Creators Syndicate

Dear James: I have made many cosmetic improvements to my kitchen. Adding some new upper cabinets would be the finishing touch. What is the best way to install them for a professional look? — Gloria T.

Dear Gloria: Installing new upper cabinets can really improve your kitchen decor and function. Also, you can pick cabinet sizes to fit the items you need to store. Everyone has some unusual appliances or dishes that just doesn’t fit in any of your old kitchen cabinets. Until your budget allows for new lower cabinets, just paint them to match the new upper ones.

Your best choice is what is called “stock” ready-made cabinets. These are basic cabinets which you can find at most home center stores. There are actually many sizes to choose from to meet any unusual needs you have, but you cannot order custom-sized ones.

If you decide to use custom-made cabinets, keep in mind the warranty on them usually requires professional installation by the dealer where you purchased them. They will do all the measuring themselves to insure a perfect fit.

Stock cabinets are not necessarily lower quality than custom-made ones, but they just were not made specifically for your kitchen. When purchasing stock cabinets, you usually get what you pay for. Since you are planning to do the installation yourself, consider spending a little extra for good cabinets.

Several of the most common problems do-it-yourselfer have are not installing the cabinets level and plumb, not aligning the doors properly, not attaching the cabinets to wall studs, and damaging the walls during installation.

With these common errors in mind, it is time to start fitting your new cabinets. For a professional-looking job, the end cabinets should fit tightly against the walls without large gaps. If there are gaps, you can cover them with a piece of trim molding, but this is a dead giveaway of a nonprofessional installation.

To fit the cabinets perfectly against the wall (all walls are uneven), temporarily mount them in place. Place a piece of masking tape along the edge of the cabinet where it touches the wall.

Run a pencil compass down the wall with the pencil tip on the tape. This will transfer the wall irregularities on to the tape. File or saw along this pencil line to match the cabinet edge to the wall.

If you plan to install both new upper and lower cabinets, it is easier to install the upper cabinets first because you have better access with the lower ones removed. Use a chalk line and snap a vertical line on the walls to indicate the locations of the wall studs. 

Remove any shelves or drawers first to make the cabinets easier to handle. Mark each drawer and shelf so it goes back into its original location. Don’t just stack them up and attempt rely on your memory to get them back in their matching spots.

Start installing your upper cabinets at the wall, where you filed the wall contour on to the cabinet edge, and work your way across. The only area for a more critical cabinet fit is above the range vent hood. Before you install this cabinet, cut all the openings for the duct and the electrical line to the range hood and drill the mounting holes.

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