Guide to Kitchen Cabinet Replacement & Installation

This kitchen cabinet removal and installation how-to overview offers guidance whether you make this a DIY project or hire a kitchen contractor for the work.

cabinet replacement

Removing Existing Kitchen Cabinets

Your job likely starts with removing the existing countertops, a process we cover in the Countertop Removal and Installation Guide for each material type.

Look there for details, but basically what you’ll do is:

  • Shut off the water
  • Remove water lines from the faucet, and catch the remaining water in a towel
  • Disconnect the drain
  • If desired, remove the fasteners and clamps holding the sink in place, and remove it
  • Remove the brackets and plates holding the countertop together
  • Remove the fasteners and clamps holding the countertop to the cabinets
  • Remove the countertops with the help of a pry bar if they are glued to the cabinets

That’s it. If you plan to re-use the countertops, take extra care not to damage them in the process.

Now, let’s move on to kitchen cabinet removal. The steps are quite easy.

  • Remove the base cabinets first
  • Start by removing any trim or molding such as a toe kick molding
  • Empty the cabinets, and remove the drawers and loose shelving
  • Use a drill to remove screws holding the cabinets together first, and then those holding them to the floor or wall studs
  • If the base cabinets are glued down, which isn’t normally done, you might have to use a pry bar to remove them
  • For wall cabinets, have one or two other people hold them to prevent them from falling while you remove the fasteners

Many homeowners move their old cabinets and countertops to the basement, garage or workroom, and if that’s your plan, take care not to damage them during removal. Also, if there’s a chance you might forget which cabinet goes where in the sequence, number them as you remove them.

Installing Kitchen Cabinets

Installing cabinets can be a DIY project if you’ve got good skills with a level and basic hand tools. You’ll need:

  • Cabinets (they should be empty and w/o doors)
  • 1”x2” ledger board (optional)
  • A level at least 4’ long
  • Tape measure
  • Chalk line or pencil
  • Stud finder
  • Drill/driver
  • Clamps
  • Wood shims
  • 5” screws

Here’s a step-by-step guide to installing cabinets. Start with the wall cabinets.

Wall Preparation Steps

Determine at what height the bottom of the wall cabinets will be. Standard base cabinets with an installed countertop are 36” off the floor.

The space between the countertop and the bottom of the cabinets should be at least 18” to allow for easy use of countertop appliances. Up to 22” is within normal range.

Take into consideration the height of our tallest wall cabinets and the height of the ceiling. If the cabinets are going to fit snug against a soffit at the top, that will determine the height.

  • Mark the wall where the bottom of the tallest cabinets should be using the tape measure, level and chalk line or pencil
  • Locate all studs with a stud finder, and mark each side with a pencil
  • Install a ledger board (optional) at the line you’ve made to help support wall cabinets during installation

Hanging Wall Cabinets

The key to getting professional results is to measure carefully and to work slowly and precisely.

  • Attach two or three of the wall cabinets together with clamps, if you have help and can safely lift them, or otherwise plan to hang one at a time
  • Check to make sure the cabinets are level and that their faces are flush to one another
  • Pre-drill holes in the sides of each pair of cabinets near the back, and use screws to fasten them together, if installing more than one at a time
  • Lift the cabinet or cabinets up so that the bottom(s) rest on the line you’ve made or on the ledger board
  • Check to make sure that the faces are plumb, and if they’re not, place shims behind the cabinets to make them plumb
  • Pre-drill holes, and use screws to secure the cabinets to the wall studs (and to one another)
  • Install a filler panel, if needed, at the end of the line of cabinets
  • Once all the cabinets are up, install the doors and hardware

Installing Base Cabinets

The procedure is about the same for base cabinets, only somewhat easier since there is no lifting.

  • Position all of the cabinets without fastening any of them, and use shims, if and where needed, to make the tops level and the faces flush and plumb
  • Use the stud finder to locate the studs, and mark them along the top of the base cabinets
  • Predrill holes in the side walls and in the backs of the cabinets in the location of the studs
  • Insert screws through the holes to fasten the cabinets to one another and to the wall studs
  • Install hardware, doors, drawers, shelves and molding

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