Cabinet-Hanging Tips and Tricks

Ideas for cleats, shop-built "third hand" rigs, and scribing panels for installing upper cabinets. April 6, 2007

I have Kraftmaid cabinets on order for an apartment I'm working on. The last one I did I cleated the cheap cabs with 3/4 ply strips, then had to add trim to cover the 7/16" gap between the back of the cab and the backsplash tile. So, is there a better way to approach cleating cabs with flush backs? Custom cabs aren't an option and I've been there and done that with just jacking and screwing, and I like cleats better!

Forum Responses
(Cabinet and Millwork Installation Forum)
From contributor A:
Nail or screw a 3/4 x 3/4 ledger on the wall.

From the original questioner:
By ledger do you mean a strip that the cab sits on while being screwed that is then removed? How can that be 3/4 x 3/4? I'm sure my ignorance is showing, but could you spare a few more words?

From contributor E:
I'm not sure where you are saying you have the 7/16" gap to cover? If it's at the back of the top, this will be covered by c-top. If it's on the sides you should be using finished end panels.

This goes for whether you are using cleats or not. I personally don't use them and still have found walls in new construction to easily be out of plumb by 3/4" at 8' height, leaving a nice gap on off the shelf tall units and wall cabs. Best fix is finished panels, or if there is no room, like a side panel (oven cab, ref. panel, etc.) your little piece of trim molding. I haven't seen anything better yet, but I'm always looking.

From the original questioner:
I'm talking about the bottom and sides of wall cabs, especially areas like over sink and range where you have short vertical exposures of the 3/4 cleat depth minus the 5/16 depth of the backsplash tile.

Most of my work is in 100 year old buildings, so I haven't experienced out of plumb new construction. Did they stop selling plumb bobs and levels? Am I being overly anal and unprofessional when I make sure a wall I build is plumb?

From contributor C:
I think what contributor A means is to put another cleat behind the cabinet but at the bottom of the box. You must be doing something like that already to get the bottom of the box pushed out so that it's plumb.

I've used French cleats many times attached to the top of the box, but added a piece of 3/4" stock at the bottom as I mentioned. I actually attached the strip across the bottom/back of the box before I hung the box and then screwed through the whole thing into the studs. Does that help?

From the original questioner:
You've described exactly what I've done, including attaching the bottom strip before hanging. What do you do about the 3/4 gap visible at the bottom and sides?

From contributor C:
Now I see what you're dealing with. Is there a 1/4" scribing ear on the frame? If so, I'm sure Kraftmaid sells extra plywood skins that you could cut to size and put over the outside to cover the gap. That would probably make the gap on the bottom a non-issue also. A piece of scribe along the bottom would cover the hole. If I'm visualizing it correctly, I wouldn't worry about it. Most of the factory cabs I've seen didn't have a fill on the bottom for filler strips.

From contributor J:
Sounds like you are French cleating with 1/2" or maybe even 3/4" stock. Have you ever used Z clips? They are French cleats made out of aluminum. You can get them as long runs (purchased in linear feet) or by the piece. They only take up a total of 1/4". Should be at least that off the back of your cabinets for the dado or rabbet holding in the back. I usually only use them for paneling on sub wall applications, but they may work well for cabinets. Must say that I prefer screwing together runs if the cabinets are pre-made, and popping the assembly on top of my homemade jacks.

From the original questioner:
The skin solution did occur to me, but KM skins I've ordered are 11.25 wide, just enough for the carcass behind the face frame. I suppose I could try to cancel the skins and order them for 24" deep.

There's no scribing ear at all on these cabs. Scribing ears are one reason I was trying to get a price from some of these internet based custom places, but none of them would even price me, they're so overwhelmed with work.

When you say "A piece of scribe along the bottom would cover the hole," do you mean a piece of skin?

Contributor J, sounds really cool! Do you think they'll hold the load? There's no inset at all in these cabs to hide it, but a 5/16 tile backsplash will do the trick.

This install is pretty complicated, which is why I want to cleat it. The 16' wall of cabs has a 6' wide brick flue in the middle that bumps it out 6". There's going to be 30" high cabs topped by 18's. With cleats I can be really sure of a good anchor in that crappy old brick without putting a zillion holes in the back of the cab (done that), and shim the cleats on all three wall sections plumb and square to each other rather than wrestling the cabs to do it.

From the original questioner:
Found Z clips at MonarchMetal. They look like your shimming has to be dead on. One of the cleverest tricks I've found while digging around about cleats is the idea to rabbet a 3/4 piece with a 3/16 lip rather than rip a 45 angle, so you have some play to float them true. I'm just paranoid I guess.

From contributor C:
I was talking about scribe moulding which is 1/4" thick x 3/4" wide flat moulding that's rounded over on one side. You can buy it off the shelf, but I just make mine. I use a piece of 2" x 3/'4" face frame stock and round over all four corners. Then I rip off a 3/4" wide piece leaving a wider, 1 1/8" wide piece. I then resaw those and plane until they're 1/4" thick. I mostly use the 3/4" but the wider stuff does come in handy occasionally.

They also make wider skins for those 84/96" oven cabinets. That may work better if you decide to reskin the boxes. I don't know how you'll make that look right if there's no scribing ear on the frames for that skin to die into. Maybe some type of little corner moulding.

I've seen those Z clips but have never used them. I'm like you. I prefer screwing the boxes together on the ground and hanging them as a unit. One of my early 2007 investments will be a GilLift for just that purpose. Now I just have my wife hold them up :-).

From contributor J:

Save yourself a few bucks and skip the commercial jacks. Take a 1" X 4' steel pipe and put a flange on one end. At the other, drill a hole below the threads and tap it for a 1/4"-20 threaded knob. Take a 1/2" X 3' steel pipe and put a flange on one end. Put the 1/2" pipe inside the 1" and tighten down the knob. Now attach a 10"X10" piece of plywood to the 1/2" pipe flange and a 12" X 12" piece on the 1" flange.

I also glued some rubber drawer liner to the business end of each plywood pad with spray-on contact cement, to prevent any damage to floor or cabinet bottom. The beauty of these things is if you need to convert them to dust curtains, you just unscrew the short 1/2" pipe and replace with a longer one. Of course I made more than one of these things. The pipe and flanges for two jacks cost me about $40.00 at Home Depot.

From the original questioner:
I've seen an improvement to that design. Instead of the 1 pipe, use a 1/2, then get 2 1/2 flanges, a 1/2x4" nipple, 3' of 1/2-13 threaded rod and 1 of these 1/2 slip nuts from part #98150A770.

Tap the nipple like you do and lock the threaded into it. Slip on the nut, then slip inside the 1/2 pipe. Press the nut's slip button to slide to length, then spin it to fine tune it. The savings on the 1" pipe balances the $8 cost of the fancy nut, and the whole rig is lighter and easier to tune.

By the way, I make dust curtain poles from 1/2" emt with a washer welded on the end capped with an 18" piece of 3/4 emt with a washer welded and a 6" spring inside. Rubber "cane ends" on both. Real cheap, light, and easy. An emt coupler and a 1' piece accounts for 9' ceilings.

From contributor V:
I use the Monarch Z-clips regularly to hang bulkhead hung illuminated signs and sometimes on paneling. They conform to the drywall so they're a pain to shim out straight. I like using shop made rebated cleats that have a little clearance rather than traditional French cleats or the Z-clips.

If the cabinets have a flush back, why do you bother with French cleats? I don't see the advantage to hanging cabinets on French cleats unless it's speced no visible fasteners. It's much easier to gang uppers together and hang them as a unit, bridging imperfections in the wall. I use both the Gil-lift and the jiffy poles to install uppers. Gil-lift is easier when you're by yourself, jiffy poles are easier if you have a crew to help slug them.

From contributor J:
Those quick adjustment nuts look pretty cool. I think I'm going to order a few to experiment with. Currently I just raise my jacks up to the laser line from a rotary laser, than double check with a level. Those nuts might be nice for fine adjustment which can be finicky with my setup, or better yet when I convert them for curtain wall setup. Might be nice to add to the very top of the 1/2" pipe so I can tighten up against the ceiling.