How to Install Base Cabinets: Get Your Shimmy On


How to install base cabinets

Precise measurement.  Efficient shimming.  Solid Fastening.  These are all keys to installing high-quality, pro-looking, cabinet installation in your home or office.

When installing base cabinets for the first time, don’t get intimidated.  Just remember what carpenters and builders have been saying forever:  If you can get that first piece right, then all the others will “fall” into place.

If you mess up that first step, though, look out.  You’ll run into head-ache and heart-ache for the rest of the project duration. If you can finish at all, that is.

This is as true to staining a cabinet as it is for hanging wallpaper.  Let’s get started.

Tools, Materials, and Steps To Install Base Cabinets:

Step 1:  Locate the Highest Point on Floor where Cabinets are to be Installed

Remember up there ↑ where we said, the first step is the key?  Well, here it is.  If you have an uneven floor then you’ll have uneven base cabinets.

They’ll appear unlevel compared to the upper cabinets and it will bother you.  Plus, stuff will just roll everywhere.  Can you say “mess”?

how to install base cabinets

Find the highest point on the floor where you’ll be installing the cabinets by using your laser level.  This is where, later on in the process, you’ll be shimming cabinets to the height you just noted.

Step 2:  Draw a Level Line on the Wall at a height of 34.5 in. ABOVE the highest point on the floor

Note: The height accounts for a finished floor and a standard cabinet height (36 inches) that you’re installing.

Step 3: Mark Cabinet Locations

Denote the spots of the different cabinet units you’re installing by drawing vertical lines to the floor.  Then use a stud finder to locate the studs along your cabinet wall and mark those.

Note:  You’re going to need these marks, so make sure you mark them clearly and ABOVE the top line of the cabinet.

Step 4:  Starting with a Corner Unit if applicable.  If not, then choose either end

Set the base cabinets against the wall where you plan to install  Add shims beneath in order to make the top edge of the cabinet hits the first horizontal lines that you drew.  (Step 1)

If your wall isn’t at a 90-degree angle to the back end of the cabinets, then you may need to fill gaps with filler strips at the stud locations. These are thin pieces of wood material like this here.

At the end of this step, drill and countersink pilot holes and use the 2.5-inch screws to secure the cabinet (through the filler strip if used) to studs.

Step 5:  Continue to Cabinets


Now that the first cabinet is done you can move on with the adjacent cabinets in the same way.  Shimming when necessary

To make sure you get a flush fit between adjacent cabinets, use a clamp to join the two correctly.  Next, drill and countersink 4 pilot holes and attach screws.

Repeat steps 4 and 5 with remaining cabinets.

Step 6: Attach and Install Drawers and Doors on Base Cabinets

You’re there!  The fun part!  Now that you’ve installed the base cabinets, go ahead and finish the job off by securing doors and installing drawers onto tracks.  (Attach handles and knobs if not already secure)

Additional Considerations Needed When Installing Base Cabinets

  • Make sure walls are in good shape before starting and, if not, repair beforehand.  Also, finish all electrical and plumbing work in the room that your installing cabinets prior to base cabinet installation.
  • Pain the cabinets prior to installation so that you can still turn and move them around easily.
  • Install kitchen flooring (or bathroom flooring…wherever the cabinets are going) prior to installing cabinets.  This avoids the task of having to edge flooring around cabinets in the future.
  • Before installation, mark the locations of pipes and electrical boxes and then cut and cut holes for them.
  • When using filler strips, be prepared to do some fitting.  Walls are not always built perfectly and some won’t be plumb.  You can use a sander or grinder to cut down the size of the filler.
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Howze it? I'm Raf. Been living and working construction in Hawaii for about 10 years. Just recently started doing some handy man work around my neighborhood and then got the itch to review equipment that makes my life easier and hopefully yours too.


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