Installing new kitchen cabinets can transform the look and feel of your kitchen. With some careful planning and the right tools, installing cabinets is a do-it-yourself project that can save you money. Here is a comprehensive guide to installing kitchen cabinets to help you through the process.

Planning Your Kitchen Cabinet Installation

Before starting the installation, take time to plan out your new kitchen design and cabinet layout. Consider the size and shape of your kitchen, traffic patterns, appliance locations, and your lifestyle needs. Measure your kitchen space carefully and use graph paper to sketch your cabinet plans to scale.

Determine if you want to install wall cabinets or full-height pantry units. Wall cabinets typically hang 12-18 inches above the countertop while pantry units go all the way to the ceiling for maximum storage.

Choose the cabinet dimensions, styles, materials, and finishes that fit your budget and design aesthetic. Custom cabinets offer limitless options but are costlier than stock or semi-custom cabinets.

Preparing the Work Area

Clear your kitchen of all movable objects to create a safe, uncluttered workspace. Turn off electricity to outlets near the work area. Cover appliances, countertops, and floors with drop cloths to protect from dust, debris, and spills.

Gather all the tools, hardware, and materials you will need:

  • Tape measure
  • Level
  • Stud finder
  • Drill/screwdriver
  • Cabinet hardware
  • Shims
  • Construction adhesive
  • Cabinets

Installing Wall Cabinets

Wall cabinets establish the starting point for your entire cabinet installation. Follow these steps:

  1. Find and mark the high and low points of your wall using a level. Draw a level line between them. This is your base horizontal line.
  2. Locate and mark the wall studs using a stud finder. Mark their center points for drilling pilot holes.
  3. Measure up from the base horizontal line the desired height for the bottom of your wall cabinets. Mark this on the wall at the stud center points.
  4. Use a level to draw a perfectly horizontal line at the desired cabinet height.
  5. Measure, mark, and pre-drill pilot holes on the wall line. The holes should line up with the wall studs.
  6. Install cabinet rail or ledger board anchored securely to the wall.
  7. One at a time, lift wall cabinets into place, align with the ledger board, and attach to the wall with long screws through the cabinet back at stud locations.
  8. Use shims between the wall and cabinet to level as you secure each cabinet.
  9. Fill any gaps between cabinets and ceiling with trim molding for a built-in custom look.

Installing Base Cabinets

Once wall cabinets are installed, you can move on to base cabinets and countertops:

  1. Determine base cabinet locations referring to your plans. Mark plumb lines where cabinet sides will sit.
  2. Set base corner cabinet first, leveling front-to-back and side-to-side with shims. Anchor to studs or use heavy-duty anchors for drywall.
  3. Install adjoining cabinets one by one, checking for level and plumb. Secure together with screws through face frames.
  4. Use adhesive or screws to anchor bottom cabinets to wall studs for stability.
  5. Install drawer guides, doors, and drawers according to manufacturer instructions. Adjust until aligned and functioning smoothly.
  6. Set countertop on top of base cabinets. Secure with adhesive and/or brackets underneath.
  7. Seal around edges and install backsplash last. Allow adhesive and caulk to dry before use.

Installing Trim, Molding and Decorative Touches

Finish your new kitchen cabinets by adding those final flourishes:

  • Install crown molding at the cabinet tops and ceiling for an upscale built-in look. Use decorative corbels and brackets for additional ornamentation.
  • Add under cabinet trim and molding to conceal the cabinet bottoms and give a furniture-like appearance.
  • Install glass cabinet doors to display dishes or collectibles. Use interior lighting for dramatic effect.
  • Consider open shelving above cabinets for frequently used items. Add knobs, pulls, or other hardware to personalize.

With good planning, patience, and proper techniques, you can install kitchen cabinets successfully. Take your time and double check measurements at each step. Soon you will have a stunning new kitchen to enjoy for years to come.

Frequently Asked Questions About Installing Kitchen Cabinets

What are some tips for accurate measuring when installing kitchen cabinets?

Use a laser level to mark perfectly horizontal and vertical reference lines. Confirm room dimensions in multiple spots. Measure twice and cut once when cutting cabinet parts to size. Check each cabinet position before fastening permanently.

Should I install upper or lower cabinets first?

Start your installation with upper wall cabinets, using them to establish your base horizontal line. Hanging upper cabinets first gives you a reference point for installing and leveling base cabinets.

How are wall cabinets typically installed and secured?

Wall cabinets are hung from a ledger board or rail anchored to wall studs. The cabinets are not resting directly on the floor. Individual cabinets are secured through their back panel into the wall studs, keeping them aligned and preventing pulling away from the wall.

What is the strongest material to use for kitchen cabinet boxes?

Plywood is the strongest and most stable material for cabinet boxes. Solid wood can warp or split over time. Particle board is prone to expansion and crumbling with moisture. Plywood offers durability, strength, and stability.

Should I caulk around the bottom of kitchen cabinets?

Yes, sealing the gap between the cabinet bottom and floor with caulk improves sanitation and prevents pests. Caulk also minimizes dirt buildup and makes mopping easier. Use silicone caulk for the most water-resistant, long-lasting seal.


The proper installation of kitchen cabinets creates the foundation for a functional and beautiful kitchen. Carefully planning the layout, accurately measuring, properly securing cabinets, and taking your time are key to success. The investment of installing kitchen cabinets well is worthwhile, resulting in many years of reliable storage and service. With some patience and the right techniques, you can do this project yourself and gain the satisfaction of creating a lovely new kitchen.