Cabinet Leveling: Rear Levelers Versus a Ledger Strip

Cabinet installers compare the cost and efficiency of different methods for leveling the back side of cabinets. June 12, 2014

Question (WOODWEB Member) :
There appears to be two schools of thought on levelers: use four of them for each cabinet or use two in the front and mount a strip on the wall for the back. I like the idea of only two in front as it avoids the access problem of reaching the back two. Does anyone have any recommendations?

Forum Responses
(Cabinet and Millwork Installation Forum)
From Contributor E:
Attach the board to the back wall and make sure it's level and you'll never look back and wonder if you made the right decision. The backs are set and all you have to do is dial in the fronts.

From contributor J:
Cabinet installation is not what I do, which is why I'm asking this. Obvious question: what part of the cabinet sits on the board that you've attached to the wall?

From the original questioner:
The bottom of the cabinet (rear edge) sits on the board attached to the wall. It replaces the back two legs and eliminates any problems due to un-level floors near the wall.

From contributor J:
Ok - I was picturing integrated bases/toe kicks, not legs.

From contributor A:
A ledger on the wall with two legs in front is the best system.

From Contributor Y:
If using granite or similar heavy counter material, do you need to reinforce or double up this back ledger strip somehow since it is likely only attached to studs and not resting on the floor?

From the original questioner:
I'm not using granite, but I have 1/2" backs on the boxes so I will fasten the backs to the studs to relieve pressure on the ledge.

From contributor F:
I use two levelers on the front and a ledger strip on the back. I used to use four. I got tired of lying on my back trying to twist the back to up or down. I went to two and never looked back.

From Contributor Y:
When transporting the cabinets from the shop what do folks put on the back corners to prevent damage to the bases? My first thought is to put a set of plastic bases that I use for the front and then remove them when ready to place the cabinet.

From Contributor F:
Our levelers are 25mm tall (1 1/4") tall. We tack on 25mm thick MDF blocks we make up from scrap.

From contributor W:
What are you guys using for the ledger board?

From contributor A:
We use a piece of 3/4" x 2 1/2" scrap plywood for the ledger. 1/2" backs with screws up high in the typical place will certainly support any countertop. You can always throw more screws at it if you are concerned. The problem with legs is that only three out of four of the legs are truly taking the weight of a heavy counter. The cleat/two leg system is definitely one of those things worth trying at least once.

From contributor S:
I prefer four levelers - mounting the back strip perfectly usually doesn’t mean a lot in the real world. Floors, walls, ceilings, cabinet boxes and everything else involved is likely not going to be perfect. I like to be able to adjust everything flush and perfect on the front without twisting the boxes to conform. As for time and cost plastic plinths are low cost and super fast. Screwing wood into the wall would take us longer.

From contributor M:
We tried the ledger process and found it was not worth the hassle by a long shot. Cutting the scrap pieces, the ledger, including, loading and unloading, having to cut it to size at the job site, installing it, etc., Way too much work, compared to grabbing a couple of legs and knocking them in. The adjustment process is no big deal. The thought of saving the cost of the legs was sure enticing, but in reality, for us, the ledger alternative was not less expensive.

From contributor N:

Then you have something entirely different for an island or peninsula run.
Standardization is the key. You will also have to cut that ledger in the openings for dishwashers, ice makers, fridges and freezers and wine coolers - more time! I get some of you guys don't like lying on the floor to adjust rear legs. For all of those guys, there are just as many that don't like kneeling to screw in a bottom ledger.

Don't confuse preference with absolute lower cost or less time though. Four legs is the most efficient way unless you only do a handful of kitchens a year and are able to use scrap/ waste for those ledgers. Legs mean fewer parts to inventory, easier and lighter to transport, which is less expensive for the customer too, easier to deliver into the kitchen especially if you have to use an elevator.

What do you do with shallow cabinets in an elevation that aren't full depth, like a wine storage cubby? Or how about a base cabinet or three that needs to be pulled forward for a look the designer calls for like at a sink or cooktop? Yes, yes, I know you fellas all have solutions for these issues. My point is that on the jobs that use only legs the installer doesn't have to think how he's going to do a run of cabinets with non-standard cabinets. Nor does he have to go find or make another crop of materials. He just puts the legs on and goes on to the next cabinet.