We decided to remodel our kitchen with new cabinets, electrical, and appliances - doing most of the work ourselves! We remodeled a kitchen in our previous home with full custom cabinets, but decided to use Ready-to-Assemble cabinets for this kitchen.
We looked at big box store and mail-order pre-assembled modular cabinets but they were either low cost/quality or high quality but up in the price of full custom. Some of the high cost cabinets we looked at had really poor build quality.
Other flat-pack cabinets, like IKEA, look nice and are priced well, but lack some of the sizes and shapes we wanted, and are largely plastic laminates with laminate clad particle board boxes.
We chose a vendor here in California that sold flat-packed ready-to-assemble cabinets out of solid wood and plywood. The shaker style doors have solid wood frames with plywood inserts. The cabinets have sold wood face frames with plywood boxes - all prefinished with holes pre-drilled for doors and drawers. Door/drawer soft-close hardware included.
The prices was about $275 per linear foot including shipping and tax. This doesn't include countertops or any slide-out shelves or racks, but does include adjustable shelves and one lower cabinet corner lazy susan.
This is a project for someone with fairly strong woodworking skills and tools e.g. ripping trim on a tablesaw, shimming and shaving cabinets to fit, mitering and fitting trim, etc.
Step 1: Measure, Draw, Order
We were not moving any walls or openings but did move some appliances so the cabinet layout was pretty straightforward.
1. Measure your room very carefully. This is very important as everything hinges on it. I measured to 1/8" and made sure I measured at several locations for the same distance - for variations in walls, plaster, anything out of plumb or level.
2. Sketch up a plan using the cabinet company online catalog. Mentally go through how each door will open and if it will interfere with a wall or appliance. We picked out our appliances at this point to have exact sizes for the refrigerator, dishwasher, sink, and stove. Go over how each appliance door will open and your traffic patterns too.
3. Send the sketches to the cabinet company. Sean, at our cabinet place, did all the CAD drawings of our sketches and looked over the design as part of his service. We locked in the plan pretty quickly and Sean sent us the price quote and lead time of 7-10 days after payment.
4. We confirmed the quote and ordered them. Walcraft uses Paypal so I felt protected as a consumer. Paypal worked out great, they even checked that we got the cabinets and were satisfied with them.
We waited to order until we were mostly done with demolition, cleaning up the drywall so it was flat and plumb (vertically straight) as possible, installing all new electrical, lighting, electrical inspection, upgrading the plumbing, plumbing inspections, and patching the flooring where cabinets moved, WHEW!
Step 2: Assemble Cabinet Boxes
A double pallet arrived with everything wrapped and boxed nicely. Inventory all boxes to make sure they match the order, ours was fine. Set up a padded table for assembling each cabinet. We installed uppers first then lowers.
1. Look over all the parts to understand how they go together, an online video from the cabinet vendor was nice to review.
- Place the face frame down on the table.
- Run a thin line of Titebond II glue in each face frame dovetail groove and unpainted rabbit groove for the fixed bottom shelf. Spread glue with disposable acid brush.
- Spread glue in the unpainted rabbit grooves of each side piece.
- Slide each cabinet slide into the face dovetail grooves. Make sure they are flush at the ends.
- Fit the cabinet bottom in the front and side grooves.
- Spread glue in the unpainted grooves of the cabinet back. Fit the back and staple up each side every 4-6".
- Screw the back to shelf with the included screws. Add the corner strengthening brackets
- Use a large steel square to make sure the cabinet is square all around before the glue dries.
Repeat for each cabinet. We formed a chain of one person assembling and the other installing.
Step 3: Installing Upper Cabinets
It is easier to get a ladder up close to the upper cabinets if the lower ones are not in the way. I cut a 2x4 with foam stapled to the ends to act as a wedge to hold it up in place. It is still a 2-person job.
1. Plan out how you will build out your cabinets, start from hard corners. We had 3 groups of upper and 2 groups of lower cabinets with one corner.
2. If the cabinets need to be shifted down or left or right, rip the included trim pieces and screw them to the face frames. We needed to move one upper set of cabinets down 1/2" for the doors to clear a ceiling heating vent. Another block of upper cabinets needed a filler strip to get the cabinets centered on the window.
A photo above shows holding up the trim and scribing it with a pencil for the variations in the wall. Belt sand to the scribe line if you aren't using covering trim for a nice tight wall fit.
Our cabinets were up against the ceiling, if yours are not, rent a laser level or snap a line with chalk string. Luckily our ceilings were straight, otherwise adjust cabinet level line to fit the cabinet heights, you may need to shave them off a bit with a belt sander.
3. Locate the studs in the wall with a stud finder and transfer the measurements to each cabinet so you can screw through the 1/2" ply frame into the stud. We used SPAX and GRK wafer head construction screws #8x2.5". Start the screws into the cabinet before putting up on the wall.
4. Cut holes for in-cabinet outlets. We had switched outlets put in the cabinets for under cabinet lighting. A oscillating cutter is great for this. Decide if you want the outlet face plate inside the cabinet or a hole all the way through and the outlet face plate behind.
5. Place and shim the upper cabinets. This is tricky so watch some YouTube videos. I used plastic shims that I cut with aviation shears. You want them level left/right and front/back AND able to line up with the next cabinet. You will want to finish quickly, but really taking your time here is worth it. Drive 2 screws per stud into the back and 4 screws into the adjacent cabinet to lock them together. You can do it! It really starts looking like something quickly. You may need to trim the cabinets against the wall with a belt sander to make them fit- make sure sand from the good side so you don't get chip out.
Step 4: Installing Lower Cabinets
Lower cabinets installation is similar to uppers but you must make sure the countertops are completely level side to side and front to back using a long spirit level. These cabinets have trim to cover the floor kick area so use of plastic shims works fine.
Cut holes for plumbing fixtures in the sink base cabinet and hookup the diswasher while all of the plumbing is so easily accessible.
Screw cabinets to each other and the studs behind just as the uppers. These are easier since you don't have to hold them up in the air.
We had quartz countertops installed and they wanted 1/2" plywood underlayment flush to the edges of the cabinets
Step 5: Drawers and Knobs
The drawers are all pre-cut and ready to glue and assemble. Use the same assembly table that you used for the cabinets, have a wet paper towel ready for glue drips. Watch the vendor video for full details, the above animated GIF gives you an idea how quickly and precisely they assemble and install.
I made a drill jig for centering the handles we chose. The jig is a block of hardwood drilled very carefully for the handle holes. There are several widths of drawers so I didn't make a horizontal guide for the jig, just used a centering ruler. For the height on the drawers I made a separate jig with a lip over the edge and used a vise grip style clamp to hold it in place.
I screwed cleats on the bottom of the drill jig for the cabinet door handles since they were all in the same locations (except for two, keeps you on your toes!).
Only one misdrilled hole on the whole project, I fixed it by taking a piece of scrap with the same finish and sand it down until it perfectly fit the bad hole. Nobody is the wiser.
Step 6: Countertops, Sink, Backsplash, Undercabinet Lighting - All Done
We contracted out the countertops to a local firm. They came and measured then ordered and cut the quartz tops, also installed the sink we bought. They came out very nicely, something we just are not equipped to do ourselves.
The backsplash is tile. We installed that for a pop of color including the whole field behind the stove. We chose not to fill in the entire wall between the counter and upper cabinets feeling like it would make the kitchen seem too busy with the pattern.
I installed undercabinet lighting strip LED lighting that really looks sharp and is nice shadow-free task lighting. Other people have written Instructables about this so I will let you use those. I chose Warm White LED type 3528 60 leds/meter waterproof plus 2A power supply from this EBay seller.
We saved quite a bit of money for high quality wood cabinets by choosing the right ready-to-assemble cabinets, note they require decent woodworking skills and attention to detail. Give them a try!