Most people who are interested in doing some or all of the work themselves when remodeling their kitchen will not want to build their own kitchen cabinets, which I wrote about elsewhere on this site. However, a larger group of you may be interested in how to install kitchen cabinets. There are lots of different ways to go about it. I read a book or two, watched some how-to TV shows, and checked out a few online tutorials before doing it myself, and while the basics were pretty much the same no matter where I looked, almost everybody had different how-to tricks and tips that they felt made the job go smoother. I’ve only done it once, in a small, simple kitchen renovation, but I’ll tell you how I went about it. If your kitchen is large and requires installing a lot of cabinets or has an intricate layout, you may well run into situations that I didn’t encounter.
Some people like to install the upper cabinets first, while others prefer to start with the lowers. There are pros and cons to both methods. If you put the lower cabinets in first, you might find that they’re in your way when installing the uppers. However, people that like to start with the lower units say that you can use them (with the countertop installed) as a base for supports that help hold the uppers while you attach them. I installed the uppers first, and would do it that way again. There are ways to support the uppers without having the bottom units in the way.
Start in a corner of the room. Mark a level line on the wall where the bottom of the cabinets will be. The distance between the upper and lower cabinets is normally between 15 and 18 inches. Be sure to allow for the thickness of the countertops when you measure up. Once you have the level line, install a 1×3 or 1×4 wooden board (called a ledger board) temporarily on the wall, with the top of the board aligned with the level line. Be sure to screw into the studs. Now you can use the ledger to help support the cabinets while you attach them to the wall. The doors are usually removed from the cabinet enclosures as it makes installation much easier.
If you have a helper or two, you can screw a couple of cabinets together (as detailed below) and lift them as one unit. If not, just put up one cabinet at a time. Once you have the cabinet in the correct location, Put a couple of screws through the back into the wall studs. Be sure the part of the cabinet you screw through is substantial wood. The cabinet should come with a manual or instructions that’ll let you know where the screws should go. Once you have the two screws in, then check the cabinet for level and plumb. If any adjustments are required, loosen the screws and insert shims to bring the cabinet into line, then retighten the screws. Add some more screws, evently spaced out, then go on to the next cabinet. Once it’s resting on the ledger board, clamp it to the cabinet that’s already in, put in a couple of temporary screws to hold the new cabinet to the wall, then screw the two cabinets together. It’s best to screw them together near the front. Good places are through the side of the face frame or, if the boxes are frameless, through the shelf pin holes (this will probably require bolts instead of screws) or where the screws will be hidden by the hinges. Check level and plum, then add shims if necessary as before. Continue until all cabinets are in. Remove the ledger board and patch the screw holes. You may need to use a filler strip at the end to cover any gap between the last cabinet and the wall.
The base cabinetry is installed similarly, but rather than starting in a corner, you need to locate the highest point on the floor and begin there. This is so you can shim up the additional cabinets as you proceed. If you were to begin at a lower point, then the only way you could keep the cabinets level is to trim the bottoms – definitely not something you want to attempt. Since you may be starting in the middle of a wall, be very careful when measuring to locate this starting cabinet. Reaching the end of the wall and finding that your last cabinet is a quarter inch too big for the space you’ve left is not a situation you want to find yourself in.
When you get to the sink cabinet, you’ll have to cut out the back (or bottom, if the water pipes come out of the floor) for water supply and drain pipes.
That’s the basic scoop on how to install kitchen cabinets. Like I said at the beginning, if you have a small uncomplicated kitchen, that may be enough info to get you started, but most kitchens have a lot more storage and are more complex than mine, so you may want to pick up a howto book or look for more info online or on TV if your kitchen is one of them.