is viewed as an inferior form of woodworking by many of those who reproduce 18th-century Philadelphia highboys. Well, let them feel superior. The fact is, building kitchen cabinets requires endless learning–not least because hardware manufacturers are constantly inventing new products to make life “better.”

Sometimes I feel like cabinetmakers have become the doctors of the cutting-edge hardware world. We’re visited by hardware company salespersons and bombarded with literature about new products that will open doors, close drawers, lift lids, hide appliances, and make exhaust vents invisible. Our clients see these wonders in their neighbors’ kitchens or advertised in magazines and want them (just as yours truly asked her doctor about Cologuard as an alternative to colonoscopy, thanks to the manufacturer’s underwriting announcements on NPR).*

My basic attitude toward such gizmos is the equivalent of the sign on my doctor’s office door: Pharmaceutical Representatives Not Welcome. In my kitchen, the cabinet doors hang on surface-mounted butterfly hinges and we toss our trash into a freestanding can beneath the sink. I like simple.

Things are different when I’m discussing hardware with clients. It is, after all, their kitchen. Consider trash. There’s a spectrum of ways to store it until you’re ready to take it outside. As with most cabinet detail decisions, I go through all the relevant options. We start with a fork in the road: Would you like a freestanding trash can (or unassuming bin beneath the sink), or would you prefer a dedicated trash cabinet?


One of the dreamy offerings from Vipp


Quite a bit less dreamy: a plain bin stashed under the sink.
(This one’s ours.)

If the former, congratulations! You’re done. Just put the thing in your kitchen and get cooking. Choose the latter and you’ve launched the cabinetmaker’s equivalent of an automated answering system—Enter your account number followed by the pound sign. Press 1 for customer service. Now press 2 for residential or 3 for commercial. Etc.

  1. How will the cabinet open? Will it have a door on hinges or be made like a drawer? Will tossing that tea bag wrapper mean reaching into the cabinet, or will the trash receptacle slide out to meet you?

Made that decision? Good. However, you’re still not done.

  1. You can either buy a pull-out unit or make one. If you’re going to make it, will the design allow for bottom-mounted runners (such as Blum Tandem slides) or will it need to be side-mounted higher up to counteract the stress on the door if the pull is at the top?
  2. Are you willing to use a knob or drawer pull, or do you want the unit to open hands-free? If the former, great; just install it. If the latter, there are several further options, from a foot-operated pedal that pushes the unit open to an electric servo drive.

(Servo drives? Are we still talking about trash?)


My most recent kitchen job called for a cabinet dedicated to trash and recyclables that would open hands-free. At first I planned to fabricate a pedal—not just any pedal, but one with sufficient oomph to break the grip of the little man who hides at the back of every Blum Tandem with Blumotion drawer slide (or the Blum Movento slides that came with the Rev-A-Shelf waste and recyclables unit I had purchased). I wasn’t thrilled about installing a pedal, because the sink area is the first thing you see on entering the dining room; a pedal dangling beneath such an exposed cabinet just seemed too reminiscent of a tampon string. The kinds of objects that might logically be hanging down from a trash cabinet (a nicely printed sardine or spice can could be epoxied to the bare metal bar I imagined using in place of a pedal; my second suggestion was to carve a cute wooden mouse and stick it to the metal bar) are not likely to appeal to most people commissioning cabinetry. Trash falling out of the waste receptacle? A mouse trying to climb in? These were bound to reflect badly on the cabinetmaker or the clients, respectively.

Fully exposed. The trash cabinet in my most recent kitchen is prominently in view from the dining room.

I called my hardware company and asked about the trash container equivalent of a touch latch. Of course such hardware exists; in my supplier’s case, it’s the Blum Tip-On with Blumotion unit, a nice middle ground between the pedal and the servo drive. With a bit of help from Sarah Gates of Blum’s customer service team, I got the thing installed. It works like a charm.

*Note: The clients in this example did not suggest the hardware I used for their trash pullout. I did.

trash can

This door in my most recent kitchen build conceals a Rev-a-Shelf waste and recyclables unit on Blum Movento slides with hands-free action. See it in action here. For some hard-won tips on retrofitting this unit with the Tip-On system, see my post at Popular Woodworking.

–Nancy Hiller, author of Making Things Work

About nrhiller

cabinetmaker and author
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23 Responses to Let’s Talk Trash

  1. Pascal Teste says:

    Very nice work! I was a contractor for years and know exactly what you are talking about. My clients listened respectfully to my suggestions (based on my hands on experience), but the social pressure of the latest “thing” would win them over… To minimize the risk of a call back for product failure, I would make sure they pick the best quality gizmo and not the knockoff home centre version. Knock on wood the phone hasn’t rang yet.

    Liked by 1 person

    • nrhiller says:

      In this case I should clarify that the clients did not request the Tip On unit, just that the trash pullout open hands-free. After researching the options, I thought the Tip On made the best sense. Like you, I strongly urge clients to buy good quality hardware. With Blum, I feel a high degree of confidence.


      • Pascal Teste says:

        Got it that makes sense, keeps the wet dirty hands from the door handle. I have to redo our kitchen soon so I will have a look at the hardware you used since my wife would like a trash unit like that… Thanks for sharing the info!


  2. fitz says:

    In my last kitchen, I installed the cans on a manual pull-out unit behind a door one has to (gasp!) open by hand. Now I covet a hands-free unit in my new kitchen. Your posts are dangerous!


  3. Bob Glenn says:

    We are well on our way to asking Alexa to open the trash receptical. It is already possible to have Alexa start your washer and drier on some models. As far as the tampon string, I’m not sure.


  4. Al says:

    Are those wrap inset or butt hinges?


    • nrhiller says:

      They are traditional, mortised butt hinges with loose pins. I have several posts and articles over at Popular Woodworking about choosing and installing them and am working on an article for PopWood (Magazine) about tricks for adjusting them, even though they are not sold as adjustable. They are a world apart from the non-mortised type, which for some reason still don’t seem to be produced in proportions that look and feel right (at least to those familiar with the look and feel of hundred-year-old butt hinges), though I certainly understand why many people use them.


  5. Murray Heidt says:

    What’s that tiny door right of the dishwasher for?
    Is the corner blank unused space?
    I believe Blum to be the best, that is all I spec.
    Have a great week.


    • nrhiller says:

      The tiny door cabinet is for baking sheets. The clients and I discussed all manner of options for using the space (including those filler pullouts for storing spices or canned goods).
      And yes, the inside corner is not used. I understand that this induces horror in many people–I get it!–but in many cases it is truly the best solution. I have written extensively about inside corners elsewhere (primarily in a blog post for Popular Woodworking that you can find via a site search), in case you are interested.


  6. Bob Brown says:

    Hi Nancy,
    I understand your Blum grief.
    Been der, done dat!
    We are installing co-planer doors by Eku-Frontino.
    Makes Blum feel like LEGO!
    Met you at Southbridge. Lauretta attended your talk. You were nice.
    I read one of your books. Don’t remember which one. It was good. Reminded me why I don’t want any more clients.
    Cheers and keep up the really good work.
    Lauretta and Bob


    • nrhiller says:

      Bob, I wouldn’t call it Blum grief. More like headaches caused by relatively unintelligible instructions, which have become the norm across most brands. Of course the graphic instructions make complete sense now that I have figured out how to install this hardware (thanks to the patient customer service people at Blum). I will look into the brand you mention, because it’s always good to know what’s available.


  7. Mark Wheeler says:

    Very nice work… I made the mistake of showing it to my wife. Project 1486.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Bruce Lee says:

    Feeling let out – I just use a plastic bag on the end of the stainless steel counter, usually a recycled frozen vegetable bag since the supermarkets started charging per plastic carry bag (I use Lee Valley or promotional canvas bags)

    Liked by 1 person

    • nrhiller says:

      Your solution is even better than mine in terms of minimalism. To think that we could free up the space beneath our sink! Plastic bags used to be recyclable in our area, but no more.


  9. johncashman73 says:

    I love the small details, such as the way the trim around the top of the cabinet matches the lack of trim on the windows. You do truly nice work.

    Liked by 1 person

    • nrhiller says:

      Thank you for noticing! There are many other details along the lines of those you mention here, most notable for their relative invisibility. I like to pay attention, as do you. (I have admired your comments on many a blog post here; your name made an impression because you make the kind of subtle distinctions that are too rare.)


  10. Lex says:

    I’d absolutely request the carved mouse foot pedal over any other option. Then again, one of our wedding gifts was a beautiful, cross-stitched piece that just says “Eat A D**k” for our entry… so there’s that.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. KEVIN HEDIN says:



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