How to Install Kitchen Cabinets

Installing kitchen cabinets is usually thought of as a specialized job for professionals, but it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, in most homes it’s a very simple process if you know what you’re doing, and you’ll be able to take a lot of pride in a job well done.

Follow these simple steps, and you’ll be able to proudly declare that you did it yourself when friends and family ask where the new installation came from.

Victoria, Homethods Author


1. Gather Your Tools

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You actually don’t need a whole lot to get this job done, and if you’re already engaged in DIY projects the hardest part of gathering materials together is probably going to be picking out the new cabinets.

You’ll need the following to do a proper job:

  • A Screw Gun
  • A Level, 36”-48” is preferable
  • A Screwdriver
  • A Studfinder or Other Method to Find Supports
  • Tape Measure
  • Screws
  • Your Cabinets
  • A Friend and/or a way to hold upper cabinets in place

Hopefully, you’ve already made sure that the new cabinets will’ll fit in the areas you’re planning on installing them in, otherwise you may be in trouble.

Get everything together before you begin and make sure it’s easily accessible.


2. Clear the Old Cabinets Out

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If you haven’t already removed the old cabinets, you might be surprised to find that you can’t just pull the lowers away from the wall in most cases. The first thing you need to do is remove the doors with your screw gun or screwdriver.

Pull them off, along with the hinges, and set them aside for now. If you can remove the shelves, then do so but not all cabinet set-ups will make this easy. If you’re replacing the ones with the sink, then you’re going to have to disconnect the sink as well.

Most cabinets will be mounted with screws in the back, then all you’ll need to do is pull these and you can slide the cabinets away from the wall. If the countertops are stone or dense hardwood, you may need to pull the counters first.

Softer materials like wood will generally be screwed in as well as glued. Check for the screws and brackets and remove them with either the gun or the screwdriver depending on the space available to you.

Granite or marble is an absolute pain to remove but it can be done. In this case, you’ll need a thin razor knife in order to severe the strains of glue holding them down.

Carefully remove the countertops and set them aside as well, you’ll pretty much require a friend if they’re made of stone.

Repeat the procedure with the upper cabinets, being careful to ease them down with the help of a friend when you’re undoing the last couple of screws. If you don’t have a friend around, stack something up to make a support so that you can remove the frame without it dropping as soon as the last supports are pulled.


3. Marking

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Measure out your cabinets, grab some masking tape, and carefully mark where each segment is going to be placed along the wall. Use your level to make sure your lines are straight. You’ll need to do this for the upper and lower cabinets.

A friend can be quite helpful while you’re doing this, they can hold the level while you pull the tape out and then set it down as you go along with the process. This doesn’t need to be one hundred percent exact, a variation of a quarter inch or so along the vertical lines isn’t going to hurt.

But make sure the horizontal lines are one hundred percent level and will sit one hundred percent exact with the top of the cabinets. You want the tape to be completely flush with the top or bottom of the cabinets respectively.

You’ll also want to “pull a line” along the bottom edge of the floor using the level in order to make sure the flooring is level in the kitchen. If it’s not, you’ll have to use some shims to make sure the cabinets sit level unless you want to deal with a countertop prone to rolling kitchen utensils.

Repeat the line against the roof, particularly if your cabinets are going all the way to the ceiling. There’s not much you can do about it if the roof isn’t level, but its good information and we’ll show you how to hide any discrepancies in just a bit.

Once you’re done marking, the exacting and hard part of the work is actually over so pat yourself on the back and take a break before you go to grab the cabinets themselves.

4. Installing the Upper Cabinets

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This is the last actual hard part of the process, everything will be smooth sailing in just a couple of hours.

Use the studfinder to determine where the supports are and put in the screws. Make sure they’re at least 2 ½” long for a lasting fit and place them about ¾” in from the sides and top at each corner.

If you don’t have a friend to hold up the box while you’re installing you might want to stack some stuff up as a support underneath since holding the cabinet while screwing it in is going to be a monumental pain. Just make sure that the support can hold the cabinet level.

You might also want to drive a screw in the middle of your tape line, just put it in a ½” or so and you’ll be able to use it to balance and make sure everything is level before you drive the first screw.

Drive the first two screws diagonally across from each other and check them with the level before you do the last two. This way, if it comes out to not be level you only need to back off one screw in order to make any adjustments.


5. Installing the Lower Cabinets

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Lower cabinets will use pretty much the same procedure, but you won’t have to lift them up. Instead, check that the area where the countertop is going to be is level before you start screwing things in.

Once you’re level, you’ll be pretty much good to go. Bottom cabinets are sometimes backless, if that’s the case then they should have come with some brackets. Drive the brackets into the cabinet first, then into the wall on one side of each support, then do it on the other side for the best results.

If the lower cabinets have backs, you’ll need to cut access ports for plumbing and electrical. A hole saw is your best friend for that and all you’ll need to do is cut holes that are just a touch larger than the lines and pipes you’re fitting around.

You actually can install the lower cabinets before the uppers, but I prefer to do it this way to allow easier access to get close to the wall in order to install the upper cabinets first. If you do the lower first, put the counter on before you move to the uppers so you have a platform to work from.

6. Finishing Up

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Once everything is level and secure, you’re pretty much good to go. At this point, you can attach the doors and hardware.

Doors can be tricky if you’ve never done it before, but there’s one easy trick to make sure it goes as smoothly as possible.

Attach the hinges to the door first, fit the door in, then find where the hinges sit on the frame. If the hinges are attached to the interior of the frame, like they quite often are in American-style cabinets, then you’ll want to lean over from the adjacent cabinet’s opening and attach them inside then repeat the procedure with the door opened behind you.

If you’re using vertical handles, instead of simple round knobs, remember to level them or the resulting effect will play havoc on your sense of aesthetics.

Reinstall the countertop, or prep a new one as the case may be. Remember that they should always be caulked even if they’re attached securely with screws. At this point you can also reconnect the sink.

If you changed out the countertops always remember to use a high-quality, waterproof silicone around the base of the sink. If you don’t, you’re in for some serious trouble in just a little bit.

One final note: if you have gaps along the upper cabinets due to the ceiling not being perfectly level there’s two ways to take care of it.

The first is to install molding, which looks great and will add a marvelous sense of “completeness” to the entire kitchen if you’re careful about which one you pick.

The other is to use caulking that’s similar in color to the cabinets if you don’t want to go through the hassle of installing more pieces of trim. This works well, but be careful how you apply it. For the most part it will cover the hole and you’ll be the only one who ever knows it’s there.

You’ll also want to install baseboards along the bottom of the cabinet, which is a relatively easy task. Most people do it with a hammer and a punch, just level the board, shave it to account for any irregularities in the floor, and drop a nail in every six inches or so and be sure there’s one about ¼” in from each edge.

Now, lean back, thank your friend, and marvel at just how well you did. If you followed these instructions closely, you’ll now have a properly installed set of kitchen cabinets.


Learning how to install kitchen cabinets can save you quite a bit of money. It’s more of a time-consuming task than a technically difficult one, especially if you make sure that you marked everything out correctly. Most people will feel like a pro after doing it just once, and you’ll save a lot of money on labor costs during a remodel if you do the deed yourself.