How to Install Kitchen Cabinets

Installing new kitchen cabinets can transform the look and feel of your kitchen. With careful planning and the right techniques, you can install kitchen cabinets yourself and save on installation costs. This comprehensive guide will walk you through the entire process of installing kitchen cabinets, from preparation to finishing touches. Follow these steps and tips for a successful DIY kitchen cabinet installation.

Pick the Right Kitchen Cabinets

The first step is selecting the right cabinets for your kitchen’s layout and design.

Consider the Cabinet Construction

Kitchen cabinets come in different constructions:

  • Stock cabinets – Prefabricated and ready-to-assemble. Most affordable option. Limited sizes and configurations.
  • Semi-custom cabinets – Partially customizable. Mid-range pricing. More sizes and finishes.
  • Custom cabinets – Built to your specifications. Most expensive, but fully customizable.

Stock or semi-custom cabinets are suitable for most DIY installations. Custom cabinets require expert installation.

Choose Cabinet Materials

Common kitchen cabinet materials:

  • Wood – Oak, maple, hickory, etc. Stainable and durable but expensive.
  • Plywood – Affordable and practical. Accepts paint well. Prone to swelling.
  • Particleboard – Made of wood fragments. Prone to damage from moisture. Low cost.
  • MDF – Medium density fiberboard. Withstands moisture better than particleboard. Requires finishing.
  • Laminate – Particleboard or MDF with plastic laminate facing. Resists scratches. Limited styles.

Plywood and wood cabinets are preferred for longevity. Laminate and particleboard save on costs.

Decide on Door Styles

Cabinet doors come in numerous styles:

  • Slab – Simple, flat panel doors. Contemporary styling.
  • Shaker – Flat center panel with wooden frame. Clean and versatile.
  • Raised panel – Prominent center panel raised above frame. Traditional style.
  • Glass insert – Glass window inserts for display purposes.
  • Arched – Upper portion of doors are arched. Classic design.

Select door styles that match your kitchen’s overall design and needs.

Choose Cabinet Finishes

Finish options include:

  • Stain – Allows the natural wood grain to show. Enhances wood color.
  • Paint – Opaque coating that hides wood grain. Wide range of colors.
  • Glaze – Coloring applied over stain or paint. Adds depth and dimension.
  • Distressing – Simulated wear and aging. Adds rustic character.

Consider the cabinet material, kitchen style, and your preferences when selecting finishes.

How to Measure for New Kitchen Cabinets

Carefully mapping out your kitchen and measuring is crucial for ordering the correct cabinet sizes.

Make a Floor Plan

Draw an outline of the kitchen including:

  • Wall positions and lengths
  • Window and door locations
  • Appliance locations
  • Plumbing and electrical fixtures

Having an accurate floor plan is key for planning cabinet sizes and layouts.

Measure Your Kitchen

Note these measurements:

  • Length and height of each wall
  • Ceiling height
  • Distance from the floor to wall outlets
  • Location of wall studs
  • Window and door widths and distances from corners
  • Available space for cabinets, islands, and appliances

Record all measurements meticulously. It’s better to have too many than miss any.

Determine Your Cabinet Layout

Sketch your desired cabinet configuration based on:

  • Traffic flow
  • Work triangle (sink-stove-refrigerator distances)
  • Appliance, window and door clearances
  • Desired storage capacities
  • Available space and room layout

The layout will evolve as you take measurements. Adjust to make the space functional.

How to Select Cabinet Hardware

Along with the cabinets themselves, you’ll need knobs, pulls, and other hardware.

Cabinet Knobs vs Pulls

Knobs are round handles screwed through a cabinet door or drawer. Best for narrow spaces.

Pulls are longer handles mounted horizontally on sides of doors or drawers. Require more clearance space.

Choose based on kitchen traffic flow, cabinet style, and personal preference.

Hardware Finishes

Popular kitchen cabinet hardware finishes:

  • Stainless steel – Sleek, modern look. Easy to match with appliances. Shows fingerprints.
  • Matte black – Understated and sophisticated. Visually “disappears” on dark cabinets.
  • Brushed nickel – Warm, polished sheen. Works with variety of styles. Requires frequent polishing.
  • Oil-rubbed bronze – Has an aged, weathered appearance. Pairs well with natural materials.
  • Polished brass – Traditional finish. Antique appearance when allowed to oxidize.

Select hardware finish that pairs well with faucet and lighting fixtures.

Hardware Styles

Look through catalogues and online to find knobs and pulls with shapes, edges, ridges, curves and flourishes that appeal to your personal taste. It’s all about the visual style and ergonomics you prefer.

How to Prepare for Cabinet Installation

Completing these preparatory steps will ensure the installation process goes smoothly.

Gather Supplies and Tools Needed

Some essential items for DIY kitchen cabinet installation:

  • Tape measure, level, stud finder
  • Pry bar, hammer, nails
  • Power drill and bits, hole saw
  • Screws, faucet connectors, wall anchors
  • Sandpaper, wood filler, primer
  • Safety equipment (goggles, gloves, etc.)

Check that you have all necessary supplies before starting. Having to stop mid-project to get a missing tool or part can be disruptive.

Remove Existing Cabinets Properly

If replacing old cabinets, remove them carefully:

  • Empty out all cabinet contents first.
  • Detach countertops with care to preserve intact.
  • Unfasten cabinets from walls by locating nail points.
  • Use pry bar and hammer to remove nails.
  • Unscrew cabinets from each other.
  • Cut caulk or sealant beads with utility knife.
  • Pull cabinets away from wall carefully.

Removing old cabinets requires patience and methodical work.

Prepare the Installation Space

With old cabinets gone:

  • Take out nails, screws and brackets from walls.
  • Fill holes and repair wall damage with spackle. Sand smooth.
  • Clean walls, floors and ceilings thoroughly.
  • Add reinforcements like mounting boards on walls.
  • Address any plumbing or electrical issues.
  • Mask areas with painter’s tape.

Proper prep removes obstructions and lets the new cabinets mount flush on flat, clean walls.

How to Install Wall Kitchen Cabinets

Wall cabinets go up first. Follow these tips for proper wall cabinet installation:

Mark the Wall Studs

Find and mark the wall studs using a stud finder. Studs provide strong support for hanging cabinets.

Determine Cabinet Locations

Based on your measurements and layout, mark:

  • End points for cabinet runs
  • Corner cabinet positions
  • Spacing between cabinets
  • Any outlet/plumbing interference points

Level and tape marks ensure cabinets install in optimal positions.

Install Wall Anchors

Attach specific wall anchors for the cabinet building material:

  • For wood/plywood – use molly or toggle bolts drilled into studs
  • For particleboard – use hollow wall anchors
  • For metal – self-tapping screws

Anchors keep cabinets fixed securely to the wall.

Mount Wall Cabinets

For each cabinet:

  • Pre-drill holes for anchors into wall studs.
  • Insert anchors into drilled holes.
  • Apply adhesive/sealant to cabinet backs.
  • Insert mounting screws through cabinets into anchors.
  • Level and adjust cabinet position. Tighten screws.

Follow the manufacturer’s mounting instructions closely. Have a helper hold cabinets in place if needed.

Fill Gaps

Check for any visible gaps between mounted cabinets. Fill with:

  • Small gaps – painter’s caulk is the easiest solution.
  • Large gaps – shims inserted before caulking.

Well-filled gaps give your cabinet installation a seamless, built-in look.

How to Install Base Kitchen Cabinets

After the wall cabinets are up, shift focus to the base cabinets.

Start at the Corner

Position the corner base cabinet first:

  • Place in corner and adjust until cabinet sides are evenly aligned with wall.
  • Level the cabinet.
  • Fasten to studs with screws driven through the cabinet back.

The corner cabinet anchors other base cabinets extending from it.

Attach the Other Base Cabinets

For each additional base cabinet:

  • Align tight to edge of previous cabinet.
  • Check level and make any adjustments.
  • Fasten through back into studs or use wall anchors.
  • Make sure fronts are flush with each other. repeats Avoid gaps between base cabinets for optimal stability.

Join Cabinets Together

Once base cabinets are leveled and screwed to wall studs:

  • Pre-drill holes through adjacent cabinet sides.
  • Drive screws through pre-drilled holes to link cabinets together.
  • Check for alignment and gaps before driving each screw.

Proper joining prevents cabinets from separating over time.

Secure to Wall Studs

In addition to joining, it’s vital to secure base cabinets to wall studs:

  • Determine stud locations relative to cabinet position.
  • Pre-drill holes through back of cabinet into studs.
  • Use lag screws sized for maximum stud contact.
  • Double check for level as you secure to studs.

Proper stud attachment provides rock-solid base cabinet stability.

How to Install Cabinet Doors and Drawers

Once cabinets are mounted, it’s time to install doors and drawers:

Attach Door Hinges

To mount doors:

  • Confirm hinge type/style matches cabinet. Most common are Euro hinges.
  • Hold hinge against cabinet side, aligning with screw holes.
  • Attach hinges with provided screws.
  • Repeat for number of hinges per door. Two or three is standard.

Take care to position hinges straight for proper door function.

Install Drawer Slides

For smooth-gliding drawers:

  • Look for pre-installed drawer slide brackets in cabinet.
  • Attach drawer slide runners aligned with pre-installed brackets.
  • Insert drawers once slides are secured. Adjust slides so drawers close flush with cabinet face.

High-quality drawer slides should last for years of use.

Add Knobs and Pulls

Final steps to complete hardware installation:

  • Mark locations for handles/knobs on doors and drawers. Even spacing looks best.
  • Pre-drill holes at marked locations to avoid splitting wood.
  • Attach knobs and handles using included screws.
  • Make sure handles are oriented in a consistent direction.

Finishing touches like hardware add beauty and functionality.

How to Finish Kitchen Cabinets

Apply finishes for a polished, complete cabinet installation:

Fill Holes and Imperfections

Examine cabinets closely and use wood filler for:

  • Visible screw holes and hardware recesses
  • Cracks, crevices or damage
  • Joint gaps between cabinets
  • Dents and defects in cabinet fronts

Filling irregularities gives cabinets a flawless finished appearance.

Sand Cabinets Smooth

Once filler dries:

  • Sand areas smooth using 100-150 grit sandpaper.
  • Blend sanded patches into surrounding surface.
  • Remove all dust with dry cloth.
  • Use painter’s putty for deep imperfections. Sand again once dry.

Proper sanding prep allows finishes to adhere optimally.

Stain or Paint Cabinets


  • Wipe surface with liquid deglosser to prep for staining.
  • Work stain into wood grain using a brush or lint-free cloth.
  • Wipe away excess stain after 2-3 minutes.
  • Apply protective topcoat for sheen and waterproofing.


  • Apply primer to cabinet surfaces. Sand again lightly when dry.
  • Paint with brush or paint sprayer using thin, even coats.
  • Let paint fully cure for hardness and durability.

Finishing protects your cabinet investment and creates your desired style.

Install Decorative Hardware

After painting/staining, mount any remaining hardware:

  • Cup pulls
  • Towel bars
  • Cabinet light fixtures
  • Glass/crystal knobs
  • Door/drawer bumpers

Accent hardware ties the whole cabinet design together.

Kitchen Cabinet Installation FAQs

Use this FAQ section to find answers to some common kitchen cabinet installation questions:

How long does it take to install kitchen cabinets?

  • The time required depends on scope of project.
  • Allow several days to a week for standard 10-15 cabinet installation.
  • New layouts, wall repair, and extra finishing will add time.

What is the typical cost to install kitchen cabinets?

  • Average cost for professional installation is $3,000-$6,000.
  • DIY installation saves significantly on labor costs.
  • Total spend includes cabinets, hardware, tools, finishes.

Should I install upper or lower cabinets first?

  • Best practice is installing upper cabinets before lower ones.
  • This allows you to stand in the open floor space easier during install.

How do you ensure new cabinets are installed level?

  • Use a 4 foot level tool regularly during the install.
  • Verify level on cabinet sides, bottoms and faces. Adjust until level.
  • Shim cabinets if needed before final mounting.

What is the standard height for bottom kitchen cabinets?

  • Typical standard height is 34 1/2 inches from floor to bottom.
  • Can adjust between 32-36 inches depending on preference.
  • Consider factors like your height, appliances, and leg room.

What is the standard depth for kitchen cabinets?

  • Most common depth for base cabinets is 24 inches deep including countertop.
  • Wall cabinet depth is between 12-16 inches.
  • Deeper 29-30 inch cabinets are an option for more storage capacity.

How much space should be between kitchen cabinets?

  • Ideally allow 15-30 inches between cabinet runs for navigation.
  • For two cooks allow 48-60 inches between opposing cabinet banks.
  • Adjust spacing based on traffic flow needs and room size.


With good preparation and by following these steps, you can achieve a kitchen cabinet installation you will enjoy for years. Pay close attention to all measurements, use sturdy mounting techniques, and take care with finishing details. Installing kitchen cabinets is very rewarding when done properly. The key is avoiding shortcuts and being patient through every phase. If done correctly your beautiful new cabinets will serve your lifestyle and kitchen design needs.