Ready to assemble (RTA) cabinets provide a convenient and affordable way to upgrade your kitchen or bathroom without the high cost of custom cabinetry. With some basic DIY skills and tools, you can successfully assemble and install RTA cabinets on your own. Here’s what you need to know about the process.
What Are Ready to Assemble Cabinets?
RTA cabinets come packaged with all the cabinet parts – sides, tops, bottoms, shelves, doors, and drawers – preassembled at the factory. All you need to do is join the parts together using screws, bolts, and other simple hardware included in the package.
The cabinets are typically made from materials like particleboard, MDF, melamine, and plywood. They may feature laminate, wood veneer, or painted finishes. Hardware is generally made from durable metals like steel and brass.
Compared to custom or semi-custom cabinetry, RTA cabinets are mass-produced and standardized. The simple assembly style makes them much more budget friendly for the DIYer.
Benefits of Assembling Your Own Ready to Assemble Cabinets
Taking on an RTA cabinet install as a DIY project offers several advantages:
- Significant cost savings. Preassembled RTA cabinets are already cheaper than custom options. Opting to assemble them yourself rather than paying for professional installation saves even more.
- Customization. While RTA cabinets are not as customizable as true custom cabinetry, you can still make minor adjustments and tweaks during assembly and installation to get them fitted exactly as needed.
- Convenience. Assembling at your own pace allows you to work at times that suit your schedule. You also avoid having to coordinate installation appointments with professionals.
- Satisfaction. Successfully installing your own new cabinets brings a major sense of DIY accomplishment.
- Quality assurance. You can take extra care in assembly and inspection to ensure everything looks great and functions properly. Mistakes can be corrected on the spot.
As long as you have some carpentry skills and tools, the ability to follow instructions, and plenty of patience, you stand to save thousands by assembling and installing RTA cabinets yourself. Just be sure to set realistic expectations – the finished product may not match the fit and finish of premium custom cabinetry installs.
Can You Build Ready to Assemble Cabinets Yourself? Considerations
Building your own RTA cabinets is doable, but there are some important factors to consider first:
Cabinet Quality and Complexity
Focus on mid-range RTA cabinets from reputable brands. Budget lines may lack the quality and durability you want. High-end options with ornate detailing can get overly complex for DIY assembly. Opt for streamlined Shaker or Slab style cabinet fronts.
Standard base and wall cabinets in simple layouts will be easier to assemble than unique sizes, angled cabinets, and other tricky configurations. Limit additions like roll outs, lazy susans, and other speciality hardware if tackling your first RTA project.
Your DIY Skills
You’ll need to be comfortable using tools like drills, drivers, saws, levels, etc. Check that you can understand and follow technical drawings and instructions. If your carpentry skills are limited, an RTA install might not be for you.
Make sure you have ample free time for assembly, installation, and finishing. Rushing through just to get cabinets hung will sacrifice quality. Expect the project to take at least several full weekends, depending on kitchen size.
Assembling cabinets involves lifting, kneeling, bending, reaching, and plenty of time standing. Make sure you are physically able to take on these demands before committing. Getting help is wise if you have any limitations.
RTA cabinet assembly requires meticulous work and attention to detail. You’ll need patience to avoid getting frustrated if parts don’t align perfectly, instructions are unclear, etc. Staying calm and taking your time is key.
With realistic expectations and the right prep work, building your own ready to assemble kitchen or bathroom cabinets can be an achievable and rewarding DIY job.
Getting Started: Design and Planning
Careful planning is crucial before you actually begin assembly and installation of RTA cabinets. Rushing into the project without proper design and logistics can compromise the final result. Here are some tips for the planning process:
Determine what you want to accomplish with the new cabinets. Focus on your highest priority needs like added storage, updated style, or better organization. Goals help guide choices.
Take extremely detailed measurements of the full space including walls, windows, doors, appliances etc. Accurate measurements ensure proper sizing and layout.
Browse RTA cabinet brand websites or visit home centers to view options in person. Focus on quality construction and finishes within your budget. Make final selections.
Sketch cabinet configurations or use an online kitchen planner. Align the layout with your goals, space measurements, and chosen cabinet sizes.
Order your RTA cabinets and all accompanying hardware and accessories well in advance to avoid delayed arrival. Expect 4-6 weeks from order to delivery.
Prep Install Space
Do demolition, cleaning, drywall repair, flooring, painting, and electrical/plumbing adjustments so the space is prepped and ready when cabinets arrive.
Investing ample time in planning helps avoid mistakes and problems down the line.
What Tools Do You Need to Assemble RTA Cabinets?
Assembling ready to assemble cabinets is largely about joining components together with screws, bolts, and other hardware. The required tools are:
- Power drill – A cordless drill/driver with a good selection of driver bits. Have Phillips and slotted heads in multiple sizes.
- Level – A small torpedo level for checking alignment of cabinet parts during assembly. A longer level is needed later during installation.
- Wood mallet – A rubber mallet helps tap pieces snugly together or make fine adjustments to alignment.
- Carpenter’s square – Essential for assembly and ensuring corners/joints meet at proper 90 degree angles.
- Pry bar – Helpful for dislodging stubborn cabinet parts, creating space to slip in shelves and hardware etc.
- Clamps – Clamps temporarily hold components in position for easier assembly and improve stability.
- Tape measure – Measure everything precisely during assembly and installation.
- Safety gear – Safety glasses, gloves, knee pads and other protection.
Having the right tools is half the battle. Invest in quality tools to make the assembly process smooth and successful.
Tips for Assembling RTA Cabinets
When your RTA cabinets arrive, don’t start ripping boxes open immediately. Follow these tips for methodical assembly:
- Clear out plenty of floor space and have all tools ready and accessible.
- Carefully study the detailed assembly instructions provided. Keep them handy.
- Review the numbered parts list. Have parts organized and ready to go before each assembly step.
- Work one cabinet section at a time, completing it fully before moving to the next.
- Position cabinet bodies upside down to make assembly easier. Flip right side up when complete.
- Follow torque specs provided for tightening screws and bolts to prevent stripping.
- Check alignments with a level and measure diagonals to ensure square.
- Use a wood mallet and clamps to align parts that are slightly off.
- Complete all adjustments and touch ups before starting installation.
- Carefully follow all safety precautions provided with tools and hardware.
Having a methodical game plan and sticking to it is crucial for achieving proper RTA cabinet assembly. Avoid taking shortcuts.
Common Challenges of RTA Cabinet Assembly
While ideally assembly goes smoothly, some challenges can arise. Being prepared to address them properly prevents real setbacks:
Misaligned or Poorly Fitting Parts
Part tolerance issues, minor warping, or measurement mistakes may make pieces difficult to fit together. Careful use of clamps and mallets helps gently bring components into alignment.
Missing Hardware or Parts
It’s not uncommon for a handful of screws, shelf pegs, hinges etc. to accidentally get left out of the packaging. Check inventory and order replacements right away so assembly isn’t held up.
Some RTA brands provide clearer directions and diagrams than others. If needed, look up video tutorials or contact the manufacturer for assistance to understand any confusing steps.
Stripped Screw Holes
Using the wrong size driver bit or overtightening can strip screw holes. Glue a little wooden toothpick or dowel in the hole to allow re-inserting the screw.
Minor Cosmetic Damage
The thinner materials used for RTA cabinets are prone to dents, scratches or chipping during shipping and assembly. Use wood filler, touch up markers, or wood glue to make quick cosmetic repairs.
With careful assembly and immediate troubleshooting, you can overcome any challenges that pop up to end up with fantastic finished cabinets.
Installing Your Assembled RTA Cabinets
Once you’ve successfully assembled all the individual RTA cabinets and components, it’s time to install them in your kitchen or bathroom. Here are some best practices to do this properly:
Recruit some strong helpers to hold cabinets in place as you anchor them to the walls. The job is difficult to do single-handedly. Pay any hire professional installers for just 1-2 hours of labor if needed.
Establish A Level Base Line
Measure and laser level a base line on the lowest wall cabinets will mount on. This keeps the row perfectly level for proper installation.
Use Shims Liberally
Levels and shims are essential to plumb and align wall cabinets. Shim behind any gaps between cabinet and wall.
Use the correct hardware like toggle bolts to anchor cabinets to your wall type. Follow any manufacturer instructions for required placement and spacing of anchors.
Check Door and Drawer Alignment
Make any needed adjustments to doors and drawer faces as you go to get perfect alignment. Issues are much harder to fix after installation.
Once cabinets are installed soundly, add trim pieces, end panels, toe kicks and other finishing touches using the included hardware.
Take it slow and double check everything during the installation process. Trying to rush through this critical phase risks alignment mistakes that compromise the entire project.
Customizing RTA Cabinets to Make Them Your Own
One big advantage of assembling your own RTA cabinets is the ability to make small customizations and upgrades during the process:
- Use cabinet interior paint to add pops of color visible through glass doors.
- Opt for higher end hardware like soft-close hinges and gliders.
- Incorporate organizational inserts like cabinet pull outs and spice racks.
- Add trim molding, light rail, crown molding or other decorative elements.
- Upgrade countertops to materials like quartz or solid surfacing.
- Swap out standard cabinet fronts for glass panel inserts or other unique looks.
- Install accent lighting around and inside cabinets to show off contents.
Even working with standardized RTA cabinets, you can DIY small tweaks to elevate the look and functionality beyond typical cookie cutter kitchens and bathrooms. Let your special custom touches shine.
Maintaining and Repairing Your RTA Cabinets
Once your DIY RTA cabinet project is complete, a bit of regular maintenance keeps them looking like new:
- Use quality cleaners and polishers made specifically for cabinet surfaces. Avoid harsh chemicals.
- Tighten loose knobs, pulls, hinges and hardware. Don’t wait for a repair need to arise.
- Adjust doors and drawers as soon as any rubbing or alignment issues arise. Address promptly to limit damage.
- Touch up any nicks, scratches and water damage right away.
- Check pull outs, organizers and rotation hardware for smooth operation. Lubricate or replace parts as required.
- Consider adding reinforcements and brackets if cabinets sag or settle over time.
Keep an eye out for any problems developing and take action quickly. Your DIY handiwork deserves proper care.
Can You Build Ready to Assemble Cabinets Yourself? – Conclusion
Installing ready to assemble kitchen or bathroom cabinets is an attainable DIY project for a seasoned homeowner. With realistic expectations about the results, ample planning and preparation, proper tools and materials, and methodical assembly and installation techniques, you can save thousands versus paying for professional cabinet installation. Just be sure to follow safety precautions, ask for help when needed, and take the time required to do careful, quality work. The end reward is beautiful new cabinets you installed with your own two hands.
Frequently Asked Questions About Assembling RTA Cabinets
Is it hard to put together RTA cabinets?
Assembling RTA cabinets is not necessarily difficult, but it does require ample time, patience, and attention to detail. The assembly itself is fairly straightforward, typically involving joining cabinet parts together with screws and simple hardware. The bigger challenges come in adjusting any misaligned parts, customizing cabinets, and achieving a professional-looking finished product. As long as your DIY skills are up for the task, it is very doable.
Can I install RTA cabinets myself?
Yes, you can absolutely install ready to assemble cabinets yourself, provided you have some carpentry experience and can handle the physical demands. Be sure to recruit helpers for the install process. Carefully follow the manufacturer’s instructions for mounting the cabinets properly on your wall type. Use levels, shims, and plumb bobs to get everything perfectly aligned and anchored securely.
Do RTA cabinets look cheap?
Not necessarily. While RTA cabinets are certainly affordable, brands offer options similar in style and quality to custom cabinetry. Choose mid- to high-end RTA cabinets with attractive wood species, durable finishes, and streamlined designs. Skip low budget lines with basic construction and materials. Invest in attractive hardware and take time to install properly for a truly high-end look.
How much cheaper are RTA cabinets?
On average, RTA cabinets cost 25-50% less than custom or semi-custom cabinets. Much of the savings comes from the DIY assembly. Opting to install the RTA cabinets yourself rather than hiring professionals for the full cabinetry job results in 50-75% total savings off custom installed pricing.
Should I hire a professional to install RTA cabinets?
That depends on your skill level. Those with beginner DIY abilities may want to pay an experienced installer for at least part of the process, like leveling and securing cabinets. This ensures proper alignment. More advanced DIYers can likely handle the full assembly and installation successfully themselves. Just take it slowly and get helpers.
How long does it take to assemble RTA cabinets?
It depends on the size of your kitchen or bathroom and complexity of the cabinets purchased, but expect RTA cabinet assembly to take at least 2 full weekends for an average kitchen.Building all the cabinet boxes goes relatively quickly but doors, drawers and hardware add time. Haste leads to mistakes so allow plenty of time for adjustments and finishing touches.
Can RTA cabinets be returned?
This varies by retailer and manufacturer. Once RTA cabinets are assembled they usually cannot be returned or refunded. Unassembled cabinets may qualify for return within a short timeframe, for example 7-14 days. Be absolutely certain of your cabinet choices and measurements before assembling to avoid needing to return RTA cabinets.
Are there assembly services for RTA cabinets?
Some home improvement stores and third parties offer RTA cabinet assembly services for an additional fee if you prefer not to assemble cabinets yourself. Another option is to hire a carpenter or handyman to assemble cabinets for you in your home. This still provides cost savings over having cabinets fully custom built and installed.
How are RTA cabinets shipped?
RTA cabinets ship by truck in flat cardboard boxes. Each cabinet and component is individually packaged with all required hardware. Shipping pallets keep boxes stable and upright during transit. Cabinets may arrive on multiple pallets. Arrange to have help available when deliveries arrive for unloading. Inspect carefully for any shipping damage before assembly.