Ready-to-assemble (RTA) kitchen cabinets offer an affordable and customizable way to renovate your kitchen. With some basic tools and a little elbow grease, you can assemble RTA cabinets entirely on your own using helpful YouTube tutorials as a guide. This comprehensive article covers everything you need to know to successfully DIY your RTA cabinet installation.

Introduction to Assembling RTA Cabinets

RTA, or ready-to-assemble, kitchen cabinets provide a budget-friendly alternative to custom cabinetry. RTA cabinets ship as a kit with all the cabinet pieces, hardware, and instructions included.

The key benefits of choosing RTA cabinets include:

  • Cost savings – RTA cabinets are up to 50% cheaper than custom cabinets. You save on installer fees by assembling them yourself.
  • Convenience – RTA cabinets ship directly to your home. No need to schlep materials from the store.
  • Customization – RTA cabinets come in a range of styles, finishes, sizes and configurations. Modify and arrange them to suit your space.
  • Quality – Many RTA brands offer solid wood doors and drawer fronts with plywood box construction. Durability and quality resemble custom cabinets.

While RTA assembly requires some work on your end, you can totally DIY the process, especially with the help of YouTube. Many great YouTube channels offer detailed RTA cabinet assembly tutorials.

Equipped with these videos as your guide, some basic tools, and a dash of patience, assembling your own RTA cabinets is very achievable. The satisfaction of completing the project yourself also enhances the value derived from your new kitchen.

Gathering Tools and Supplies for Assembly

The right tools will streamline the RTA cabinet assembly process. Having all equipment and supplies on hand will allow you to work efficiently. Here’s what you’ll need:

Essential Tools

  • Cordless drill/driver – Provides power for driving screws to join cabinet components
  • Level – Necessary for mounting cabinets straight and checking for plumb
  • Stud finder – Locates studs behind the wall for secure fastening
  • Pry bar – Helpful for adjusting cabinets and prying them into alignment
  • Phillips head screwdriver – For driving the self-tapping screws included with RTA cabinets
  • Hammer – Helps tap pieces into place as needed
  • Pencil – Marks cut lines and locations for fasteners
  • Tape measure – Needed for taking measurements to position cabinets
  • Utility knife – Cuts through cabinet packaging and shims

Helpful Accessories

  • Wood shims – Levels and plumbs cabinets by bridging gaps
  • Carpenter’s glue – Provides extra adhesion for tight joints
  • Cabinet clamps – Holds cabinet frames square while fastening
  • Rubber mallet – Gently taps pieces into proper position
  • Trim puller – Removes existing trim without damage
  • Cabinet scraper – Smooths rough edges on cut cabinet parts
  • Wood filler – Fills any imperfect gaps prior to painting/staining
  • Touch up markers – Conceal any scratches that occur during assembly
  • Rags – For wiping away excess glue and debris

Safety Equipment

  • Work gloves – Protect hands from sharp edges and hardware
  • Eye protection – Shields eyes from flying debris during cutting
  • Ear protection – Reduces noise exposure from power tools
  • Knee pads – Cushions knees when installing base cabinets
  • Dust mask – Prevents inhaling sawdust made from cutting

Organizing Components and Hardware

Once your RTA cabinets arrive, take time to carefully unpack and organize all the components and hardware before assembly.

Lay out each cabinet box, doors, drawers and shelves. Verify all ordered pieces are included by cross checking against your kitchen layout plan. Organizing will help identify any missing or defective components right away.

Next, sort the hardware like screws, bolts, hinges and drawer slides. Most kits include some extra fasteners. Separate hardware into labeled bags or bins by type to prevent mix ups during the build.

Reading through the assembly manual will provide useful details on hardware identification and intended use. Some key RTA cabinet hardware pieces include:

  • Cam locks – Join separate cabinet sides together at corners
  • Shelf pins – Support adjustable shelves at different heights
  • Drawer slides – Extend drawers and allow smooth motion
  • Hinges – Connect doors and allow opening/closing
  • Toekick – Covers space between cabinets and floor

Taking time to get organized early on will set you up for success as you move on to the more challenging assembly steps.

Using YouTube to Supplement RTA Cabinet Instructions

The instruction booklet included with your RTA cabinets provides an overview on how to assemble them correctly. But supplementing these instructions with YouTube videos can provide extra visual guidance.

Here are some of the ways YouTube tutorials can enhance the assembly process:

  • Visual demonstrations – Watching the steps performed eliminates guesswork.
  • Tips and tricks – YouTube creators share techniques not found in manuals.
  • Problem solving – See potential issues handled in real time.
  • Alternative approaches – More than one way to assemble often exists.
  • Better understanding – Combining written steps with videos improves comprehension.
  • Confidence builder – Seeing it done successfully inspires you to proceed.
  • Entertainment – Videos make the learning process more engaging and fun!

Not all cabinet brands will have a YouTube channel dedicated to assembly. But many DIYers and contractors have created videos showing the process for popular RTA lines like IKEA, RTA Cabinet Store, Barker Cabinets and more.

Search using your specific cabinet brand and model name along with keywords like “assembly instructions” or “installation” to find the most relevant YouTube tutorials. Watch several to compare techniques.

Securing an Assembly Work Space

To ensure a smooth RTA cabinet assembly process, secure a suitable work space before getting started. Ideal assembly spaces have:

  • Open floor area – Provides room to spread out parts and maneuver cabinets.
  • Solid flat surface – Supports safe assembly without rocking or shifting.
  • Good lighting – Lets you see small parts and hardware clearly.
  • Access to power – For charging drill batteries and using power tools.
  • Proper ventilation – Removes fumes from finishing products if needed.
  • Climate control – Prevents weather elements from damaging cabinets.
  • Minimal distractions – Avoids errors caused by divided focus.

Options like a garage, basement, or shed are great for assembly. An empty room like a living room or basement also works well. You may want to lay down a protective layer of cardboard or plywood to prevent damaging flooring.

Make sure the space is clear of clutter and debris. Having adequate open space to move around the cabinets makes the process far easier.

Cabinet Assembly Overview

With your tools, hardware, workspace ready, and YouTube tutorials queued up, it’s time to dig into the RTA cabinet assembly! Here’s an overview of the key stages:

  1. Attach cabinet sides – Connect side panels to create the cabinet box.
  2. Install shelves and partitions – Add fixed and adjustable shelving.
  3. Join cabinet frames – Connect separate upper and lower cabinets.
  4. Add backs- Fasten the cabinet backs to the box.
  5. Install drawer slides – Mount slides and add drawers.
  6. Attach doors – Using hinges to hang cabinet doors.
  7. Add decorative touches – Moldings, trim, crown add style.
  8. Install countertops – Secure countertop onto assembled cabinets.

The order may vary slightly for different RTA cabinet brands. Always follow the steps laid out in your specific instruction manual. Let’s look at each of these stages in more detail.

Step 1 – Attaching Cabinet Sides

RTA cabinets begin with two side panels that form the left and right sides. Horizontal rails join the side pieces at the top and bottom front.

Position the sides upright and slide the top and bottom rails into the side grooves. The rails may snap or lock into place. Use included cam locks to securely join the corners.

Use bar clamps or corner clamps to hold the corners tight together. Check for square using a tape measure or by measuring corner diagonals.

Following your instruction guide, pre-drill holes for screws. Avoid splitting the wood by staggering the hole depths. Attach rails firmly into the side panels with screws.

Double check all corners remain at 90 degree angles as you work. Remove clamps only when all screws are securely in place. Repeat these steps to assemble any remaining cabinet boxes.

Step 2 – Installing Shelves and Partitions

Interior cabinet shelves provide storage surface space within the cabinet boxes. Some may be fixed, while others are height adjustable.

Install any fixed shelves first, sliding them into shelf clips or channels in the cabinet sides. Use a level to ensure shelves are straight. Secure with screws through the cabinet walls.

For adjustable shelves, insert shelf pins into pre-drilled holes at the desired heights. Rest the shelves on the pins. Arrange pins to accommodate your storage needs.

Interior vertical partitions may divide the cabinet into smaller compartments. Slide them into position in the tracks or grooves. Install any drawer divider pieces.

Take care when inserting fixed shelves and partitions to avoid splitting the wood. Use a rubber mallet and wood block when tapping pieces gently into place.

Step 3 – Joining Cabinet Frames

Once your individual cabinet boxes are assembled, with shelves installed, you can join them together. This creates your full upper and lower cabinet sets.

Start by positioning the cabinet boxes in order per your kitchen layout. Place them approximately 4 inches apart from each other. Use shims to level and draw lines marking attachment points.

The side of one cabinet will screw into the front frame of the next cabinet. Drill pilot holes, apply glue to joint surfaces, align cabinets, and drive in screws. Wipe away any excess glue squeeze out.

Use bar clamps, ratchet straps, or cabinet jacks across the fronts to pull the boxes tightly together as you work. Remove clamps after all screws are securely in place.

Fill gaps around attachment points with wood filler as needed. Lightly sand any dried filler. Touch up with provided paint or finish.

Step 4 – Attaching Cabinet Backs

Once all cabinets are joined together, adding the backs creates enclosed boxes and improves structural rigidity.

Cabinet backs are typically 1/4″ plywood panels sized to fit each cabinet frame. Start by test fitting the back pieces. Trim with a utility knife or saw if needed for snug fit.

Run a bead of adhesives along the edges of cabinet frames where the back will attach. Carefully fit backs into place. Add screws through the cabinet walls into the back panel edges.

Wipe away any excess glue immediately using a damp rag. Fill screw holes with wood filler and sand smooth when dry.

Step 5 – Installing Drawer Slides

Drawer slides allow smooth motion for extending and closing drawers. They include two sections: cabinet member and drawer member.

Start by marking locations for the cabinet members per manufacturer specifications. Attach cabinet members to interior sides of the cabinet using screws.

Insert drawer members onto the drawers, usually under the drawer box. Slide drawer onto track to mesh the sections. Adjust as needed until the drawer seats correctly.

Lubricating slides with a dry lubricant spray can improve glide motion. Follow directions to securely attach any provided anti-tip brackets. Test drawer function several times.

Step 6 – Hanging Doors

Cabinet doors often arrive separately wrapped to prevent damage during shipping. Start by marking each door’s cabinet opening.

Lay door on a flat surface with the interior side facing up. Align hinges per instruction guide recommendations and pre-drill holes.

Attach hinge to cabinet door first using provided screws. Adjust screws to control door overlay and reveal. Then mount hinge cups to cabinet face frames.

Snap doors onto hinges and test opening motion. Adjust as needed so the gap between doors is consistent when closed. Verify doors sit flush and do not rock.

Step 7 – Adding Decorative Touches

Details like trim, molding and crown can enhance the style of your RTA cabinets. These accessories mount to cabinet frames using glue, nails, and wood fillers.

Carefully measure and cut any pieces needed to size using a miter saw. Use scarf joints to join trim and molding ends at corners.

Apply wood glue to back of trim and press in place on cabinets. Nail with finishing nails, fill holes, then touch up paint or stain.

Lightly sand any areas where filler was used before painting or staining to achieve a smooth finish. Apply necessary coats of paint or topcoat evenly across all cabinetry.

Step 8 – Installing Countertops

The final step involves installing your countertop onto the completed cabinet bases. This requires careful measurement and drilling for precise cut outs.

Set the countertop on cabinets and check overhang is sufficient but not excessive. Mark cut lines for sink, stove, and any appliances.

Following countertop instructions, drill holes for faucet fixtures. Use a jigsaw to cut out the sink opening. Sand cut edges smooth.

Dry fit the countertop and make any necessary adjustments. Run a bead of adhesive on cabinet top frames. Carefully lower countertop into place and press down firmly to adhere.

If your countertop will be tiled, install appropriate subsurface now according to manufacturer directions. Let adhesive fully cure before use.

Helpful Tips and Tricks

Follow these pointers gathered from experienced DIYers and YouTube tutorials to make your RTA cabinet assembly go smoothly:

  • Review all instructions thoroughly before starting. Never assume steps.
  • Work on a soft, protective surface to avoid scratches.
  • Have someone assist with large cabinets to prevent injury.
  • Tighten screws firmly but not excessively to avoid stripping.
  • Check for square often as you assemble using tape measure diagonals.
  • Use shims liberally to plumb and level cabinets during install.
  • Pre-drill holes when screwing into ends/edges to prevent splitting.
  • Wipe up glue immediately to prevent dried blob messes.
  • Work slowly and patiently to complete all details properly. Rushing leads to errors.
  • Label cabinets, hardware and parts to prevent mix ups.
  • Let adhesive fully cure before adding weight or stress to cabinets.

Frequently Asked Questions

What fasteners join RTA cabinets together?

RTA cabinets use cam locks, screws, and sometimes dowels to join components. Self-tapping screws drive into pre-drilled pilot holes to secure pieces.

Should I use glue when assembling RTA cabinets?

Yes, applying wood glue at joints strengthens connections. Wipe away excess immediately to prevent drips or residue.

Do RTA cabinets need shimming during installation?

Yes, use shims when mounting cabinets to ensure they are plumb and level. Shims also fill any gaps against the wall.

What’s the best way to drill pilot holes in RTA cabinets?

Use a sharp drill bit slightly smaller than the screws. Drill pilot holes to just over half the screw length to avoid splitting.

Should I sand RTA cabinets before finishing or painting?

Lightly sanding cabinets helps adhesion and smooths any rough edges from cuts. Use fine 120-150 grit sandpaper and wipe clean of dust.

How long should I let RTA cabinet glue dry before use?

Let glue cure for at least 24 hours before loading weight onto cabinets. Some adhesives may require 48-72 hours to fully set.


Assembling RTA cabinets might seem intimidating, but trusted YouTube tutorials provide all the visual guidance needed to DIY the process. Appropriate tools, workspace, and some patience are all it takes to unlock the benefits of installing ready-to-assemble kitchen cabinets on your own.

Carefully following the steps outlined above and paying close attention to your cabinet instructions will set you up for success. Take things slowly, double check your work, and don’t be afraid to leverage the knowledge shared by experienced YouTube creators.

The satisfaction and cost savings derived from self-installed RTA cabinets makes the assembly process well worthwhile. In a relatively short time, you can completely transform your kitchen with beautiful new cabinets that suit your cooking needs and style.