Cabinet Installation Advice

Pros give a newcomer tips on putting in his cabinets properly. January 11, 2007

I've been making custom cabinets for about a year now and have been installing them myself with a helper. I typically build individual cabinets and butt them during install. What is the most efficient way to speed up the process in making them flush? I was thinking of using 1x's and running them parallel horizontally along the wall to the studs and then screwing the cabs to the boards. I do have a hard time flushing the cabinet faces and probably spend too much time doing it. Mostly I hang the cabs directly to the wall flush with the drywall. I'm thinking the 1x's will help with making them flush. Any suggestions? I build cabinets in shop, then hang. Perhaps I should just sub out the installation and not worry about it too much?

Forum Responses
(WOODnetWORK Forum)
From contributor K:
Making sure that your boxes are square is a real issue when truing up your fronts. If your carcass isn't square, then the top of the frame my not be as deep as the top of the frame on the adjacent cabinet, making it so that you need to lean one cabinet, thus throwing off the bottoms. So make sure they are square. Secondly, on uppers, start by plumbing and leveling the corner cabinet. Then work your way out, screwing the cabinets together first square to each other and then shimming when necessary and then attaching to the wall. On base cabinets, fasten all the cabinets together first and then fasten to the wall. The kicks should be separate and installed level before the boxes. I will typically attach the cabinets together in the shop, making sure they are flush with each other. This way when I install them, the screw holes should match up, making them flush like they were in the shop. I hope this makes sense and I hope that someone tells me I'm wrong if I am.

From the original questioner:
That makes perfect sense. Thank you so much for the helpful response. I will definitely give that a shot.

From contributor R:
I do much the same as contributor K in that I pre-screw the cabinets in the shop. I used to belt sand the edges flush with one another (I always use 1/4" solid material) and then unscrew and take to the job site. But now I put an 1/8th roundover on the cabinet sides. When I hang them, I don't worry about them being exactly together and it creates a nice detail behind the door. The doors themselves can be adjusted for any slight discrepancy in protrusion.

Form the original questioner:
I never thought of including a detail... That's interesting. I appreciate all of the ideas that I can get. I'm a self-taught woodworker. I've been doing it for about four years, but only about a year and a half as a business. Does anyone use cabinet jacks during installation? I saw them used one time and cannot find them anywhere.

From contributor K:
We got some jacks from Pepboys that are for extending from one side of a truck bed to the other to keep stuff from sliding. The packaging also shows cabinetry as something else to use it for. They are awesome. You crank them up so getting the height you need is a snap. They also have an easy release. I weigh a little over 200 lbs and I put all of my weight on one pole. Not a problem. They also cost less than 30 bucks each.

From contributor O:
Hiring out the installs is not a bad idea for a 1 man shop. Are you a cabinetmaker or a cabinet installer? I always figured that if I was on the job putting in cabinets, then nothing was getting built. I make a lot more money building cabinets than I do putting them in.

Gil-lift is the cabinet jack that works the best. Marcon also makes one that is similar for a better price. You can screw a whole run of uppers together on the floor, then just crank the handle to lift them up on the wall. My installer has been using one for a couple of years now. It saves his back and a lot of time.

From contributor D:
I would never let someone else install my cabinets. If they are installed incorrectly, then it makes my work look bad!

From contributor O:
Sometimes we get caught up in this "if I don't do it myself it won't get done right" mentality. There are plenty of competent trim carpenters and master carpenters out there who can do a great job installing your cabinets. You should look at it as an opportunity to add some value to your product. In other words, if you can find a great installer, you should make money on the install as well. Again, are you a cabinet installer or a cabinet maker? You can be both, but when you are installing, you are not building cabinets. Building cabinets is where the profits are.