These directions summarize some supplies and steps we have found helpful when working with cabinets. This information is offered for use at your own discretion, and it may or may not be applicable to your specific project. Please consult a professional for more detailed advice regarding your project.

Anatomy of Cabinets

  • Base cabinets – sit on ground
  • Uppers – hang from the wall, above the base cabinets
  • Corner cabinet – hang or sit in the corner

o   Lazy Susan – has rotating, circular tray

  • Face frame – the wooden face that the door lies flush with
  • Box – the main shape of the cabinet, doesn’t include door or hardware

o   Common box materials

  • Plywood – best choice for longevity
  • Particle board – sawdust glued together, cheapest option, but doesn’t handle moisture well (can be a problem for kitchen sink) and loses shape easily
  • MDF – medium density fiberboard, softwood fibers glued together
  • Stile – vertical member of the cabinet structure
  • Toe kick – the hardly noticeable structure on which a base cabinet sits, keeping the cabinets from scraping the ground
  • Hinges

o   European style – modern, adjustable in/out and up/down

o   Flush mount – not modern, not adjustable

  • Drawer glides

o   Track-like hardware on the outside of drawer and inside of cabinet that allows the movement of the drawer

  • Cleat – piece of wood on the back of the cabinet, used for hanging the cabinet to the wall
  • Door types

o   Frame and panel – has a panel

o   European flat – no panels, flat surface

Common tools

  • Drill (with drill bits and screwdriver tip)
  • Level
  • Pencil
  • Screws
  • Shims
  • Clamps
  • Stud finder, if unable to find studs by knocking
  • Utility knife
  • Tape measure
  • Hammer

Standard sizes

  • Base cabinets are usually about 36” tall (including countertop) and 25-30” deep
  • Uppers vary in height but are about 12” deep
  • Boxes are usually ¾” thick
  • Toe kicks are usually 3 ½” tall and about 3” deep, relative to the cabinet
  • There is usually 16-20” of space between uppers and bases, with more space above the sink
  • Countertops are usually about 1 ½” thick and hang about 1 ½” over the cabinet

Installing cabinets

  1. First and most importantly, create a plan
    1. Measure the existing space, the new cabinets, appliances, etc. Determine how much space must be left around the appliances
    2. Assess usability. Where do you want your pots, spices, dishes? Do you want to be able to reach the kitchenware on the top shelf without standing on a chair? Do you want to leave room on the top of cabinets to set decorative items?
    3. Assess the plumbing and electricity. Where do you want outlets? Where do you want the appliances?
    4. Do you plan to redo your floors or walls at any point? If so, they’re best done prior to installing cabinets
    5. Determine which cabinets will need holes for vents or plumbing
    6. After all these considerations, put all the necessary dimensions into a visible format. Free or cheap layout programs exist online, so you don’t have to draw by hand
  2. Draw an outline in pencil on the walls of your kitchen, marking where each cabinet will go
    1. To serve its purpose, this must be precise
    2. The layout you created on a sheet of paper should assist this process
  3. Remove and set aside the doors on all the cabinets
    1. This will make it easier to hold, move and secure the cabinets on the wall
    2. Check the cabinet for a hole in the back. Sometimes holes are created when the salvaged cabinet is removed from piping or wiring. If there are holes in the back of the cabinet, you may consider patching it with plywood for extra support
  4.  Allocate the studs in your wall
    1. If you don’t have a stud finder, simply knock on the wall, listening for the difference between a hollow sound and a tighter sound
    2. Studs are usually about 16” apart on center.
    3. If in doubt, you can try tapping a small nail into the wall. Some people create many holes while looking for the stud. This is fine, as long as the new cabinets will cover up the holes
  5.  Start with your upper cabinets. Using the outline drawn in pencil on the wall, determine where the stud and the cabinet will meet. Mark the spot on the cabinet in pencil and predrill a hole
    1. Hanging uppers before base cabinets will give you more space to maneuver
    2. You only need two to four screws to secure a cabinet to the wall
    3. If you have a corner cabinet, it’s a good idea to start there and work your way out
  6.  Drill the upper cabinet into the wall in its designated space
    1. The most important thing is making the cabinet level. Use two people—one to hold the cabinet in place and one to check the level. The person with the level can also drill
    2. Use the level both lengthwise and widthwise
    3. Another option to secure cabinets to a wall is with a French cleat. A French cleat involves a piece of wood cut at a 45 degree angle facing upward, drilled into the wall, and a piece of wood cut at a 45 degree angle, facing downward, drilled into the cabinet. The two pieces interlock and create a strong hold. It is not visible from the front of the cabinet
    4. Another option to assist in securing the cabinets is with a ledger board. A ledger board screws into the wall of the kitchen and gets removed after the cabinets are installed. Its function is to hold the upper cabinets up and in place while a person screws them into the wall. It is very important that they’re level to begin with. If you use a ledger board, you may have to patch up the wall afterward
  7.  Repeat the process with the next upper and continue until finished
    1. Consider clamping the stile of the next cabinet to the one already installed, to give it a finished look. This is another reason it’s good to remove the doors
    2. You should also screw the next cabinet to the one already installed, as you go along
  8.  Moving onto the base cabinets, start by laying down the toe kicks, if they are not already attached to the cabinets
    1. The toe kicks must be level. Check to see if they’re level on each side and even diagonally
    2. If they’re not level, stick shims underneath to make them level
    3. If you’re building toe kicks from scratch, leave them in big pieces, rather than a number of smaller sections. This will make it easier to make the toe kicks level
  9.  Once the toe kicks are level, screw them into the wall
    1. Remember to first locate the studs and drill through the toe kicks accordingly
  10.  Place the base cabinets on top of the toe kicks
    1. Check again for level
    2. Screwing the toe kicks to the cabinets is optional
  11.  Following the same steps as with the uppers (finding the stud, using the wall’s outline as a guide, predrilling a hole in the cabinet, clamping one cabinet to another), screw the base cabinets into the wall.
    1. See steps 4, 5, 6 and 7 for further guidance
    2. Remember the importance making the bases level
  12.  Once all the cabinets are securely installed, put the doors back on and add your countertops