Whether you fantasize about a transformed kitchen or a more efficient laundry room, you'll like this reality check: Cabinet installation - a project that dramatically influences the functionality and style of a room- is not a daunting undertaking. Installing kitchen cabinets is a manageable job that offers significant cash savings and requires only a few basic tools, minimal skill and the help of a willing assistant.
Ready-made cabinets are easier to install and less costly to buy than you may think. They're available to suit all styles, budgets and space needs, so you can create a entirely new look and gain more useful storage - without rearranging plumbing or rerouting wires.
Homeowners who aren't considering a kitchen remodel may find that adding cabinets to an unused wall would improve their organization, enhance storage and provide a place to work on projects. Whether you reinstall hand-me-down cabinets in the garage or remodel an entire kitchen, the following lessons from the cabinet installers of M C Squared from Coon Rapids, Minnesota, will help ensure your success
With manufactured cabinets and sound advice, you can become your own expert installer — and enhance your living and storage space.
Whatever the degree of complexity, your project will require some shopping, planning, measuring and drawing. Designing can be as simple as a scale drawing on graph paper or a more elaborate computer-aided design. Expert help is also available at home centers and cabinet supply stores.
If you haven’t been in the market for cabinets lately, you may be surprised at the range of styles and features — even in ready-made units. The only element that’s standard is size: Base units are 34-1/2-in. tall, and wall units are available in heights of 42, 30, 24, 18 and 15 in. Widths range from 9 in. to 48 in., in 3-in. increments. (For horizontal spaces that are not perfect multiples of 3 in., filler strips can be trimmed to accommodate the space.)
With your storage needs and design goals in mind, talk to a supplier about the many alternatives. (The cabinets for this project were made by Omega Cabinetry of Waterloo, Iowa, see SOURCES.) Seize the opportunity to rethink how to organize your space. For example, a bank of drawers may provide easier access to pots and pans than the shelving unit they currently occupy.
If your old cabinets are going to a new home (a garage, laundry room, cabin or yard sale), be careful when removing them. Your ultimate goal is to strip the room down to a blank shell. At this point, it’s a good idea to set out the new cabinets to verify the inventory and determine a plan of attack.
The project will be more compli¬cated if your plan involves relocating a sink or an appliance that relies on plumbing or utility hookups. If you’re simply replacing a cabinet that houses a sink, just disconnect the sink’s plumb¬ing and remove the existing base unit.
When it comes to installation, even professionals agree that there is more than one correct approach. For some expert instruction, we spent a day with installer Brian McNallan and the crew of M C Squared. We watched them install cabinets in a remodeled kitchen, asked questions and pho¬tographed the steps so we could show you how it’s done.
“Every kitchen has its own design that dictates the order in which we install cabinets,” says Brian. Typically the sink is centered under a window, which determines positioning of the units on either side. If a corner cabinet is in the plan, it too becomes a fixed starting place.
As far as which to install first, we recommend starting with the wall cabi¬nets. That way, you won’t have to reach across the lower cabinets or risk dam¬aging them. Working with an assistant, fasten to the wall a temporary ledger board on which to rest the back of the cabinet, or use a jack system, such as the T-Jaks (model TJ-104) that Brian used (photo, bottom left, p. 31). If you’re working alone, the Gillift by Telpro (available at equipment-rental stores) enables one person to maneuver, lift and support a cabinet for fastening.
On the other hand, if you begin with the base cabinets, you can use them to support a shorter jack for hoisting the wall cabinets. But be sure to protect the base units with heavy moving blankets or padding while working above them.
To reduce weight and improve maneu¬verability, remove drawers and doors, labeling the parts with painter’s tape. If doors are too complicated to remove from the cases, tape heavy cardboard over their faces to prevent marring. For cabinets with glass-front doors, you may leave the door frames in place and remove only the glass panels.
Rather than installing each unit independently, Brian joins two or more components together before mounting them to the wall. With the wall units lying on their backs on the floor or another level surface, he drives three screws through the adjacent face frames of neighboring cabinets. Base units are joined together while standing upright. If your working surface is not perfectly even, support low spots with shims as you join two units together, making sure the adjacent ends and faces are flush with each other.When possible, drive screws into the stile on the hinge side of the cabi¬net, where the screw heads will be less visible. Choose the appropriate screw length for the size of each connection (stile widths may vary), making sure the screw is as long as possible but at least 1/4 in. shy of going through the stile when countersunk.
In addition to these general recom¬mendations, consider the following tips for installing specific types of cabinets:
• Wall units — To hang a grouping of two or more components, provide additional stability by driving a screw through the top lips of both cases near the backs of the units. This adds sup¬port for lifting and positioning multiple units. If you need to place fasteners from the inside of cabinets that have glass fronts, be careful to place them so the screw heads are as inconspicuous as possible.
• Base units — Floors and walls are rarely plumb and level, so expect to add shims to compensate for structural imperfections. Level base cabinets side¬to-side and front-to-back by inserting cedar shims under the frame of the unit, being sure to support spaces under joints where two units come together. With base units that form a corner, it’s especially important that the tops and fronts be level and flush to properly support the countertop. You may need to use shims behind the cabinet units to ensure that the corners are square and that the top surfaces are level. After installation, use a utility knife to score the parts of shims that protrude beyond the cabinet and snap off the excess.
• Sink cabinets — Drain pipes and supply lines can be reminiscent of a Chinese puzzle when you try to maneuver the sink base into position. It’s easier to win the game if you have accurately measured and cut openings in the cabinet.
To cut holes that look clean and splinter-free, start by making careful measurements and marking hole loca¬tions on the outside surface (the back and bottom of the cabinet); then drill pilot holes in the centers. Next, cut from the cabinet’s inside surface with a hole saw so splintering doesn’t mar the interior.
For the drain pipe, use the same method to cut a second hole below the first one; then link the two by cut¬ting two lines between them with a cir¬cular saw or jigsaw from the outside of the cabinet, creating an oval opening. (Remember that a circular saw blade pulls up, causing the surface that is facing you to chip.) This elongated hole lets you slide the cabinet down along the drain rough-in while posi¬tioning the unit over the two supply lines (photo, top right).
Some cabinet manufacturers sell finished toe-kick boards in 8-ft. lengths, which you cut to fit. You can also cut 1/4-in. plywood to size and finish it to match the cabinets. To attach the toe kick, apply silicone adhesive caulk and secure the piece with finish nails. Miter the corners and touch up the ends with stain or putty sticks to match the finish.
For a seamless look, apply matching Minwax Color Putty to the joints between components and to the nail holes. Simply rub the putty in with your finger and buff the area with a soft cloth.
You can use a variety of tech¬niques to mask any gaps along the wall where the cabinet ends are visible. Brian applies a bead of paintable caulk at wall/cabinet joints. Another easy method is to add a strip of scribe molding along the edge where the wall meets the cabinet. After these finishing touches, your new cabinets will appear to be an original built-in feature of the room — unless you brag, visitors will never know you added them yourself.
Adjustable Clamp Co. (Pony Cabinet Claws)
(312) 666-0640, www.adjustableclamp.com
(3 19) 235-5700, www.omegacabinetry.com
Telpro Inc. (Gillift)