How to Install Cabinets

By Amanda Lutz Updated April 17, 2024

Whether you’re prepping for a full kitchen remodel or just want a small refresh, installing cabinets is a great way to add architectural interest and maximize storage space in your kitchen. You can hire a professional for this job or do it yourself with a few common tools. Our guide details different cabinet types, tools needed for installation, and step-by-step instructions to help you complete this project. 

Types of Cabinets

Choosing the right type of cabinets for your kitchen can make it as attractive and spacious as possible. Here are the three main types of kitchen cabinets.

Base Cabinets

Base cabinets are the fundamental component of kitchen cabinetry. They’re installed on the floor under the countertop. These cabinets serve several purposes:

While base cabinets come in standard sizes, you can choose from various styles, finishes, and materials. You can also choose cabinets with adjustable shelves, built-in organizers, and other space-saving elements.  

Wall Cabinets

Wall-mounted cabinets are installed above the countertops and other kitchen fixtures. They offer an impressive amount of storage without taking up valuable floor space. In addition to storage space, upper cabinets provide the following benefits:

Wall cabinets can minimize kitchen clutter and create design opportunities. They’re also less limited by space constraints than base cabinets.

Tall Cabinets

Tall cabinets, or pantry cabinets, are vertical cabinets that usually run from the floor to the ceiling. They vary in height and width. 

These cabinets are also highly functional. Besides offering additional storage space for cookware and bakeware, they can fit bulky or tall items such as mops or vacuum cleaners. Tall cabinets have the following functions:

The key benefit of tall cabinets is that they provide multiple storage opportunities without taking up too much floor space in your kitchen.

Necessary Tools

You’ll need to gather several tools before beginning your cabinet installation project. Here’s what to have on hand.

Preparing the Space

Before installing new kitchen cabinets, clear out the old cabinets, and prepare the space. Here are a few steps to take.

Measure the Space

Using a tape measure, measure the dimensions of the kitchen area where you plan to install the cabinets. Measure the length, width, and height of the walls. Make sure to account for obstacles (windows, doors, appliances).

Mark the Layout

Use a pencil to mark the layout of the cabinets on the walls. Start by determining the places where you want to install the base cabinets. Then, mark the reference line for the upper cabinets (with the lowest point at 54 inches) and base cabinets (with the highest point at 35 inches).

Pay special attention to wall sockets. These must be accessible for appliances, so be careful not to cover them with cabinets.

Locate Studs

Use a stud finder to locate the wooden studs behind the wall surface. Mark the locations of the studs with a pencil. These will serve as anchor points for securing the wall cabinets.

Prepare the Walls

Inspect the walls for any damage or imperfections. Repair holes and cracks that may interfere with safe cabinet installation. Allow the repairs to dry completely, then sand the patched areas so they are smooth.

Installation Process

The installation process varies for base cabinets and upper cabinets. Installing tall cabinets is a combination of the two.

Installing Upper Cabinets

The kitchen cabinet installation process begins with mounting upper cabinets. Here are the steps.

Step 1: Install the Ledger

Begin by installing a ledger board along the reference line you marked on the wall. The ledger board provides temporary support for the cabinets during installation. Secure the ledger board to the wall studs using screws and make sure it’s level.

Step 2: Drill Pilot Holes in the Cabinets

Use a power drill to drill pilot holes into the back of each cabinet near the top and bottom edges. You will use these holes later to install screws to attach the cabinets to the wall studs.

Step 3: Mount the Cabinets

Lift the first cabinet onto the ledger board and align it with the reference line. Use a power drill and screws to attach the cabinet to the wall studs through the pilot holes drilled in the back of the cabinet.

Step 4: Connect the Cabinets

After mounting, join adjacent cabinets together using screws through their sides. This way, you create a cohesive unit that remains in place.

Step 5: Fill the Gaps

Use shims to fill gaps between the cabinets and the wall or between adjoining cabinets. Insert shims behind or underneath the cabinets as needed. Then, trim off any excess shim material with a utility knife.

If the design calls for it, install crown molding along the top of the upper cabinets. Besides being a decorative element, the molding conceals gaps between cabinets and the ceiling.

Installing Base Cabinets

The next phase is installing base cabinets. Before proceeding with the steps, remove the doors and hardware from the cabinets.  

Step 1: Level the Cabinets with Shims

Start with the corner cabinet. Begin by placing it along the reference line. Use a level to ensure the cabinet is leveled, and adjust it with shims if necessary.

Step 2: Drill Pilot Holes

Use a power drill to drill pilot holes through the back of the cabinet into the wall studs. This step will provide a guide for securing the cabinet to the wall.

Step 3: Cut Holes for Plumbing and Wiring

If plumbing pipes or electrical wiring need to pass through the back of the cabinet, use a hole saw to cut appropriate holes in the back panels. Then, put the second cabinet in place, and so on.

Step 4: Attach Cabinets

Use screws to attach cabinets to the wall studs through the pilot holes drilled earlier. Make sure the cabinets are securely anchored to the wall and each other.

After Installation

After installing kitchen cabinets, you can add finishing touches such as the following:

Conduct the final inspection of the kitchen cabinets to deal with any adjustments. Check that all doors and drawers open smoothly.

Our Recommendation

Kitchen cabinets make your kitchen beautiful and functional. You can install them yourself with the right tools and detailed instructions, like the ones in this guide. We recommend hiring a professional if you don’t have the experience and tools for installing cabinets correctly.

Installing Cabinets FAQ

Can I install cabinets myself?

Yes, with the right tools and step-by-step guidance, it’s possible to install kitchen cabinets on your own.

How are cabinets attached to the wall?

Cabinets are attached to the wall with mounting screws. The screws go into the studs to make sure the cabinets have sufficient support.

Do you install the base or upper cabinets first?

You always install upper cabinets before you install base cabinets.

How do you secure base cabinets?

You secure base cabinets with screws that go into the wall stud locations. You also use screws to attach base cabinets to each other for stability and balance.