Ready to assemble (RTA) cabinets are a great option for DIYers looking to save money on their kitchen or bathroom remodels. RTA cabinets come unassembled with all the parts and hardware packed flat in a box for easy transport and require only simple tools like a screwdriver or drill for assembly. With some time and elbow grease, you can build your own quality cabinets and customize them exactly how you want. This guide will walk you through the entire process of how to build ready to assemble cabinets.

Planning Your RTA Cabinet Project

The first step for any remodeling project is planning and preparation. Building your own ready to assemble cabinets allows you a high degree of customization, but also requires more forethought and effort than installing pre-assembled cabinetry. Here are some important factors to consider before beginning:

Choose Cabinets and Design Layout

  • Determine the size, style, and color options for your cabinets based on the look you want and your kitchen or bathroom’s dimensions. Carefully measure to ensure the cabinets will fit.
  • Map out the cabinet layout and arrangement. Mark positions for corner cabinets, blind corner organizers, filler panels, etc.
  • Order all the RTA cabinet boxes, doors, drawers, and accessories needed for your design.

Gather Tools and Materials

  • You’ll need basic DIY tools like a drill, screwdriver, level, tape measure, stud finder, etc. For safety, work gloves and eye protection are recommended.
  • Stock up on building supplies like wood shims, filler material, screws, and adhesive. Get matching wood putty for any holes or imperfections after installation.
  • Have painter’s tape, clamps, a cut list, and pencil on hand. For ease, assemble in a spacious garage or room.

Prepare the Work Area

  • To begin installation, first remove existing cabinets, countertops, and flooring as needed.
  • Clean and prep the empty cabinet walls. Fill any holes in drywall and paint the walls.
  • Check for level and plumb. Use shims if the floor or walls are uneven.

Thorough planning and readiness will make the actual cabinet assembly quick and smooth.

How to Assemble RTA Cabinets

Once planning is complete, it’s time for the fun part – constructing the ready to assemble cabinets! Here are step-by-step instructions to properly assemble RTA kitchen or bathroom cabinets:

Organize the Cabinet Boxes and Hardware

  • Unpack all the flat packed RTA cabinet boxes and shelves and confirm you have all needed parts.
  • Sort the boxes by type – base cabinets, wall cabinets, filler panels, etc. Check for any defects.
  • Separate all hardware and fasteners into labeled bags or bins so they are easy to find.

Assemble Cabinet Boxes

  • Start with base cabinet boxes which get fastened directly to each other. Leave off doors, drawers and shelves for now.
  • Use cam locks, dowels, and corner blocks to join adjacent cabinet sides at seams. Drill pocket holes as needed.
  • Follow instructions to construct frames and attach cabinet backs. Check boxes are square.
  • Build all wall mount cabinets next using screws into pre-drilled holes to join pieces.

Install Doors and Drawers

  • Attach hinges to cabinet doors and fit onto base unit fronts using a drill. Adjust any gaps.
  • Insert drawer slides and rollers into drawer boxes. Test sliding action before attaching drawer fronts.
  • For lazy susans and other interior storage accessories, carefully assemble and fit into corner cabinets.

Add Interior Storage and Organizers

  • Cut shelving to length and insert shelf pins into pre-drilled cabinet holes. Install adjustable shelves.
  • Attach any specialty pull out racks, spinning organizers or other storage options per instructions.

With the cabinet boxes built, doors hung and shelves installed, your RTA cabinets are fully constructed and nearly ready to mount!

How to Install Ready to Assemble Cabinets

Installing assembled RTA cabinets involves carefully leveling, securing, and adjusting the units for a flawless fit. Follow these steps:

Level and Mark Mounting Positions

  • Based on your planned layout, mark stud locations for wall cabinets and position marks for base cabinets.
  • Use a level often to check for plumb and level across all mounting surfaces and cabinet locations.
  • Place a ledger board tightly along wall mounting rail marks to hold cabinets in place temporarily.

Mount Wall Cabinets First

  • Using at least 3 screws into studs, hang wall cabinets starting in the corner and working outward.
  • Use shims and spacers to adjust until each cabinet is level. Check rails are flush.
  • Install filler panels, crown molding and side or vertical valances that attach to wall cabinets.

Set Base Cabinets and Island

  • Lift base cabinets into place, align with marks and shim until level. Pre-drill holes into studs.
  • Secure through back panel into studs using at least 2 screws per stud. Attach adjacent bases together.
  • For standalone island, fully construct support base then place and bolt down countertop onto cabinets.

Complete Final Adjustments

  • Recheck all cabinets are plumb and securely attached, shimming any gaps.
  • Install matching molding and trim pieces around cabinet edges and where they meet walls.
  • Test doors and drawers function smoothly. Adjust hinges and slides as needed.

With some patience and attention to detail, your DIY RTA cabinets can look like they were professionally installed!

Customizing RTA Cabinets

Beyond just assembling ready to assemble cabinets, you can upgrade them to your own custom creation. Here are some easy ways to add personality and function with customization:

Stain, Paint or Glaze Cabinets

  • Stain or paint RTA cabinets to any color using wood stain, paint sprayer or brush. Always properly prep and coat surfaces.
  • For a worn, antiqued look add a glaze tint over stained or painted cabinets and wipe away excess.
  • Replace doors and drawers for an instant facelift. Add glass inserts, medallions or overlays.

Add Molding Details

  • Install crown molding across tops of wall cabinets for a finished built-in look.
  • Use bun feet, corbels, and side trim to embellish cabinet exteriors.

Include Functional Interior Storage

  • Take advantage of all usable space inside cabinets with roll outs, lazy susans, tilt-out trays, cabinet door racks, etc.
  • Adjust or add permanent shelving fitted for items of different heights and sizes.

Update Hardware

  • Dress up cabinets affordably by swapping out dated metal knobs or pulls for updated hardware in nickel, bronze or chrome.
  • Go modern with recessed handle-less doors and hidden hinge designs.

With the right creative touches, it’s easy to turn basic ready to assemble cabinets into stunning, custom-looking built-ins perfect for your space.

Maintaining and Repairing RTA Cabinets

Once installation is complete, a few regular maintenance tips will keep your DIY RTA cabinets looking like new for years:

  • Use cabinet liners and shelf pads to prevent scuffs and stains inside cabinet interiors.
  • Check drawers slide smoothly. Lubricate roller tracks periodically with silicone spray.
  • Verify door hinges are snug. Tighten any loose cabinet hardware as needed.
  • Clean cabinet exteriors using mild soap and water only. Avoid harsh cleaners.
  • For dents and scratches, carefully use wood filler and touch up with matching cabinet stain.
  • Replace damaged interior parts like broken shelves or slides. Check with the manufacturer.

With periodic upkeep and care, ready to assemble cabinets will withstand everyday wear and tear. Watch out for moisture damage which can warp cabinets over time. Immediately dry wipe any spills or leaks.

Ready to assemble cabinets are ideal for crafty homeowners with more time than money. Follow these tips for how to successfully build and install quality RTA cabinets with custom functionality and style. Let your DIY spirit shine by creating kitchen or bathroom cabinetry tailored exactly for your needs, abilities and budget.

Frequently Asked Questions About Building RTA Cabinets

Ready to assemble (RTA) cabinets allow you to build affordable, customized cabinets yourself. But many first-timers naturally have questions about constructing and installing ready to assemble cabinetry. Here are answers to some of the most common FAQs:

Are RTA cabinets low quality?

Not necessarily. Many RTA cabinet brands meet or exceed the quality of pre-assembled cabinets. Like any product, quality varies. Check materials, warranty and reviews. With proper assembly and care, RTA cabinets can last many years.

How difficult is it to assemble RTA cabinets?

Assembling cabinets is an intermediate skill project, but can be managed by anyone comfortable using basic tools and following instructions. Patience is key. Rush through assembly and you may end up with crooked or shoddy cabinets.

Can I install cabinets alone?

For safety it’s best to have at least one helper to assist with lifting cabinets and as an extra set of hands. Wall cabinets especially become very heavy and awkward for one person to maneuver onto a wall solo.

What tools do I need?

You’ll need common household tools like a stud finder, level, tape measure, drill, screwdriver, mallet, clamps, pencil and utility knife. Invest in quality tools that will make the job smoother.

How are RTA cabinets attached?

Cabinets connect to each other using screws, corner blocks, dowels or cam locks. They attach to walls by pre-drilling clearance holes and driving screws through the cabinet back panels directly into wall studs.

Can I customize RTA cabinet sizes?

RTA cabinets come in standard sizes, but can be trimmed down by cutting with a circular saw. End panels may need to be added if reducing depth. Customization flexibility is a perk of DIY cabinets.

How are cabinets adjusted after installing?

Use shims between cabinets or under base units as needed until level and plumb. Adjust shelves and tighten hardware. Test doors and drawers function properly and sand or trim any spots rubbing or catching.

Is installation help available?

Some RTA brands offer professional installation for an added fee if you prefer assistance getting cabinets properly adjusted and operational after assembly.

Careful preparation, patience and attention to detail are key when DIYing a project like building RTA cabinets. With the right know-how, you can install quality, customized and affordable cabinetry perfect for your space.


Constructing ready to assemble cabinets allows DIYers to upgrade their kitchen or bath with quality cabinets personalized to their space at a fraction of the cost of custom cabinetry. With the right planning, tools, materials and some elbow grease, RTA cabinets can be assembled and installed to look seamless. Follow the steps here for how to properly build, mount, customize and care for ready to assemble cabinets. The ability to choose your own cabinet sizes, finishes, and storage accessories makes the hands-on effort of assembling RTA cabinetry well worth it in the end. So break out the toolbelt and let your inner carpenter shine by building customized cabinets you can be proud of.