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This Old House general contractor Tom Silva shares expert tips and techniques for installing new kitchen cabinets. (See below for a shopping list, tools, and steps.)
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Shopping List for How to Install Kitchen Cabinets:
- Kitchen cabinets
- 3-inch screws, to fasten cabinets to walls
- Wood shims, for leveling and plumbing cabinets
- 2×4 blocking, to secure peninsula or island cabinets
Tools for How to Install Kitchen Cabinets:
- 2-foot and 6-foot levels, for determining level and plumb alignment
- Tape measure
- Screwdriver, to unscrew doors
- Cordless drill, for drilling holes
- Impact driver, to drive screws
- Utility knife, for trimming shims
Steps for How to Install Kitchen Cabinets:
1. Check the ceiling for level in two directions. If it’s out of level, find the low spot and use it as the measuring reference point.
2. Measure down from the ceiling (or low spot) 33 inches in several places and mark the walls. These marks represent the bottom of the upper cabinets.
3. Connect the marks with a long level and a sharp pencil to produce a level line along the kitchen walls.
4. Mark the stud locations on the walls, then measure and transfer stud locations to the back of the upper cabinets. (If you prefer to proceed with one cabinet at a time, begin with the one that will hang in the corner of the kitchen, and continue with consecutive cabinets.)
5. Pre-drill a screw-shank clearance hole through the cabinet backs at each stud location.
6. Unscrew and remove the cabinet doors; place the doors in a nearby room for safekeeping.
7. Hold the first wall cabinet in place in the corner of the kitchen. Be sure the bottom of the cabinet is even with the level line marked in Step 3.
8. Drive one screw through the upper back of the cabinet and into the wall stud.
9. Check the cabinet for plumb with a level. If necessary, slide shims behind the cabinet. Then drive in the remaining screws to secure the cabinet. Trim the shims with a utility knife.
10. Repeat the previous six steps to install the rest of the upper cabinets.
11. To prepare for installing the base cabinets, lay a 6-foot level on the floor in several places to identify the high spot.
12. From the floor’s high spot, measure up 34½ inches and mark the wall.
13. From that mark, draw a level line around the kitchen walls. This line represents the top of the base cabinets.
14. Install the sink base cabinet first, centering it under the window.
15. Drive shims under the sink cabinet, if necessary, to raise it flush with the 34½-inch reference line marked on the wall.
16. Fasten the sink base cabinet to the wall studs with 3-inch screws. Before fully tightening the screws, slip a shim behind the cabinet to fill any void.
17. Check the cabinet for level from front to back; slide shims under the front of the cabinet, if necessary, to level it. Trim the shims with the utility knife.
18. Install the remaining base cabinets in a similar manner.
19. To secure peninsula or island cabinets, screw 2×4 blocking to the floor. Set the cabinets over the blocking, then screw through the toekick and into the blocking.
20. Cover the exposed end of the cabinets with a decorative panel. Drive in short screws from inside the cabinet.
21. Install all the drawers and doors.
22. Fabricate a filler strip to fit alongside the base cabinet that abuts the range. Fasten the filler by screwing through the cabinet face frame.
23. Once the base cabinets are installed, make a template for the new countertop.
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