Upper cabinet install jig

A sampling of shop-built setups used by the pros. October 16, 2003

I read a detailed article sometime back about making an install jig to hold uppers for install instead of dropping $500 on a store-bought. I can not find that article again. Does anyone have plans for this type of setup? It was designed to hold the uppers and roll them into place for install.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
I prefer to install my base cabinets first. Then I place a box that is 19.5" tall on top of the base cabinets and set the uppers on top of this aid. We use this over and over on every job. You might need several boxes of various heights and lengths to allow for different clearances between the uppers and lowers and to fit in a short niche. The box is easily removed after the cab is secured to the wall and it is dirt cheap and saves your back.

Another similar method is to install the lowers first, use a spacer box, then use inexpensive scissors jacks to raise/lower uppers until you get them where you want them. I got my jacks from the junkyard for a couple of bucks each. Makes it real easy to set the cabinets and no back strain holding them in place while fastening.

Take four pieces of 3/4 x 1 1/2 x 48" stock. V notch two of them for holding your cab and cut 15 degree angles on the other two to rest on the floor. Slot two of them for adjustment. Use two carriage bolts to hold them together. This will hold the cab to the wall till you get your screws in it. Makes setting upper cabs easier since base cabs are not in your way.

I found a gizmo at my hardware supplier called a "Helping Hand." It works kind of like a calking gun. My wife helps me and she can use it. The best part is it only cost $20.

Take a piece of galvanized pipe and attach a piece of plywood to the top and bottom with a flange. Make the pipe whatever dimension you want.

I use a couple of old camper stabilizer jacks. They are about a foot long, aluminum with a screw thread on the top. Fine tune the height with these.

What I built is similar to the T Jack. A piece of 3/4" black iron pipe with a floor flange threaded to the bottom and screwed to a piece of 2 x 12 x 12 wood. Then take a piece of 3/4" threaded rod and thread on a coupling nut for the height adjuster and put it down the pipe with a washer between the nut and pipe. Then make a top platform. Mine is about 10 x 6, a piece of MDF with carpet on top. I attached it to the rod by welding a nut to a small piece of 1/4" steel screwed to the MDF.

With the right lengths of pipe and rod you can use it for refer cabinets as well. The only change I would make is to come up with a nut that could slide up quickly for large adjustments. I'd probably cut the nut in half and attach each half to a spring-loaded set of pliers, or something like that.

Maybe I am missing something here… Does no one use a ledgerboard or hanging strip in the back of the upper cabinet? Ergo fasten hanger strip to wall as is required. Lift cabinet into place, by whatever means - jack or brute strength. Put weight of cabinet on hanging strip - one hand will hold in place, or bevel hanger and back nailer and it will hold itself. (This presupposes you use a back nailer in your cabinets.) I always liked hanging wall cabs first, but this will work either way, and if you set base first it will give you a place to rest on the way up. I also have used a boxlike work table on castors to get the cab in place and made it easier to get under. The older you get, the heavier the boxes get. I had to get smarter as I got older or end up in the hospital.

A French cleat works great, too. I usually go 5/8 backs now so I use the jacks.

Can you explain the French cleat?

From contributor A:
French cleats are neat, but are not for all occasions. I built two cabinet jacks - much like those described above, except I built the boxes about 12" tall and then put one Blum leg leveler on the top. It gives me about 2 inches of easy adjustment (16"-18") and more if I place a simple shim under it. It took me less than a half hour to throw these babies together and I've used them for 5 years now.

Very slick trick, contributor A. I took my best shot at sketching what I think you describe.

From contributor A:
Were you in my shop yesterday sketching my cabinet levelers? Those are an exact copy. They look just like my original shop drawings.

Reading all this gave me an idea. I will try first thing Monday morning. Two 6' pipes fastened at the bottom 12" apart, then fastened together at three feet above floor (12" apart). Probably held together with plywood. Slide on the back half of pipe clamps (upside down) one on the top of each. Fasten some type of sled on the clamps to protect the cabinet and I should have full adjustment up to 6 feet above the floor. This could be refined a lot, but I bet it will be cheap and work for any upper cab.

I use a combination of site-made boxes and plywood as a long platform. I start by laying a piece of ply on top of the boxes, then I start placing upper boxes with the doors on onto the ply, then screw them together, slide till they're centered. I hold the platform away from the bottom wall so I can shim the boxes in place according to how the doors look.

French cleats typically come on boxes from custom (local) shops. I first map the wall with a straight edge and level, marking high spots and noting which direction the wall is leaning. From my level line I screw the cleat only at the high spots, then I come back and, using a straight edge or waxed string, shim the cleat straight. If the wall was leaning back (out of favor), I add whatever dimension I need to the high spots for the cabs to hang plumb. If the wall is in my favor (leaning forward) then I just shim the bottoms. I always hang the uppers according to the lay of the doors regardless of what the level says (within reason).

The support I use is my long 3/4" pipe bar clamps. Make a foot for the pipe to rest on (in case the floor is finished), remove the screw end and use the sliding foot to hold the cabinet up. It works for me with or without the lower cabinets in place. It doesn't take up any extra space, either.

French cleats or something like them are easiest, but not everybody has complete control of what we get to work with at the job. We work with what we get to work with.

For those who can control the product they receive, French cleats make life a lot easier. You can hang a box on the wall, slide it around, mark your scribe or shim it off the wall at the bottom at both ends to see what the next step might be, slide it around to make room for the next case, mark each end of a center cabinet, take it down and have a good line to work in the two end cabinets at the wall ends, or whatever. Without having to hold the darn thing up there some way. Plus you have a piece screwed to the wall that supports the cabinet, giving you the option to put only a few screws in the box if it is open or has glass doors or whatever. I think it would be a real benefit if there were a standard that all manufacturers used for this, but that's a dream.

I like some front to back play in the cleats for when(?) the walls aren't straight. Cleats with a rabbit in them work better for me than mitered cleats in that the mitered cleats need to be straight to work right or the cabinets won't settle down on them properly. I use 3/4" X 3 1/2" ply strips with 1/4" high by 9/16" deep rabbits, leaving a tongue of 1/4" X 3/16" to catch the cleat screwed to the wall. They are both the same profile. I have the support on the wall to hold the cabinets up in place, with slop built in to shim the cabinets plumb and scribe a line if needed to work to. The cabinets will screw to the wall, closing gaps, or at least letting you know what is happening with the walls so you can do what is needed to make it work.

What about using these new vacuum strips? Saw one at the IWF in 2000. Doesn't leave any kind of hole, etc. that needs patching or any marks. They come in different lengths and simply "suck" to the wall and hold up to about 500#. When you're finished, simply release vacuum.

I built one out of aluminum track with a boat crank. It really works great. Just set it up on the stand and crank it up, roll into place. I set 200 to 300 feet a week, crowned and trimmed out.

I have a lift that does all the large uppers. It works great and not bad on the back.

I just install modular cabs, but all I use is a screw in a stud above the cab at the correct height. I cut a knotless 1x2 to 57" to use as a prop. This length works for 30" uppers to 42" uppers. Lift the cab (bend your knees) into place and with the prop leaning against the wall within reach, wedge it at the back of the cab. The screw will stop it at the desired height and the prop holds it in place so you can get a screw in the thing. Then move on. As for the smaller cabs, who needs anything? For the heavier cabs such as 42" hickory, take the doors off. We're talking $1.80 in hardware. At the end of the day I can just toss my prop and cut a new one the next.

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

Comment from contributor B:
Take 2-2x2's 55 inches long, lay 14 to 16 inches apart, parallel to each other, connect at the ends with 2x2's. Put padding on the upper end and nothing at the bottom. Lean it against the wall at about 52 inches, hold the cabinet to the wall above the 54 inch level line and push the bottom of the "preacher" (prop) in with your toe till it holds the cabinet's waight. Check your elevation and adjust with your heel down below. I put up wall cabinets by myself with this method and I am old enough to be thinking of not installing anymore.

Comment from contributor C:
I average 50 + boxes per day on cabinet install and speed is of the essence ($7.50 per box piecework). I set my walls first, use two inexpensive adjustable pool poles as props and follow the line I drew on the wall 55 inches off the high point of the floor. Fast, easy and accurate if you have any kind of ability at all.

Comment from contributor E:
I have a pipe stand like the one above, but I used a 1 1/4" pipe at the bottom, about 50" tall, and a piece of 3/4" threaded rod three feet long with a nut, and a second piece of 1" pipe that it fits inside. I have holes drilled in the 1 1/4" pipe with a pin drilled through for height options.

Comment from contributor H:
For 8 years I have been using three support stands, adjustable from 50" to 84". Each is a piece of 3/4" all thread inside an iron pipe with a cast iron "nut" that has handles cast into it for adjustment. The sweetest thing is that the nut has a 3/4+" hole drilled through at about a 10 degree angle, removing the threads on half of the top of the nut and the opposing half at the bottom of the nut, allowing the nut to be angled, disengaging the threads. This allows the nut to slide freely along the all-thread when angled. When the nut comes into contact with the iron pipe, it automatically squares up and reengages the threads. If you lift the all-thread, the nut just rattles down, staying close to the iron pipe, and reengages when weight is applied. I had to add a washer between the nut and iron pipe to keep it square. There is a pad at the top of the all-thread and the bottom of the iron pipe.

Comment from contributor P:
I use an extendable pole that locks, made for painting, with a plunger screwed to the threads. You just lift the cabinet up and place the pole under the front of it. The pole has a rubber handle on it to keep it from slipping on the floor.