How to Plumb and Level a Cabinet
The key to a perfect kitchen cabinet installation
Cabinets are made straight and square, but the walls and floors they rest against are rarely so. That's where shims come in handy. When tapped into place by just the right amount, these wedge-shaped pieces of wood can plumb and level a cabinet, despite a room's irregularities.
But when walls meet at an angle greater than 90 degrees, shims alone may not be the answer; they can cause the cabinets to project out too far, leaving an unsightly gap at the ends. "Corner cabinets are usually the first ones to be installed," Tom Silva explains, "so if they don't fit right, the rest of the cabinets probably won't, either." His solution is to remove some drywall so the backs of the corner cabinets (both upper and base) nestle closer to the studs.
Finally, if the walls aren't straight where a bank of cabinets ends, the best way to hide the gap, in Tom's view, is to scribe a tight fit. After the cabinet is plumbed and leveled, he cuts its stile or the back edge of its side panel so that it follows exactly the irregular contours of the wall. Before scribing, Tom always back-bevels the edge with a block plane (left). Back-beveling narrows the edge so the scribe can be fine-tuned faster and more easily.