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The Classic (and Totally Avoidable) Mistake People Make When Installing Kitchen Cabinets


Published by Lydia Geisel via on December 16, 2020

So you want new kitchen cabinets—are you prepared for all the costs that come with them? On average, it will run you around $5,100 just to have them installed (prices for fully custom cupboards can range from $13,000 to $30,00), according to an estimate by Home Advisor. But there is a way around that expense: Put them in yourself.

It’s not as impossible as it sounds. The process really comes down to screwing the new frames into the wall in the right order and triple checking everything is level. It’s a major time investment (for an average-size kitchen, it can easily take the whole weekend if not longer), but all that money you save can be put toward luxe lighting or top-of-the-line appliances. To get the lowdown on what the process really involves, we dug through Lowe’s handy step-by-step guide and asked Hunter Macfarlane, the company’s project expert, some of our most pressing questions, including: What’s the most common mistake people make?

What Tools Do I Need?
Tape measure
Good screwdriver or a power screwdriver
Hammer and utility knife (to remove the countertop and other fixtures)
Electronic stud finder (it’s critical that all the screws securing the cabinet to the wall are attached to the studs, as drywall won’t support the weight of the cabinetry).

What Does Demo Involve?
First things first: Get rid of your old doors, drawers, and appliances. Removing the sink is a trickier task, as you need to carefully cut out the sealant and disconnect the plumbing before lifting it out. To take out the countertop, cut the caulk along the backsplash with a knife, remove the corner bolts and screws from underneath, and shake the surface (it should pop loose).

Finally, tackle the upper and lower boxes by backing out the screws in the face frames and unscrewing the backs from the wall. Once they’re out of the picture, patch and smooth any holes with Spackle and apply a few coats of paint to the area. Older walls and floors might need to be replaced, as they will cause your cabinets to be unlevel during installation.

What Measurements Should I Take?

“The critical step to any project is proper planning,” says Macfarlane. One of the most common mistakes DIYers make, he notes, is taking inaccurate measurements (this can lead to ordering the wrong size cabinets or not leaving enough room for appliances). So come up with a solid blueprint by measuring all the walls, doors, and windows to the outside of the molding, as well as floor to windows, bottom to the top of windows, and top of windows to the ceiling.

Which One Do I Start With?
Begin with a corner hanging cabinet or the one on the far left if you don’t have a corner unit. Because upper cabinets generally provide the greatest challenge (they’re off the ground), you’ll want to attach a straight 1-by-4-inch ledger (a board that helps support the cabinetry as you work) on the wall 54 inches off the floor. Drive the mounting screws through the cabinets’ back at the top, middle, and bottom rails, around ¾ of an inch from the edge. Tighten them just enough to hold the cabinet in place.

How Do I Attach the Second One?
Set the second cabinet into position and line up the faces so that they’re even at the bottom and across the front. For some extra security, use clamps to hold them together as you drill the screws into the back of the second cabinet. Keep the faces even and use a tool with a taper twist bit to connect with the cabinet screws. Continue the process until you reach the end of the row, continually checking that the faces and edges are even and level (any gaps left over can be filled with simple wood strips). Finally, remove the ledger board and touch up any wall damage. Fresh storage awaits.

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