How To: Install Base Cabinets

Careful measurement, adequate shimming, and secure fastening are key to a high-quality, professional-looking cabinet installation.

How to Install Base Cabinets

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One fundamental rule applies to the installation of just about anything: If you get the first piece right, the others fall into position. Misplace the first piece, however, and you’re likely to experience a series of headaches as you work towards completing the job. This is as true for hanging wallpaper as it is for laying brick. And it’s a lesson that deserves special attention from DIYers trying to install base cabinets in the kitchen.

Related: 5 Creative Alternatives to Kitchen Cabinetry

Start off by identifying the highest point on the floor over which you plan to install the base cabinets. Do so by drawing or snapping a level line along the adjacent wall, then measure down to the floor in several places. The spot where you measure the shortest distance is where the floor is highest. Later in the process, you are going to shim cabinets up to this height because that’s easier than subtracting height from a cabinet.

Draw a level line on the wall at a height of 34 1/2 inches; this height assumes that it’s a finished floor and that you want a standard 36-inch-high countertop. Next, mark vertical lines to the floor to denote the locations of the different cabinet units. Meanwhile, find and mark the studs along the cabinet wall; even after the base cabinets are in place, you must still be able to see the marks, so make them plainly visible.

Now you’re ready to install the first cabinet, typically a corner unit. Add shims beneath the cabinet so that its top edge hits the initial horizontal line that you drew. In situations where the wall is not plumb, it may be necessary to shim behind the base cabinets as well. Shim also between the cabinet and the wall at stud locations. Use 2 1/2-inch screws to anchor the cabinets (through the shims) into the studs.

Having installed the initial cabinet, move on to the next one. Shim as necessary, and to ensure a flush fit between this unit and its neighbor, join the two with a clamp before screwing the pair together. Proceed to install the other base cabinets along the wall in this way.

How to Install Base Cabinets - Detail

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Further Considerations

• Repair any damage to the walls before installing the base cabinets against them. Likewise, complete all plumbing and electrical work in the kitchen prior to cabinet installation.

• At the rear of the cabinets, mark the location of plumbing pipes and electrical boxes, then bore holes or make appropriate-size cutouts so the units fit snugly against the wall.

• It’s usually wise to install kitchen flooring before the base cabinets. For one thing, working in this sequence means you don’t have to modify the floor material to achieve a seamless look.

• When inserting a filler strip between a cabinet and a wall, you can expect to have to do some fitting, because walls are not always plumb. Measure the gap at both the top and the bottom, adding 1/16 inch to each measurement. Use a plane or sander to trim the filler piece to the correct size, slightly beveling its angled edge so that the finished surface is wider than the unfinished surface.

• Putting in peninsula or island cabinets? First install two 2 x 2 cleats on the floor. Distance the cleats so that cabinets can slip over them, then finish by securing the cabinets to the cleats.