Cabinet installation tool kit
In a recent discussion at WOODWEB's Cabinet and Millwork Installation Forum, the topic covered what tools are needed by installers. Many tools were mentioned, and we reviewed them, eliminated the duplicates, and created a categorized master list of the installation tools. The entire discussion follows the list below -- The Staff at WOODWEB
DRILLS AND ACCESSORIES
FINISH / TOUCH-UP
CAULKING / ADHESIVES / GLUE
SUPPORTS / LADDERS / MATERIAL HANDLING
PAPERWORK / ADMINISTRATION
Besides the power tools, here are some suggestions:
Screws of all sizes (screw box)
Anchors, mollies, etc.
Screw caps, different colors
2' & 4' levels
Asst. nails (just in case) toothpicks (Cracker Barrel brand)
Files (include a rat tail)
Hand plane or block plane
Hammer, hacksaw, key-hole saw, japsaw
Clear bumpons, glue (including 5 minute epoxy)
Razor blades, awl, masking tape, double sided tape, blue low tack tape
Some sort of cleaner
Cordless vacuum cleaner
You should also have the basic hand tools like screwdrivers, pliers, drill bits, countersinks, sandpaper, utility knife, etc.
Some of the items that I consider indispensable...
I have two 5 gallon buckets with the stacking trays in which I keep screws, screw bits, pilot bits, some finish nails - all fastening items go in these buckets.
I keep a 16" wide, 32" long, 24" deep tool box with color putty, electric iron (for steaming out dents), screw caps, "weird" hardware items that can save the day (little L brackets for fastening Frig end panels), miscellaneous spare hinges/slides, small layout jigs, air hose repair kit, extra air nails.
One of those bucket bosses, with all the hand tools I might need - files, block plane, scribes, WD40, pliers, wire cutters, screw drivers, crescent wrench, vise grips, spring clamps, sharpening stone, pry bar...
Between the two buckets, the tool box and the bucket boss, I have about 95% of anything I need. I keep larger quantities in the van, but my goal is not to have to make the trip unless I have to (especially if it's 3 stories down).
Definitely a 2' and a 4' ladder. I also would invest in a hand truck/dolly. I dropped it from 5 trips with tools down to 2. More time for coffee.
Don't forget vise grips - the ones with the big padded feet - as they are better than c-clamps when doing installations.
A truck with topper (locking) to carry all your stuff.
2 wheel dolly with stretch tie downs, and bungee cords to hold your tools and hardware when moving from truck to jobsite.
A toolbox loaded with everything you can think of, but that you can still carry with one hand.
A couple of 2" high x 11" x 15" plastic tackle boxes. One for screws, one for miscellaneous hardware.
A large tackle box of some sort for a touchup kit, which contains solvent, stain, rags, sandpaper, 3m pads, various fillers, can spray lacquer, and so on.
Some plastic 5 gallon buckets for miscellaneous stuff.
This is all stacked on your dolly when you do an install.
A small compressor that can be moved easily. And some pin and nail guns. Another tackle box to carry the nails.
A ladder or two, 4' 6'
Power tools I never go to jobsite without:
Finally, a handy cabinet on 10" pneumatic casters with drawers galore for all those tools. Miter saw on top with fold up extensions, a small 10" table saw in back, and a nice cubby hole for the levels. Built of 1/2" birch, glued and screwed, then laminated to look professional. Mine also has one door with a compartment just big enough for my pancake compressor and hose. Cords hang from the sides. Handy as a pocket on a shirt!
I'm curious as to what you need a belt sander for on a job site. The only thing I can think of is for an internal curve, otherwise I can get away with my Makita power planer.
The belt sander is a must have. How do you get along without it? How do you scribe a countertop or end cabinet with a hand planer?
I have a few small dollar items that make my life easier - holster for the screw gun, monster hook for the nail gun, and my Stanley mini flat bar (for a raisin' and a pryin').
I hardly ever use a belt sander, but always use a Bosch 3 1/2" power plane. Another "must have" is a laser jamb level. That is the best installation tool I have ever bought. The Laser Jamb products are super, and their service is even better. I just broke a piece on my pole, and called them to order a replacement. They sent one out at no charge, not even shipping.
Don't forget a good Stanley angle divider, too.
Make sure you pack an assortment of shims (all sizes including flat and wedge types).
Scribing counters and cabinets is done with a power planer. I can also cut down cabinets and doors with a jigsaw and power planer. A planer is a great tool if you know how to use it properly.
Make sure you use cabinet hanging screws - don't use drywall screws! Cabinet screws have a wide panhead and have a high tensile strength. They come in 2.5 and 3 inch. Try to get the ones that have the self drilling point, as they're much easier going in.
A good quality, light weight 10" (minimum) chop saw for the trim moldings.
I bet I can show you a few tops that were impossible to scribe with a power plane but slipped right in when scribed with a belt sander. So yes, a belt sander is needed in the tool listing.
Forget about the belt sander. If you're experienced enough you should be able to cut any scribe with a Bosh jig saw. Back cut from underneath.
I'm experienced enough to know that there are situations that will require a belt sander. Porter Cable makes a nice little 3x21 - very handy.
So when you get all this stuff together you will need a one ton truck. I use an angle grinder for scribing, way slick. As for the radio, bring it along. I get mixed reactions when I chop the cord off.
What? No right angle drills for those lovely 12 base cabs?
Just hope that the job super did not rewire the 220 pigtail to a 110 outlet because he did not have a 220 extension cord on hand. I set up all my tools one day, plugged in the radio, walked out to the power pole and plugged in the 100' extension cord. When I got back into the house, my radio, which was turned on when I plugged it in, was on fire! It was only 2 days old. Had he clearly marked the box, this would not have happened. It sure was a boring day at work without some tunes.
A counter I can't scribe with my power planer is very rare - very, very rare - and the ones that I can't are internal curves, so I just don't see a belt sander as a must-have, carry-everywhere tool... and there is no need to undercut with a jigsaw if you have the correct blades and a good jigsaw.
Every now and then you will come across a section of material that needs to be scribed that has mechanical fasteners, i.e. staples or pin nails. Now is the time for the belt sander. Nicks in my carbide-tipped (FS TOOL) power planer knives make me very, very unhappy.
You are right. A belt sander is required to be fast and efficient. Using a Bosch jigsaw upside down with a normal blade is also proper. It is faster, more accurate and safer than most other processes. I would not use it for everything, but there are times when it is the clear winner.
Tools that I find indispensable:
Quick change hex shank bits and holder, countersink, low angle block plane, Vaseline.
90% of my installs are face frame. I bought some Jorgenson cabinet clamps and I love them now that I know how to make them work well. The guide bushing helps to keep the bit going straight - no more puffed faces. The bushing only accepts 1/8" bits so you may have to re-drill with a larger size.
I then use a combination drill countersink that fits in the clamp hole, such as Fuller or Instybit, etc. Lubricating your screws makes a big difference.
I also have some Wetzler F-clamps. These are the best - forget about the others. You have to get these from the manufacturer in Long Island City, NY.
A sharp hand saw can do things nothing else can.
I never see laminate countertops anymore, only stone.
I do use my belt sander from time to time, especially when fitting solid surface. Some of those vanity tops will eat $3 jigsaw blades like candy. I think some cabinet assemblers get paid by the staple.
Can't beat a table saw for ripping accurate fillers. When it comes to crown mouldings, you need a good mitre saw. I rarely nail mouldings anymore. The hot melt polyurethanes are great.
My last important tool is a good relationship with the various kitchen designers and a correct plan.
How about a $1.59 compass scribe for marking fillers and scribes?
A cabinet hoist for lifting upper cabinets into place without a helper and without breaking your back (or the wall).
Hole saws and spade bits for plumbing cutouts and wire grommet holes.
Metal shears (or tin snips) - I won't go into detail, but once or twice a year they get me out of a jam.
Cordless saw and flashlight that use the same batteries as your drill - and you can't beat the Dewalt radio that doubles as a charger - or is it the other way around?
Shop-made blank jigs for locating door pulls without measuring each door.
Tapcon screws and ez-anchors.
Am I the only one who uses an old fashioned hand-plane to clean up scribes? Just as fast as a power-planer, with no noise, no dust, and no extension cord needed (at least for solid wood scribes).
Basic electrical kit - wire nuts, wire stripper, electrical tape, circuit tester, voltmeter.
Extra 8-32 and 4mm screws for drawer pulls - I like the breakaway kind with scores every 1/4", so you only need to carry one (long) length.
Double sided tape, masking tape, hot-melt glue gun.
At least 1 three-way plug adaptor, for when you are the last one to get to the job with a single working receptacle serving everyone in the building.
Construction adhesive; mineral spirits and lacquer thinner for cleaning who-knows-what from the cabinets. Also, 409 or Fantastik, paper towels and/or rags.
Clear nylon door bumpers, shelf supports, a few spare hinges and plates.
3/8", 1 1/4' and 1 1/2' spade bits
Vermont American #2 Philips tips
Vermont American streamline magnetic extension
4' and 2' Stabila levels
Steel framing square
25' Stanley tape
Handful Bic disposable pencils with .07 mm lead
Cheesy B & D circular saw with sharp carbide blade
5 gallon bucket
Makita 24 x 3 belt sander
10" Hitachi compound saw
Stanley block plane
Bosch jigsaw with 144d blades
Sears pruning shears
Makita table saw
A few high speed steel drill bits
Bosch reversible drill
Cordless screw gun, just about any brand is fine
Custom compressor made from a 69 ford mustang air conditioner
Stanley 16 oz hammer
Vise grip clamps
In the truck:
Better upgrade your truck! Now we need a tools manager with a window to check 'em out of. There will be something quite satisfying about that big rig pulling up to the job site, black smoke curling around the tail lights.
Bandsaw, planer, jointer, shaper, radial arm, dust collector, horizontal boring machine, helicopter, trampoline, and definitely, definitely a belt sander.
The only thing missing is the Colorflex caulking - lots of colours to take care of anything.
What is it with the violent disgust for the belt sander? I've known many over the years, and they've all been very nice. Further, if you take that chisel you just used to remove the liquid nails from the concrete subfloor, and put it to the belt sander, in less than a half a minute it will shave the hair off your arm again. What's not to like?
I'm actually a very good installer and I've always had a belt sander. There are too many nails and screws in cabinets to rely solely on planes and saws. It's true - a worn out 120 is the best thing for sharpening job site chisels. I find that whatever gives you the best job the fastest is the way to go. I'm in Canada and at 6.00 U.S a box it helps to clarify the issue. I need not mention that Canada has the highest taxes in the world.
For what you use a belt sander, I use a small angle grinder fitted with a sanding disk. Cuts off nails slicker than scum off a Louisiana swamp. The uses are numerous.
For those looking to get into installation, I suppose one needs to separate the trade into two subdivisions. First, cabinet and/or countertop installer for large housing developments or apartment complexes. Its not so much a premium quality install, but getting the job done on time, even if it means working very long hours to meet the deadline. You should be able to put all your tools on one two-wheel dolly. I have been able to get tools, ladder and folding sawhorses on one. I have seen guys raising their families doing this kind of work.
Then, there is the general architectural millwork installer that puts in anything anywhere. That's where the long list of tools comes in. High quality install is the key. In over 22 years, I've worked side by side with hundreds of these guys, They all basically have a pickup truck, with much of what was mentioned in the other posts. If you want to work on half million dollar plus home remodels, downtown commercial jobs, or go to a ski resort and work on jobs for the summer, you will have to pack a truck full of tools and know how to use them to make the contractor a believer.
Some tools not mentioned: A wormdrive circular saw with a stout fine tooth blade. Run this machine backwards to downcut on countertops. Walk the dog several times over anyone using a jigsaw scribing counters. Belt sand to clean up. On cutting entrance doors, set the blade height for scoring, score door edge then top cut by going backwards, then drop blade, finish cutting forward; you are ready to kiss it with the belt sander, baby.
For crown molding cope joints, I have a small table saw for hogging out copes, miter saw (and sometimes I take a small bandsaw on jobsites that have over 1000 feet of crown), and sanding block. I do use jigsaw and belt sander sometimes, but that is a slower method.
Noone mentioned a roll of TP. You can't trust the portapotty guy. A couple other items to include would be 7' straight edge and string line (no chalk). And a belt sander is a must.
Makita table saw
Electrical box with remodel boxes, wire nuts, electrical tape, 10-3 wire, 12-3 wire, electrical pliers, etc.
Large partitioned box with large assortment of screws, shelf pins, angle brackets, washers, 5 mm screws, concrete sleeves.
Hand tool box:
2' 4' and 8 ' levels
I never leave the shop without a roll of TP and a 5 gallon bucket. What port-a-potty? Around here the cheap builders wouldn't dream of that added expense.
So true about the TP and 5 gallon bucket, but even one better is to carry a box of the kitchen size trash bags and use them for bucket liners so you don't mess up a good bucket.
Back in the days of P-lam countertops I used a belt sander. The countertop supplier turned me on to sidewinder grinders for scribing backsplashes. I bought one from WW Grainger with a 7" rubber backer - about 15 amps I think - and runs about 7500 RPM. With 60 grit disks I can handle practically everything that needs scribing. Everything from fitting a piece of 1/8" thick scribe mould that won't quite make the curve to grinding away a knot or lump in a 10"x 10" post that's interfering with installation. Once you get the hang of it you can even use it one-handed, which comes in handy occasionally.
Some tools I've got to have:
Super Glue - the good kits have accelerator, debonder and different viscosities.
Makita 12v impact driver - small, light and the torque kicks butt on everything.
A real Japanese (Ryoba) saw - sharper+cuts on the pull=more accurate, cleaner, straighter cuts.
The one thing that has done more for my word of mouth advertising is a small vacuum cleaner. When you're finishing doing a residential job and the lady of the house sees you cleaning up the mess and leaving everything better than you found it, you will surely get references. It also helps you to notice anything that might be amiss with the cabinets, before you get the day-wasting callback to fix a small scratch on the inside of a door.
The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).
Comment from contributor C:
I'm surprised that none of you pros mentioned the Fein Multimaster. Great for cutting back base trim and a number of other things that no other tool I've found could do.
By the way, I am not a cabinetmaker, but an installer, so I often have to do onsite fabrication for the semi-custom cabinets I'm installing. Would'nt leave home without my Senco Senclamp.
Comment from contributor J:
A lot of info above and so many approaches: thanks! If I can add my two bits -
- Found the "3rd hand" jacks for holding uppers is very useful, especially if working alone.
Comment from contributor M:
Even a biscuit joiner that isnít expensive will make for good butt joints on barback panels or countertop blanks for flat-lay. I used to scribe all post form tops with a Makita jigsaw and a #10 Makita blade. This will do a good job, but the belt sander will do a great job, and it eliminates burrs. The belt sander is nearly indispensable when applying a wood edge on flatlay tops, or a substrate edge for bev-lam countertops.
Also, there hasnít been much mention of a laminate trimmer. Sometimes this is very handy when dealing with a large u-shaped top between walls. My full sized router just won't get close enough to the walls. I really like the cordless circular saw as well. I have tried many methods of cutting out laminate, and nothing beats the cordless. Just slide a strip of ply or particle board under the cut line to avoid ruining a good blade on nail heads. Set the saw for a shallow cut, and enjoy the speed and ease.
Comment from contributor L:
Sometimes I crew, but mostly I work alone. In either case my van is always loaded. The absolute basics are things I use every job, not things I carry on the truck but use only occasionally.
The basic list:
several 4' x 15' "runner" drop cloths
4' double sided ladder - great for tight spots like closets, tall enough for almost anything not needing a scaffold and strong enough for an elephant to work on the top step.
75' 10 ga. powercord with 3 ganged 4" x 4" elec. boxes housing 5 duplex receptacles and GFCI protection wired in as a separate block. I can plug everything I need into this. I have only rarely used all ten plugs at once and have never needed more.
500w work light on a good tall stand
"miner's" headlamp - much more useful than a flashlight (which I also carry)
two 14.4v cordless drills
twist bits, long twist bits, spade bits, vix bits, holesaws, extra driver tips
sliding miter saw
portable table saw
4.5" angle grinder. i use 24 grit, period. for grinding, fitting, or coping, one size fits all. i also carry a diamond blade for the grinder for those odd circumstances. (and to fuel the discussion, I almost never use my belt sander; though I do carry one I don't consider it essential)
1.5 hp compressor, hoses and hose repair kit
senco trim gun and pinner
misc. hand tools:
Some combination of the above list ends up on every job. I always carry, on the truck, in addition to the above:
sawzall, holehawg, 1/2" elec drill, rotary hammer, small electric (hand) planer, door planer and doorbucks, right angle battery drills, several routers and laminate trimmers w/ an assortment of bits, belt sander, ramset, omer micro pinner, fein multi tool w/ asst, blades and sanding heads, a myriad of misc. small handtools, sandpaper, glue, extra cords, hoses, pins, etc.
I work silent, without a radio. On crewed jobs or where other trades are there, several are usually blaring on different stations and frequently in multiple languages. I love music and intelligent talk radio but find that I concentrate better without it. Plus, clients seem to prefer it less cacophonous.
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