DIY Kitchen Cabinet Installation Guide
How hard is installing cabinets yourself? Well, we discovered that with a few basic tools and a little good old fashioned teamwork, even we could do it. You’ll not only save a good chunk of money, but you’ll enjoy years of satisfaction spending time in a wonderful kitchen that you created yourself.
We just finished installing our own kitchen cabinets that were ordered and delivered safely from Amazon. We can now tell you emphatically that installing kitchen cabinet, a job we once thought only “professionals” should attempt, can be done by just about anyone possessing basic tool skills and a little patience.
The first step for installing our cabinets entailed mapping out in pencil the footprint of where each base cabinet would reside, then analyzing how level our floor was under the cabinet. With the help of a four-foot level, we ascertained where the highest spot was on our floor. This was the level that all the other base cabinets would have to be shimmed up to. It’s very important to note this high point in the floor as having perfectly level cabinets not only ensures that the countertops will be level, but it also creates a virtually unnoticeable joint between adjacent base cabinets.
From the high spot on the floor, we measured up the wall 34 ½”. This mark would indicate the top of the base cabinet before the countertop is added. Using the long level, we marked this height around the room where the base cabinets would be. Measuring up 19 ½” from there, we were able to make a line depicting the bottom of our upper cabinets. With an allowance of 1 ½” for countertop, this would leave us with the standard 18” space between base and upper cabinets.
Using a long straight edge, we checked and marked the wall for any high or low spots. This would provide us in advance information regarding exactly where and by how much we would need to shim behind each cabinet. Once again, this would help us down the road to line up our face frames. Our walls were much straighter than our floor was level.
From here we moved on to locating secure attachment points for the upper and lower kitchen cabinets.
Upper cabinets especially must be affixed to the wall where studs are located, and not just through wallboard. Your options are to use a stud finder and mark each center of stud, or simply drive a thin finishing nail through the wall until you find a stud, then confirm the location of each next stud. Wall studs are usually spaced 16” on center, but not always.
With stud framed walls, cabinets are held in place by wood screws that are often 3 or even 3 ½ inches long. The goal is to provide at least 1 ½ to 1 ¾ inch penetration into the underlying stud. Remember to allow for wallboard thickness, dead air space, and cabinet hanging rail thickness.
In our particular installation, the walls were concrete blocks. After asking around, we discovered that the best attachment method was to drill a hole into the concrete and secure the cabinet to the wall using a Tap-con screw. A Tap-con screw is a special self-tapping screw made specifically for attachment into the concrete.
With a lot of the layout and thinking finally out of the way, we were ready to begin installing kitchen cabinets.
A homemade inverted U-Shape frame made from 2 x 4’s provides a great support for installing wall cabinetry & frees up hands for leveling & securing.
So that we would have plenty of room to work and move about, we began by installing the upper cabinets first. Knowing that it would be difficult to physically hold the cabinet in place, level it, place shims and drill holes we decided to use a support frame. We fashioned an inverted U-shaped frame out of 2 x 4 inch lumber. The height of the frame was ¼ inch lower than where the bottom of our upper cabinets needed to be. The use of shims helped us to position each cabinet exactly into place along the wall leaving our hands free to attend to leveling and securing. (See Fig. 1)
On stud walls, a ledger board is sometimes used alone or in conjunction with a frame like ours. A ledger board is a temporary piece of wood like a 1 x 2 which is screwed into the wall to help support the weight at the back of the cabinet and hold it at the correct height.
Remove The Doors
Before we started installing cabinets, we removed all the doors. We labeled each prior to removal to ensure a smooth, speedy and correct reinstallation. Sue held the support frame while I maneuvered the first upper cabinet into position. We shimmed the cabinet upwards from our support frame until its bottom aligned perfectly with our mark on the wall. After leveling the cabinet with shims up and down, side to side, and front and back, I screwed it to the wall. I soon discovered that it was best to not over tighten the fasteners. Since the cabinet may need some more tweaking when being aligned with the adjacent cabinet. (See Fig. 2 )
Pre-drill pilot holes through the cabinet back at the top & bottom being sure your hole also goes through the hanging rails as well as into a solid stud behind the wall. Shim behind & under the cabinet as necessary to keep it perfectly level and square.
The remaining kitchen cabinets were installed in a similar fashion to the first cabinet with one small exception. The face frame of the new cabinet was aligned with and screwed into the already installed cabinet prior to screwing the new cabinet into the wall. This ensured a neat and gapless seam between cabinets. (See Fig. 3)
To hold the cabinets together, we used Quick Grips. Quick Grips are a small, easy to tighten with one hand bar clamp with padded jaws. The padding ensures you will not mar the finish of the cabinets. (See Fig. 4)
Another technique to ensure smooth face frame joints is to fasten two or more kitchen cabinets together as a unit before lifting them into place. This method for installing cabinets required a few more hands than we had.
With our upper cabinets complete, we jumped into getting those lower units installed.
Lower Units Installation
As with the upper cabinets, we first removed all the doors and then completely removed each drawer. Whenever possible, it’s best to begin your installation in a corner, so that’s what we did. We shimmed the base up to our mark on the wall, then leveled it with more shims and permanently attached it to the walls. (See Fig. 5)
As each cabinet base was moved into position, we once again aligned the faces, clamped them tightly. And then screwed them together. Only then did we proceed with final leveling and securing to the wall.
Throughout this process of leveling our base cabinets, we discovered that our 4-ft level gave us a more precise reading and better overall picture than did our shorter levels. (See Fig. 6)
Before long, all our kitchen cabinets were in place. And we started to get a really good feel for how our new kitchen was going to look.
The next step in the process of installing the cabinets was to attach the toe board.
Toeboard is a decorative panel placed at the foot level which disguises the joints between the base cabinets and makes them appear to be one solid unit. Before installation of the toe board, all protruding shims must be cut flush with the cabinet. We used a Dremel tool with a cutting disc to reach the shims positioned in the toe kick. Depending upon where they are, shims can also be cut with a sharp chisel, sawn with a very small saw, or even broken by hand. (See Fig. 7)
After measuring and cutting the toe boards to length, we adhered them with Liquid Nails, a readily available construction adhesive. If you have access to an air nailer, 3/4″ brad nails do a great job. You can hand nail them by hand if you don’t have access to an air nail, it just takes a while longer.
For us, installing our cabinets meant dealing with a soffit that was already in place from the original kitchen. A soffit is an area that is boxed down from the ceiling leaving no open space above the cabinet. We could have removed the soffit, or just painted it. We chose, however, to deal with it by covering it with ¼ inch thick cherry plywood stained and finished to match our cabinets. Then, we trimmed out the bottom edge with molding. This resulted in a very classy and rich look. If no soffit is present in your kitchen, the addition of crown moldings at the top of your cabinets will give you a nice finished furniture-quality appearance.
So far this experience of installing kitchen cabinets continued to prove the point that most any “Do-It-Yourselfer” can handle the project.
Finally, it was time to reinstall the doors and drawers. Today’s door and drawer hardware makes this task laughingly easy. All door hinges slide into a receiver where they are easily adjustable. The self-engaging drawer hardware allows you to simply slide the drawer back into place. Where it snaps and relocks itself automatically with the sliding
I think it was at this point that we both sat back and went, “Wow”.
The only step remaining in our DIY kitchen cabinet installation project now was to mount the door and drawer pulls. We found a wonderful and very inexpensive tool at the hardware store to help with this procedure. It’s a small plastic template that ensures consistent locating of all holes and virtually eliminates misalignment and mistakes. (See Fig. 8)
Today with our new kitchen complete we reflect back upon our entire experience of buying cabinets online and the process of installing the cabinets ourselves. The beauty and warmth of our kitchen far surpass any custom kitchen that we’ve ever seen. And our friends…..well, they’re absolutely speechless when we tell them that we did it all ourselves.
Our articles on this topic:
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- How to Hang Kitchen Cabinet
- Painting Kitchen Cabinets
- Kitchen Cabinets Plan
- Installing Kitchen Cabinet Yourself
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