Installing your own kitchen cabinets may seem like a complicated task, but the process is actually quite simple. It basically involves screwing the cabinets to the wall in the right order and making sure everything is level.
Taking on this project yourself can save you money on installation charges, but it will require the help of another person or a cabinet jack to lift and position the upper cabinets. Also keep in mind that kitchen cabinets should be put in before the flooring is installed, as the process of moving around the cabinets and joining them together will likely cause scratches or even cracks to the flooring.
When you’re ready to start the project, here are the steps to take.
Prepare the Space
- Using a 4-foot level, a framing square, and a straight 2x4, check the walls and corners of the kitchen to make sure they’re plumb, square, and straight.
- Note any dips, bubbles, or angles that will require scribe-fitting, shimming, or alterations of the wall.
- Install electrical lines for the range, dishwasher, garbage disposal, refrigerator, and vent hood before putting in the cabinets.
- Locate receptacles above your countertop backsplash every 4 four feet, and anywhere you plan to use a portable appliance.
- Rough in cabinet lights and their wall-mounted switches, as well as the supply and drain lines.
- Make sure the cap is not glued to the drainpipe.
Mark the Reference Line and High Point Layout Line
- Using a level, mark a level reference line on the walls about 48 inches off the floor.
- Snap a chalk line at these marks, and measure from this line down to the floor in several places.
- Mark the line where the measurement is shortest; this is the high point of the floor.
- Directly beneath the mark for the high point, mark the height of your base cabinets, typically 34 inches above the floor.
- From that mark, extend a level layout line along the walls. The top of the base cabinets will be flush with this line.
- Measure 17 to 18 inches up from the base cabinet layout line and snap a level chalk line for the bottom edge of the upper cabinets.
- Find the studs and mark their locations on both layout lines. Drill a small hole at each mark to confirm the stud locations.
- Mark out the locations for all the appliances.
Join the Upper Cabinets
- Remove the doors, drawers, and shelves of the upper cabinets to make them lighter and easier to position.
- Label everything with masking tape so each piece can be put back properly.
- Set a straight 1x3 cleat alongside and just beneath the layout line for the upper cabinets. Drive 2-inch drywall screws through it and into every other stud. Attach more cleats along the length of the line.
- With the cabinets on the floor, align the face frame of the upper corner cabinet so it's flush with the frame of the neighboring cabinet, then clamp them together.
- Check for flush with a straightedge. Drill counter-bored pilot holes through the edge of the face frame, top and bottom.
- Drive 2-inch screws into these holes to hold the cabinets tightly together.
Hang the Upper Cabinets
- With the help of another person or a cabinet jack, lift the upper cabinet assembly into the corner and rest it on the cleat.
- Check the cabinet face with a level to make sure it’s plumb. If it is, drive four 2½-inch deck screws (with washers) through the back of the cabinet, top and bottom, and into the studs. If it's not plumb, slip shims between the cabinet back and the wall at the stud locations. (To shim out the bottom, remove the cleat.)
- When the cabinet is plumb, screw it through the shims to the studs.
- Lift the remaining cabinets onto the cleat, align their faces flush with those already installed, and clamp and screw the edges together.
- Shim cabinets as necessary, then fasten them to the studs through the shims with the 2½-inch deck screws and washers.
- Close any gap between the wall and the end cabinet by scribing its stile or back edge, or by covering the gap with trim.
Install the Corner Base Cabinet
- Move the corner cabinet into position. Shim it up from the floor until its back edge meets the layout line.
- If there are plumbing lines, push the shimmed cabinet against them and mark their locations on its back panel.
- Turn the cabinet around and drill holes through the back with an appropriate-size hole saw.
- Using a level, check the face of the cabinet to make sure it’s plumb. If it's not, insert shims between the floor and the bottom of the cabinet, or between the wall and the back of the cabinet, at the stud locations.
- Check that the top of the cabinet is level and add shims underneath as necessary. With the cabinet seated against its shims, drive 2½-inch deck screws (with washers) through the cabinet back and into the studs. At the shim locations, counterbore and fasten the cabinet to the floor with deck screws (without washers).
Install the Remaining Base Cabinets
- Working out from the installed corner cabinet, shim the adjacent cabinets out from the wall at the stud locations and up from the floor so that the face frames are plumb, and the tops are level and even with the layout line.
- Align each cabinet so its face is flush with its already-installed neighbor. Clamp them together, counterbore through the edge of the face frames, and fasten them together with 2-inch screws.
- At the shims, drive the deck screws (with washers) through the cabinet back and into the studs.
- Close any gap between the wall and the end cabinet by scribing its stile or the back edge of its side panel, or cover the gap with trim.
- Using a utility knife, score and snap off any shims that protrude beyond the edges of the cabinets.
- Remove all the upper-cabinet support cleats and fill the screw holes with spackle.
- Replace the drawers and shelves in their original cabinets.
Install the Doors and Toekick
- Replace the cabinet doors. For overlay doors that cover the cabinet frame, adjust the hinges so that the doors hang straight. For inset doors, adjust the hinges so the door is flush with the face frame and there's an even reveal (gap) around its perimeter.
- Using 1-inch brads, fasten the toekick trim to the base cabinets.
- Fit the longest pieces first, then cut and install the shorter pieces. Close any gaps between the floor and trim by scribing, or cover them by brad-nailing a shoe molding to the floor.
- Recess the nail heads with a nail set and cover them with wood putty or color-matched wax stick.
- If there's crown molding to trim out the upper cabinets, miter the joints at the outside corners and cope the joints at the inside corners.
- Align the molding's bottom edge with a level layout line marked above the tops of the doors.
- Fasten the molding to the cabinet with 1- to 2-inch finish nails. Glue the molding’s end joints.
- Recess the nailheads with a nail set and cover them with wood putty or color-matched wax stick.