You’ll spend a lot on supplies, but you may still save money by DIYing.
Need professional help with your project?
Get quotes from top-rated pros.
What you'll need:
4-foot carpenter's level
Drill and bits
Remodeling your kitchen is a great way to breathe new life into your space while increasing your home's value. And given how much visual real estate kitchen cabinets command, updating them can completely transform your space's design. If you're considering updating your kitchen cabinets yourself, use this installation guide to help you from start to finish.
Preparing to Install Kitchen Cabinets
Before you start installing kitchen cabinets, prep the area to help ensure the project goes smoothly. Tidy up your kitchen and remove any appliances, dishes, and other items in and around your existing cabinets. You should also clear anything off of the floor that might create a trip hazard during installation. Once you clear the area, remove your existing cabinets.
After removing your old cabinets, bring your new cabinets into the kitchen and give them a close inspection. Make sure you have all of the pieces you need, including drawer and door fronts, cabinet boxes, and shelves. This is also a good time to inspect your cabinets for any damage due to shipping or manufacturing.
Finally, if your new cabinets came with their doors and drawers attached, remove them. This will make your cabinet boxes lighter and easier to install. Once your installation is complete, you can reinstall the doors and drawers according to your manufacturer's instructions.
Now that you’re prepped, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and install your new cabinets.
Create Reference Lines
Most homes aren't completely level. Especially in older homes, some floors have spots that are higher than others. You should locate the highest spot to use as a reference point for your cabinet installation. If you don't take this step, you might find it difficult to level your bottom cabinets because it's much easier to move a cabinet up than to cut the bottom to make it flush with other cabinets.
To locate your floor's high point:
Place a 4-foot carpenter's level vertically on the floor against your wall. Using a pencil, make a small mark at the top of the level. Repeat this process to create two to three marks on each wall that you plan to install cabinets on.
When you're finished marking, snap a chalk line along your reference marks.
Measure from the chalk line down to the floor in three to four spots along each wall. Use a pencil to make a small mark just below the line of your shortest measurement; this will be your high point.
After locating the high point, use a level to create a layout line around the room at the same height as your high point. The top of your bottom cabinets will be flush with this line.
Next, measure the height of your new cabinets and create another level layout line along where the base of the cabinets will fall. For example, if your cabinets are 34 inches tall, then you'll create a line 34 inches below your high-point layout line.
After marking off lines for your lower cabinets, find the top line (aka the high point line) and measure 17 to 18 inches above it. Mark this point and use it to create another level line along the walls where cabinets will be installed. This line will be flush with the bottom of your upper cabinets.
Find the Wall Studs
Always install your cabinets on wall studs to ensure they don't fall down. Use a stud finder to locate the studs, then mark the studs' locations on each of the reference lines you created during the previous steps.
Attach Upper Cabinet Cleats
It's helpful to install upper cabinets before lower cabinets so you don't have to reach over the lower cabinets while installing the uppers. To begin installing the upper cabinets, align a straight cleat along one side of the upper cabinet reference line you created in step two.
Drill 2-inch drywall screws through the cleat and into the studs you marked off on step three. Once you're finished, attach another cleat next to your first one and continue to repeat these steps until your cleats extend along the entire length of your reference line, with screws drilled into each wall stud.
Join Upper Cabinets
Next, while your upper cabinets are still on the floor, line them up below the cleats where you'll install them, starting with the corner cabinet if you have one. Then use clamps to affix your upper cabinets together. Use a straightedge to ensure all of the cabinets are flush after clamping.
Then, drill counterbore pilot holes through the top and bottom of the face frames before driving 2-inch screws through the holes to securely attach the cabinets to each other.
Note: If you have a lot of upper cabinets to join, consider only joining two or three on the floor before hanging. Otherwise, they can become too heavy to lift. You can then join the rest of the cabinets to the ones that you already hung up.
Hang the Upper Cabinets
Enlist the help of another person or a cabinet jack to lift the upper cabinets you joined during step four onto the wall, resting the cabinets on the cleats. Double-check the cabinet faces with a level to ensure they're plumb. If they're not plumb, slide shims between your wall and the cabinet back until they are.
Once the cabinet faces are level, drill four 2 1/2-inch deck screws with washers through the top and bottom of each cabinet's back, into the studs. Repeat this process, shimming whenever necessary, until you hang all of your upper cabinets.
Install Corner Lower Cabinet
Now that your upper cabinets are installed, it's time to begin the lower ones. Start by moving the corner base cabinet below its installation site, then shim it up until its top back edge meets the reference line you created in step one.
Use a level to ensure your cabinet face and top are plumb. If they're not, add shims where necessary at the stud locations.
Next, drill 2 1/2-inch deck screws with washers through the top and bottom of the back of the cabinet. Then use 2 1/2-inch deck screws without washers to counterbore and fasten the cabinet to the floor at the shim locations.
Install the Rest of the Lower Cabinets and Finish the Uppers
Beginning next to the lower cabinet you installed in the previous step, add shims between the cabinet and wall, as well as the cabinet and floor, to ensure your cabinets will be level.
Next, position the rest of your lower cabinets together so that their faces are flush, then clamp them together. After clamping, counterbore through the top and bottom of the face frame edges, fastening them with 2-inch screws.
Then drive 2.5-inch deck screws with washers through the top and bottom of the cabinet's back and into the wall studs. Once your cabinets are secure, use a utility knife to score and remove any shims poking out from your cabinet's edges.
Finally, remove the upper-cabinet support cleats you installed during step four and use spackle to fill the remaining holes.
Now that your upper and lower cabinets are installed, slide in any shelves or drawers you removed for installation. This is also when you should reattach your cabinet doors per your manufacturer's instructions.
DIY Kitchen Cabinet Installation vs. Hiring a Pro
Kitchen cabinet installations require quite a bit of time and construction know-how compared to many other remodeling projects. For that reason, we generally only recommend this as a DIY project for folks with carpentry experience under their belt. Otherwise, it's a good idea to hire a local cabinet contractor to ensure a polished and professional kitchen cabinet installation project.
Frequently Asked Questions
There are a few factors that determine whether your cabinets should sit on subfloor or finished flooring. For example, the kind of flooring can play a role (cabinets should sit on finished tile floors, but you can let them sit on the subfloor for vinyl or laminate flooring). If you’re in doubt, asking a local kitchen remodeling pro can help take the guesswork out of it.
Cabinet installation typically costs about $130 to $200 per cabinet, but this cost can vary depending on a few different factors. For example, if a pro will need to remove old kitchen cabinets, you’ve chosen heavy or ornate cabinets, or there are obstacles they need to work around to install them, this may drive up the price.