How to Install Kitchen Cabinets Yourself

Kitchen cabinets are the biggest expense in any kitchen. Short of building them yourself, installing them on your own is the next best way to cut costs.

Although it’s a big job, installing cabinets is actually easier than you might think. At its simplest, all you’re doing is finding the right starting point and keeping everything level as you put them in. 

If you’re looking to DIY cabinet installation, then you may need some instructions. Here’s exactly what you need to do from start to finish when installing your own kitchen cabinets.

 

Step-By-Step Instructions for Installing Lower Kitchen Cabinets

 

The following instructions are for face frame cabinets, not European style or frameless cabinets. 

Step 1: Gather the supplies you’ll need 

  • Standard level
  • Screw gun for 2 ½ inch screws
  • Pencil
  • Stud finder
  • Tape measure
  • 3 bundles of shims
  • Drywall screws
  • Optional: Chalk reel

Step 2: Determine the highest spot along the floor

Start by laying down an 8 foot long 2×4 along the wall where your cabinets will be. 

Place a level on it. 

Shim the low end of the board until it is level. 

Mark the horizontal leveled line and take measurements between the floor and the line. The shortest measurement is the highest point on your floor.

 

Step 3: Trace the outline where cabinets will be 

Using the highest point as the base, draw a level line 34 ½ inches above that. 

Give the cabinets a test-run with a dry fitting. Start with the corner cabinet first, as that will affect how all the others fit. Make sure to leave enough space for filler strips if your layout calls for them. 

Then, draw vertical layout lines to mark where each cabinet will go. Make sure to measure the width to the face frames and not the backs of the cabinets (backs of the cabinets are ¼ inch narrower on each side – remember this as it will be important in Step 5).

Once everything is in place, make sure all the cabinets and drawers open without interfering with each other. 

Measure appliance openings and make sure they’re wide enough. 

Label the cabinets and drawers to reduce confusion about where they go before moving them out of the room. You may also want to remove all the doors and hardware to make installation easier. 

 

Step 4: Locate the studs

Use a stud finder to locate the studs and mark their location right above the horizontal line.

 

Step 5: Install the first cabinet

Beginning with the corner cabinet, place it ¼ inch in from the vertical line. 

Shim the base until the cabinet top is level with the horizontal line. 

Then level and shim the cabinet front to back. 

Anchor the cabinet to the wall by driving 2-inch screws through the studs. If there’s a gap between the cabinet and the wall because the wall is not plumb, screw-in shims through the back of the cabinet about 1 inch down from the top.

 

Step 6: Install the next cabinet

Position, shim, and level the next cabinet. To get the cabinets flush, you may have to loosen some screws you previously tightened to align the frames. 

Once you’re satisfied with the alignment, drill ⅛ inch pilot holes through the top and bottom of the cabinet interior. 

Then, use 2 ½ inch screws to screw the cabinet frames together. 

Finish by screwing the cabinet to the wall studs. 

Repeat this process for the rest of your lower cabinets. Next, we’ll take a look at what it takes to install upper kitchen cabinets.

 

Step-by-step Instructions to Install Upper Kitchen Cabinets

 

Step 1: Determine a horizontal line

Since you’ve already drawn a horizontal level line for the lower cabinets, this step is easy. 

Draw a level line 19 ½ inches above the lower cabinets (18 inches after the counter is in).

 

Step 2: Trace the outline where upper cabinets will be

Draw layout lines where you’ll place the upper cabinets. Remember to measure the width to the face frames and not the backs of the cabinets. 

Make sure all drawers can open without interfering with each other. 

Measure appliance openings.

Label each cabinet so you know where it will get installed.

 

Step 3: Mark the stud locations

Mark the stud locations using your previous marks.

 

Step 4: Install the first cabinet

Install a ledger (horizontal support piece) to the wall that’s even with the level line. You’ll use this to help support the upper cabinet while you’re installing it. 

Drill pilot holes through the back of the cabinet.

Again, start with the corner cabinet first, spacing it ¼ inch away from the layout line. Hoist the cabinet up onto the ledger line and start some screws. 

Once everything is in alignment, drive the screws into the studs.

 

Step 5: Install the next cabinet

Partially screw the next cabinet into the wall stud next to the one you’ve just installed. 

Make adjustments until they are lined up.

Screw the cabinet frames together.

Then screw the cabinet into the wall studs.

Repeat for the remaining cabinets until you’ve finished installing all of them. 

So there you have it, step-by-step instructions on how to install your kitchen cabinets yourself. Did we miss anything important? Let other readers know any tips or tricks we missed in the comments!

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