Project Guide

How to Install Kitchen Cabinets

Inspect the New Cabinets
Uninstalled kitchen cabinets ready to be inspected

If your new cabinets are pre-assembled, inspect them as soon as they arrive and check each piece against your order. Open the packaging to ensure you have all of the pieces – cabinet boxes, shelves, doors and drawer fronts – and check for damage from shipping. Be sure any extra trim and filler strips that you ordered were included in the delivery.

There are many varieties of ready-to-assemble kitchen cabinets. If the cabinets you purchased need to be assembled, now is the time to do that, but don’t attach the cabinet hardware, doors or drawer fronts yet.

Locate High Spots on the Floor
A level placed on a board to locate the high spot of a floor

Finding the highest point on the floor is a critical step because every part of your cabinet installation project relies on the reference point you make. Take your time and get it right.

Kitchen floors, especially those in older homes, are often not perfectly level and flat. Assume that your floor also has a high point and locate it. Shimming up a cabinet to make it level and plumb is much easier than cutting the bottom to make it fit square and flush.

To find the high spot of the floor:

  • Lay a straight 8-foot-long 2- x 4-inch board on the floor against the wall and place a carpenter’s level on top of it.
  • Shim the low end until you get a level reading.
  • Use a pencil to mark a level line on the wall. Extend that level line along the walls that will hold cabinets.
  • At every couple feet, use a tape measure to find the distance between the finished floor and the line you’ve made on the walls. The shortest measurement you find is the highest point of the floor.
  • Mark that high point on the floor.
Mark the Top of the Base Cabinets
A level being used to mark the location for the top of base cabinets
  • Beginning from the mark indicating the high point of the floor, measure up exactly 34-1/2-inches (the standard height of kitchen base cabinets) and mark the wall.
  • Make a level line at this point on the wall and extend it to mark the top of the base cabinets. 
  • Dry fit the base cabinet boxes by arranging them, corner piece first, flush against each other according to your kitchen design.
  • Measure, mark and label the location of each cabinet box on the wall. When making measurements and outlines on the wall, keep in mind that the cabinet face frames on the cabinet front are 1/2-inch wider than the back of the cabinet.
  • Check measurements for dishwasher, sink and stove openings and also check that the cabinet doors, if pre-installed, open in the proper direction.

Tip: Cabinet boxes are much easier to install when drawers and doors are removed. Use masking tape to label shelves, doors and drawers with their corresponding cabinet. Move them out of your work area. 

Mark Bottom of Wall Cabinets
A level being used to mark the location for the bottom of wall cabinets
  • Draw a level line 19-1/2-inches above the top line of the base cabinets that you drew in the last step. The 19-1/2-inch measurement allows 1-1/2-inch thick countertop plus 18-inches for a code-defined distance between the cabinets and countertops.
  • Mark and label the position of all of the upper cabinets on the wall with a pencil and level to double-check your layout.
  • Plan to install wall cabinets first. That way, the base cabinets won’t be in your way while you’re installing the upper cabinets.
Locate Wall Studs
A stud finder being used to locate studs in a wall
  • Use a stud finder to locate the wall studs. You’ll want to screw the cabinets into them for secure installation.
  • Mark the center of the studs with a pencil.
  • Extend the lines up and down the wall with carpenter's level, making sure you keep the lines plumb.

If you are still considering new kitchen cabinets vs. refinishing old cabinets, know that cabinet refacing products are available for all kitchen cabinet styles.

When a kitchen makeover includes a fresh coat of paint on the ceiling and walls, consider doing that before start cabinet installation or refacing. You’ll save quite a bit of time and effort by not having to mask off your new cabinets to avoid paint splatter.

Installation can begin once this prep work done. Install wall cabinets first in order to have more convenient access and also prevent a dropped drill from damaging the base cabinets.