The woodworking industry has enormously evolved since the 1960s, with a lot of companies creating new and very specific specialties in the field of cabinetmaking.
Where finish carpenters used to build kitchen and bathroom cabinets on-site, such factories have been making it possible to acquire the casework from production lines putting out casework made to standardized dimensions throughout the industry.
Some of those businesses that are better equipped with machinery, such as spindle shapers and multi-head molders, even make their own millwork product to accessorize and further complement the installations.
With standardized cabinets, such branches of the industry can now produce a diversity of different cabinets and can effectively supply chains of hardware and building supply stores.
That means you can pick and choose what you need to give your room a professional and attractive finish that you just have to attach to the walls with the proper trimmings to add a specific style to the finished work.
You have to realize, however, that hanging cabinets, especially in the kitchen, can get a bit complex, with the bottom cabinets of a regular kitchen easily covering 24-feet of wall and much more.
You might not be able to trust the actual floor line for setting up the base cabinets, as the floor is not always at a perfectly leveled plane. The installation has to be started properly right from the beginning if you want to accomplish great professional results to the end.
1. Find Out the Particularities of Your Kitchen
The very first thing you have to do is to find out what your kitchen gives you to work with. Using a 4-foot level and a roll of painter’s tape, start by checking how level or not level the floor is.
In older homes especially, you can have discrepancies from one end of the room to the other or across to the adjacent wall. If you have variances, mark how much it is (plus or minus) on a piece of tape stuck at that spot, and keep going until the full area is covered. Most discrepancies are acceptable, however, they just need to be dealt with from the start.
The kitchen walls can also have flaws like leaning slightly in or out or even offering high spots caused by twisted lumber under the sheeting.
The standard heights upper cabinets are calculated at are either 84 or 96-inches (2135 or 2440 mm), the most popular of people’s choice being 84-inches (2135 mm).
Most kitchens usually have at least one of those tall cabinets which are normally used as a pantry or a utility cabinet. It is between that maximum height from the floor and the height of the base cabinet which is 36-inches (914 mm) from the floor that you can verify if the wall is true (plumb) or not, with the 4-foot level.
Here again, discrepancies should be written on pieces of tape on the wall. This verification should be done at various spots on each wall where the cabinets will be hung.
2. Special Considerations
Standardized Base Cabinets
The finished height of a base cabinet after the countertop is installed varies between 35 and 36-inches (889 and 914 mm), depending on the thickness of the countertop used.
A 1/2-inch (12 mm) Corian countertop, for instance, can be installed directly on a solid supportive framework, but can also be installed onto an underlay which will add to the finished height of the cabinet.
The standardized height for base cabinets is the least variable being set at 34-1/2 inches (876 mm) throughout the cabinet industry. The thinner Corian top brings it up to 35-inches (889 mm), while a stone countertop will result in a 35-1/2 to 36-inches (902 to 914 mm) finished height.
There are certain uncommon exceptions, however, where countertops go as low as 32-inches (813 mm) or as high as 38-inches (965 mm) to accommodate certain people’s special needs—people bound to a wheelchair, for example.
3. Mark the Limits on the Wall
Hanging the kitchen cabinets always starts with installing the base and the tall cabinets all around the kitchen wall before even considering tackling the upper cabinets. You’ll have to keep aware, however, of where your starting point is, which is at the lowest spot found on the floor when you checked with the level.
At that spot, make a marking on the wall at 34-1/2 inches (876 mm) from the floor, another at 84-inches (2135 mm) to mark the full height of the installation, and finally, the last marking for the countertop’s clearance at 30-inches (762 mm) below the 84-inches (2135 mm) mark.
Extend those 3 marks to the full length of all the walls using your spirit level or a laser level, at the height where cabinets will be installed.
If you did that right and if your floor wasn’t true, you’ll have a line to work with no more than 34-1/2 inches (876 mm) from the floor with certain areas slightly less, depending on how much the floor is off-level.
4. Set up in the Corner First
The corner cabinets, either the upper or base cabinets, come in two different concepts. They’re either built in an L shape with one door placed at a 45° angle to the corner. They can have shelves or other accessories such as a Lazy-Suzan.
The other concept, which is simpler, consists of the 12-inches (305 mm) and the 24-inches (610 mm) deep cabinet extending behind where the adjacent wall cabinet will start, with the door opening covering only part of the front of the cabinet leaving you to reach inside to access some of its content.
Either way, this is where you must start your installation with both the bottom and the upper cabinets. You can remove all the doors and drawers to facilitate the work.
If the floor is not level, you will have to adjust the legs to line up with the 34-1/2 inches (876 mm) marking on the wall and, at the same time, set it perfectly level.
You might have to locate the studs with a stud-finder to screw the cabinet safely to the wall making sure every spot where it screws in sits solidly against the wall without binding as you do not want to twist the structure.
For some cheaper cabinets with the walls running down to the floor, you might have to scribe and trim the bottom of the gables to have their level.
5. The First Wall
You can then proceed to place the next cabinet right up against the previous one, securing it to the wall as done previously but also screwing it together with the last cabinet installed right up at the joint in the front to close the joint right up.
Choose the spots to screw them together behind hinges, sliders, or other accessories, to hide the screw heads and keep looking neat. Keep installing until you reach the spot for the range oven or the fridge.
With a normal standard width of 30-inches (762 mm), the next cabinet should be installed at least 31-inches (787 mm) apart from the last one, allowing just enough space in-between for safety and ease of removal.
Since refrigerators come in such a variety of widths and heights, you’ll need 2-inches (52 mm) wider than the fridge to leave enough space for pulling out the unit.
6. The 2nd and 3rd Walls
With the bottom of the first wall completed, go back to the original corner and proceed with the adjacent wall as for the previous, and if you have a third wall (U-shaped kitchen) you can just keep going onto the next wall when you get to the second corner.
7. Set Up the Upper Cabinets
With the following items ready, you can install your wall cabinet even by yourself. The first item is a 25-inches (635 mm) by about 38-inches (965 mm) section of a sheet of plywood. This piece will be laid on top of the base cabinets where you’ll be hanging a wall cabinet.
The other item is two makeshift stands, each one made up of two pieces of 3/4-inch (19 mm) lumber and 10 inches (254 mm) wide by 22-inches (559 mm) long.
Lay the section of plywood flat on one of the base cabinets, then place one of the pieces for the stand vertically against the wall and make a mark where it reaches the 30-inches (762 mm) mark from the top.
From that mark, measure the exact thickness of the stand below the first mark, and cut both stands at the mark to their height. The remaining drop-off section can be placed at one end of each stand, centered, glued, and screwed into position. That end will be the bottom of the stand.
You can do a simple conversion if the tall cabinets are at 96-inches (2440 mm).
8. Hang the Upper Cabinets First
As mentioned in step 3, the upper cabinets must be started in the corner. So lay your section of plywood on top of the base cabinet against the corner and place both stands on it.
Then pick up the upper corner cabinet with the doors removed and place it on top of your stands against the wall into the corner. Once in the proper position, screw it in place following the procedures listed in step 3.
The rest of the wall cabinets are installed basically following the procedures in steps 4 and 5.
9. Complete the Installation
Once all cabinets are installed, you can hang the doors back up and install the drawers in place. You can then proceed to install all the moldings to give it its final look in your chosen style.