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Installing Kitchen Cabinets

MATERIALS: Cabinets, 2x4, 1x4 ledger, shims, 1 1/4-inch drywall screws, 2 1/2-inch drywall screws, trim molding, 4d finishing nails

TOOLS: 4-foot level, stud finder, tape measure, electric drill with drill and screwdriver bits, saber saw, clamps, utility knife, hole saw, hammer, nail set

Look in the average silverware drawer and you will understand the importance of planning ahead. Stores that sell cabinets usually have a designer who can help solve storage problems as well as create an efficient work flow around the sink, stove, and refrigerator. Because cabinets are standard sizes, you can make a floor plan and then choose your cabinets. You’ll have two broad choices: framed or frameless. Think of a picture frame glued to the front of a box, and you have a framed cabinet. The frame stiffens the box, and the doors are hung from it. Frameless cabinets, of course, lack the picture frame. The doors are hung directly on the side of the box, using special adjustable hinges. While they’re just as strong as framed cabinets once installed, they do flex a little during installation. It’s easier to put things in and take things out of a frameless cabinet because you don’t have to work around that center post. Once you’ve chosen between the two, choose from the countless styles— modern, traditional, country, French provincial, and more.

Even if design requires help from the pros, installation can be a do-it-yourself job. The difficult part is keeping everything perfectly level and perfectly aligned while setting it on a floor that probably is neither. Start by removing all the cabinet doors and drawers: They only make the unit heavier and easier to damage. Get a good 4-foot level and use it constantly. Start with the wall cabinets—they’re much easier to hang before the base cabinets are in place. Begin in a corner—about the only way to make sure the cabinet is properly positioned. Once the wall cabinets are up, install the base cabinets. Unlike the wall cabinets, which you installed one at a time, you’ll put all of the base cabinets in place and double-check everything before screwing anything to the wall. Two kinds of corner cabinets—blind and diagonal—are available. The following steps show how to install both. Think of traffic patterns and electric and plumbing outlets before finalizing your cabinet plan.

NAIL GUNS vs. BRAD GUNS - A pneumatic brad gun, which shoots small nails simplifies installing trim around cabinets. No slipping, no sliding. Hold the trim in one hand and pull the trigger with the other. A pneumatic nail gun uses larger nails, is more powerful, and is used for jobs such as nailing an island in place.

Installing wall cabinets

1 USE A STUD FINDER TO LOCATE THE STUDS IN THE WALL. Mark the center of the studs with a pencil. Then extend the lines up and down the wall with a 4-foot level, making sure you keep the lines plumb.

2 LOCATE HIGH SPOTS IN THE FLOOR. Begin by placing a straight 2x4 on the floor against the wall and placing a 4-foot level on top of it. Shim the low end of the 2x4 until you get a level reading. Transfer the top of the level line to the wall and extend it around the room. The point at which the distance between the line and floor is smallest is the high spot. This is the point from which you will begin laying out the cabinets. Mark it with an X.

LAY OUT THE COMPLETE JOB - Lay everything out on the wall with a pencil and level so that you know what goes where, and mark where each cabinet should be. A 15-inch cabinet looks much like an 18-inch cabinet—until you get to the end of the row and you notice a 3-inch gap you hadn't counted on. Drawing the cabinet outlines on the wall is one way to check your work as you go.

3 MARK THE TOP OF THE BASE CABINETS ON THE WALL. Begin at the high point on the floor and measure up 34 1//2 inches, the standard height of a base cabinet before the counter is added. Extend a level line around the room at this height.

4 MARK THE BOTTOM OF THE WALL CABINETS by drawing a level line 19 1/2 inches above the top line of the base cabinets that you drew in the last step. Then mark all of the cabinets on the wall with a pencil and level to double-check your layout. (See "Work Smarter," right.)

5 INSTALL THE UPPER CABINETS FIRST. It is easier to install them before the base cabinets are in place. Temporarily drive a couple of long screws into the studs along the line marking the bottom of the upper cabinets to help support them while you're installing. Some installers screw a board, called a ledger, along the entire length of the wall to hold the cabinets. The ledger works as long as the wall is flat and plumb. If it's not, you'll need to shim behind the cabinets to align them, and the ledger would get in the way.

6 START INSTALLATION WITH A CORNER WALL CABINET. Place the cabinet on the screws or ledger. If the cabinet isn't plumb, slip shims between the cabinet and wall at the stud lines and adjust as necessary. Drill and countersink two holes in each of the mounting rails inside the cabinet and drive 2 1/2-inch drywall screws through the holes.

7 WITH A HELPER, REST THE NEIGHBORING CABINET ON THE SCREW OR LEDGER AND LINE UP THE FRONT WITH THE CABINET YOU JUST INSTALLED. Clamp the two cabinets together. Check for level and plumb, and shim between the wall and cabinet as necessary.

8 ON FRAMELESS CABINETS, SUCH AS THE ONES SHOWN HERE, DRILL THE HOLES FOR CONNECTORS (a screw-and-sleeve set found at most stores that sell cabinets). Screw the cabinets together. On framed cabinets, drill holes for 1 1/4-inch drywall screws in the recesses for the hinges to hide them.

9 DRILL AND COUNTERSINK TWO PILOT HOLES THROUGH EACH OF THE MOUNTING RAILS, CENTERING THE HOLES OVER THE STUDS. (On some wall cabinets, the mounting rails are inside the cabinet. On others, they are hidden by the back.) Drive 2 1/2-inch drywall screws through the holes and into the studs.

EFFICIENT COUNTERSINKING - Screws you use to install the cabinet have to be countersunk so that their heads are below the surface of the wood. You’ll also need to drill a pilot hole the same diameter as the screw so that the screw won't split the mounting rail. Get a combination bit, which bores both holes in one operation. Use a bit holder that allows you to change bits without having to open the chuck.

10 HANG THE REST OF THE CABINETS THE WAY YOU HUNG THE FIRST ONES, CHECKING FOR LEVEL AND PLUMB AS YOU GO. Once all the wall cabinets are in place, remove the ledger screws you installed in Step 5. Trim any visible shims flush with the cabinet using a utility knife.

11 IF YOU HAVE A SLIGHT GAP BETWEEN THE BACK OF THE LAST CABINET AND THE WALL, COVER IT WITH A STRIP OF MOLDING. Cut a piece as long as the cabinet; stain and finish it to match. Nail it in place with a brad gun, and fill the holes with a putty made by the cabinet manufacturer to match the cabinet finish. A valance that bridges two sections of wall cabinets over a sink or stove presents an opportunity to add accent or task light

12 IF YOU HAVE A GAP BETWEEN THE SIDE OF THE CABINET AND AN END WALL OR APPLIANCE, CUT A FILLER STRIP TO CLOSE IT. The cabinet distributor usually sells these strips. Scribe the strip with a compass  and cut along the line with a saber saw. Slip the strip in place and attach it with drywall screws.

13 VALANCE IS A DECORATIVE PIECE THAT CONNECTS TWO WALL CABINETS ABOVE A SINK. Have someone help you hold the valance in position; drill and countersink pilot holes into the side of the cabinets on each side, and attach the valance with drywall screws.

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