How to Install Kitchen Cabinets
Cabinets define a kitchen’s look. Whether you choose Shaker-style, contemporary, rustic, or any other kitchen cabinet style, those cabinets become the kitchen. So, it’s vital that you install cabinets that you love and at a price that suits your budget.
Installing your own kitchen cabinets is one way to save money on your kitchen refresh. With a helper and a bit of planning, you’ll be able to put in your own cabinets in a ten-by-ten kitchen in a day or two.
Kitchen Base vs. Wall Cabinets
Most kitchen cabinet installations use both base and wall cabinets.
Base cabinets rest on the floor and hold the countertop, sink, and any cooktops. They are usually 34 1/2 inches high (rising to 35 or 36 inches with added countertop).
Wall cabinets are attached to the wall and may either meet the ceiling or have a gap between the cabinet and ceiling, depending on the need of the homeowner. In any case, the distance from the top of the base cabinet to the bottom of the wall cabinet is usually 18 to 20 inches.
Planning Kitchen Cabinet Layout
Before driving the first screw or nail, properly lay out the cabinets. Layout does not refer to the general arrangement of cabinets. You will have created those plans in advance in order to purchase the cabinets. Rather, it is a finetuning process that ties together your vertical and horizontal planes so that the cabinets can hang square, plumb, and level.
Using a laser level, tape measure, straight edge, and pencil, you will mark the protruding points on the walls, floor, and ceiling.
It is important to keep in mind that any protruding point defines the base level for any cabinet you are installing. For example, if one section of a wall protrudes 1/8 inch from the rest of the wall, this is the protruding point and it is now the base for the back of all of the cabinets.
What You'll Need
Equipment / Tools
- Cordless drill
- Cordless finish nailer
- Tape measure
- Laser level
- Bubble level
- Chalk snap line
- Utility knife
- Straight 8-foot board or straightedge
- Manual miter saw
- Stud finder
- Kitchen cabinets, upper and base
- Screws, 3-inch
Mark Floor and Shoot Level Line
With painter’s tape, mark the general footprint of the base cabinets on the floor. Shoot a laser level line across the back wall at about 30 inches high as a point of reference. Exact height does not matter, other than it should be at a convenient height.
Find and Mark Floor High Points
Hold the tape measure or straightedge vertical with the 0 measurement end on the floor. The laser level line will intersect with numbers on the measuring device. Move the measuring device around to several places within the taped-off footprint to find the highest point on the floor. The shortest measurement represents the highest point on the floor. Mark this spot.
Find and Mark Wall Bows and Bumps
Hold the bubble level vertically (plumb) on the wall behind the cabinet location at various points. Determine any area where the wall bumps or bows out. Mark the area with a pencil.
Identify Horizontal Bows or Bumps
Hold a long, straight board horizontally against the wall, starting at around 34 1/2 inches high and working downward. Assess the wall for bows and large bumps. Mark any with the pencil.
Identify and Mark Ceiling Protrusion
Using the same laser line as in earlier steps, measure up to the ceiling to identify bulges in the ceiling. Mark the most pronounced protrusion.
Mark Wall: Wall Cabinets
Finally, previous steps culminate with two horizontal lines that identify where the two rows of cabinets (wall and base) will actually be installed. Begin with the wall cabinets. Measure the height of the cabinets. Shoot a laser line across the ceiling protrusion mark from earlier. Mark along the line with the pencil and straight edge. Find and note studs in the wall that you can securely fasten the cabinets to.
Mark Wall: Base Cabinets
Measure the height of the cabinets. Measure up from the highest floor protrusion, using the cabinet height measurement. Mark the spot. Run a laser line and then draw a pencil mark along the laser line.
Add a temporary ledgerboard of perfectly straight one-by-two board along the bottom of the upper line. Screw it into place in the studs.
Install Wall Corner Cabinet
Rest the wall corner cabinet on the ledgerboard. Screw it in place into the studs, driving through the cabinet frame.
Complete Wall Cabinets
Screwing through cabinet frames and into wall studs, continue the rest of the wall cabinets on both sides of the corner cabinet. Add shims in low spots to avoid distorting the cabinet or causing it to hang out-of-level. Remove the ledgerboard.
Install Base Cabinets
The highest floor protrusion will be the bottom reference point for all of the base cabinets. Install the cabinets along this line, inserting shim under the cabinets in low spots. As with the wall cabinets, screw through solid framing in the cabinets and into wall studs.
With the hand miter saw, cut off the excess from the shims.
Tips For Installing Kitchen Cabinets
- Freely mark up the walls with the pencil when laying out the cabinets. Marks will either be hidden behind cabinets or will be painted over.
- Work with an assistant. Cabinets are heavy and require two or more people to handle them.
- Usually, you’ll want to install cabinets before flooring.
- If your kitchen has a window, center the sink base cabinet under the window.