Hanging Kitchen Cabinets
Cabinets hung the right way become the solid centerpiece of a kitchen.
When This Old House general contractor Tom Silva started his carpentry career, he often built the kitchen cabinets for his customers. "Back then it was cost-effective to build them," he recalls. "Today, manufacturers assemble them faster and more economically than we can."
Cabinet manufacturers offer an overwhelming variety of styles and features, but with the help of a knowledgeable kitchen designer, finalizing your order is easy. The heavy lifting begins, literally, when your cabinets arrive.
The basic installation sequence is straightforward: You want everything straight, plumb, and level. But more often than not, the room itself lacks those attributes. "When walls aren't flat, floors aren't level, and corners aren't square, that's when it gets interesting," Tom says with a smile.
Properly hung cabinets become the centerpiece of a kitchen. "When you're done, the cabinets should look as though they were custom-made to fit the space," he says.
Cost: $6,000 to $12,000 on average, but prices vary widely depending on door style, wood species, finish, quality of hinges and drawer slides, and other key factors.
Time: 2 to 3 days to install cabinets in the average-size kitchen
Difficulty: Challenging. It takes careful handling, planning and patience to fit together all the components.
Carcass:"I always look for a good, heavy box, one with a thick,
solid back or rail where I can screw it securely to the wall." Tom favors plywood (over particleboard or MDF), dadoed or mortised joints, and metal corner braces(1).
Finishes: Catalyzed lacquers or conversion varnishes are the toughest; either can be applied over clear or painted wood.
Fasteners: Screws are best, but unless you pay for custom-made units, most cabinets are held together with staples or brads.
Drawers: Dovetail joints (2) stand up to constant abuse better than simple box or butted joints. Fully extending drawer slides (3) cost more but allow complete access.
Hinges:The exposed knuckles on leaf hinges befit a traditional look, but they are hard to adjust. Cup hinges (4), also known as European or concealed hinges, are more easily adjusted to keep doors hanging true.
Back Bevel: A 2- to 5-degree angle planned partway across the edge of a cabinet or a piece of trim. The bevel always slants away from (and does not touch) the exposed face of the piece being planed.
Counterbore: A bit that simultaneously drills a pilot hole and cuts a recess for the screw head so it can be covered with a plug or wood putty.
Scribe: A cut made in a cabinet or trim piece that follows the countour of an adjoining surface.
Kitchen cabinets may look pretty much alike, but according to Tom Silva, they don't all hold up equally well. "That all depends on the bones
— how a cabinet is constructed and what it's made of," he says.
1. Cordless drill: for securing cabinets to the wall and each other
2. Bit set: for boring holes and driving screws
3. Hardwood glue: for securing trim joints
4. Angle finder (optional): for measuring angle between adjacent walls.
5. 4-in-1 screwdriver: for removing and securing door hardware.
6. Hammer: for nailing trim in place
7. Trim saw (optional): for cutting shims flush
8. Chalk line: for snapping layout lines
9. Tape measure: for general measuring
10. Folding rule: for measuring between surfaces that face each other
11. Bubble level: for determining level and plumb
12. Block plane: for back-beveling face frames and fine-tuning scribes
13. Compass: for scribing
14. Bar clamps: for holding cabinets together
15. Utility knife: for trimming shims.
16. 3/4-inch chisel: for shaving wood to tune fit
17. Framing square: for determining squareness of corners
18. Wood shims: for making cabinets plumb and level
19. 2 1/2-inch deck screws with washers or washer heads (inset): for anchoring cabinets to the studs (drywall screws can snap)
6-foot stepladder: for installing upper cabinets
Biscuit joiner (optional): for joining and aligning face frames
Hole saws: to cut holes for plumbing lines
Straightedge: for checking that face frames are flush