Custom Display Case

Complete Step-By-Step Instructions
EDITOR'S NOTE: See Display Case #2 for additional pictures of the individual assembly steps, taken recently when I helped my friend convert his own combination of Ikea cabinets into lighted display cases like mine.

Converting an Ikea wall unit into a custom, lighted display case


The unit pictured consists of a tall single case and a tall double case, each of which is divided vertically into three sections about 2 feet high each (exact dimensions are given below). Doors and drawers can be added to suit your needs—I used one set of drawers on the wide case, three solid doors for the center sections of both cases, and three glass doors for the top sections. I left the lower section of the single-width case uncovered to house my stereo components and allow use of remote controls and proper ventilation. Also shown is the optional TV bench. I paid about $500 for this combination, excluding lighting and display conversion. Figure another $350 for the works.

Like many of these relatively inexpensive units, they are made of particleboard and simulated veneers—not real wood; however they are still quite heavy. The top and bottom of the case, as well as the shelf dividing each section in a medium or tall unit, is fixed. There is also a moveable shelf supplied with each section which is supported at all four corners by small metal posts*, and it can be used in another section or removed completely (actually, the shelves we’re replacing with glass we’ll be using to make soffets for the recessed interior lights).


* A NOTE ABOUT THE METAL POSTS: The posts can be used to support the glass shelves you’ll be adding, but there are only four supplied for each section, and with three glass shelves you’ll need 12 of them. I had extras of these since they came with almost everything Ikea ever made, and I’ve bought a number of things from them over the years. I preferred to use plastic clips with a flat surface to support the shelves, for aesthetic reasons, and also because they are less likely to scratch the glass. The clips came from a small particleboard shelf unit in my closet used for holding shoes, and I simply swapped the plastic shelf supports for the metal posts. My friend who converted his Ikea cases used the little metal posts, and they look just fine—I gave him the extras he needed from my stash of Ikea bits and pieces (never know when you’ll need something). I believe Ikea will gladly give you extras for free if you “lose” some, and they may even sell them in small packages now.

Each Single section will display about a dozen cars in the front row, with room for up to six more behind them on the three lower shelves (top shelf should not have cars in the rear as they would be too close to the interior lights). Small clear plastic lifts may be used to elevate the cars in the back rows for better viewing. The Double section will display between 28 and 40 cars in a similar fashion. The combination shown will accommodate a total of 40 to 60 cars, depending on how closely you wish to arrange them, and how many small cars you have in your collection. You may also convert the middle sections to display additional cars without adding cabinets (and taking up more floor space) should you need to “expand” your display in the future.

As you can see in the picture below, these units are useful for storing a variety of odds and ends. In addition to my stereo and cable TV components, I keep Record Albums (yep, those old vinyl things), DVD’s, CD’s, Games, diecast care and handling tools, waxes, etc., and LOTS of little white boxes in mine.

Cases are also available in medium height (two sections high), and short (one section high), all in single or double widths. A fourth “extension” section can be added to the top of these units to make them 8 feet tall, but this would be best used for storage since it’s too high to view—perhaps a good place to keep all those white boxes? There are also bridging shelves in various widths, and an available TV bench. These various units can be mixed and matched to fit most any room or configuration. They even have charcoal gray doors and drawers available instead of wood grain. A friend of mine liked mine so much he bought a pair of single width medium height units to flank either side of his big screen TV, and converted the upper section of each (same height as the middle section of my tall units) to store his own diecast collection. The possibilities are endless. There are a few combinations shown below to give you some ideas:

* * * * * *

Call or visit your local glass or auto glass store and you can order the shelves and have them in a few days. For larger orders like this they will often deliver for free, and you can probably order what you need by phone. The stuff gets pretty heavy when you start adding it all up (especially if you’re using long pieces for a double cabinet).


For the shelves, I used inch glass and had the edges polished. For the mirrors I just used 1/8 inch, mirrored glass since it doesn’t have to support any weight on its surface. The bottom mirror, like the shelves, has polished edges, but the back mirror does not need this extra expense as the edges are hidden from view. Again, exact specifications and measurements are provided below. You’ll need two mirrors and three shelves for each section you convert. For the double-width cabinet, I needed additional supports for the glass shelves due to their length (over 3 feet). Believe it or not, with 7 or more heavy cars these long shelves will sag almost 1/16 of an inch in the center—not really noticeable, but this might eventually lead to failure. Since the cabinet has a mirrored back, posts were not an option. I tried several things, but what worked best were some little clear plastic brackets I cut out of a CD holder. They don’t carry the weight of the shelf, but they lend the extra support needed to keep it from flexing and possibly breaking. Instructions for making the clips are provided below. These are attached to the mirrored back using heavy-duty double-stick foam tape, available at most office supply and home center stores. The tape is used to hold metal signs to brick walls and other heavy-duty and/or outdoor applications, and has tremendous strength—especially shear strength—which is critical in this application. Then your shelves will be strong enough to hold more cars than you can possibly fit.


Parts, Measurements, and Approximate Prices for this Combination:


All specifications for the Docent wall unit components are contained in an Adobe Acrobat “PDF” document, which you can download by clicking the link below and then selecting "save." If you don’t have the Adobe Acrobat Reader installed on your computer already, you may visit the Adobe web site at to download it for free, and then you'll be able to view the document.

Click here to download Docent Specifications and Parts List

As I mentioned earlier, the combination of Ikea wall unit components I used here cost about $500, but for current pricing you can visit or call them at 1-800-434-IKEA.



Qty  Part                                                      Width x Depth (inches)  $ Estimated Cost (each)



3          Ikea Low Voltage Halogen Picture Lights                                    $ 29.97 (3@9.99)

1          Pegasus Associates Xenon Low Voltage Puck Light Kit           $ 46.50

(3 fixtures & bulbs/single transformer)  For Specifications

and current pricing see:

2          Plug-In Lamp Dimmers                                                                     $ 19.98 (2@9.99)

1          3-Outlet Adapter for a single electrical outlet                              $ 1.99


            GLASS: (Glass dimensions include a slight allowance for gap adjustment)

3          Polished 1/4 Inch Glass Shelves (Single)  18 1/8” x 14 5/8”       $ 60.00 (3@20.00)        

1          Polished 1/8 Inch Base Mirror (Single)      18 1/8” x 14 5/8”       $ 15.00

1          Unpolished 1/8 Inch Back Mirror (Single) 18 1/16” x 21”        $ 15.00

            See Note on Back Mirrors below


3          Polished 1/4 Inch Glass Shelves (Double) 36 3/16” x 14 5/8”    $ 105.00 (3@35.00)

1          Polished 1/8 Inch Base Mirror (Double)     36 3/16” x 14 5/8”    $ 25.00

1          Unpolished 1/8 Inch Back Mirror (Double) 36 1/8” x 21”        $ 25.00

            See Note on Back Mirrors below



1          Ikea Single Tall Cabinet “Docent”                 (see Adobe PDF file above)

1          Ikea Double Tall Cabinet “Docent”               (see Adobe PDF file above) 

1          Ikea 2-Drawer Set for a Double Cabinet        (see Adobe PDF file above)

3          Ikea Wood-Finish Doors                                 (see Adobe PDF file above)

3          Ikea Tempered Glass Doors                            (see Adobe PDF file above)

1          Optional TV Bench/Drawer Unit                     (see Adobe PDF file above)

            Bridging Shelves & Other Options                 (see Adobe PDF file above)



1          Empty CD (Compact Disc) standard size plastic case (used to make clips

            for long shelves—see Notes)

1          Scotch Interior & Exterior Mounting Tape (Super Heavy Duty)

9          1 inch flathead wood screws (for recessed light panel mounting)



-  All doors and drawers include decorative and mounting hardware as shown


-  “Polished” mirror and glass has had all the edges smoothed and polished


-  To dissipate heat from a DVR/Cable Box designed to never shut off, I also added a 3” computer-type exhaust fan at the back of the open section housing most my stereo and video components. Worked like a charm, but that’s another story—suffice it to say the fan is available at Radio Shack for about $10. Contact me if you need specifics.


-  Back Mirrors are listed with original dimensions sufficient to cover the entire back of a single-width or double-width section, including a slight allowance for gap adjustment. However, with hindsight I realized that if you are installing the interior lighting with the soffets, you can probably make wiring and assembly easier by shortening the height of these mirrors 1/8” to ”, and with the soffets in place it will never show. Since my interior lights were added later, my back mirrors go all the way up making it a tight squeeze for the wires (thank goodness for those gap adjustment allowances). Fortunately, each puck light has just a single wire with two leads, so it will work either way.


- Support Clips for Doublewide Shelves. Perhaps your local glass seller will have something, but I couldn’t readily find anything suitable so I made the clips myself based on the recommendations of my glass dealer regarding support options and stresses on the shelves that are over 3 feet long. You can make 6 clips from a single plastic CD case, and this project only calls for three. I messed up a few clips myself while cutting them out, but you can probably get it right by the 4th try so one CD case ought to do it.


- Plug-In Lamp Dimmers. Buy at least 1 of these—I recommend buying 2. You’ll find the halogen exterior lights are probably a tiny bit too bright—especially at night when general room lighting levels are lower. The plug-in dimmer allows you to adjust them to suit your setting and mood. For the xenon interior lights, the dimmer is a must because these are far too bright at full power. You may wish to turn them up on occasion, but I don’t recommend keeping them at that setting for extended periods. They are designed to produce less heat then halogen lights, but at full power they still give off more heat than I am comfortable using with my precious little cars, and more light than is needed.

The table below shows how much electricity can be saved and lamp life increased by using a dimmer:



Lamp Life



2 x



4 x



20 x



> 20 x

 - Ultraviolet Rays: The halogen lights have tempered glass UV filters but the xenon lights do not. I do not know whether these are necessary for xenon lighting, but I will try to find out. If you should come across this information please share it with me so I can update these instructions. I know that UV filters are available in various sizes, and could probably be found to fit the xenon puck lights used in this project.





1)      Assemble Ikea Wall Units according to the instructions supplied. This is time consuming but does not require any special tools or special skills. You’ll just need a screwdriver and a small hammer. Install everything except the glass doors and hinges in the sections you’re converting for display, as these can be done last. Also, leave out the adjustable shelf in this section because you don’t need it, and may want to use it to create a recessed lighting soffet as described below in step 4. If you’re using another section of the unit for stereo or cable components, be sure to leave the back off that section to allow for proper ventilation. NOTE: If you have an unusually hot component like a DVR Cable Box, I recommend installing a 3” exhaust fan at the back, which is available from Radio Shack for about $10. Otherwise, the open front and back should be sufficient ventilation for most components.


2)      Attach exterior halogen lights using the mounting brackets and screws supplied. I recommend placing these lights at the leading edge of the cabinet top and on the centerline of each door, for optimal light coverage and aesthetic reasons. The bracket will have to be mounted away from the edge a bit so the fixture itself won’t extend beyond the edge once it’s attached. Note that on the combination I used, with one single unit and one double, the three lights are not evenly spaced. This is because the double unit does not have a divider between the two glass doors, whereas the glass door in the single unit is separated from the next glass door by the width of two of the case’s side panels. To my eye, this looks correct, but it is purely a personal choice. The cord and plug from each fixture can be run across the top of the cabinet and left hanging down the back for now.


3)      The interior lights can be surface-mounted with the screws and wire clips supplied, or recessed for a more finished appearance. Step 3 describes surface mounting—for recessed mounting skip to step 4. Surface mounting: First mark the location for each light using a pencil to trace the outline of the lamp base. I recommend placing them on the centerline of each door, just like the exterior lights, and about 4 inches from the back of the cabinet. Next, screw the lamp base to the underside of the cabinet top with the screws provided, and run the wire straight back to the rear of the cabinet using the wire clips supplied. You’ll need to drill or cut a small hole in the thin backboard of the cabinet to route the wires out of sight. This hole should be placed at the very top edge, so as not to interfere with the back mirror that will be installed later on. Use a drill if you can, so that you can actually make a small groove at the back edge of the underside of the cabinet top—this will allow you to push the lamp wires up a little higher so that they are not squeezed too tightly against the back mirror. Skip to step 5.


4)      For recessed lighting, you’ll first need to cut one of the adjustable shelves in half for each case you’ve built. You’ll want to use the front half of the shelf, so cut it straight across from one side to the other in the middle. The selves are solid along the edges, but hollow in the center, like a hollow-core door, but they have a cardboard-like honeycomb of supports in between. This makes them relatively easy to cut using a conventional hand saw or power saw. To avoid marring the finish, apply a layer or two of masking tape in the area you’re going to cut, and mark your pencil line on top of the tape. The tape will help prevent the finish from being torn up along the cut edge. If using a power saw, go slowly to minimize the risk of damage. Ikea does not sell extra shelves, but you have a couple more if you really ruin one. Take your time, and this won’t be a problem.


a)      Once the shelf is cut in half you can discard the back half or tuck it away for future projects. On the front half, which you’re using as a soffet, be sure to take note of which side is the top, and which edge is the front. Next, mark the location of the light on the TOP of the shelf by tracing around the lamp base with a pencil (don’t worry, the light will end up on the bottom, but remember that the shelf will be mounted upside-down so the little cut-outs for the support pins won’t show). I recommend placing the lights about 4 inches from the back wall of the cabinet, and centered on each door, so make your marks accordingly. You don’t want to cut all the way through the shelf, just the outer surface, so a jigsaw, hole-saw, or sheetrock saw is recommended. You can elevate the jigsaw using a block of wood or a book so that it doesn’t penetrate through to the other side of the shelf. Don’t worry if you poke through here and there as it won’t show. Start the cutout with a drill, and then start using your saw at the point your hole was drilled, to cut out the remainder of the recessed opening. Don’t worry if your cutout isn’t perfect, because it will not be noticeable once the lights are in.


b)      Using your finger, push away the cardboard honeycomb inside the shelf in a straight line between the recessed opening and the open back of the shelf to create a path for the wire. Then you can feed the wire through from the recessed opening out the back of the shelf, and screw the puck light into it’s recessed opening.


c)      Drill two holes about one inch from the front and back of the shelf at each end (stay within inch of the end of the shelf so you pass through solid material). The holes should be large enough for the 1-inch wood screws to pass through easily. Then, using a larger drill bit, you can make little indentations so the screw heads will be flush with the surface.


d)      Finally, you’ll need to cut a small hole for each wire in the backboard of the cabinet at the very top edge. If you can drill this hole instead of cutting it, make a small groove in the underside of the cabinet top so the wire will have plenty of clearance above the back mirrors you’ll be installing. Before mounting the completed soffets to the underside of the cabinet top, place them on top of the cabinet upside down (lights facing up) and with the wires facing you. Then feed the ends of the wires through the holes you’ve made, and install the back mirror as described in step 5. Then gently pull the wires all the way through as you snug the soffet up and back into place. Then you can screw the soffets in place using the 1 inch flathead wood screws. For the long soffets, you may want to add a screw in the center, but be careful not to over tighten this particular screw, as it is passing through a hollow part of the soffet.


5)      Install the back mirror by simply placing it in the back of the cabinet. Give it a good cleaning before and after this step because it will be harder to do once the shelves are in place. It is not necessary to adhere this mirror to the cabinet, as the heavy glass shelves will hold it in place. If recessed lighting is being used, mount the completed soffets now, before proceeding to step 6. If using surface mounted lights, just be careful that the back glass does not tip forward before you get the shelf mounting pins in place.


6)      Install the floor mirror by simply placing it in the bottom of the cabinet. Give it a good cleaning before and after this step because it will be harder to do once the shelves are in place. It is not necessary to adhere this mirror to the cabinet either.


7)      Install the shelves by placing the mounting pins in the holes. A small tap hammer may be used to tap the pins into place if they are too snug to do by hand. Recommended pin locations are (counting down from the top) holes 5, 9, and 13 at – one at each corner. Give the selves a good cleaning before and after this step, and then simply place the shelves on top of the pins.


8)      For the long shelves in the wide section you’ll need to add some additional support in the center so they can handle the weight of all those little cars (or whatever you choose to display). Without center supports they can probably support about 25 pounds safely, which is about 7 to 9 cars, but you may want to put more on the shelf eventually, and why take chances with your precious little treasures! The short shelves do not need additional support. Your glass dealer may have the perfect solution, but don’t count on it. Here’s what to do:


a)      Take apart a standard size plastic case for a CD (compact disc). Using a metal ruler or straight edge and a sharp blade on the clear half, measure and mark 4 lines evenly spaced 1 inches apart along the hinged edge of the case. You will be cutting from the hinged edge to the opposite edge, which will leave just under 1/8 of an inch above the first line and below the last. Next, mark a line across these four lines about 3/8 of an inch in from the hinged edge and another line across the 4 lines along the opposite edge. You should now have six little rectangles outlined—three at each edge.


b)      Continue to score the plastic along the lines you’ve marked using your sharp blade, until the plastic is thin enough to snap cleanly. This may take a few tries, and you may need to use another case, but if you take your time it’s not that difficult. Once you have 3 of these little L-shaped clips cut out, you’ll notice that the short side has a small ridge running along its length. Cut off a few inches of your heavy-duty mounting tape and peel the backing from one side. Using the ridge as a guide, place the heavy-duty tape right up against the ridge, but not covering it. You can then trim the excess tape from around the other 3 sides of the clip using a scissors. Repeat with the other 2 clips.


c)      Next, take each shelf in turn, and slide it out about inch, being careful not to pull it too far or it could slide right off the back support pins and come crashing down. You’d have to pull it out almost an inch to have that happen, but be careful anyway. Lay a ruler on the shelf to indicate the center point. Peel off the remaining backing, and place the clip at the back of the shelf, in the center, with the tape side of the clip facing the back mirror but not touching it, and the non-tape side of the clip resting along the bottom of the shelf. The clip should be positioned like a capital “L” with the tape section behind the back edge of the shelf, not below it. Now, slide the shelf back until the tape on the clip comes in contact with the back mirror and press gently. You may remove the shelf and give the clip a firmer press, but don’t press too hard. The back mirror is only 1/8 inch thick, and the cabinet backboard behind it isn’t very strong, and you wouldn’t want to crack the mirror. The tape adhesive is so strong that excessive pressure isn’t necessary, and the clips will do their job just fine. The best part about these clips is that they are nicely concealed so the shelves look like one long unsupported span. If you’ve removed the shelf, carefully put it back in place before proceeding.


9)      Next, install the glass doors according to the instructions, being sure to mount the hinges to the doors first, and then the completed door and hinge assemblies to the cabinet. You may find it easier to remove a couple of shelves to give easier access while screwing the hinges to the cabinet. You can make small adjustments of their fit using the adjusting screws on the hinges once the doors are in place. Once the doors are aligned perfectly, remember to place the small, clear, rubber self-adhesive dots on the back of each glass door where it meets one of the shelves—I prefer the top shelf but it doesn’t matter. To hide these dots from view, mount them directly in line with the door handle.


10)  Wiring, the final step. This is not as tricky as you might think. The wires from the interior xenon lights go together very simply and the included instructions are a snap. The halogen exterior lights have plugs on the end already. Once the xenon lights are wired together, plug the electrical plug into the plug-in lamp dimmer, and plug the lamp dimmer into an outlet. You’ll repeat this process for the halogen lights, but since you’ll have three plugs, you’ll need to plug them into the 3-outlet adapter before plugging the adapter into the dimmer, and the dimmer into the receptacle. Before proceeding, test all the lights to make sure everything works as expected.


11)  Before putting any of your precious cars (or anything else) in the cabinets, make sure you have them placed where you want them. Once the cabinets are full you will not be able to move them. This is also a good time to adjust the self-leveling feet to make up for any slope in your floors. Then vacuum out any sawdust, etc., and give all of the glass a final thorough cleaning.


Congratulations, you’ve done it! Now you can arrange your collection, and stand back and admire your handiwork.