Avoid mistakes when installing kitchen cabinets. A professional installer explains how to install upper and lower cabinets, deal with wavy walls, shim bases and more.
By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine:October 2012
has installed cabinets
of kitchens. These
days, he can hang
them in his sleep.
Here are some of
his best tips.
aren't cheap, and
while you shouldn't
be afraid to install
them, you don't
want to screw them
up, either. We asked
installer, to show
you what it takes
to install basic
tips can save you
time and help you
mistakes on your
Every good cabinet installation starts with a good
layout. Jerome calls it “blueprinting” the wall. Here's
how to do it: Measure from the highest point in the
floor (see “Raise the Cabinets for
Flooring,” below), and
draw a level line marking
the top of the base
cabinets. Measure up
19-1/2 in. from that line
and draw another line
for the bottom of the
Label the location of
the cabinets and
appliances on the
wall. Draw a vertical
line to line up
the edge of the
first cabinet to
Removing shelves, doors and drawers makes installation
easier and prevents damage. Mark the location
of the doors on painter's tape, and make a pencil
mark at the top of the hinges so you have a good
starting point when you reinstall them. Remember
that many upper cabinets have no designated top or
bottom. They can be hung either direction depending
on which way you want the doors to swing. So decide
that before you mark the hinges.
Most of the time you can shim the cabinets as you go, but if
there's an extreme bow in the wall (more than 3/8 in.), shim it
out before you hang the cabinet. If you don't, you may accidentally
pull the back off the cabinet while fastening it into
place. Hold a level across the wall, and slide a shim up from
the bottom (go in from the top when you’re doing the top
side) until it's snug. Then pin or tape it into place.
It's easier to hang the uppers when you're not leaning way over the
base cabinets. Rest the uppers on a ledger board—it'll ensure a nice,
straight alignment and eliminate the frustration of holding the cabinets
in place while screwing them to the wall.
When connecting two cabinets to each other, line up the face frames and clamp them
together. Both cabinets should be fastened to the wall at this point, but you may have
to loosen one cabinet or the other to get the frames to line up perfectly. Jerome prefers
hand-screw clamps because they don't flex, and less flex means a tighter grip. Predrill a
1/8-in. hole before screwing them together with a 2-1/2-in. screw. Choose the less
noticeable cabinet of the two for drilling and placing the screw head.
Find the largest distance between
the outside of the cabinet and the
wall. Take that measurement and
make a pencil mark on your filler
strip (measure over right to left in
this case). Clamp the filler onto
the cabinet flush with the inside
of the vertical rail. Measure over
from the wall to your pencil mark,
and make a scribing block that
size. Use your block to trace a
pencil line down the filler strip.
Masking tape on the filler strip
helps the pencil line show up
better and protects the finish
from the saw table.
Jerome prefers to predrill the
screw holes from the inside of
the cabinet so the drill bit
doesn't “blow out” the wood
on the inside where it can be
seen. Do this by marking the
stud locations on the inside of
the cabinet and drilling pilot
holes. Start by finding the distance
from the wall or adjacent
cabinet to the center of
the next stud. For 1/2-in.-thick
cabinet walls, subtract 7/8 in.
from that measurement, and
measure over that distance
from the inside of the cabinet.
Make a pencil mark on both
the top and the bottom nailing
strip. The outside of the cabinet
walls are not flush with the
rest of the cabinet; that 7/8 in.
represents the thickness of the
cabinet wall and the distance
the walls are recessed.
Jerome prefers GRK's R4 self-countersinking
screw, which he calls
“the Cadillac of screws.” You'll pay
accordingly, but why scrimp on
screws when you're spending thousands
of dollars on cabinets?
Whatever you do, don't use drywall
screws—they'll just snap off and
you'll end up with an extra hole.
Learn more about the R4 screws at grkfasteners.com.
Line up the base cabinets
with the level
line on the wall.
Fasten the back of
the cabinets to that
line. Once the backs
of the cabinets are
level, use shims to
level the sides. Take
your time on this
step—nobody likes to
have eggs roll off a
Cabinets that make up
islands and peninsulas
need to be secured to the
floor. Join the island cabinets
and set them in place.
Trace an outline of the
cabinets on the floor.
Screw 2x2s to the floor
1/2 in. on the inside of the
line to account for the
thickness of the cabinets.
Anchor the island cabinets
to the 2x2s with screws.
If needed, place flooring
blocks under the 2x2s
If the kitchen flooring is going to be
hardwood or tile, and you're installing it
after the cabinets, you'll have to raise the
cabinets off the floor or the dishwasher
won't fit under the countertop. Use blocks
to represent the finished floor height,
and add those distances to the guide line
for the base cabinet tops. Hold
the blocks back a bit from the
front so the flooring can tuck
underneath. Your flooring
guys will love you
Cutting exact size holes for water lines and drainpipes
might impress your wife or customer, but such
precision is likely to result in unnecessary headaches
for you. Cutting larger holes makes it easier to slide
the cabinet into place and provides wiggle room for
minor adjustments. No one’s going to notice the
oversize holes once the cabinet is filled with dish
soaps, scrubbers and recycling bins.
Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.
Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.
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