Ready-to-assemble (RTA) cabinets provide a cost-effective option for renovating your kitchen. With RTA cabinets, you get the quality of custom cabinetry without the high price tag. RTA cabinets come with all the parts and hardware packed flat in a box for easy transport and require assembly. One of the biggest benefits of RTA cabinets is that you can customize them to perfectly fit your kitchen space. This often requires cutting cabinet parts to the exact size you need. With some basic tools and the right techniques, you can learn how to cut RTA cabinets like a pro.

Gather the Proper Tools and Materials

Cutting RTA cabinets requires using the right tools and safety equipment. Trying to cut cabinets with improper or dull tools can lead to inaccurate cuts, damaged materials, and injury. Here are the essential tools you’ll need:

  • Circular saw – Choose a corded 7-1/4” circular saw with an adjustable cutting depth and blade angle. A carbide-tipped plywood cutting blade is ideal.
  • Straightedge – Use a 4-foot level or longer straightedge guide to ensure straight cuts. Clamps can help secure it.
  • Safety gear – Wear safety goggles, ear protection, gloves, and a dust mask when cutting. The sawing process produces lots of sawdust and debris.
  • Additional supplies – Have a power outlet nearby if using a corded saw. An optional cutting mat can help protect cabinet surfaces. Apply painter’s tape along cut lines to help prevent splintering wood.
  • Vacuum – A shop vac helps contain dust and debris while cutting and final cleanup.
  • Carpenter’s square – Accurately mark cut lines before sawing using a sturdy, steel carpenter’s square.
  • Pencil – Use a sharp pencil when marking cut lines to help differentiate them after cutting.
  • Tape measure – A 25-foot tape measure lets you precisely measure and mark cutting lines.

Gathering the right cutting tools and taking safety precautions makes cutting RTA cabinets quicker and easier. Investing in quality tools also leads to better results.

Prepare the Cabinets for Cutting

Before starting any cutting, take time to prepare the RTA cabinet parts for the sawing process. Proper preparation helps ensure straight cuts right where you want them. Follow these tips:

  • Review design plans – Study the cabinet designs and confirm where you need to trim parts to fit your kitchen’s dimensions. Measure against the actual installation space.
  • Unpack cabinets – Unbox the cabinets and unroll any wrapped doors and drawers. Let all parts acclimate to indoor temperature and humidity for 48 hours before cutting.
  • Stabilize parts – Clamp a straightedge guide onto large flat panels to keep them stable when cutting. Place doors inside a door jamb clamp.
  • Clean surfaces – Wipe away any dirt, oil or grease from cabinet surfaces before cutting to prevent blade contamination and dulling.
  • Optimize layout – Position cabinet parts in the optimal cutting position. Place the good side face down when cutting to reduce tear-out splintering on the finished edge.
  • Check blade – Ensure the circular saw blade runs true and has sharp, clean teeth before starting cuts. Replace worn blades.

Following these preparation steps allows you to cut cabinets with greater control and precision. It also reduces errors that could ruin cabinet parts. The time spent on planning and setup makes cutting easier and improves results.

Measure, Mark, and Align Cut Lines

With the tools gathered and cabinet parts prepared, you can start marking where you will cut them. Accurately measuring and marking the cut lines ensures a proper fit in the kitchen. Keep these tips in mind:

  • Reference plans – Double check the exact measurements needed against the kitchen plans before marking cut lines. Account for the blade thickness, usually 1/8”.
  • Use framing square – Lock a carpenter’s framing square in place to draw straight cut lines across cabinet parts. Make sure the square is set at an exact 90° angle.
  • Mark clearly – Use sharp pencil lead and make score marks with firm pressure so cut lines are visible. Darken lines using repeated strokes for high contrast.
  • Label cuts – Write what the cut dimension will be directly on the cabinet part. For example, write “Cut to 36 in.” This helps avoid confusion later.
  • Set stop block – For multiple same-sized cuts, use a stop block clamped to the straightedge to quickly align cut marks the same distance from the edge.
  • Double check – Verify the measurements between marks and from cabinet edges before cutting to confirm they are correct. Use a framing square to check for square.

Following proper measuring techniques and clearly marking cut lines is crucial for accurately sizing RTA cabinets. Always remember to measure twice and cut once to avoid costly errors. Take time to get this step right.

Clamp Straightedge to Guide Saw

Once you’ve marked the cut lines, attach a straightedge guide to the cabinets to guide the circular saw for straight, accurate cuts. Here are some tips on positioning the straightedge:

  • Use a straightedge at least as long as the cabinet part – A longer straightedge provides better support. Select one that overhangs each end by at least 6 inches.
  • Position near the waste side – Place the straightedge guide on the waste piece side, away from the finished cut edge. This reduces tear-out.
  • Align to cut mark – Position the straightedge so the edge runs directly along the cut mark line. Double check alignment.
  • Secure with clamps – Use locking C-clamps or spring clamps to firmly secure the straightedge to the cabinet in several spots. Avoid movement.
  • Check for square – Confirm the straightedge sits at a perfect 90° angle to the end of the cabinet using a try square. Adjust if needed.
  • Use saw guide – Engage the edge guide on the circular saw’s baseplate and align it against the straightedge’s side for smooth guiding along the cut.

Installing the straightedge guide properly helps the circular saw track in a straight line for the entire length of the cut. Taking time to position and secure the straightedge helps ensure quality cuts.

Adjust Saw Settings and Technique

With the straightedge clamped in the proper position, adjust the circular saw settings and use the right technique when making cabinet cuts:

  • Set blade depth – Adjust the blade cutting depth to extend about 1/4-inch below the cabinet material thickness. A deeper cut won’t improve quality.
  • Check blade angle – Set the bevel angle to 0° for straight cuts. Engage the blade angle detente pin if available.
  • Make practice cuts – Using expendable scrap material, make practice cuts with the saw along the straightedge to check technique and dial-in blade settings.
  • Support workpiece – Support overhanging cabinet parts on sawhorses or boxes on the waste side to prevent sagging when cutting.
  • Start saw gently – Rest the front saw edge on the cabinet, power up the saw and let the blade gradually ramp up to full speed before slowly easing into the cut.
  • Use smooth motion – Apply firm pressure down on the rear handle to prevent blade jumping and smoothly push the saw along the straightedge path, keeping it tight to the guide.
  • Cut past mark – Make the cut about 1-inch past the actual cut line mark to ensure cutting through any blade wander at the start.
  • Turn off saw – Don’t pull the running saw back at the end of a cut. Stop moving, allow the blade to stop turning, then lift straight up and turn off.

Properly adjusting the circular saw and using good technique prevents mistakes, keeps cuts straight and reduces splintering. Take your time and don’t rush through the cuts. Practice helps perfect your method.

Make Relief Cuts on Plywood Edges

When crosscutting sheet goods like plywood cabinet panels, splintering can occur along the cut edge without proper precautions. Making shallow relief cuts on the waste side before the main cut helps prevent splintering on plywood:

  • Mark relief cuts – Mark two relief cut lines on the waste piece side, one about 1-inch from and parallel to the main cut, and another 1⁄4-inch from the edge.
  • Adjust depth – Set the circular saw blade cutting depth to about 1/8-inch to make shallow relief cuts. The small carbide trim saw teeth work well.
  • Make relief cuts – Position a straightedge to align to the relief cut lines and make the two shallow slices into the plywood face laminate on the waste side using the circular saw.
  • Reset depth – Adjust the blade depth back to 1/4-inch for the full cut through the plywood thickness.
  • Complete crosscut – Move the straightedge to align with the main cut line and make the full cut. The relief cuts help prevent splintering.

Relief cuts add just minutes to the process but dramatically improve cut quality on plywood panels. Use this trick anytime crosscutting sheet goods.

Make Incremental Decline Cuts

Large wide plywood panels used for cabinet tops and bottoms are often too wide to fit into the installation space and need to be incrementally tapered or declined on each end. Here is an effective technique:

  • Mark declines – Measure and mark decline cut lines on the bottom edge of the panel at each end. Double-check distance calculations.
  • Set fence – For the circular saw, set the edge guide distance from the blade to the thickness needed for the first increment cut. For example, for a 1-1⁄4” decline over 24”, set it to cut 1⁄4” off.
  • Make first decline cut – Align the saw fence to the first decline cut mark and cut the full panel width.
  • Adjust fence – For the second cut, widen the saw fence distance by another 1⁄4”.
  • Repeat cuts – Continue adjusting the fence and making additional incremental cuts across the panel ends until you reach the full decline distance needed.
  • Smooth edges – Use a random orbit sander with fine grit paper to lightly sand and smooth any slight ridges left between incremental cuts.

Executing decline cuts with this fence adjustment method ensures a consistent taper on panels. Go slow and double check fence measurements with each increment change.

Cut Notches and Holes

Cabinet parts often need notches and holes cut in specific spots to fit utilities, plumbing, and floor irregularities. Follow these tips for clean cuts:

  • Mark locations – Measure and mark cutout locations on the cabinet parts using a combination square to draw perpendicular lines. Triple check measurements.
  • Score cuts – Use a utility knife to score the outline of notches and holes about 1/8” deep. This helps prevent splintering.
  • Drill holes – For openings over 1-inch, use a hole saw bit sized about 1/8” smaller than needed. Drill a starter hole first on plywood.
  • Make notch cuts – Use the circular saw and straightedge to make a series of incremental and overlapping cuts to create small notches. Chisel out remaining waste.
  • Smooth edges – Carefully trim notch and hole edges smooth and square using a sharp chisel. Sand edges smooth. Vacuum dust.
  • Test fit – Dry assemble parts and test fit notches and holes to ensure proper alignment before final assembly. recut if needed.

Notching and drilling cabinet parts takes precision. Work slowly and double check alignments. A trial fitting is wise to confirm good fit.

Perform Finish Trimming

With cabinets assembled, there are often minor variations in dimensions, gaps, and alignment issues. Finish trimming ensures everything fits perfectly:

  • Inspect unions – Carefully examine joints between adjoining cabinet components. Look for any gaps, misalignment issues, high spots, or light showing through.
  • Mark trims – Lightly mark areas needing trimmed with a pencil. Use a filler gauge to mark uneven gaps for reference when trimming.
  • Adjust saw – Install a fine finish trim saw blade in the circular saw with aimed to cut very shallow, like 1/16” depth. Increase blade RPM speed.
  • Set straightedge – Position the straightedge guide on the reference marks and clamp in place. Make sure the saw edge guide runs against it.
  • Make light passes – Take light, multiple shallow passes with the saw rather than one deep cut to sneak up on the line. Go slow and check often.
  • Smooth edges – Use fine grit sandpaper to lightly sand trim cut edges for a smooth uniform surface. Be careful not to round over edges.
  • Test fit – Reassemble and check fit after each round of trimming to see where further adjustment is needed. Make additional light trimming cuts as needed.

Finish trimming provides the last step in perfecting the fit of RTA cabinet components. Taking the time to make these final adjustments helps achieve a flawless, professional-looking installation.

Safety Tips for Cutting RTA Cabinets

While cutting RTA cabinets is a very common DIY project, operating power saws requires safety awareness to prevent accidents and injuries. Keep these safety measures in mind:

  • Use eye and ear protection – Always wear safety goggles or glasses to shield your eyes from flying debris. Wear hearing protection such as earmuffs or earplugs to protect against loud saw noise.
  • Wear a dust mask – Use a N95-rated dust mask over your nose and mouth to avoid breathing in fine sawdust when cutting cabinets.
  • Don’t cut alone – Have someone else present in the work area to call for help in an emergency and provide an extra set of eyes to spot any unsafe practices.
  • Disconnect saw – Be sure to unplug a corded circular saw after finishing work. Don’t leave a running saw unattended.
  • Avoid awkward positions – Prevent poor footing, off-balance stances, or other awkward positions to maintain maximum control over the saw. Re-position workpieces or yourself as needed.
  • Keep hands clear – Keep hands and fingers well away from the saw blade, and be mindful of hand placement along the cutline.
  • Make sure work is secure – Ensure cabinet parts are completely stable and won’t shift or move when cutting. Use extra supports if needed.
  • Maintain tools – Keep saw blades sharpened and clean for optimal performance. Clean debris from the saw motor vents to prevent overheating.

Staying aware of safety comes first before making any cuts. Protect yourself with proper gear, secure the workpiece, focus on the cutting task and you’ll achieve great results while staying safe.

Common Cutting Mistakes to Avoid

Cutting RTA cabinets yourself provides big savings over paying retail shop rates. However, even tiny miscues can quickly ruin expensive cabinet parts. Be mindful to avoid these common pitfalls:

  • Rushing cuts – Slow down, avoid hurry, and focus fully on the cut to prevent expensive mistakes. Take time to think through each step.
  • Straightedge slips – Make sure the straightedge guide is clamped tightly in the exact position necessary before cutting to prevent blade drift.
  • Ill-marked cut lines – Legibly write the cut dimensions right on each work piece. Sloppy or faded marks can lead to incorrect cuts.
  • Measuring mistakes – Double check all cut measurements against kitchen plans twice. A third check is recommended using the “measure once, cut twice” rule.
  • Dull blades – Using worn out or damaged blades causes tear-out, ragged edges, and crooked cuts. Replace blades when needed.
  • No safety gear – Always using eye, ear and dust protection prevents injuries. Make them a hard habit with every cut.
  • Cutting too deep – Limit blade depth to no more than 1/4-inch past the bottom sheet surface to prevent cutting into cabinets.
  • Wrong saw blade – Ensure you use the right blade for the task, such as a plywood blade or fine finish blade to get clean results.

Staying mindful and avoiding common mistakes keeps your project on track. Allow plenty of time and don’t rush the cutting steps. Patience and care pays off!

Next Steps After Cutting

Once you’ve mastered all the cuts needed on your RTA cabinets, there are still some important steps to take after to ensure they get installed properly:

  • Test fit cabinets – Do a complete dry fit of all cabinets in their final positions to check for proper alignment before final fastening. Make any minor additional trimming cuts needed.
  • Edge band exposed plywood – Cover any cut plywood edges that will remain exposed after installation using iron-on plywood edge banding to give them a finished look.
  • Seal raw edges – Brush water-resistant wood glue on any raw wood or cuts that will be hidden to prevent moisture damage. Let it soak in fully before assembly.
  • Clean up – Carefully sand any small splinters, fuzz or rough spots on finished cabinet surfaces. Thoroughly vacuum up all sawdust and debris after cutting before final install.
  • Dispose waste – Break down large sheet good waste into smaller pieces that fit into trash containers. Recycle clean scrap wood when possible.
  • Review manual – Study the manufacturer’s assembly instructions to understand the cabinet joinery methods and proper assembly sequence before final construction.

Completing these finishing steps ensures your cabinets will come together into a stunning new kitchen. Taking the time to properly cut the cabinets sets the stage for DIY success.

Frequently Asked Questions about Cutting RTA Cabinets

Many homeowners installing RTA cabinets have additional questions about the cutting process. Here are answers to some of the most common inquiries:

Do I need special tools to cut RTA cabinets?

You can cut RTA cabinets using basic tools most DIYers already own. All that’s needed is a circular saw, straightedge guide, safety gear, squares, clamps, tape, and pencil. A table saw also works for some cuts, but is not essential. Good sharp blades designed for cutting plywood help achieve the best results.

Where should I do the cutting for RTA cabinets?

The most common place to cut RTA cabinets is on-site in the kitchen or install location. This allows you to take exact measurements and test fits. Make sure to use drop cloths and vacuum often. Alternatively, you can cut in a garage, basement, or outdoor workspace if needed.

What saw blade is best for cutting cabinets?

A sharp 7-1⁄4” circular saw blade specifically designed for cross-cutting plywood, with 40-50 carbide teeth, provides the best cut quality on RTA cabinets. Avoid using framing or aggressive masonry blades which