Building Separate Kicks

Different methods of building and installing toekicks. August 7, 2004

I'd like to try doing some separate kicks. Some folks run their kicks using 3/4" ply as one unit, while others build and attach them to each base unit. What works best for you and what do you prefer to do on a finished end? How do you do handicap units with, say, an 8" kick?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor K:
We do toekicks a couple of ways, but our most common is to run finished 3/4" ply, and on exposed ends, finished hardwood. This is done after cabinets are installed.

From the original questioner:
Thanks. I need to be more specific. I'm referring to building the bases say 30" tall, then building a separate 4 1/2" toe kick. Right now we build ours 34 1/2" tall. I'd like to get more sides out of a sheet and I believe it might actually be easier for the installers.

From contributor R:
I build my toekicks separate from the cab sides. It makes it easier to assemble the box. I do it different than most who build separate kicks. I attach the kicks to the bottom of the box in my shop. I set the kicks in from the back 1/2" to clear any foreign junk/bumps at the base of the wall. I also set the kicks in from the sides 1/2" and just have the installer trim out any visible ends when he is applying the kick panels.

With separate kicks, the installer has to level them and secure them. He then has to set the cab on top and mount that to the wall. Two operations and the installer is on his knees half the time. By attaching the kicks to the box, all the installer has to do is set the cab, level, and mount to the wall. Easier on everyone and no kneeling.

From contributor J:
We build our kicks separate. We often wrestle with the best way to do this. We make the kicks one large separate unit when possible. This is easier for us on installs, as we can level the kick quickly as one large unit. We use ply and quickly cut out a few feet by removing some material so we just have "feet" near the corners and below vertical dividers for the cabinets. Less points of contact, less scribing, shimming. We use scrap ply and just glue and a few nails works great. As for the ends and plates, we're pulling hair out over that one a lot. We have leveled kicks, then screwed solid baseboard on the front from inside the kicks before we put bases on for entertainment centers. It's clean, so there are no nail holes, but it takes considerably more time then nailing. This also works fine for ends, as we have our baseboard mitered and just wrap it around. The trick is getting things lined up and trying to keep things in place (shims from moving, front of kicks in straight line, spacing from back of wall, etc.) while screwing the baseboard on.

Lately we've been leaning more toward just nailing the base board on and using putty or wax crayons to fill holes afterwards. For the extra hour or two we spend screwing in from the inside, we're probably the only people that notice there are no nail holes in the kick. For kitchens, it's less of an issue, we find. When your kick plate is set back 3" under the base, you don't really see in there except when on your knees cleaning, so we just use 1/4 ply strips for built-ins and glue and pin, filling holes behind. For ends, when possible we inset the kick about 1" on the ends for a small toe kick. We just miter our kick plate.

From contributor L:
We make separate kicks as one long unit most of the time. Quicker all around than individual units. We set in on exposed ends too. On most commercial work the floor people put in vinyl base, otherwise we put on finished wood (face nailed - after all, who's going to crawl around to see if there is a filled nail hole?).

From contributor T:
We build separate kicks for each box, attach them in the shop, apply trim in the field with a 23-gauge micropinner. Never fill a pinhole.

On exposed ends we try to recess the toe on the end the same amount as on the front. If that's not workable, then run the gable to the floor. One 34-1/2" end panel and two 30" end panels is till less than 96".

But we also build our boxes as long as possible, opting for one base 120" long rather than 4 at 30" or even 2 at 60". A little longer to build sometimes, but a lot faster to install.

From contributor R:
I do them 3 ways - 34 1/2 '' with notch, separate kicks attached in shop, and large kicks attached to floor first. Every time I end up thinking that the little I saved by getting 6 gables from a 4x8 sheet was more than lost in time of install or in shop attaching. 5x5 sheet goods are cheaper per sq-ft, so if I start using 5x5 sheets I'll have to attach separate kicks in shop. The one I'm installing now is long kicks on the floor. Floors in old houses have often sagged 2 feet out from wall 1/2'' and not sagged up against the wall. With my kicks on the box I can shave a little of the back side, which helps because my 4 1/2'' toe kick height can't stand very much shimming on the front edge, so for me it's save here and lose there.

From contributor K:
We do our toe-kicks based on client preference, but we most commonly use the below...

From contributor B:
By building separate kick bases, continuous (or "ladder"), there is additional time up front with installs. But once bases are level, base cabinets practically fly in. Whole job is faster, and the accuracy of level/plumb is greater. Finished skins or base molding can be applied fast with Titebond II and hot melt.

After trying everything else, this is by far best for me. But different installers used to another system may not agree. This system works for modular, frameless, integrated, etc. Try it on a couple of jobs and see.

By the way, once bases are set, a simple spacer block cut 19 1/2" (or to match tall cabs) makes your uppers an easy set, and assures they will be level all around too. We just use plywood squares rested on base backs. Some use boxes. Either way, you use the level on kick bases, then put it aside.

From the original questioner:
Contributor B, we're going to give it a try on an upcoming project. Just because it's always been done one way doesn't mean there isn't a better, more cost-effective method.

From contributor T:
Regarding contributor B's comments about plywood spacers to set uppers:

Are any of you guys using Fastcap's 3rd Hands and Little Hands? I bought a set for my installers and everybody seems to like them.

KAP 5/16
From contributor K:
Contributor B, we used to use ply boxes too, but we switched to a slotted "X" so it could be broken down easier. Either way works well. If there is a tile backsplash, we just run a 2x4 across - makes for real easy install on the uppers.

The reason we like ladders is not only that is it faster for the install overall, but it also provides better material yield, and less 27" leftover pieces hanging around.

Besides, after leveling is done, the rest of the base cab install is pretty much a breeze... nice to be able to get a nice tight fit on the frames, tie them together, shim here or there, slide them in place, and tag 'em in.

From contributor I:
I see several people attach the kicks to the boxes in the shop. How do you shim level in the back, at wall ends or corners or where two cabinets join? I have tried installing cabinets that have ends running to the floor, and they are a real pain to install for me - I just can't seem to make this work as well as long separate toes do.

From contributor W:
I spent many years installing cabinets made by a guy who built the plywood bases. At one point, we tried the leg levelers, and for me, it was a case of never looking back.

I'm not trying to talk anyone out of using plywood bases, but part of the original question was:

"What works the best for you ... "

If you're thinking about trying something different, I would suggest that you at least *try* the levelers one or twice before ruling them out.

What I found when using the bases was occasionally I'd lock down the base and the cabinets, and at some point along the way, discover I needed to move them. Like finding out that for whatever reason, I end up with an opening that was undersized or something (it's what I call "making a mistake" ;). Or occasionally, I'd end up wishing I had spotted the first cabinet a hair higher to accept one of those *&#* Euro dishwashers that you have to grease to make fit.

In those situations, I'd spend a lot more time froggin around moving or re-shimming the base, where with the levelers, I could unscrew the cabinets from the back, and then adjust.

Again, I'm sure everyone has their own opinion, and I'm not trying to get the discussion off track - I just find myself wondering from time to time why I think levelers are so much better than platforms, when others don't. Maybe it's cause the kitchens tend to be high-end fussy ones? I don't have a lot of time in the saddle with lower-end production cabs - maybe that's it.

From contributor H:
After years of making separate base bottoms we have switched to leveler legs. Wow! What a difference in speed. Even our high-end solid wood customers love them because we market them as a high-tech, fully adjustable item with conservation (less wood) and flexibility (adding wiring or running pipes in the future). If you market a product well, the customer will appreciate the advantages. We would never go back to scribing plywood bases again!

From the original questioner:
I may give the legs a try next time. One other thing I'm curious about is what your preference is on handling the finished ends on your base cabs. We've decided that we'll try a 30" base with a 4 1/2" separate kick. We'll follow contributor K's recommendation on 4' long kicks.

From contributor N:
I build my kicks 4" tall in a ladder type arrangement but I only make the front 4" and make the rest of the ladder out of 3.25" material, usually leftover scraps, making them all flush on top. That way I can draw a level line and screw the top of the kicks to the walls level. That takes care of any warp in the floor and I can shim the kick in front if necessary. Once the kick is all level, it's easy to put the boxes on top and shim where needed. Finally I hot melt glue 1/4" plywood to match the cabinets over the kicks. Works really well and fast.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor A:
Around here we do the toekicks at 4", but we build them seperate for each base unit using 3/4 ply. We run them the length of the unit in order to add support for the ends. At the finished ends we hold them back 1". The kicks are screwed to the unit using 1 1/4" screws with no glue to allow the installer to make any unforseen adjustments. Has worked well for me for many years and I have no intention of changing it. The practice of building one entire kick and sending it to the field for the installer to deal with seems inefficient to me as he/she has to assemble the run of cabinets to screw it to the bottom or even worse, just set the units on top of the kick and screw it down from the top, making ugly holes or creating extra work filling them or using fastcaps.

Comment from contributor E:

I stumbled across a novel way to level my independent plywood kicks. After ripping some strips of scrap ply with a hardwood rip blade, I discovered that the 'fur' that was raised from the cross grain laminations in the plywood lights up red when using a rotary level to level the assembled kicks during install. No more reference pencil marks needed. I just set up the laser at the desired height, and the top edges of my kicks light up red all the way around the room when they are in position.