Ready-to-assemble (RTA) cabinets are a convenient and budget-friendly option for renovating your kitchen. RTA cabinets come unassembled in flat boxes, allowing for easier transportation and installation. With some basic tools and DIY skills, you can install RTA cabinets yourself and save on labor costs. This guide will walk you through the key steps for successfully ordering and installing RTA cabinets.

Choose a Cabinet Style

RTA cabinets are available in a wide variety of styles, materials, and colors to suit any design aesthetic. Consider the following when selecting your cabinet style:

Door Style

Common RTA cabinet door styles include:

  • Shaker: A simple, clean style with a recessed center panel and visible wood grain. Very versatile.
  • Slab: A flat, plain cabinet front with no contours. Offers a minimalist look.
  • Raised panel: Center panel is slightly raised from the frame for dimension. Traditional style.
  • Recessed panel: Center panel is recessed from the frame. Offers a subdued, simple look.
  • Beadboard: Vertical grooves mimic old-fashioned beadboard paneling. Cottage style.


RTA cabinets come in a variety of wood finishes and painted colors. For a touch of luxury, consider stained wood tones. For a clean, simple look, opt for painted cabinets in light or dark neutrals.

  • Wood stains: Oak, cherry, maple and hickory are popular wood RTA cabinet finishes. They showcase natural wood grain.
  • Painted: Opt for crisp whites, warm grays or rich colors for easy coordination. Can be customized.


Wood and thermally fused laminate (TFL) are the most common cabinet materials:

  • Solid wood RTA cabinets offer natural beauty and durability. Oak, maple and cherry woods are common.
  • Plywood RTA cabinets consist of solid wood framed panels with plywood center panel. Budget-friendly option.
  • Particleboard RTA cabinets with melamine or veneer provide affordability. Durability can vary.
  • Thermally fused laminate (TFL) offers a decorative laminate over particleboard. Budget-friendly and durable.

Choose Quality Hardware

Upgrade your RTA cabinets with quality hardware for a high-end look:

  • Knobs come in a range of shapes, sizes, materials and finishes. Opt for knobs sized as large as 3 inches for a high-impact look.
  • Handles can be chosen in different lengths for easy grip. Look for sturdy, durable metal hardware.
  • Hinges should fully conceal the cabinet interior when closed. Self-closing door hinges are convenient.
  • Drawer glides that are soft-closing prevent slamming and offer full extension for easy access.

Spend more on durable hardware like brass, iron or brushed nickel rather than cheap plastic hardware. Matching all of your hardware gives a unified, custom look.

Measure Carefully

Take time to carefully measure each section of your kitchen before ordering cabinets. Have a friend double check measurements for accuracy. Measure existing kitchen elements that will remain, such as:

  • Distance between floors and ceilings
  • Window and door locations
  • Ceiling soffits or overhangs
  • Appliance openings and clearances
  • Plumbing and electrical elements

Also measure for additions like new countertops, sinks, backsplashes and appliances. Having detailed measurements ensures your RTA cabinets will fit perfectly.

Plan the Cabinet Layout

Map out your cabinet layout based on your kitchen’s measurements and style needs. Consider:

  • Traffic flow for a triangular work zone
  • Placement of sinks, stove and appliances
  • Corner cabinet options and uses
  • Pantry, island and bar cabinetry needs
  • Cabinet widths, like 36-inch for refrigerators
  • Filler cabinets to handle angled walls

Also sketch any new lighting or electrical outlets needed. Planning the entire layout will help your RTA cabinet installation go smoothly and efficiently.

Select a Reputable Retailer

Order from a retailer that specializes in RTA cabinets and has extensive style and size options. Look for:

  • Established company with years of experience selling RTA cabinets
  • Hundreds of cabinet styles and sizes to choose from
  • Good reputation based on customer reviews
  • Detailed sizing options including quarter-inch cabinet size increments
  • Ability to customize cabinets with accessories like drawers

Avoid big box stores that focus on offering only a few standard RTA cabinet collections. Go with a dedicated RTA cabinet provider for best selection.

Choose Coordinating Countertops

Select countertop surfaces that coordinate well with your cabinet choice. Popular options include:

  • Laminate countertops: Affordable option that comes in many patterns and colors. Easy DIY installation.
  • Quartz countertops: Durable, low-maintenance engineered stone available in many colors. Seamless look.
  • Granite countertops: Elegant natural stone that can be locally fabricated. Enhances resale value.
  • Solid surface countertops: Made of synthetic materials like acrylic resin. Seamless look, heat-resistant.
  • Butcher block countertops: Offer warmth and can be installed as DIY project. Requires regular oiling.

Be sure to select a countertop depth that fits your cabinet size and style. Order countertops at the same time as cabinets for integrated installation.

Choose Delivery Options

RTA cabinet retailers offer different delivery methods to suit your needs:

  • Standard shipping: Lowest cost, shipped in multiple boxes to your door via common carrier.
  • White glove delivery: Hands-on service delivering boxes to your kitchen. Fee applies.
  • Threshold delivery: Cabinets packaged on pallets and shipped directly to your home.
  • Truck line delivery: For full access into home interior, ideal for large orders.

Check lead times and coordinate delivery with your installation date needs. Inspect all boxes for damage immediately and report any issues.

Prepare the Installation Space

To get your space ready for cabinet installation:

  • Remove existing cabinets, countertops, sinks and backsplashes.
  • Repair any water damage or issues with walls, floors or ceilings.
  • Paint the walls, trim, doors and any other elements getting refreshed.
  • Install new flooring if needed, allowing proper cabinet clearances.
  • Remove any door frames or soffits that impede cabinet placement.
  • Install additional electrical, plumbing or ventilation as planned.

Having a blank slate to start with ensures an efficient RTA cabinet installation.

Organize the Parts

Once cabinet boxes arrive, take time to organize all of the various parts and hardware. Steps include:

  • Review the instruction manual and understand the cabinet anatomy.
  • Confirm you have all the promised cabinet boxes and parts.
  • Sort hardware like hinges, screws, handles into labeled bags or bins.
  • Lay out cabinets on floor in order of installation plan.
  • Clean any sawdust, dirt or debris from cabinet parts.
  • Charge drill batteries and gather all installation tools.

Proper organization reduces errors and saves significant time during installation.

Install Upper Cabinets First

It is best practice to install upper cabinets first before base cabinets:

  • They must be well secured to studs in wall framing.
  • Upper cabinets provide support for base cabinets mounted underneath.
  • Allows easier installation without having to bend over or work around base cabinets below.

If possible, have a helper lift and temporarily hold upper cabinets against the wall as you attach them. This makes upper cabinet installation much easier.

Follow Detailed Steps

Carefully follow the detailed instructions provided for attaching each RTA cabinet properly:

  • Attach side panels to create box frame.
  • Install backing panels as needed to create enclosure.
  • Attach hinges, shelving and hardware accurately.
  • Use levels frequently to ensure cabinets are plumb.
  • Pre-drill holes to prevent wood from splitting.
  • Follow any special steps for corner cabinets and add-ons.
  • Use shims if walls are uneven for a flush cabinet finish.

Take it slow and double check your work. Properly assembled cabinets create a functional kitchen.

Scribe Cabinets as Needed

Use scribing to make cabinets fit right against uneven walls:

  • Have a helper press cabinet against wall and hold in place.
  • Trace gap shape onto back wall of cabinet with pencil.
  • Remove cabinet and follow traced line when cutting excess wood.
  • Use a jigsaw for straight gaps or router for wavy gaps.
  • Sand cut edge smooth and repaint to match cabinet.

Scribing takes time but results in cabinets fitted perfectly against irregular walls.

Anchor the Cabinets Securely

Improperly anchored cabinets lead to safety issues and problems over time:

  • Use designated cabinet screws, not drywall or wood screws.
  • Drill pilot holes to prevent splitting cabinet frames.
  • Attach to wall studs whenever possible for maximum strength.
  • For studless walls, use wall anchors designed for heavy objects.
  • Level as you anchor each cabinet before moving to next one.

Take time to anchor every cabinet securely. Do not rely on adjoining cabinets for support.

Add Decorative Molding

Optional crown molding and trim offer a built-in custom look:

  • Crown molding adds style resting on top of upper cabinets.
  • Wood valance can disguise uneven gaps between wall and cabinet.
  • Wood trim creates a furniture-like detail on cabinet fronts.
  • Carefully miter joints for a seamless molding finish.

Watch molding placement so it does not block cabinet door and drawer openings.

Install the Countertops

Adding countertops makes the kitchen fully functional:

  • Carefully follow manufacturer’s instructions for installing and sealing.
  • Have helpers to lift and hold heavy countertop pieces.
  • Use fasteners designed for your countertop material.
  • Seal seams and edges with specific adhesive or caulk for material.
  • Attach sidesplashes and endsplashes cut to fit.

Avoid placing seams near sinks or stoves if possible. Take care not to crack delicate materials like natural stone.

Attach the Final Details

Look for any small gaps or details left to address:

  • Add trim molding around edges and where cabinets meet walls.
  • Caulk along tops, bottoms and sides for a seamless finish.
  • Fill any small gaps between cabinets with wood filler for a smooth look.
  • Use filler panels designed to cover gaps left between cabinets.
  • Touch up any paint nicks, scratches or dents on cabinet fronts.

Paying attention to final details gives your RTA kitchen a refined, built-in look.

Enjoy Your Completed Kitchen

With your well-constructed RTA cabinets installed, you can enjoy an updated kitchen that suits your cooking and lifestyle needs. Some tips for use:

  • Add cabinet organizing products like pull-out spice racks to maximize storage.
  • Consider lighting enhancements like under cabinet lights or pendant lights above islands.
  • Keep wood cabinets away from extreme moisture and heat to prevent warping or peeling.
  • Clean painted cabinet surfaces with mild soap and water using a soft cloth.
  • Avoid abrasive cleaners, scouring pads or harsh chemicals that could scratch finishes.
  • Use cutting boards to protect counter and cabinet surfaces.
  • Check hinges periodically and tighten screws as needed over time.

With proper care, quality RTA cabinets can last for many years of dependable service. Take pride in a kitchen you designed and installed yourself!

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are answers to some common questions about ordering and installing RTA cabinets:

Q: Are RTA cabinets as good of quality as custom cabinets?

A: Quality RTA cabinets are typically constructed using the same plywood boxes, solid wood frames, and durable finishes as custom cabinets. The key difference is RTA cabinets ship unassembled. Opt for RTA cabinets from reputable brands for similar quality and longevity as custom.

Q: Can I install RTA cabinets myself or do I need to hire a contractor?

A: One of the big benefits of RTA cabinets is the ability to install them yourself! With some carpentry skills and tools, most homeowners can assemble and mount RTA cabinets properly. If not feeling confident DIYing, consider hiring a contractor for just the installation labor.

Q: How long does it take to assemble and install RTA cabinets?

A: Plan on installation taking 2-5 days depending on kitchen size and complexity. Assembling upper and base cabinets goes faster once you get proficient. Allow extra time for cutting cabinets to fit and adjusting doors/drawers. Working with a helper speeds up the process.

Q: What if my RTA cabinets arrive damaged or defective?

A: Thoroughly inspect all boxes and cabinet parts once delivered. Note any damages or defects on the delivery receipt before signing. Contact the retailer promptly to report issues and arrange replacements or refunds per the warranty policy.

Q: Can I mix and match RTA cabinets from different companies?

A: It is not recommended. Although sizes may match, the attachment methods, hinges, drawer glides often differ between brands. For best results, order all your RTA cabinets from the same manufacturer and product line.

Ordering and installing RTA cabinets is an involved yet rewarding process. With attention to accurate measuring, quality components, and methodical installation, RTA cabinets offer gorgeous, customized results at an affordable price. Do your planning and enjoy the journey of DIYing an elegant new kitchen!