Hello! I'm Suzannah, a serious DIYer and mom of two little ones. Follow along with my DIY fixer upper house renovations, sewing and crafty projects, real food recipes, and de-stressing goals.
I believe you can love your home just the way it is, AND have the power to design and make big changes to make it better.
I'm also the author of DIY Wardrobe Makeovers!

How hard is it to install kitchen cabinets?? The exciting part of our DIY kitchen reno

It's amazing how much can change in a week!! Last week I shared about our kitchen demo and we've been working HARD all week and have checked so many things off the list. Including installing the cabinets we assembled a couple weeks ago. We'd never done it before, and it was definitely a new skill to learn but pretty straightforward!

Thanks to Walcraft Cabinetry for working with me on this kitchen reno. They provided me a discount on our cabinets in exchange for my reviews and posts. Please check them out if you're considering a kitchen reno with affordable build-yourself cabinets!

Remember you can also check out other posts on this DIY kitchen reno:

We are excited to be using Walcraft Cabinetry ready-to-assemble cabinets. Like IKEA, they come in efficiently packed flat boxes and you assemble them yourself. (We prefer these because they are all-wood construction and had more options for classic white shaker-style fronts, also all wood!) However instead of IKEA's hanging system, these cabinets are installed like traditional custom/wood cabinets made by any cabinet maker... good old-fashioned leveling, stud-finding, and nail-gunning (for the toe kicks once we get there). It took some time and leveling, but we had a great experience putting these in ourselves!

How We Installed Our Kitchen Cabinets

We started with some YouTube videos--this one is our favorite. The principle is:

  • Find studs.
  • Drill pilot holes.
  • Make cabinets level.
  • Screw in.

So, how do you do all that? For starters:

(In addition to standard tools) You will need:

  • A LONG level! Like 4' long. Like this.
  • Construction screws--we used these.
  • Wood shims (we used almost two packs of these)

What we did:

Our cabinets from Walcraft Cabinetry came with elevations and floor plans with labels so we knew which pieces went where. We had a liiiitle tiny bit of room to fill with a couple small filler pieces, but less flexibility on the fridge wall, so we started there.

Installing filler and upper cabinets

Our height was set by the fridge panel and filler piece, so we drew a line for the bottom of the above-fridge cabinet based on those.

Clamp the cabinet frames (or cabinet and filler piece, like we did first) together joining flush/flat.

Once clamped, you drill pilot holes with a small drill bit (and then drill a little on top of those with a larger drill bit so the screw heads will lay flat), then screw the pieces together. Pretty cool, huh?!

Tip: You can see where the hinges go, so you can choose to screw the anchoring screws in behind the hinge metal (as long as it doesn't conflict with the hole the hinge goes in.) That way they'll be hidden.

Then you follow the steps you will for any upper cabinet--find the studs on the wall and mark that distance on the back of the cabinet at the height of the support pieces (at the top and bottom of the inside of the cabinet, clear because of the screws exposed).

Then drill pilot holes at those locations, all the way through the wood pieces on the inside.

Then, one person holds the cabinet up to the level pencil line you drew (also measure the cabinet itself with a level, inside the cabinet if it fits) while the other screws it into the wall (studs).

It is WAY easier to install the upper cabinets first so you can stand directly below them! If you do the lowers first, they will be in your way when you do the uppers. We didn't fully take this advice because we were rushing to get the lowers in before the countertop place came to make their template. Wish we had.

The next piece we installed was the fridge panel, which is the 1.5" width of a filler piece in the front but extends back to cover the fridge and make it look built-in in. Same process here; clamp the pieces flush, drill pilot holes, screw together. Except here, our wall wasn't perfectly even so we actually had to sand down a little at the bottom and top of the back of the panel (both ends will be hidden behind cabinets) so the piece would go all the way back against the wall.

Once we did that, we started on our lowers.

How to make base cabinets level

The first step with the lower cabinets is to find the high place on the floor, and establish the top of the cabinets there. Using a long 2x4, identify where it wants to point down more than up, and measure up the height of the cabinet (ours are 34.5" high) there. From that point, draw your level line using your long level alllll the way along the wall. Then as you install each base cabinet, you'll shim up to that line.

You also need to find the studs on the wall for the lowers; we marked ours with Xs you'll see in the photos below.

Using the level, make sure the cabinet is level front-back and side-side. Use shims underneath the cabinet as well as at the back of the wall, so they aren't tipping forward or back. Screw the cabinet in through the shims where possible (if the gaps were also on studs).

The shims will stick out above/to the side of the cabinet, so score them and break them off. They are very soft wood.

Tip: If you've used the shim to almost the end range (where it's very thick), it won't break off easily. So you'll either need a handsaw, or, use two smaller shims stacked on top of each other and score/break each one individually.

Back to our main wall... once we had found the level line, same process for installing these as the panels. (Remove the drawers first.) Clamp from the frame through the filler panel. Pilot holes, screw.

We kept going with our base cabinets and retrofitted the sink one to accommodate our hot and cold lines, which come up from the basement rather than out from the wall.

We also drilled through the base cabinets behind where the drawers extend with a hole for the fridge icemaker water line.

On the far wall, we calculated that we only needed about 1/2" of filler panel so we turned a filler piece on its side and cut it to length to match the upper cabinet.

Our previous kitchen had a tiny soffit covering this mess of wiring. We put a narrow upper cabinet there next to where we'll have open shelves, to cover it up. Really happy with that choice now! It looks great and (because of the trim at the top and filler panel on the side) the cabinet still won't affect the wires.

Finishing out the cabinets

Still to do:

  • We have a 3+" gap at the top of our 99" high ceiling that we will fill with crown molding. Still picking that out. 
  • We also need to install the toe kicks (they came with the cabinets and just need to be cut to size and nail-gunned in). 
  • They also sent some scribe molding, which is narrow, flexible molding with one curved edge that can cover gaps between cabinet and wall that are too big for caulking to fill. (You can even scribe them to the wall if you have very uneven places.) We're still deciding where we'll need to use this.
  • We also need to put in baseboards and quarter around around the whole kitchen--I think we'll do quarter round to match in front of the toe kicks, and possibly both baseboard and quarter round on the sides of the freestanding cabinets... still need to think through that!

Don't mind that extension cord - until we buy another GFCI and install it at that taped off box, the plug under the fridge doesn't work. :P

Check out the options at Walcraft Cabinetry if you're interested in a budget-friendly kitchen reno! They also do the kitchen design/layout for you, so no messing around with the buggy IKEA Kitchen Designer tool and poking in the dark for which cabinet sizes will work best in your layout.

I will share more about my experience using Walcraft Cabinetry throughout this reno but so far we are very impressed. And, because we build and install them ourselves, we're saving so much on labor (or custom cabinets) and are able to afford this reno! The power of DIY.

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