How to install base and wall kitchen cabinets yourself

You can install kitchen cabinets yourself no problem. Measure carefully and take it one step at a time when replacing base and wall cabinets to upgrade your cooking space.

Green and white colour block kitchen with cupboard with folding doors
(Image credit: Tom Howley)

Asking how to install kitchen cabinets so you can revive a tired room? Fitting new cabinets is a great way to give any kitchen a makeover and get a look that’s really up to date and that provides all the storage your room needs.

Doing it yourself is definitely an option when fitting both wall and base kitchen cabinets, and it can help you save a ton on kitchen remodel costs also. Measure carefully and approach the job one step at a time to enjoy the satisfaction of upgrading your room, yourself.

Follow our guide to fit both base and wall cabinets in your room, and draw on the advice of the experts, too.

How to install kitchen cabinets yourself

Bringing your favorite kitchen cabinet ideas to life in your home is easy with a huge range of designs available for DIY fitting. We’ve put together a step-by-step guide on how to install kitchen cabinets to help, but do check the individual manufacturer’s instructions as well as designs can vary.

1. Prepare the kitchen

Before you start, it’s important to fix any damage to walls or flooring. You might also want to paint the room accordingly, applying a first coat of paint to the walls and ceiling.

Turn off electrical, gas, and plumbing lines to the kitchen. 

2. Mark guidelines

Use painter’s tape to mark where the base cabinets will be positioned on the floor. Next, use a level to find the highest spot on the floor. From this spot, mark the cabinet height on the wall and extend it as a line. Allow for the height of flooring if you are installing the cabinets before it is installed.

Measure and mark a line 18 inches (46cm) above this line to show where the bottom of the upper cabinets will be positioned. Make sure not to forget the countertop. ‘Upper cabinets are mounted typically 18 inches above the height of your countertop – so make sure you have accounted for your countertop thickness before setting these,’ says Teri Simone, the chief kitchen designer for Nieu Cabinet Doors.

Then measure up from this line by the height of the upper cabinets. If the cabinets aren’t all the same height, be aware that the tops should all line up.

Locate and mark studs on the walls.

3. Fit supports for upper cabinet installation

To support the upper cabinets during installation, fit 1 by 2 or 1 by 3 furring strips into the studs below the line marked for the bottom of the wall cabinets. This will support the wall cabinets during installation. Check the support is level.

4. Assemble the cabinets

It’s easiest to assemble cabinets one by one to avoid the parts getting mixed up. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to assemble them. Start with the wall cabinets, which you’ll install first.

To speed up the process, ‘You can also streamline your cabinet installation by ordering your cabinets preassembled, but know that this option is more expensive and is more likely to be damaged during shipment,’ explains Martha McNamara, the head of design at Vevano Home.

5. Install wall cabinets

Our preferred method is to start by fixing the wall cabinets.

Begin with a corner unit, or from the far left if you don’t have a corner unit, and mark the locations of the studs on the back. Drill pilot holes at top and bottom of the cabinet. Repeat for all the upper cabinets.

Set the first cabinet in place on the wall and use the mounting screws to fix it to the wall. However, only tighten them enough to hold it in place for the moment.

Check that the first cabinet is level and plumb and shim behind it if necessary.

6. Continue mounting wall cabinets

Put the second cabinet next to the first, ensuring it is aligned. Hold the cabinets together with clamps and use screws to fix the second cabinet in the same way as the first – that is only tightening the screws sufficiently to hold it in place, and using shims to make it plumb if required.

Connect the upper cabinets using a drill with a countersink twist drill bit and the cabinet screws.

Continue in the same way for the row, making sure to check the cabinet faces and edges are even as well as level as you work. If there’s a gap at the end, use a cabinet fill strip to complete the row.

When the wall cabinets are all in place fully tighten the rear screws, remove the clamps, and remove the support below. Repair any damage to the wall as necessary.

7. Install first base cabinet

Just like with the wall cabinets, start fitting the base cabinets from a corner. Use the marks on the wall to mark the stud locations on the cabinet, then drill holes. Put the first cabinet into position using the horizontal line on the wall as a guide, and check it is level and plumb. You may need to use shims below or at the back. Screw in place, tightening just enough to hold it in place.

8. Continue fitting base cabinets

Drill pilot holes in the back as before and put the second cabinet in position next to the first. Even faces and shim if necessary. Clamp the two cabinets together and screw the second cabinet in to just hold it in place.

Connect the two cabinets as with the wall cabinets. Continue to fit the base cabinets along the wall in the same way. Note that you will need to cut holes for plumbing where the sink will be located.

Use a filler strip if there is a gap at the end, then tighten all the screws and remove the clamps.

9. Fit doors and trim

To finish, fit the cabinet doors, and set drawers into tracks.

Cut and attach the toe kicks. ‘Typically, they'll be 4 inches (10cm) wide, but if your floor is irregular, you may need to cut them narrower,’ says Zac Houghton, CEO of Loftera. ‘For the best results, add a base shoe contoured to fit the floor if there are bad gaps between the toe kicks and the floor.’

Do you install upper or lower cabinets first?

It can be helpful to fit upper cabinets first, and it’s the order we’d recommend because it is easier to access the wall if the base cabinets aren’t in place. However, the issue isn’t cut and dried.

‘Whether upper or lower cabinets should be installed first is up for debate and depends on circumstance,’ says Ralph Severson, owner of interior remodeling company Flooring Masters. ‘Most cabinet installers prefer to hang wall cabinets first so they may be placed on stands or to make it easier for a coworker to hold them in place. I have also seen the floor cabinets installed first because other work needed to be completed on the walls by other subcontractors.’

Is it hard to install your own cabinets?

Installing kitchen cabinets requires DIY skills of an intermediate level. You don’t need a whole lot of tools, and the cabinets themselves are in essence boxes that need to be screwed to the wall and joined to one another.

What is crucial to success is careful measuring and taking the time to keep everything plumb and level throughout. 

Sarah Warwick
Sarah Warwick

Sarah is a freelance journalist and editor writing for websites, national newspapers, and magazines. She’s spent most of her journalistic career specialising in homes – long enough to see fridges become smart, decorating fashions embrace both minimalism and maximalism, and interiors that blur the indoor/outdoor link become a must-have. She loves testing the latest home appliances, revealing the trends in furnishings and fittings for every room, and investigating the benefits, costs and practicalities of home improvement. It's no big surprise that she likes to put what she writes about into practice, and is a serial house revamper. For Realhomes.com, Sarah reviews coffee machines and vacuum cleaners, taking them through their paces at home to give us an honest, real life review and comparison of every model.

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