Installing New Kitchen Cabinets

Nothing makes more of an impact on a kitchen than new cabinets. Similarly, no project will make you want to pull your hair out quite the way hanging cabinets will. What makes it so daunting is getting them to all line up perfectly straight—straight meaning level, square, and plumb. While you may have these principles straight in your head,invariably, your floor and walls will not. However, when they’re finally installed, visual satisfaction paired with an amazing sense of accomplishment will make you stand back, look at your kitchen, and say,“Wow, this looks amazing, and I did it myself!”



  • New cabinets
  • Tongue-and-groove pliers
  • Pry bar
  • Hammer
  • Screwdrivers
  • Drill/driver
  • Countersink bit (3⁄16-inch)
  • Miter box
  • Circular saw
  • Block plane
  • Utility knife
  • Ladder
  • 4-foot level
  • Stud-finder
  • Pencil
  • Tape measure
  • 2½-inch wood screws
  • Cabinet washers
  • 1½-inch pan-head screws
  • C-clamps (Quick Grips, preferably)
  • Wood shims
  • Masking tape
  • Finish nails
  • Filler strips
  • Molding
  • Toe-kick trim


The most important detail to get you started on this project is proper layout. You can’t be exacting enough with measurements to ensure that your cabinets fit your space precisely how you intend them to. When ordering cabinets, working with a kitchen design pro is a huge help. She’ll provide you with a fl oor plan of where each cabinet will go, making installation much easier. Be sure to bring a detailed sketch of your kitchen that not only indicates floor, wall, and ceiling dimensions, but the placement of sink, stove, refrigerator, windows, and so on.

Be prepared to have your kitchen out of commission for the duration of this project. Set up a makeshift kitchen in another section of your house, with a coffeemaker and microwave, to get you through the project. Water and gas will need to be turned off in your kitchen. Removing the old cabinets is a major project in and of itself. Prepare an area to store your dishes, pots, small appliances, and so on.

It’s best to work with a partner for this project, especially when hanging wall cabinets. This project covers removing old cabinets and installing new ones that will work with the existing plumbing, electric, and gas lines. If you’re changing the layout of your kitchen, once the old cabinets are removed and the new layout is established, all the utility lines should be set up at this point.

Any painting or new flooring is ideally done after the old cabinets are removed and before the new ones are installed. If you’ll be installing a vented exhaust through the cabinet above the range, know the dimension of the opening and make the cut before installing the cabinet.


• Clear out everything from the cabinets and countertops. Remove all drawers and shelves.
• If possible, remove the stove and refrigerator from the space. If you have gas, turn it off at the valve behind the stove and unscrew the supply line.
• Turn off the water from the shut-off valves and disconnect the water lines to the faucet and P-trap to the sink.
• Remove the sink.
• Remove the countertops.
• Remove the base cabinets. Look for screws or nails that secure them into the walls. Use a pry bar if necessary. Work carefully to avoid damaging the walls. If possible, it’s easier to pull out the cabinets in one unit, while they’re still screwed to one another. You can dismantle them once they’re removed.
• Remove the wall cabinets. Follow the same steps as above.
• Verify that you’ve received the correct cabinets. Assemble the cabinets if necessary, but do not install the doors. If the doors have come installed, remove them, but be sure to keep track of which door belongs to which cabinet. Norma Vally’s Kitchen Fix-ups



1. Locate the studs with a stud-finder. With a level, mark vertical lines around the room indicating the studs. Note: The most accurate way to mark a stud is to run the stud-finder along the wall in one direction. It’ll beep when it hits the edge of the stud—make a mark. Then run it along the wall in the other direction, marking the other edge of the stud. Draw two vertical lines at these marks. The space between them represents the stud.


2. Pick a wall where cabinets will be hung. At any point from the floor measure up the wall 54 inches—make a small pencil mark. With a 4-foot level, use that mark to draw a horizontal line around the room. This line will establish an initial base point. Note: Normally, 54 inches allows for a 36-inch base cabinet and countertop, plus 18 inches of space between the countertop and the bottom of the wall cabinet. If your cabinet configuration requires a different wall cabinet height, measure accordingly.

3. Take measurements around the room, every couple of feet, measuring up the wall 54 inches and making small pencil marks. Because the floor probably isn’t level, invariably some 54-inch marks will fall above this horizontal line. This indicates high spots of the floor. The mark that falls highest above your initial base line will be the correct height to mount a ledger. Use that mark to draw a new horizontal line around the room.


4. Repeat Steps 2–3, but this time mark 34½ inches—the standard height of base cabinets.

5. Using the lines you’ve marked on the walls as reference, draw the layout of each cabinet on the wall. Be sure to mark the front-frame measurement of the cabinet, which is the actual size. (Sometimes the back of the cabinet is smaller than the face frame.)


6. Mounting a ledger facilitates hanging the wall cabinets in two ways: It estab

6. Mounting a ledger facilitates hanging the wall cabinets in two ways: It establishes the proper height and steadies the cabinet when it’s being screwed in place. With finish nails or screws, fasten one-by-threes into the studs at the exact height of the horizontal level line (aligning the top of the one-by-threes with the level line). Do not sink the nails or screws through the oneby-threes so you can pull them out easily after the wall cabinets are installed.

7. Starting from one end of a wall, or an inside corner if there is one, from the edge of that cabinet drawing, measure the distance where the studs align on that cabinet. These measurements must be transferred to the back of the cabinet.

8. From the edge of the actual cabinet, use a level to transfer the stud measurements to the cabinet back.

9. Drill two small holes through the hang rails of the cabinet at each stud poin

9. Drill two small holes through the hang rails of the cabinet at each stud point, about ¾ inch from the top and ¾ inch from the bottom. (Use a 3/16 countersink drill bit.)

10. Raise the cabinet onto the ledger and screw the cabinet in place using 2½-inch deck screws with cabinet washers. Do not tighten them down completely.

11. Hang the adjoining cabinet following Steps 6–9. Note: You may realize that a smaller cabinet may fall between studs. If this is the case, drill holes for toggle bolts and mount accordingly

12. Clamp the mating cabinets together by their vertical stiles, making sure the face frames are flush with one another. Be sure they’re clamped together good and tight. Just below the top hinge and just above the bottom hinge, drill pilot holes and screw the two cabinets together. Be sure that your screw length penetrates straight through one stile and halfway through the adjoining one. If there is no face frame, screw through the cabinets near the hinges.

13. Repeat Steps 7–12 for the entire run of cabinets.

14. Once all the cabinets are secured to one another, place shims wherever gaps

14. Once all the cabinets are secured to one another, place shims wherever gaps are created between the wall and the backs of the cabinets. Screw the shim locations through the hang rails inside the cabinet. With a utility knife, cut and then crack the excess shim sections that protrude from the cabinets.

15. Now that the cabinets are screwed together and shimmed, tighten down the screws that secure the cabinets into the studs.


16. It’s typically easier to secure two base cabinets to one another first, and then install them as one unit. On a piece of plywood (or a flat surface), working with the cabinets on their backs, fasten adjoining cabinets to one another following Steps 7–12. Once the fronts are screwed together, true them up to one another (that is, make sure the front measurement of the cabinets are the same as the back). With the cabinets now upright, take measurements at the face of the cabinet and at the back—they should be equal. Shim as needed so that they’re the same measurement in the front, middle, and back—screw them together right through the shims.

17. Carefully lift the unit and place it against the wall.

18. Where needed, use shims under the cabinets to raise them uniformly up to the horizontal level line.

19. Now that the cabinets are level, secure them to the wall. Note: On both wall

19. Now that the cabinets are level, secure them to the wall. Note: On both wall and base cabinet, filler strips may be needed to fill in spaces due to odd dimensions or to allow clearance for doors and drawers to operate properly. They should be fastened to the face frame, through the stile of the adjoining cabinet in the same fashion in which cabinets are joined together. When they’re against walls, they can’t be clamped. Slightly overcuttin/them, and then planing or sanding them down to size will offer a tight fit. To cut filler strips, measure the gap where the filler strip will go at the top and bottom of the adjoining cabinet, and add 1/16 inch to each measurement. With a straightedge, transfer the cut line (on masking tape) to the back of the strip. Set the circular saw at a 10-degree bevel, and with the strip clamped down, make the cut so the wide side of the bevel remains on the front side of the strip.



20. Trim molding is used to finish cabinetry when cabinets meet an adjacent wall, soffit, ceiling, or any place unfinished edges are left exposed after installation. Toe-kick trim(matching wooden pieces made to conceal the shims under the cabinets) should be installed at this point as well—quarter round or vinyl molding may be used as well (a). Use a miter box to make 45-degree cuts for corner joints. Nail the trim to the face front or exposed back edge of a cabinet with small finish nails (b).

21. Hang the doors with provided hinges. Use the adjustment slots in the hinges to raise or lower the doors so they line up.

22. Install the drawers and shelves.

To purchase a copy of Norma Vally’s Bathroom Fix-Ups, go to here. © 2011 by Norma Vally. Reprinted with permission of John Wiley & Sons, Inc.