Installing Stock Kitchen Cabinets to Save Time and Money

By Matt Weber

By installing stock kitchen cabinets, DIY’ers and pro remodelers can get stylish, high-quality cabinets on a tight timeline. Styles and materials vary, but many stock cabinets are made of solid wood with a beautiful finish, and they’re available for in-store pickup or delivery within a week. You’ll find a number of options at your local big box store, as well as a wide range of choices online.

Do It Yourself

Once your cabinets arrive, inspect them for any damage and confirm you’ve received what you ordered. Double-check your kitchen measurements to make sure your cabinet design will work for the room.

Establish the high point of the floor, and from that point measure and mark level layout lines for the tops and bottoms of the base and wall cabinets.

To install the cabinets yourself, first remove any baseboards or other objects on the wall area where the cabinets will be installed. Use a straight edge and a level to find the high point in the floor along the cabinet wall. From the high point, mark a level horizontal line on each wall where the cabinets will be attached. These lines represent the bottom of the base cabinets. From those lines measure upward and draw new level parallel lines to mark the top of your base cabinet. Draw additional parallel lines to mark the location of the top and bottom of your wall cabinets.

The traditional tools for marking cabinet layout are a straight edge, hand level, measuring tape and pencil, but these days I prefer using a Laser Line Generator instead. These cool self-leveling laser tools project bright red plumb and level laser lines in a crosshair configuration on the wall, giving a quick, accurate visual display of your layout lines. The model we used for this project is made by Bosch and mounts to a standard camera tripod.

A self-leveling laser line generator saves time on cabinet layout by projecting level and plumb lines onto the wall in a crosshair pattern.

Mark the studs to show where the cabinets will be installed. Don’t assume all the studs are on 16-in. centers; use a stud finder to confirm their location.

Before installing the cabinets, remove all the doors and drawers from the cabinets. Note: Whenever removing a door, unscrew the bottom hinge first and then remove the top hinge. This will prevent the door from falling away from the cabinet and potentially tearing the screws out of the bottom hinge.

Begin installation of the wall cabinets in a corner. A cabinet jack or brace like this adjustment T-Jak will hold the cabinets while you adjust their position and fasten them in place. Make sure the cabinets are both level and plumb to the wall.

Hang ‘Em High

Start hanging the wall cabinets in the corner along the reference line you marked. The cabinets are heavy, so use an assistant or a cabinet jack to help you handle the weight. We used a T-Jak, which has a threaded shaft to make easy height adjustments when hanging a cabinet. You can also make your own T-brace from scrap 2x4s and 1×4—just place a piece of scrap carpeting over the 1×4 to protect the cabinet. Alternatively, you can screw a temporary ledger board to the wall and use it to support the cabinet bottom.

To install the cabinets, measure from the corner to the first wall stud you marked. Transfer this measurement to the inside of the wall cabinet and mark the stud location. Either use self-tapping cabinet screws, or drill pilot holes through the wall cabinet back into the studs with a 3/32-in. diameter drill bit, approximately 2 inches deep.

Note: The fastener holes should be positioned 3/4 inch from the inside top and bottom of the cabinet but should come no closer than 2 inches to any inside vertical edge of the cabinet. This is because stock cabinets generally have reinforced fastening strips along the top and bottom edges that have wood blocking for a strong, secure hold. These strips should be the only areas where you place fasteners, since the cabinet backs are usually made of thin plywood insufficient to hold the cabinets to the wall, meaning the cabinets could tear away from the fasteners if driven into the wrong spots.

Screwing Up

When mounting into wood studs, we recommend hanging cabinets with #10 x 2-1/2-in. screws. Choose a screw with a washer-head to press against the cabinet surface for the best holding power. We used cabinet screws from GRK Fasteners, which have a Zip-Tip to eliminate the need to predrill pilot holes.

A temporary ledger board screwed to the wall along the layout line can assist in holding the cabinets while you install them.

Mounting cabinets in cement, block, brick or tile walls will require toggle bolts or anchors for the screws.

Insert the screws into the holes until they are nearly tight (but not fully). Don’t tighten the screws until you’ve finished all final leveling and shimming. Check the front, sides and bottoms of all wall cabinets with a level. Use wood shims wherever needed between the cabinet and the wall to stabilize the cabinet in position. After the cabinet is level and plumb, tighten the installation screws.

In this photo (left), we’ve moved to the opposite wall to complete installation, The wall cabinets should be positioned at a consistent height on all walls throughout the room. (Right) The rear of the cabinets have a reinforced fastening strip atop the top and bottom edges.

Continue by placing the next cabinet on the wall along the reference line. Use clamps to hold the cabinet face frames together firmly. Be careful to line up the bottom horizontal edges, and make sure the seam between them is flush. With a 3/32-in. bit, drill starter holes through the face frames near the top and bottom. Insert #8×2-1/2-in. trim head screws, that will leave only a small hole to fill.

To mount the cabinets, drive cabinet screws only through the reinforced areas of the cabinet, typically 3/4” away from the top and bottom edges and 2” away from the side. The screws must be driven into the wall studs by about 2”.
For stud-mounted cabinets, we recommend using #10 x 2-1/2-in. screws with washer-type heads. The Low-Profile Cabinet Screws we used from GRK Fasteners
feature a self-drilling Zip-Tip that eliminates the need to drill pilot holes.

Check the cabinet with a level on the cabinet front, sides, and bottom. Shim where necessary. Once the cabinet is level and plumb, tighten all the installation screws and remove the clamps. Continue installing the rest of your wall cabinets in the same manner.

Connect the cabinets by clamping the face-frames together and closing the joint using #8 x 2-1/2” trim head screws.
Filler strips that fill gaps against the wall attach the same way as connecting two face-frames. Make sure the joint is flush at the top and bottom edges as well as the seam along the cabinet face.

Start installing the base cabinets in the corner. Using clamps, align and join the cabinets together at the face frames. Make sure that the face frames align both on the face and vertically. You might have to use shims beneath the cabinets at low spots in the floor. Remember, the cabinets must be level even if the floor is not. Shims placed along the floor or wall can be concealed later with molding. Make sure the cabinet is plumb and level before tightening the mounting screws.

With the wall cabinets in place, begin installation of the base cabinets, ensuring they’re installed level and plumb. Use shims as necessary.

Doors, Drawers and Details

When the base cabinets are securely installed to the walls, reinstall all the doors and drawers. Always attach the doors by screwing on the top hinges first and the bottom hinges last.

The base cabinets must be leveled even if the floor is not level. Any necessary shims can be cut flush with the cabinet and concealed later with molding.
This photo shows two base cabinets that project into the kitchen as a bar. Note the 2×4 framing we installed where the corner cabinet meets the wall. Flush with the backs of the cabinets, the rough framing provides a solid nailing surface for a finished panel that will cover this area.

On rail-and-stile doors, the handles are typically installed in the center of the vertical stile opposite the hinge side of the door (a couple inches from the bottom). The most important aspect of installing the door handles is to maintain a consistent position from door to door. Rather than taking repetitive measurements for every handle (which can lead to mistakes), make a simple jig for the corner of the doors. We used scrap wood to cobble together a simple L-shaped bracket that fit over the door corner with predrilled holes at the locations for the door screws. We then made a pencil mark at each screw location to maintain consistency among the handles. The jig also saves lots of time compared to measuring each handle. Drill pilot holes for the handle screws, then attach the hardware.

Planning to add a granite countertop to the base cabinets? These metal countertop brackets provide the support necessary to carry the stone
projection beyond the edge of the cabinet.

Add a finished touch to your new cabinets with trim details. Cabinet manufactures typically offer matching crown molding for the tops of the wall cabinets, as well as matching floor molding for the base units. In some cases, the new cabinets might not fill the entire void left by the old cabinets. But filler strips are usually available from the cabinet makers, which can be cut to a custom size to fill any gaps with a matching color and finish.

With all the base cabinets installed, replace the doors and drawers. When hanging a door, install the top hinges first and then the lower hinges. Test the swing of the doors and adjust the hinges as necessary.
Increase your accuracy and speed when installing the handles by using a jig to mark the screw holes on the corners of all your doors.

With careful design and smart installation, you can install a new set of stock cabinets with a custom-built look, and do so in less time while saving money.

Here’s a look at the finished bar cabinets, complete with hardware, countertop and trim.


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