Sunday, March 24, 2013

Cabinet Installation

When woodworkers take my basic cabinet class, we don't have a chance to install cabinets during the class, so we take some time to discuss installation on the last night of class. Here's a short version of what I say in class, and what Mark Duginske and I will cover in the Installation chapter of our cabinetmaking book:

I take a non-traditional approach to installing base (a.k.a. lower, or floor) cabinets, though more and more cabinets made by commercial shops are installed in a similar manner. I make a separate platform, or plinth, which is installed first. The cabinets are set on top of the platform, then secured to each other, to the base, and to the wall. There are two very powerful advantages to this approach:
  1. It is much simpler to level one platform for each run of cabinets than to first determine the high point on the floor under each run and then make each individual cabinet level with that high point as you install it. If you level and secure the base first, you just set the cabinets down on the base and they're automatically all level - - assuming you've made them all the same height and they're square! If you have multiple runs of cabinets, bringing them all to the same level is still easier, because you just have to install the bases so they're all at the same level, and all the fussy work gets done on a smaller number of items that weigh a lot less than individual cabinets.
  2. If the room is ever flooded, for instance if the supply line to the ice maker breaks while you're away on vacation, the bases may be ruined and need replacement, but the cabinets themselves are much less likely to be damaged. In fact, if cabinets are installed below grade, I never let the cabinet sides touch the floor, because it's just a matter of time before they get flooded.

The rest of this entry will just be captions on photos.

The scene of the crime. A corner of my disorganized shop that needs some cabinet space and a nice sturdy work surface.

I want to attach the cabinets to the wall, but that wall is a knee wall made of blocks, then a cap on top of that which is 2x, and a standard sheetrock wall on top. Ordinarily I would screw a board to the studs in the sheetrock wall, but it sits about 2" behind the 2x cap. The cap only sticks about 1/2" out from the block wall, so it's simplest to just screw a 1x4 to the block wall and screw the cabinets to that:
I'm using a hammer drill to make 5/32" holes in the block, and then I'll use "Tapcon" brand screws to fasten the 1x. This works well and gives a nice easy place to drive screws through the cabinets into the wall, without worrying about hitting (or missing!) studs. I fairly often use this approach on regular sheetrock walls, as long as I can cover up the horizontal ledger board.

Next I bring in the base, which I made separately. The base is about 4" narrower than the depth of the cabinets, to leave room for your toes when you stand at the cabinet. The base is 3-1/2" tall, because I made it from 1x4's. 3x4 is pretty close to a standard toe kick size, but obviously you can adjust the size to your needs.
Level the base with shims, 
and then add angle iron right next to the shimmed locations to anchor the base just where you want it. In order to drill holes in the concrete floor and drive them, I had to temporarily remove the base so it wasn't in the way of the drill:
Then put the base and shims back. Once you have all the angle irons screwed to the floor, and the base is really level, drive screws through the angles into the base. Snap off the shims but leave them in place. Once the cabinets are on top of the base, the extra weight holds the shims in place.

Next, put the cabinets on the base in their final positions:
Screw them to each other, using either 1-1/4" woodscrews or the "cabinet connector screws" (a.k.a. "sex bolts") you can buy here. Connector screws are great and if you ever go whole-hog for the 32mm system, you'll see how great they are. If you use them now, do yourself a favor and buy a 5mm drill bit to make snugly-fitting holes for installing them. Once you have that 5mm bit, you can start using "system screws" to install your Euro hinges, and you'll be on your way down the slippery slope to 32mm cult membership.
Once the cabinets are screwed to each other, screw them down to the base. Use an adjustable square to let you know exactly how far back it is to the front edge of the base, and drive a screw 3/8" back from there:
I neglected to photograph myself driving screws through the cabinet backs and into the horizontal 1x4 on the block wall. Most of my cabinets have a nailer near the top, but because on this wall I'm screwing into a lower board, I loosened the nailers and put them right in front of the ledger. So with the cabinets screwed to each other, to the base, and to the wall, I set the countertop in place and drove screws through the cabinet tops into the counter. This is now a very solid installation. The fact that the cabinets are attached in every possible direction is one of the reason I like frameless construction: even though an individual box is not very rigid, when you put a whole run together they're solid as a rock.

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