Ready-to-assemble (RTA) or ready-to-install (RTI) cabinets provide a convenient and affordable way to get new cabinets into your home. As the name suggests, RTA cabinets come packaged with all the parts and hardware needed for assembly. With some basic DIY skills and the right tips, putting together RTA cabinets can be a straightforward process. In this comprehensive guide, we will walk through everything you need to know to easily assemble your new RTA cabinets.

Introduction to RTA Cabinets

RTA cabinets are sold in pieces with all the hardware included for assembly. They usually come flat-packed in boxes to be put together at home. RTA cabinets provide the following benefits:

  • Cost Savings – RTA cabinets are up to 50% cheaper than custom cabinetry since you assemble them yourself. The manufacturers save on costs and pass the savings to you.
  • Convenience – The cabinets are delivered right to your home. You don’t need to go to a store or workshop for installation.
  • Customization – RTA cabinets come in standard sizes but can be customized with different finishes, hardware, organizational inserts, and accessories.
  • Quality Materials – RTA cabinets are typically made from plywood, solid wood, and medium density fiberboard (MDF). Durability and quality are not sacrificed.

While the cost and convenience factors make them popular choices, some homeowners may be hesitant to install RTA cabinets themselves. However, putting them together is nowhere near as difficult as building custom cabinets from scratch. With minimal skills and tools, assembling RTA cabinets is quite straightforward.

Tools and Supplies Needed

You don’t need an extensive workshop or a lot of fancy tools to assemble RTA cabinets. Here are the basic tools required:

  • Power drill – An electric drill with a Phillips head attachment is essential for driving screws efficiently. A cordless drill allows you to move around easily. Have spare batteries on hand.
  • Hammers – A claw hammer and rubber mallet will help seat pieces together firmly. The rubber mallet prevents denting.
  • Screwdrivers – Phillips and flat head screwdrivers in various sizes will help position screws.
  • Pliers – Slip joint pliers will tighten any loose nuts and handles.
  • Level – A small level ensures the cabinets hang plumb and true on the wall. A 2-3 ft level is ideal.
  • Stud finder – Locates studs behind the wall for secure fastening to framing.
  • Tape measure – Essential for accurate measurements to position cabinets. Get one with large, easy-to-read numbers.
  • Pencil – A simple No. 2 pencil will do for marking cut lines and holes.
  • Utility knife – Slices through packaging materials and shaves off edges. A box cutter with break-off blades is very handy.
  • Carpenter’s square – Ensures corners and cuts are precisely 90 degrees.
  • Safety gear – Safety glasses, ear protection, gloves, knee pads, and a face mask are recommended.
  • Carpenter’s glue – Helpful for sealing corners and joints tightly. Choose weather-resistant glue.

Other supplies like sandpaper, clamps, and shims may also be useful. Lay out all tools before starting so they are within easy reach.

Preparing the Work Area

Because RTA cabinet boxes can be bulky and awkward to maneuver, you will need ample workspace with clearance to unpack and assemble them. Here are some tips for setting up:

  • Clear out the room completely. Move all furnishings like tables and chairs out of the way.
  • Designate clean, clutter-free floor space. You will need an area at least double the size of your largest cabinet.
  • Protect floors with drop cloths, cardboard, or plywood sheets to prevent scratches.
  • Ensure plenty of lighting. Supplement with portable shop lights if needed. Dark corners make assembly difficult.
  • Have a stepladder ready for accessing wall cabinets. Use an assistant to help lift and hold cabinets in place temporarily.
  • Keep young children and pets out of the work area for safety.
  • Turn off ceiling fans which can interfere with lifting long pieces.
  • Place all hardware components like screws, shelf pins, hinges, and drawer slides in organized trays or cups. Sort by type and size.
  • Keep the cabinet boxes nearby but don’t obstruct your work path.
  • Have a corded or cordless power drill fully charged for driving screws.

Preparing the ideal work area makes the process of putting RTA cabinets together much simpler.

Reviewing the Instructions

RTA cabinets include detailed directions and diagrams that specify how the components fit together. Here are some tips for making the most of the instructions:

  • Carefully study the entire instruction sheet before starting. Understand each step.
  • Identify and separate all the wooden pieces, hardware, shelves, and doors.
  • Note the hardware required for each step and keep it close at hand. Don’t mix up screws, bolts, and hinges.
  • Check that no parts are missing by taking an inventory. Contact the manufacturer immediately for replacements if needed.
  • Follow the steps sequentially for proper assembly. Skipping around can lead to mistakes.
  • Keep the instructions close by for reference. Ticking off each step gives a sense of progress.
  • Study the diagrams closely to identify how joints, shelves, and doors fit and fasten.
  • Don’t be afraid to reread steps for clarity. It’s better than undoing incorrect assembly.

Though the instructions may seem long-winded, they are created to make the process as foolproof as possible. So take the time to review them thoroughly.

Joining Cabinet Boxes

The cabinet boxes form the foundation of the entire assembly. Here’s how to join them properly:

1. Position the Bottom Panel

  • Lay the bottom panel on a flat, level surface with the predrilled shelf pin holes facing up.
  • Align the holes towards the cabinet front. Place shims underneath to keep the panel off the ground.

2. Attach Side Panels

  • Apply carpenter’s glue to the long edges of the side panels.
  • Stand the side panels vertically around the edges of the bottom panel.
  • Adjust until the edges are flush, corners are square, and screw holes align.
  • Drive screws through the holes to fasten the side panels to the bottom. Wipe away any excess glue squeeze-out.

3. Install the Back Panel

  • Lay the back panel flat against the rear edges of the side and bottom panels.
  • Drill screws through the back panel holes into the side panels. Don’t overtighten.

4. Add the Top Panel

  • Flip the box right side up and set the top panel in place on the side panels with edges aligned.
  • Drill screws up through the top panel into the side panels. Take care not to crack the edges.

Joining the panels tightly forms a sturdy cabinet box. Take a moment to clean up glue and wipe down the cabinets before moving to the next steps.

Mounting Wall Cabinets Properly

Wall mounted cabinets require careful installation directly into wall studs for adequate support and safety. Follow these tips when mounting:

  • Determine the desired height and location. Standard is 54 inches above the counter or floor.
  • Use a stud finder to locate studs. Mark the stud centers on the wall at the top and bottom.
  • Hold the wall cabinet in place and drill pilot holes into the studs through the hanging rail at the cabinet top.
  • Drive 3-inch lag screws through the pilot holes into the studs to hang the cabinet. Don’t tighten fully yet.
  • Check level side-to-side and front-to-back. Shim underneath as needed until cabinet is plumb.
  • Tighten lag screws fully when level. Don’t rely solely on anchors in drywall.
  • For extra support, drive screws at an angle up through the cabinet back into the studs.
  • Attach adjacent cabinets by pre-drilling through side gable panels. Drive screws into neighboring cabinets.

Take precautions when working at height and drilling into studs. Securely mounted cabinets keep their contents safely inside.

Installing Drawers Correctly

Drawers need to slide smoothly in and out on their tracks. Follow these steps when installing them:

Mount the Drawer Slides

  • Measure the interior width and height of the cabinet. Deduct 3/8 inches from the width and height for slide clearance.
  • Position a drawer slide on each interior side wall, aligned with the top of the opening. Mark screw holes.
  • Drill pilot holes and drive screws through the slide holes into the cabinet sides. Don’t overtighten.
  • Align the matching drawer slide members and fasten them to the drawer box sides with screws.

Adjust the Slides

  • Push the drawer box carefully into the cabinet slides until the members lock together.
  • Pull the drawer out and in a few times to test for smoothness. Make sure it doesn’t rub the sides.
  • If needed, adjust the slide placement by loosening the screws, nudging the slide, then retightening.
  • Confirm an even 3/8 inch gap around the drawer for clearance.

Installed appropriately, the action of drawers should be silky smooth without catching or rubbing.

Hanging Doors Squarely

Cabinet doors need to hang straight to align with each other and the rest of the cabinetry. Follow these tips:

Attach Hinges to Doors

  • Mark hinge locations on the backside of the door per the instructions. Typically towards the top and bottom.
  • Drill pilot holes at the marks to accept the hinge screws. Test fit the hinges first.
  • Drive the hinge screws into the door back. Be careful not to crack thin door edges.

Mount Hinges to Cabinet

  • Open the hinged doors, align hinge plates with the cabinet edge, and mark the screw holes.
  • Drill pilot holes in the cabinet frame at the marks.
  • Attach hinges with screws. Do not fully tighten yet.

Adjust Door Alignment

  • Test the door opening and closing. Ensure it clears neighboring doors and drawers.
  • If adjustment is needed, loosen hinge screws slightly and nudge the door position.
  • When aligned properly, tighten all hinge screws fully on both the door and cabinet.
  • Repeat for all doors, keeping even gaps between doors.

With practice, you can learn to expertly install and adjust doors for seamless alignment. Take the time to get them hanging square for a quality finished look.

Securing Shelves

RTA cabinets use a simple shelf pin system for vertical adjustment. Here is how to install shelves securely:

  • Examine the shelf holes inside the cabinet and note the spacing. Common spacing is every 32 mm.
  • Insert shelf pins fully into the left and right side panels at the desired heights. Make sure they align across.
  • Set the shelf smoothly on the pins. The shelf should be snug but still removable.
  • For wider shelves, space additional pins every 8-12 inches for support across the middle.
  • Position pins at same height increments to allow shelving adjustments in the future.
  • Optional: Secure permanently with screws up through the cabinet bottom at the back edge of shelves.

The shelf pin system gives flexibility. Take care when loading the shelves not to exceed their weight capacities. Stagger heavier items toward the lower shelves.

Securing Cabinets Together

Finally, take steps to join all the base and wall cabinets together into one integrated unit:

  • Position cabinets carefully, with sides, tops, and bottoms aligned with each other.
  • Clamp gables together temporarily using bar or C-clamps.
  • Pre-drill holes through the gables of adjoining cabinets.
  • Drive 2-1/2 to 3 inch screws through the holes into the neighboring cabinets. Two screws spaced vertically per joint are sufficient.
  • Optionally, screw through the floor of wall cabinets into the wall studs for stability.
  • Similarly, screws can be driven up through the toe kick into the bottom of base cabinets.
  • Remove temporary clamps after all cabinets are screwed together.

With all the components secured together, your RTA cabinets will function as a single unit for safety and longevity.

Common Challenges and Solutions

Despite best efforts, some problems can occasionally arise during RTA cabinet assembly:

Parts don’t align properly – Loosen the fasteners, realign, then retighten. Using clamps can help pull pieces flush.

Doors or drawers are crooked – Adjust hinges or slides as outlined above to re-square and align.

Chips, splinters, or cracks – Use wood glue or painter’s caulk to patch minor flaws in unfinished cabinets. Be gentle when handling.

Stripped screw holes – Replace with larger screws or use toothpicks and wood glue to fill holes before re-drilling.

Incomplete hardware – Contact the seller immediately for replacement parts to be shipped. Keep extra screws and hinges on hand.

Unclear instructions – Reference diagrams closely or watch online videos for your specific cabinet brand to clarify steps.

With some creative problem-solving, troubleshooting cabinet issues is all part of the learning process. The more RTA cabinets you assemble, the more efficient you will become.


Assembling RTA cabinets is an achievable DIY project for most homeowners with basic skills and tools. Following the detailed instructions, working methodically, and staying organized make the process far less intimidating. While each cabinet brand may be slightly different, the general steps for successful assembly are straightforward. With some patience and practice, you can get quality, custom-looking cabinetry installed in your home at significant cost savings.

Frequently Asked Questions About Assembling RTA Cabinets

Below are answers to some common questions people have about buying and installing ready-to-assemble kitchen cabinets:

Q1: What tools do I need for assembling RTA cabinets?

At a minimum, you will need a power drill, Phillips head bits, a rubber mallet, tape measure, pencil, square, and clamps. Safety gear like gloves and eye protection is also recommended.

Q2: How long does it take to put RTA cabinets together?

With practice, expect a rate of about 1-2 cabinets assembled per hour by one person. So a typical 10-cabinet kitchen would take about 5-10 hours total.

Q3: Should I assemble cabinets before or after installing?

It’s generally easier to assemble cabinets individually before mounting them. However, base cabinets can be installed first then assembled in place.

Q4: What kind of help will I need to install cabinets?

While one person can assemble the cabinets, it really helps to have a second person assisting with lifting, holding cabinets in place, and providing an extra set of hands.

Q5: Can I get replacement parts or missing hardware?

Absolutely. Most RTA cabinet sellers such as IKEA keep replacement parts in stock and will ship to you. Take inventory when unboxing and request any missing or damaged components right away.

Q6: Do cabinets have to be attached to wall studs?

Proper attachment to wall studs is strongly recommended, especially for upper wall cabinets supporting weight. Use lag screws and make sure at least one stud is located.

Q7: How do I adjust cabinet doors if they are uneven?

Cabinet hinges allow adjustments. Loosen the screws slightly and nudge the door position up/down until aligned evenly, then tighten screws.

Q8: What do I use to fill nail holes and dents?

For simple repairs, use painter’s caulk, wood filler, or toothpicks with wood glue in holes. Follow with sanding and paint touch-ups.

Q9: Should I assemble cabinets in the kitchen or another room?

If space allows, assembling in another room reduces clutter and allows more freedom of movement. Just be sure to thoroughly check alignment before carrying assembled cabinets into the kitchen for installation.

Q10: Can I convert an RTA cabinet to soft-close doors/drawers?

Yes, by installing soft-close adapter brackets onto the cabinet and door hinges, you can upgrade to soft-closing functionality. These are widely available at hardware stores or online.