Ready-to-assemble (RTA) kitchen cabinets provide a convenient and affordable way to get a custom look for your kitchen without the high cost of fully customized cabinetry. Assembling RTA cabinets yourself can save thousands over hiring a professional, and with good instructions and some basic DIY skills, you can complete the project in a weekend. This comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know to successfully assemble and install RTA kitchen cabinets like a pro.

Planning Your RTA Kitchen Cabinet Installation

Careful planning is crucial before starting your RTA cabinet assembly and installation project. Proper planning will help the project go smoothly and ensure your finished kitchen looks cohesive and professional.

Choose an Installation Order

It’s best to install cabinets in a specific order:

  • Corner cabinets and other specialty cabinet shapes
  • Wall cabinets
  • Base cabinets
  • Islands or peninsulas

Installing corner and other uniquely shaped cabinets first allows you to position the more standard wall and base cabinets around them.

Gather Tools and Materials

Assembling and installing kitchen cabinets requires some specialty tools and materials. Be sure to have these items on hand before beginning:

  • Power drill and drill bits
  • Driver bits (Phillips and square)
  • Level
  • Stud finder
  • Pry bar
  • Clamps
  • Safety glasses and gloves
  • Rags
  • Pencil/marker
  • Tape measure
  • Shim
  • Cabinet screws
  • Wood filler
  • Touch up paint/stain

Read All Instructions Thoroughly

Before assembling anything, read through the installation manuals and instructions for your RTA cabinets. Get familiarized with how the cabinets are put together, the hardware needed, and installation steps. Being familiar with the process ahead of time will allow the installation to go more smoothly.

Have a Helper

Because most cabinet boxes are large and awkward to maneuver, having an extra set of hands will make assembling and installing cabinets much easier. If possible, enlist the help of a friend or family member.

Clear the Installation Space

Remove everything from the area where new cabinets will be installed. This includes existing cabinets, countertops, sinks, appliances, flooring, and anything attached to the walls. Having an empty space allows you to move freely and access walls and flooring during installation.

Assembling RTA Kitchen Cabinets

Once your space is prepped, it’s time to put the RTA cabinets together. Assembling cabinets is the most time-consuming portion of the project but following instructions carefully will ensure this process goes smoothly.

Work on a Soft Surface

Choose a large, soft surface like carpet or cardboard to assemble the cabinets on. This will help prevent scratches, dents, or other damage to cabinet parts during assembly.

Check Box Contents

Unpack boxes and take inventory of all cabinet parts and hardware before assembling anything. Refer to included instructions to identify each component. Ensuring you have all necessary pieces makes the assembly process easier.

Follow Instructions

Cabinet manufacturers provide specific assembly instructions tailored to their products. Follow these closely, as the order of steps differs between cabinet brands. Do not try to assemble cabinets without instructions.

Attach Side Panels First

Typically, the first step is attaching side panels to the top and bottom of the cabinet box using screws. Using a power drill, carefully drive screws through pre-drilled holes. Do not overtighten.

Add Shelves and Interior Parts

Once cabinet boxes are assembled, install all included interior shelving, drawers, and other inside parts per instructions. Adjustable shelves usually fit into precut slots while drawers slide into drawer glides.

Install Doors and Drawer Fronts

Cabinet and drawer fronts attach to the box using hinges. Adjust hinges so doors align with cabinet fronts. Use a level to ensure doors hang straight. Adjust hinges until door alignment is perfect.

Label Cabinets

As you assemble cabinets, label them on the inside to indicate their position. For example, label a corner cabinet as “Left Corner Upper” for easy identification during installation.

Preparing for RTA Cabinet Installation

After assembly, you’ll need to make some preparations before actually installing the new cabinets. Proper prep work ensures the cabinets function and look their best.

Touch Up Cabinet Finish

Use touch up paint or stain markers to cover any nicks, scratches, or unpainted areas on newly assembled cabinets. Match touch up finish to existing cabinet finish. Allow paint or stain to fully cure before installation.

Install Knobs and Pulls

Attach all hardware like knobs, pulls, or handles to doors and drawers following the hardware spacing guidelines provided. Consistent hardware placement gives a professional look.

Add Molding or Trim

If desired, attach any decorative trim, molding, or false panels to cabinet frames. Nail into place with finishing nails, fill holes with wood filler, and touch up with paint if needed.

Apply Protective Film

Apply peel and stick protective film to the bottom edge of wall cabinet bottom panels. This guards against damage when installing cabinets against walls.

Gather Installation Supplies

Have shims, level, drill, stud finder, screws, and other supplies ready for the installation process. Stage everything conveniently in the workspace.

Establish Baseline

On the lowest wall cabinet run, determine a level baseline to align all upper cabinets with. Use a level and pencil to make a continuous straight line guiding installation.

Installing RTA Kitchen Cabinets

Once planning, assembly, and prep work is complete, it’s time for the fun part – installing the brand new RTA kitchen cabinets! Follow these tips to hang cabinets like a professional.

Start with Wall Cabinets

The easiest place to start is by installing wall cabinets first. This allows you to ensure upper cabinets are level and provides a surface to balance base cabinets on later.

Mark Stud Locations

Find and mark the location of all wall studs in the installation area using a stud finder. Cabinets must be screwed securely into studs for proper support.

Lift Cabinets Safely

Use smart lifting techniques and get help to avoid injury when raising heavy cabinets into place. Keep your back straight and lift with legs when positioning cabinets.

Attach Cabinets to Wall

Using the baseline, align wall cabinets and use a level to ensure they sit straight. Attach to studs through back rails using at least 3 long cabinet screws per stud.

Use Shims Liberally

Shim under cabinets as needed to level them or fill any gaps against the wall. Ensure wall cabinets align with baseline before screwing into studs.

Install Filler Strips

Measure space between corner cabinets or appliances. Cut and install filler strips to fill the gaps and allow cabinets to sit flat against walls.

Install Base Cabinets

Set base cabinets in place, resting on wall cabinets or shims. The bottom face frame should sit flush on the floor. Use shims to level and screw into studs.

Secure Cabinets Together

Screw adjacent cabinets together through side walls. Predrill holes to prevent splitting. This joins cabinets for greater stability and a seamless look.

Attach Countertops

Once cabinets are installed, take careful measurements and use heavy duty adhesive and lumber blocking to secure purchased countertops. Follow countertop guidelines.

Helpful Tips for RTA Cabinet Installation

Follow these additional pointers to make your cabinet installation process easier and achieve a professional looking finished kitchen:

  • Tighten screws just until snug – overtightening can damage cabinet parts
  • Fill all screw holes and gaps with wood filler for a seamless appearance
  • Use scrap wood cut to size as spacers when needed for accurate spacing between cabinets
  • Work slowly and methodically to ensure cabinets align and level properly
  • Use a nail gun instead of hammer to quickly attach decorative trim and fittings
  • Touch up cabinet finish again after installation to cover any new damage
  • Update existing lighting, hardware, sink, faucet and appliances to complement new cabinet look
  • Add under cabinet lighting wired to existing kitchen electrical for brilliant work surface illumination

Frequently Asked Questions about Assembling RTA Cabinets

Many common questions come up when tackling a DIY RTA cabinet installation project. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions.

Do I Need to be Handy to Assemble and Install RTA Cabinets?

Basic DIY skills are all that is needed. Following included instructions and taking your time leads to success. No woodworking experience is required.

What Tools Do I Need for RTA Cabinet Installation?

Have a power drill, drill bits, driver bits, pry bar, hammer, level, stud finder, clamps, tape measure, shims, and screws on hand. Safety glasses and gloves are also recommended.

What is the Best Order for Installing Cabinets?

Install corner or specialty cabinets first, then standard wall cabinets, followed by base cabinets and islands/peninsulas. Complete one section fully before moving to the next.

How Do I Ensure Cabinets Are Installed Straight and Level?

Use a level often during install. Shim cabinets to adjust alignment. Trace a level line to guide wall cabinet installation. Remove high points in flooring if needed.

What is the Best Way to Fill Gaps Between Cabinets?

Use filler strips cut from scrap wood for small gaps under 1 inch. Apply caulk for very small gaps. For larger gaps, reposition cabinets or add additional filler cabinets.

Should I Hire a Contractor for RTA Cabinet Installation?

With good instructions, you can install RTA cabinets yourself and save significant cost. However, hiring a contractor provides an experienced professional and may be worth it for complex projects.


Assembling and installing RTA kitchen cabinets is an achievable DIY project for most homeowners. By carefully planning your design, gathering the right tools and supplies, following instructions, and taking your time, you can save thousands and end up with a stunning, professional-quality kitchen. Use the techniques outlined to confidently install RTA cabinets like an expert. With strategic planning and hard work, you’ll have a beautiful and functional new kitchen to enjoy for years to come.