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Installing Your Own Kitchen Cabinets

Scott Gibson, Contributing Editor

I want to install my own kitchen using stock cabinets. How difficult is this for a reasonably experienced do-it-yourselfer?

Taken in the abstract, this is a job that should take a couple of hours and cause no more of a headache than watching the evening news. But that assumes the floors in your kitchen are level, the walls are plumb and your new cabinets are perfectly square.

It's the wall and floors of your kitchen that are going to give you the most trouble. In an old house, plumb and level are ideals we may think about wistfully from time to time but rarely experience.

So in reality, setting cabinets can be challenging. Take the job slowly and get a helper if you can. It's much harder when you're working by yourself.

Shim base cabinets so they are level

When floors and walls are uneven or out of plumb and level even brand new cabinets can't sit evenly against them. The solution is to shim the bottoms of the cabinets so they sit firmly on the floor and the tops are aligned and level at the right height.

Once your old cabinets have been removed and the room ready for new ones, here's how to tackle it:

  1. Draw a level line across the wall where base cabinets are to be installed at 34 1/2 inches above the finished floor. This will put the top of your countertop at a standard 36 inches.
  2. Starting in a corner or at one end of a run of base units, set the first cabinet in place and use shims (cedar shingles are ideal) under the low spots so the cabinet is level.
  3. At the end of a run, you may have to scribe the side of the cabinet so it sits squarely against the wall.
  4. To do that, level the cabinet and set a compass to the widest part of the gap between the wall and the cabinet.
  5. Run the compass point along the wall and mark the cabinet side, indicating where you must cut away part of the cabinet so it will be plumb.
  6. Use a jigsaw, belt sander or a handsaw and cut to the line.

Base cabinets should be screwed together so there are no gaps between them. Some installers recommend doing this before you set the cabinets into place, which makes it easier to keep them lined up correctly.

Attaching cabinets to the wall

Getting cabinet to sit squarely and evenly is part of the challenge. The other is attaching them to the wall so they can't go anywhere. Cabinets should be anchored to wall framing with cabinet installation screws. Never use drywall screws.

About the Author
An accomplished woodworker and carpenter, Scott Gibson is the former editor of Fine Woodworking magazine, and a former editor at Today's Homeowner and Fine Homebuilding magazines. He also is former managing editor of the Kennebec Journal, a daily newspaper in Maine.

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