How to Install New Kitchen Cabinets

Kitchen renovation projects often involve installing new cabinets as a way to completely transform the heart of the home. Installing new kitchen cabinets can seem daunting, but it’s simpler than you may think when you break the process down into a series of straightforward steps. This complete guide will walk you through how to install new kitchen cabinets with confidence.

Gather Materials and Tools Needed for Installation

The first step is ensuring you have all the materials and tools on hand before starting the cabinet installation process. This will make the project go much smoother and prevent having to stop mid-installation to get something you’re missing. Here’s a checklist of what you’ll need:

  • New kitchen cabinets and any additional accessories like fillers, trim, molding etc. Make sure to check that all cabinets and parts were delivered undamaged.
  • Cabinet installation screws appropriate for your cabinet material (wood, metal etc) and wall type. 2-1/2″ screws are commonly used.
  • Drill with Phillips head and drill bits for pilot holes. A power drill is ideal to help drive screws efficiently.
  • Level – A 4 foot level is generally recommended for checking cabinet alignment. A laser level can also come in handy.
  • Stud finder – Essential for locating and marking studs to secure cabinets properly.
  • Hammer
  • Tape measure
  • Pry bar for removing old cabinets if replacing existing
  • Screwdriver
  • Pencil
  • Safety equipment like glasses, ear protection etc.
  • Other supplies like rags, pry bar, caulk etc.
  • Ladder/step stool as needed

Take inventory before getting started to be sure you have everything necessary for a smooth installation. Don’t want to realize something is missing mid-project!

Prepare the Work Area

Now it’s time to get your workspace set up. Be sure to:

  • Remove all contents from existing cabinets if replacing old cabinets. Label items so you can efficiently return them to new cabinetry later.
  • Protect floors/countertops in the work area. Use rosin paper or drop cloths to guard against damage, scratches, dust etc.
  • Have adequate lighting in all areas you’ll be working. Supplement with portable lights or headlamps if needed. Proper visibility is key.
  • Clear away clutter and clean the work area. Remove anything that will get in the way of installing cabinets.
  • Turn off electricity to outlets that will be behind new cabinets for safety.

Advance preparation of your workspace will pay off in easier, faster cabinet installation.

Remove Existing Cabinets if Replacing

If you’re installing new kitchen cabinets as part of a kitchen remodel, the old cabinets will need to be removed and discarded or recycled first. Here’s how to remove existing kitchen cabinets safely and efficiently:

  • Empty out all contents completely from old cabinets and drawers. This also makes removed cabinets lighter to maneuver.
  • Inspect how the existing cabinets were installed. Note details like if they are screwed into wall studs, attached to soffits/bulkheads or just nailed in place.
  • Remove cabinet doors and drawers first. Set them aside protected if salvaging for another use.
  • Take down wall cabinetry before base cabinets. Wall units are not load bearing so easier to remove first.
  • Locate where cabinets are secured. Use a pry bar to gently loosen from the wall. Go slowly to avoid damaging walls.
  • For stubborn screws, use a drill or impact driver to remove them more quickly.
  • Use caution when reaching blindly inside cabinets to detach them. Wear gloves and watch for sharp edges.
  • Fully detach and remove cabinets one at a time. Be careful to not damage cabinets you intend to reuse or resell.
  • After cabinets are down, remove any nails, screws or hanging strips still on the walls.
  • Patch and repair wall surfaces as needed so they are ready for new cabinet installation. Caulk and fill holes.

The kitchen is now prepped and ready for your beautiful new cabinets!

Plan Cabinets Layout

Planning your new kitchen cabinet layout is one of the most important steps in the installation process. Your cabinet layout needs to fit your space functionally while factoring in traffic flow, storage needs and aesthetic preferences. Here are some tips on mapping out your new kitchen design:

  • Take detailed measurements of your kitchen space. Include walls, windows, doors and ceiling height.
  • Consider the ergonomics of how you cook, wash dishes and navigate the space. Optimize the layout based on how you use the kitchen.
  • Incorporate the kitchen work triangle guideline. The sink, stove and refrigerator should be within steps of each other in an efficient triangle.
  • Allow for 42-48” minimum between base cabinets and countertops on opposite sides for walkways. Wider if possible.
  • Start placement of corner cabinets first since they are typically least flexible.
  • Ensure sink and range cabinet placement suits existing plumbing and electrical. Measure these fixture locations.
  • Decide if cabinets will be flush with walls or have space for trim molding. This affects size and placement.
  • Mark stud location on the floor with masking tape to map out cabinet attachment points.
  • Determine cabinet sizes needed including fillers, pantry cabinets etc. Use your plan to create a detailed cabinet order.

Having a well-thought-out kitchen cabinet layout is truly worth the upfront effort and attention to detail. It will make installation much simpler too.

Install Wall Cabinets First

With your workspace prepped and cabinet layout planned, it’s finally time for the fun part – installing the new cabinets! Proper installation sequence is important for ease and best results. Start with upper wall cabinets, then base cabinets and finally any fillers or trim. Reasons to start installation with wall cabinets include:

  • Wall units are naturally installed while safely on the floor rather than up on a ladder/stepstool.
  • Wall cabinets don’t bear weight so are easier to hang and position than base units.
  • Base cabinets can then rest on and be screwed into wall cabinet above for maximum sturdiness.
  • Allows you to fine tune placement of base cabinets within work area based on installed wall cabinet location.

Some tips as you start the installation process with upper cabinets:

  • Confirm cabinets are plumb against the wall using a level prior to securing in place.
  • Drill pilot holes through cabinet backs/wall studs to prevent splitting of wood when screwing in.
  • In general, use at least two screws through cabinets into studs spaced near top and bottom of each unit. Add middle screws on extra wide wall cabinets for added support.
  • Attach cabinets together through the sides of units into wall studs using appropriate length screws.
  • If necessary, add shims between cabinets and walls to ensure units sit flush to wall and each other.

Hang wall cabinets methodically and carefully one by one. Don’t rush this important stage!

Install Base Kitchen Cabinets

After successfully mounting your new wall cabinets, shift focus to installing the base cabinetry. Follow these tips for proper base cabinet installation:

  • Base units should be secured to wall studs just like wall cabinets. Mark stud locations if needed.
  • Start base cabinet installation in the corner and work outward if possible.
  • Place shims under the front of the base cabinet to raise it up to the desired 34 1/2” countertop height standard.
  • Level the cabinet front to back and side to side with shims adjusting as needed.
  • Attach though back of cabinet into wall studs. Longer screws/bolts may be used to anchor into floor.
  • Use filler strips between cabinets and walls to close gaps if necessary to create a built-in look.
  • Attach adjoining cabinets together by pre-drilling through the cabinet sides into wall studs.
  • If existing floor is uneven, use shims under cabinets to compensate so tops are level with countertop height.
  • For peninsula/island cabinets, fasten adjoining cabinets tightly together and to floor. Bolt into flooring supports if possible.

Take care to level and secure base cabinets fully. They bear much more weight and use than delicate wall units.

Add Cabinet Filler Strips

It’s very common to need filler strips to fill gaps between wall cabinets, ceilings, walls and base cabinets. Leaving gaps leaves an unfinished look. Exercise care when measuring, cutting and installing filler pieces. Tips include:

  • Use filler strips atop wall cabinets to close space between tops of cabinets and ceiling.
  • Install fillers between edges of wall cabinets and walls to seamlessly fill areas around projections like chimneys.
  • Cut filler strips from 1 x 4 pine boards for flexibility. Use scrap plywood for larger gap filling.
  • Filler width should match cabinet depth. Hold piece against cabinet to mark cutout shape if needed.
  • Attach filler pieces using finishing nails. Putty over nail holes for a polished finished look.
  • For base cabinet gaps, install with bottom flush to top of cabinet boxes before adding countertops.

Adding fillers and trim is the finishing touch to a visually appealing, built-in custom kitchen cabinetry installation. Take time to measure and cut filler pieces carefully.

Install Decorative Trim

Trim molding serves both form and function purposes as the crowning touch to your new kitchen cabinet installation. Cabinet trim hides gaps while adding style and visual appeal. Use these tips when installing trim:

  • Wood trim options include crown molding, light rail, under cabinet trim and accent trim above sink or range.
  • Measure cabinet edges carefully to cut trim pieces to fit your kitchen’s specifications.
  • Miter trim ends at appropriate angles for clean seamless joints. A miter saw helps get perfect cuts.
  • Use a pneumatic nail gun and compressor to attach trim quickly and easily without splitting wood.
  • Fill nail holes with putty, let dry completely, then sand smooth.
  • Caulk along trim edges and between trim and wall. Smooth with finger before caulking dries.
  • Use decorative corbels and onlays under cabinets for added detail.
  • Consider open shelves, glass cabinet doors and lighting inside cabinets to complete your unique look.

Trim personalizes cabinets and makes your kitchen space truly one of a kind. Enjoy this chance to add custom designer details.

Hang Cabinet Doors and Attach Drawers

With cabinet boxes securely installed, the hardware and storage components can be reattached to complete the job. Have patience during this last stretch! Follow manufacturer’s directions for installing your specific doors/drawers. Here are general guidelines:

For cabinet doors:

  • Attach door hinges to cabinet frames, one side first then the other side. Most use self-closing hinges.
  • Adjust hinges so door hangs straight and seals with frame when closed.
  • Use hinge shims if door binds or does not sit flush with cabinet face frame all the way around.
  • Attach handles/knobs using proper length screws. Start with all doors/drawers removed for easier access.

For drawers:

  • Install drawer slide hardware evenly spaced according to manufacturer instructions. Check alignments.
  • Attach drawer fronts to completed drawer boxes and slide into place.
  • Use shims to properly align drawer front with cabinet face frame if needed.
  • Attach drawer handles/knobs tightly.

Complete the finishing touches on your new kitchen by attaching any other hardware like towel bars, hooks and pulls. Then stand back and admire your handiwork in installing beautiful new cabinets!

How to Install New Kitchen Cabinets FAQs

Installing kitchen cabinets on your own can feel intimidating. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about the cabinet installation process:

How long does it take to install new kitchen cabinets?

The time required depends on scope of project, cabinet number, skill level and helpers. On average, 8-10 hours for a small starter kitchen. Larger or luxury kitchens can take 40+ hours.

What is the easiest way to install kitchen cabinets?

Start with upper cabinets hung on the wall to establish layout. Then base cabinets are much simpler to fit into place under them. Take your time measuring precisely.

Do you need special tools to install kitchen cabinets?

A few specialized tools make cabinet installation easier, but you can get by with common hand and power tools like drills, screwdrivers, nail gun and saw.

Should I assemble cabinets before installing?

Yes, fully assemble and attach all doors/drawers during installation prep. This avoids having to climb up and down ladders repeatedly later.

Can I install cabinets directly over drywall?

You should always attach cabinets through the back into wall studs for sturdiness, not just drywall alone. Use stud finder and mark locations.

How do you secure kitchen cabinets to the wall?

Use #8 or #10, 2 1/2″ to 3″ screws through cabinet backs into wall studs. For base cabinets, also use screws into counters above and floor below if possible.

What order do you install kitchen cabinets?

Best practice is to start with upper wall cabinets, then base cabinets, followed by fillers and trim. Complete the job by adding cabinet doors, drawers and hardware.


While the process of installing kitchen cabinets requires some construction skills, the task is quite manageable for motivated DIYers, especially when broken down into individual steps. Carefully planning the cabinet layout, preparing the workspace, methodically installing units level and plumb, adding fillers and trim, and attaching doors and drawers are the key phases of the project. Following the techniques and tips outlined above will assure your new kitchen cabinet installation is successful and provides you with a stunning, functional kitchen you’ll enjoy for years to come.