Base cabinet installation

How to cope with wavy floors. April 3, 2002

I'm curious how you guys handle your base cabinet installations. Many of the stock cabinets we are sometimes asked to install come with toekick covers that are the exact height of the toekick cutout. When we install cabinets we find the high point on the floor and level from there, thus avoiding cutting the cabinet bottoms, thus forcing us to shim bases off the floor. We are sometimes installing on floors that are 3/4, 1" out or more. The toe kick covers are not adequate to reach the floor. This is especially noticeable on the end cabinets. Are any of you starting at the low point and cutting the bottoms?

Forum Responses
I think you have the right idea. Is the practice in your area to put down the finished floor before or after the cabinets are installed? Is 1/4 round an accepted scribe molding? I believe in setting the bottoms based on the high point, just as I believe in shimming wall cabinets to the framer's high spot. That said, 3/4" or 1" variance is not a "flat" floor.

We normally cut the toe board 7/8" short in length, then cut a piece of 1/4" x 7/8" scribe mold to fit the floor to cab vertically to cap the toe board. It adds a nice touch, but you still may have the problem of the cab side not meeting the floor. Then base shoe is the nicest look. We do cut cabs down if the job requires the extra time.

This issue has always been a tough one for me to define. I think it's safe to say that the first approach to consider when setting base cabinets is to start at the high point and shim up. There are a number of potential problems, though. Starting from a low point and scribing has its own set of problems (and more of them, in my opinion). Here's my take on this issue.

First, I assuming we're talking about an out-of-level condition approaching an inch or more (if it's less then 1/2 an inch, count your blessings and start from the high point). I agree that 1 inch out is not a *flat* floor, an important thing to make sure the homeowner and general both recognize.

Starting at the high point and shimming -- if the low point in the floor happens to be where the dishwasher is located, jacking up the dishwasher can result in some weird/ugly space-hiding strategies between the floor and the DW toe kick panel. At the top of the cabinets, the two spots I've run into trouble is window sills and electrical outlets - starting the cabinets at the high spot and shimming can crowd both these spots, and it's an awful feeling to discover this when the counter is going in.

Starting low and scribing toe kicks, to me, has more potential problems. Depends on the DW and range, but if the counter height gets below 35-1/4", there may not be enough room to slide them in. I remember seeing one job where they drilled 1-1/4 holes in the finished floor so the feet/pads for the dishwasher could drop in. It made me think they had to lift the counter, slide the DW in and then fasten the counter... ugly stuff.

When I approach an installation, the first thing I do is look over the out-of-level (and out-of-plumb) conditions, have a cup of coffee, and figure out if there's any "gotcha's" that will bite me when I'm halfway through the installation.

All things being equal, I'll typically start at the high end, shim, then use a scribe mold (very similar to door stop trim) to cover the gap. This is all one more argument for adjustable feet... a lot more on-site flexibility when deciding where and how to start.

I use to work in a shop that did their own installs (mainly unfinished cabinets for new construction). Sometimes I was in the shop and sometimes in the field.

We made our base cabinets with an attached plywood toe kick. We started at the high spot and then shimmed as we went. Sometimes the finished floor was down and sometimes not. It varied quite a bit. Usually with tile, the cabinets went in first. Then we put on our toe-skins and the tile guy just tiled right up to them and grouted the joint. Usually we knew ahead of time what the floor condition would be and would add 3/4" to the kick if it was unlayed tile to compensate for the underlayment and tile thickness.

With a hardwood floor it was usually the opposite. The rough floor was down, we installed, they sanded and finished the floor, and then we came back and ran the toe-skins when we were putting on knobs, bumper pads and re-adjusting the doors (Euro style with 1/8" gap). Our toe-skin material was 1/4" species ply. If the floor was way out of whack after install, we measured our biggest distance from the floor to the bottom of the base and ripped our skins to that minus 1/8". Then the skins were finished with the cabinets. When we installed them we would take a measurement at each end of the skin and make an angled rip on the table saw. The wood floors usually weren't all that "wavy" and we could slap the skin up and use one of those tiny crowbars (using the 1/8" gap at the top of the skin) to make it flex to the floor and then pin it on. If the floor was wavy we would scribe the skin a bit first. On rare occasions we had to use base shoe. The 1/8" gap is never seen, unless you lay on the floor, because of the recess.

I agree with the above. A finished toe kick is typically required. Scribe it to the floor. Do it right.

I am also the installer for a high-end cabinet shop. We always make our bases detachable so we can easily deal with these problems with a variety of weapons like table saw, hand held power planer (love this tool) and belt sander.

It all boils down to what is expected, required and paid for. If it's out-of-the-box cabinets, paid by piece, you shim and you don't look back. If it's a custom remodel and several appliances are to be considered, you may want to consult the builder and get paid for the extra work involved in all the finagling. If it's commercial and it's an ADA application, you will have to deal with minimum and maximum height issues, so it really depends on the job whether or not you scribe kicks.

A quick fix that sometimes works well is to run the same base molding around the cabinets that is on the other walls.

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Comment from contributor A:
Base cabinets are shimmed up starting at the high spot. Be careful about trimming cabinets down. About the time you get down the run, around the corner and to a dishwasher opening, you end up with less than 34 inches high and you're in big trouble. Drop your toe skin a little to help with a big gap and the rest is done by the flooring people and some base shoe after finish flooring. You can't fix crummy framing and concrete with cabinets.