After a shipment of kitchen cabinets has arrived and everything's been checked to make sure it matches your order, the next step is a critical one: Have the installer mark all the cabinet locations on the walls, along with marking the studs where the cabinets will be attached.
Measurements come first. The installer should find the "high spot" on the floor where the kitchen cabinets will be installed. Most floors in older homes aren't level, and cabinet installation must work with the reality of a home's condition. Similarly, walls often aren't plumb or square, even in relatively new construction, so the installer must check them before any cabinets can be installed. Doors to wall cabinets should be removed before installation.
The base kitchen cabinets set the standard for the rest of the installation. Before installation, they should be lined up and connected to one another. They should first be clamped together for perfect alignment and then connected through the sides by screws. This method is far more precise than attaching components to the wall separately, one after another.
Once the base kitchen cabinets are lined up and connected, your contractor will be able to tell what kind of "shimming" may be needed on the walls and the floor. A shim is a narrow wedge of wood that works much like a matchbook placed under the leg of a wobbly table in a restaurant. If your floors or walls are at all "wavy," as is the case in many older homes, shimming will be necessary.
Most frameless cabinets are screwed directly to a wall. If hanging rails are to be used, however, they should be cut and screwed to the studs, usually about 2 1/2 inches below the soffit. This space will allow the cabinet to be lifted above the rail before being lowered onto it. Molding is then used to cover the gap between the top of the cabinet and the bottom of the soffit.
Wall kitchen cabinets should be installed starting in a corner and working outward. In a U-shaped kitchen, the two corner cabinets should be installed first. As each cabinet is hung, it should be fastened to the preceding one so they're perfectly aligned. When all the wall cabinets have been installed, they should be checked to make sure they're level, plumb and square.
Most base cabinets require leveling legs, which should be attached to their bottom corners. In standard installations, the installer makes a mark 34 inches above the high point of the floor along the walls where the base cabinet will be placed. This assumes that the height of your countertop is going to be the standard 36 inches.
Toe-kick moldings are an aesthetic feature that screens the leg levelers from view and provides a floating look to the base cabinets. Some can be snapped into place. Finally, doors and drawer fronts are attached, using adjustable hardware to align them and make the opening between the doors even from top to bottom.
Face-frame kitchen cabinet installation doesn't differ greatly from that of frameless kitchen cabinets except that face-frame cabinets usually are screwed to the wall through a mounting strip. Because they have more inner construction, face-frame cabinets don't rack as easily as frameless cabinets. Since the door can be adjusted on the frame, face-frame cabinets also offer some flexibility in door placement, provided that the doors haven't been predrilled.
Reprinted with permission from the National Kitchen & Bath Association
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