Ready-to-assemble (RTA) kitchen cabinets offer an affordable and customizable way to update your kitchen. Installing wall cabinets is one of the most important parts of the project to get right. Proper installation ensures your cabinets are secure, level, and have the right amount of support.

Hanging wall cabinets can seem intimidating for DIYers. But it’s completely doable if you take the time to prepare, use the right tools, and follow installation best practices. We’ll walk through a step-by-step guide to teach you exactly how to hang RTA wall cabinets like a pro.

Introduction to Hanging RTA Wall Cabinets

RTA cabinets come disassembled in a flat box you put together yourself. They typically include all the hardware and components needed for installation right in the box.

Wall cabinets form the upper portion of your kitchen’s storage and design. They are mounted on the wall above countertops, ranges, sinks, and other base cabinetry. Wall cabinets are commonly 12″, 15″, 18″, or 24″ deep.

Benefits of RTA Wall Cabinets:

  • Cost effective – DIY RTA cabinets are up to 50% less than custom cabinetry
  • Convenient – Shipped fully assembled for easy installation
  • Customizable – Available in endless color, style, and sizing options
  • Quality materials – Made of durable plywood boxes and solid face frames

Proper installation is crucial to realizing these benefits. Fortunately, with the right prep work and tools, you can hang your RTA wall cabinets in your kitchen successfully.

Supplies Needed

Gather these supplies before getting started:

  • RTA wall cabinets and hardware
  • Level – A 4-foot level is best for checking cabinet alignment
  • Stud finder – To locate wood studs behind the wall
  • Drill/driver – Cordless drill with Phillips head attachment
  • Cabinet screws ● 1-5/8′′ screws for studs, 2-1/2′′ screws for drywall with anchors
  • Pry bar – To position cabinets into place on the wall
  • Shims – For leveling cabinets and filling gaps
  • Cabinet clamps – To hold cabinets flush to walls while fastening
  • Pencil – To mark stud locations and level lines
  • Tape measure – For marking stud centers and cabinet spacing
  • Ladder – For reaching upper cabinets
  • Assistant – For helping lift and hold cabinets in place

Cabinet Installation Basics

Before grabbing your toolbox, understand these key steps you’ll take:

  1. Find and mark wall stud locations
  2. Determine cabinet layout and spacing
  3. Pre-drill holes for screws in cabinet backs
  4. Attach wall cleats or rails at proper height
  5. Lift cabinets and fasten to cleats and wall studs
  6. Level and adjust cabinets as needed
  7. Install filler strips, trim, and scribes as needed

Having a plan will make the installation process go smoothly. Now let’s look at each step in detail.

Locating and Marking Wall Studs

Wall cabinets must be securely fastened to wall studs for proper support. Here’s how to find and mark the studs:

  1. Use a stud finder to locate studs. Run the finder vertically along the wall to detect stud edges.
  2. Mark the center of each stud with pencil lines. Mark vertically for easy use when installing.
  3. Confirm stud centers are 16″ or 24″ apart. Adjust if needed.
  4. Write the width of each stud bay on the wall. This helps quick placement.
  5. Draw plumb vertical reference lines for drilling and installing.

Be sure to locate studs across the entire installation area. Having multiple marks ensures you can attach at studs for every cabinet.

Planning Cabinets Layout and Spacing

Proper planning of the wall cabinet layout ensures your project goes smoothly. Follow these planning tips:

  • Consider traffic flow – Don’t put cabinets where they obstruct room flow and openings.
  • Allow for window and door trim – Leave room for trim and moldings around these openings.
  • Match existing layout – Keep sink, range, and other components in the same place.
  • Equalize cabinet spacing – Strive for equal spacing between cabinets for best look.
  • Mind code compliance – Keep 18″ minimum between countertops and cabinets.
  • Allow for misses – Leave a 1/16″ gap between cabinet sides after installing.

Measure precisely between windows, doors, and other obstructions. Then mark your stud bay widths equally. Having a detailed plan minimizes mistakes.

Pre-Drilling Cabinet Backs

Pre-drilling holes in cabinet backs makes installation much easier. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Lay cabinet back down flat. Use a sturdy, clean surface.
  2. Locate the wall stud marks from center to center.
  3. Draw a plumb line at each stud mark on the cabinet back.
  4. Drill pilot holes down each plumb line from top to bottom. Space holes 6″ to 8″ apart.
  5. Drill holes slightly wider than the screws – 3/32″ for coarse threads and 1/8″ for fine threads.
  6. Drill through the back board only, not through the cabinet sides.
  7. Repeat the process to pre-drill all cabinets.

Having pre-drilled pilot holes allows you to quickly align and attach cabinets on the wall.

Hanging Wall Cabinet Cleats or Rails

Wall cleats (also called hanging strips or ledgers) give cabinets extra support and alignment. Here are tips for installing them:

  • Use 1×3 or 1×4 wood strips for cleats. Cut them to width of cabinet boxes.
  • Attach cleats horizontally at desired cabinet height. Screw into studs only.
  • Place cleats level and flush with stud reference lines. Use shims if needed.
  • Leave 1/8″ gap between cleats to allow adjusting side-to-side.
  • Alternative to cleats is a horizontal hanging rail screwed to wall.

Cleats should be screwed into studs, not just drywall. They support cabinet weight and keep them square.

Lifting and Fastening Cabinets to Wall

Now comes the most strenuous part – lifting and securing the cabinets. Follow these steps:

  1. Have a helper lift cabinet into place against the wall.
  2. Align pre-drilled holes with wall stud markings.
  3. Use a pry bar inserted in cabinet front frame to maneuver into position. Don’t pry on sides or back.
  4. Add shims above and below cleats to stabilize and level the cabinet.
  5. Drill course-thread wood screws through back holes into wall studs.
  6. Change to fine-thread screws for the last 1/2″ depth to prevent splitting back board.
  7. Do not over-tighten screws. Check for cabinet movement and plumb.
  8. Remove shims and cleats only after all cabinets are installed.

Take your time to ensure cabinets mount flush and stable on the wall. Having an assistant makes this process much easier.

Leveling and Adjusting Wall Cabinets

Minor adjustments may be needed to achieve perfectly level and aligned cabinets:

  • Verify level front-to-back with a 4′ level across cabinet bottom. Shim to adjust.
  • Confirm plumb side-to-side with level held vertically on face frame.
  • Check for any cabinet rotation. Loosen screws and shim to correct.
  • Inspect if gaps between cabinets are consistent. Adjust to equalize.
  • Test doors and drawers for proper reveal and operation after leveling.
  • Make sure cabinet sides are flush. Adjust up/down or in/out if needed.
  • The toe-kick board can cover small gaps at the bottom later.

Take time when leveling to get the cabinets perfect. The results are well worth it after you complete installation.

Installing Filler Strips, Trim, and Scribes

The last installation steps involve adding finish pieces:

  • Filler strips fill gaps between cabinets or walls. Cut strips of paneling or molding to size.
  • Trim gives cabinets a built-in custom look. Install along cabinet tops, bottoms, and sides if desired.
  • Scribes are custom cut cabinet side pieces to match uneven walls. Trace wall outline to cut scribe to shape.

Finish the job like a pro with these final trim details. Then add knobs, shelves, and doors to complete your new wall cabinet installation.

Frequently Asked Questions About Hanging Wall Cabinets

How high should wall cabinets be installed?

  • Standard height is 18″ above the countertop surface. This provides adequate clearance.
  • Can adjust up or down a few inches for a custom look or the needs of different height users.

What height are upper wall cabinets?

  • Standard upper cabinets are 30-36″ high. They mount 18″ over a 36″ high base cabinet typically.
  • Tall wall cabinets (36-42″) give you maximum storage capacity.
  • 12″ deep wall cabinets keep reach close. Deeper is better for large plates.

How much weight can wall cabinets hold?

  • Standard RTA cabinets can safely hold up to 50 pounds each without added support.
  • Add an extra cleat mid-cabinet height if storing heavier items.
  • For heavy items use sturdy base cabinets, not wall cabinets.

How do you secure cabinets to drywall without studs?

  • Use molly bolts, toggle bolts, or Togglers inserted in holes drilled into just drywall.
  • Drive screws through cabinet back into anchors to securely mount to wall alone.
  • Limit drywall mounted cabinet weight to 25 pounds max.

How are wall cabinets attached together?

  • Long screws driven into adjacent cabinet ends or face frame stiles connect them. Predrill holes first.
  • Drawer slides for cabinet bases can also interconnect the cabinet boxes.
  • Hanging on cleats helps keep them aligned side-by-side.


Installing wall cabinets is an achievable DIY project with proper planning, tools, and help. Follow the detailed steps for locating studs, planning layout, pre-drilling, mounting cleats, lifting into place, leveling, and adding trim. Precision at each stage ensures your cabinets mount securely and operate smoothly.

The investment of time and care pays off with beautiful, functional new cabinets that make your kitchen more enjoyable. Just be sure to get a helper for lifting, have your layout planned, and take your time to get it right.

How to Hang RTA Wall Cabinets Step-by-Step

Gather the Right Tools and Supplies

To hang wall cabinets like a pro, you need the proper tools and supplies on hand. Having everything prepared ahead of time makes the installation process go faster and smoother. Here’s a checklist of must-have items:

  • Stud finder – essential for locating studs behind the wall
  • Level – a 4-foot level helps get cabinets aligned and level
  • Drill – cordless drill with Phillips head driver bit for pre-drilling and driving screws
  • Pencil – for marking stud locations, cabinet layout, and drilling guides
  • Tape measure – measure and mark stud spacing for fast locating
  • Pry bar – helps maneuver cabinets into position on the wall
  • Shims – for stabilizing cabinets and leveling
  • Cabinet clamps – hold cabinets flush while attaching to wall
  • Ladder – for reaching and fastening upper wall cabinets
  • Wall cleats – provide alignment track and support for cabinets
  • Screws – cabinet screws for wood studs and drywall anchors
  • Cabinets – have cabinets and hardware unpacked and ready
  • Helper – an assistant makes lifting and installing much easier

Investing in quality tools like levels, drills, stud finders, and ladders pays dividends in ease of installation. Prepare and lay out all supplies before starting.

Mark Stud Locations on the Wall

Locating and marking the position of studs is crucial before installing wall cabinets. Here are the steps:

  1. Use an electronic stud finder to detect stud edges. Mark vertical plumb lines at the center of each stud.
  2. Confirm stud spacing is 16” or 24” on center. Adjust marks if needed.
  3. Mark the width of each stud bay on the wall using your tape measure.
  4. Identify any utilities or obstructions. Adjust cabinet layout to avoid conflicts.
  5. Draw reference lines to represent the face frame edges of each cabinet.
  6. Extend horizontal level lines across entire installation area to clearly see marks.

Thoroughly marking stud positions on the wall makes it easy to locate them when fastening cabinets during installation. Take time to measure and mark accurately.

Plan Cabinet Layout and Spacing

Proper planning of the wall cabinet layout is crucial for success. Follow these tips when laying out the cabinet plan:

  • Check traffic flow paths. Avoid placing cabinets where they will obstruct room openings and walkways.
  • Take window, door trim, and moldings into consideration. Leave adequate space for these features.
  • Try to keep sink, range, outlets, and appliances in the same location if possible.
  • Strive for consistent spacing between cabinets for the most seamless appearance.
  • Allow for filler strips and panels between cabinets and walls.
  • Leave 1/16” gap between cabinets after installing to allow opening doors without interference.
  • Mind code minimums for clearance between cabinet bottoms and countertops.

Measure precisely and mark stud centers equally on the wall. Transfer marks to cabinet backs when pre-drilling. A detailed layout minimizes issues down the road.

Pre-Drill Holes in Cabinet Backs

Pre-drilling holes for the cabinet mounting screws makes installing easier. Follow these steps:

  1. Lay cabinet backs down on a flat sturdy surface. Have edges aligned square.
  2. Transfer your stud center marks from the wall layout to the cabinet backs.
  3. Draw plumb lines extending top to bottom at each stud mark.
  4. Drill pilot holes down the plumb lines spaced about 6-8” apart.
  5. Use a drill bit slightly larger than the screw – 3/32” for coarse thread and 1/8” for fine thread screws.
  6. Drill through back boards only. Do not drill through cabinet sides or face frames.
  7. Take time to pre-drill holes in all cabinets before installing.

Precisely pre-drilling holes allows you to swiftly align cabinets and drive screws during mounting.

Mount Wall Cleats at Proper Height

Wall cleats or hanging strips provide alignment, support, and an attachment surface for driving screws. Here’s how to install them:

  • Use 1×2, 1×3, or 1×4 lumber to make cleats. Cut cleats equal to the cabinet widths.
  • Mount cleats horizontally at the desired cabinet height. Only attach into wall studs, not just drywall.
  • Ensure cleats mount level and are aligned with stud layout lines. Shim if necessary.
  • Leave a 1/8” gap between cleats to allow for minor side-to-side adjusting of cabinets.
  • An alternative is using a horizontal mounting rail securely screwed into wall studs.

Wall cleats bear the weight of cabinets and keep them square on the wall. Take time to attach them securely.

Lift Cabinets and Fasten to Cleats and Wall Studs

Lifting wall cabinets into place and fastening to the wall is the most challenging install step. Follow these tips:

  • Have at least one helper to lift cabinets and hold in place on the wall. Do not attempt alone.
  • Align the pre-drilled holes on cabinet backs with wall stud markings.
  • Use a pry bar inserted into cabinet face frame to maneuver into proper position.
  • Add shims above and below cleats to stabilize and level cabinet.
  • Drive coarse thread wood screws through back into studs until tight.
  • Final half turn should use fine thread screws to avoid splitting cabinet backs.
  • Check for plumb, level, and lack of movement before removing shims.

Take your time fastening cabinets to get them solidly mounted and aligned properly on the wall.

Level and Adjust Cabinets

Minor adjustments may be needed to get cabinets perfectly level and aligned:

  • Check cabinet tops are level front to back. Shim fronts or backs to adjust.
  • Verify plumb alignments side to side. Loosen screws to straighten if needed.
  • Inspect for any cabinet rotation or twisting. Adjust shims to correct.
  • Confirm consistent spacing between adjacent cabinets. Fix gaps.
  • Ensure cabinet sides are flush without bowing. Adjust if required.
  • Test doors and drawers operate smoothly once leveled.
  • The toe-kick can hide small gaps at the bottom.

Take the time to carefully level and tune each cabinet’s position. The results make a big difference long term.

Add Finishing Trim Pieces

Finish off your cabinet installation by adding these final trim details:

  • Filler strips slide into place to fill gaps between cabinets or walls.
  • Trim molding gives a built-in custom look. Install along cabinet tops, bottoms, and exposed sides.
  • Scribe molding fits between uneven walls and cabinet sides. Trace wall outline and cut scribe to match.

Trim out your newly hung wall cabinets like a pro. Then install knobs, shelves, doors, and other accessories to put the finishing touches on your new kitchen.

Frequently Asked Questions About Cabinet Installation

How are wall cabinets attached to each other?

  • Use long screws pre-drilled into the adjacent cabinet ends or face frames to tie them together.
  • Full extension drawer slides also interconnect the cabinet boxes side-by-side.
  • Wall cleats align the cabinet sides flush if properly positioned.

What’s the standard height to mount wall cabinets?

  • Typical height is 18 inches above the countertop surface. This provides adequate clearance.
  • Height can be adjusted a few inches up or down for a custom look or to accommodate different user heights.

What’s the strongest way to mount cabinets on drywall without