Ready-to-assemble (RTA) cabinets offer a convenient and budget-friendly option for renovating your kitchen. With RTA cabinets, you purchase unassembled cabinet boxes and doors and put them together yourself. This eliminates the markup from onsite assembly and installation.

While RTA cabinet assembly is manageable as a DIY project, proper planning and preparation are key to achieving the look and functionality you want. There are also some tips and tricks to make the installation process smoother. This comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know to successfully install RTA cabinets.

Benefits of RTA Cabinets

RTA cabinets provide the following advantages over fully assembled cabinetry:

  • Cost savings – You avoid paying labor charges for onsite cabinet assembly and installation. RTA cabinets are up to 50% less expensive than custom cabinetry.
  • Convenience – The cabinets ship directly to your home. No need to coordinate delivery and installation.
  • Customization – RTA cabinets come in a range of sizes, finishes, and configurations. You can find options to fit your exact design vision.
  • Quality materials – Many RTA brands use the same high-quality materials as more expensive cabinet lines. You sacrifice convenience but not necessarily quality.

As long as you don’t mind a DIY project, RTA cabinets offer an affordable way to get high-quality kitchen cabinets tailored to your space.

How to Choose RTA Cabinets

When selecting RTA cabinets, you’ll want to consider:

Cabinet Quality

Focus on finding cabinets made of solid wood rather than particle board or plastic laminates, which are prone to damage. Plywood boxes with dovetail joinery are best. Drawers should have side-mounted glides for smoother operation.

Design Options

Look for a range of sizes, wood types, finishes, mouldings, and storage accessories to create your desired aesthetic. Customization options include cabinet heights, widths, depths, and finishes.

Compatible Accessories

Make sure the cabinet line offers compatible accessories like fillers, trim, and molding to seamlessly integrate cabinets. Matching cabinet hardware also creates a cohesive look.

Company Reputation

Choose established brands known for quality manufacturing and materials. Look for at least a 1-year warranty on the cabinets. Companies with strong reputations often have better customer service if any issues arise.

Once you select a cabinet line, you’ll work with the RTA company’s kitchen designers to plan your cabinet layout.

How to Plan for RTA Cabinet Installation

Careful planning is crucial for a smooth RTA cabinet installation. Planning errors can lead to gaps, misfits, and unusable cabinet space. Follow these steps:

​1. Finalize Your Kitchen Layout

  • Mark exact measurements for windows, doors, appliances, and other permanent elements.
  • Map out traffic flow and work triangles to maximize kitchen efficiency.
  • Use graph paper or kitchen planning software to experiment with different cabinet configurations.

2. Select Products to Order

  • Choose cabinet sizes and designs based on your layout.
  • Pick any fillers, panels, or moldings needed.
  • Choose cabinet finishes and hardware styles.
  • Order samples if unsure about finishes and colors.

3. Account for Special Installation Needs

  • Factor in uneven floors and walls when planning cabinet dimensions and placement.
  • Note any electrical or plumbing lines that cabinets will need to avoid.
  • Plan lighting placement to avoid conflicts with wall-mounted cabinets.

Thorough planning reduces surprises and mistakes once installation begins. Partnering with an RTA kitchen designer helps optimize the layout and product selection.

How to Prepare for RTA Cabinet Installation

Proper preparation is essential for smooth RTA cabinet assembly and installation. Follow these tips before cabinet delivery:

Remove Existing Cabinets and Finish Flooring/Walls

  • Taking out old cabinets, countertops, and flooring simplifies installation of new RTA cabinets.
  • Refinish walls and install new flooring before new cabinets arrive. It’s much easier without cabinets in the way.

Address Any Electrical/Plumbing Issues

  • Contact an electrician to reroute any electrical lines that interfere with planned cabinet placement.
  • Have a plumber move or cap any unneeded plumbing before installing around it.

Gather Tools and Materials

  • Assemble all required tools – drill, screwdriver, hammer, level, tape measure, etc.
  • Stock up on building supplies like screws, nails, adhesive, caulk, wood shims, sandpaper, and wood putty.

Create Clean Assembly Space

  • Clear an area with lots of room to unpack boxes and assemble cabinets.
  • Carefully open the boxes and organize hardware and components. Check that everything matches your order.

Taking these preparatory steps prevents scrambling once the RTA cabinets show up. The process goes smoother when your space, tools, and materials are ready.

How to Assemble RTA Cabinets

Once your RTA cabinets arrive, it’s time for assembly. Follow these key steps to put together your cabinet boxes, doors, drawers, and other components:

1. Review Instructions Thoroughly

  • Read the assembly directions all the way through before starting.
  • Note any special tools or materials needed for certain steps.
  • Separate and organize hardware like hinges, shelf pins, screws, etc.

2. Assemble Boxes and Drawers

  • Stack sides, top, bottom and back panel into each box according to instructions.
  • Secure joints with screws, nails, or cams depending on design.
  • Insert drawer slides into drawer boxes if needed.

3. Attach Doors and Drawer Fronts

  • Mount hinges and pulls based on brand specifications.
  • Use a jig or template to position hinges correctly.
  • Pre-drill holes to prevent splitting wood.

4. Add Interior Storage

  • Insert fixed shelves at desired heights using shelf pins.
  • Position roll-out trays, drawer dividers, or other storage accessories.

5. Install Decorative Hardware

  • Attach handles and knobs with proper length/diameter screws.
  • Note any required drilling or countersinking.
  • Make sure hardware is level and centered.

Following instructions precisely results in secure cabinet boxes and properly aligned doors and drawers. Work slowly to avoid costly mistakes.

How to Install RTA Kitchen Cabinets

Once assembly is complete, it’s time to hang the RTA cabinets. Here are tips for smooth, seamless cabinet installation:

1. Mark Studs and Level Baseline

  • Locate and mark studs for secure attachment.
  • Establish level baseline to align bottom of wall cabinets.

2. Hang Wall Cabinets First

  • Hoist cabinets and fasten to studs with long screws.
  • Use shims to level and plumb cabinets.
  • Fill gaps with wood strips, caulk or filler panels.

3. Install Filler Strips and Panels

  • Cut filler strips and panels to size as needed.
  • Attach neatly between cabinets for built-in look.

4. Set Base Cabinets and Island

  • Fasten to wall through back panel or side nailing strips.
  • Join cabinets together. Check for plumb and level front to back.
  • Anchor freestanding island to floor through inside of cabinet.

5. Complete Finishing Touches

  • Install molding, trim, and end panels to hide gaps.
  • Seal around cabinets with silicone caulk.
  • Attach cabinet hardware like pulls and knobs.

Patience and attention to detail leads to a professional-looking finished kitchen. Filling any gaps and covering seams makes the install look clean and built-in.

Tips for Installing RTA Cabinets Smoothly

Follow these pro tips when installing RTA cabinets for the best results:

  • Shim generously – Don’t be skimpy with shims to prevent sagging. Securely anchor to studs.
  • Double check measurements – Confirm cabinet dimensions match your layout before assembling.
  • Level and plumb – Use a high-quality level to adjust cabinets for precision installation.
  • Use adhesive – Dabs of construction adhesive secure cabinets to the wall and each other.
  • Complete one section fully – Finish a whole cabinet run before moving to the next.
  • Work from the bottom up – Install base cabinets first for upper cabinets to rest on.
  • Take your time – Don’t rush through the steps or take shortcuts. Careful DIY assembly takes patience.
  • Seal thoroughly – Seal every seam, gap, and spot cabinets meet walls with caulk for an integral look.

Following the detailed cabinet instructions combined with these tips leads to a flawless looking kitchen that resembles expensive custom cabinetry. The extra effort during installation pays off.

Mistakes to Avoid with RTA Cabinet Installation

While RTA cabinets make kitchen remodels more accessible, the DIY nature can also lead to some common mistakes. Avoid these pitfalls with proper planning and care:

  • Mismeasuring available space
  • Not anchoring cabinets securely enough
  • Failing to properly shim and level cabinets
  • Not fully checking for fit and function before assembling
  • Poor corner cabinet solutions with inefficient wasted space
  • Splintering material by drilling incorrectly
  • Inaccurate door and drawer alignments from hinge issues
  • Scrapes, chips, and smudges from handling finished surfaces
  • Out of stock cabinets and mismatched replacements
  • Forgetting specialty storage solutions like blind corner organizers

Patience is key – measure twice and drill once. Take time to get each cabinet properly leveled and anchored. Complete the job fully rather than leaving issues to be fixed later.

Maintaining and Cleaning RTA Cabinets

RTA cabinets use the same quality materials and finishes as custom cabinetry. Follow these maintenance tips:

  • Use microfiber cloths and mild cleaner for wiping down exterior surfaces. Avoid harsh chemicals.
  • Vacuum out interiors regularly. Immediately wipe up any spills or water inside cabinets.
  • Tighten hinge screws and drawer glide screws periodically to prevent loosening over time.
  • Inspect for signs of damage, cracks, peeling finishes or mold/mildew. Address issues quickly to prevent further deterioration.
  • Re-stain or re-paint as needed to refresh appearances and protect from wear and tear.
  • Lubricate drawer glides every few years per manufacturer specifications to prevent sticking.

With proper care and maintenance, quality RTA cabinets can look great long-term. Taking quick action preserves their function and aesthetic.

FAQ About Installing RTA Cabinets

Q: How difficult is it to assemble and install RTA cabinets?

It depends on your DIY abilities, but the assembly is manageable for most homeowners. Basic skills with tools, reading instructions, and installing kitchen cabinets is helpful. Allocating plenty of time ensures you don’t have to rush.

Q: Can I install RTA cabinets alone or do I need help?

If you’re comfortable lifting large items and have DIY skills, you can probably install alone. However, having an extra set of hands makes the process much easier and faster. Enlist help from handy family or friends if possible.

Q: What tools do I need to put together and install RTA cabinets?

Common tools include a drill, drivers, hammer, tape measure, level, stud finder, square, clamps, shims, caulk gun, sandpaper, saw, and safety equipment like glasses and gloves. Refer to your cabinet instructions for any specialty tools needed too.

Q: What mistakes should I avoid with RTA cabinet installation?

Avoid these common pitfalls: miscalculating layout, inadequately securing cabinets, poorly aligned doors/drawers, rushed assembly, uneven shimming, forgetting accessories, damaging finishes during install. Measure thoroughly, follow instructions, work carefully.

Q: How much installation support does the RTA company provide?

It varies by manufacturer – some offer DIY resources while others have professional installation available for an added fee. Clarify what level of customer service to expect for your purchase before ordering cabinets.

Q: Can I still customize RTA cabinet sizes and finishes?

Yes, most brands offer a range of sizes, finishes, and accessories to choose from. However, modifying or combining cabinet components can be tricky. Excessive customization undermines the value of choosing RTA.

Q: How long does it take to install a typical RTA kitchen?

The assembly and installation typically takes 2-5 days with an experienced DIYer. Rushing the job risks mistakes. Allocate at least a full week for the project, with extra padding if you’re an installation novice.


RTA cabinets require an investment of sweat equity to assemble and install, but they offer dramatic cost savings over custom cabinetry. With adequate skills and preparation, most DIYers can tackle RTA cabinet installation for their kitchen successfully. Thorough planning, patient assembly, and meticulous installation prevents pitfalls like misfit cabinets and crooked doors. The attentive effort results in a kitchen indistinguishable from professionally customized cabinetry at a fraction of the investment. With the proper guidance, RTA cabinets enable homeowners to achieve their dream kitchen without breaking the budget.