Kitchen Cabinet build melancholy (this is a bit long)

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Forum topic by SoCalWoodGal posted 06-17-2019 09:35 PM 455 views 0 times favorited 7 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View SoCalWoodGal's profile


64 posts in 1152 days

06-17-2019 09:35 PM

Well, I’m finally done with all the base cabinets in our kitchen. It’s taken me 3 years, but they’re built. I’ll move on to the uppers when I have the time. We’ve been living with plywood tops on most of them for a long time now and we’re very excited to finally be getting new countertops.

I placed the order at Ikea’s countertop sale 3 weeks ago for white nougat quartz. Still haven’t heard from the installer for a templating date to schedule, but that’ll get worked out eventually.

There’s been A LOTTTTTT of trial and error with this project. Understandable, since this is my first time to attempt cabinets and I’m a relatively new woodworker. I’ve fought with drawer slides, boxes out of square, rails and stiles that refuse to fit tightly no matter what router bits I use and paint that somehow looks a bit different on the most recent ones compared to the first ones I made.

So, now I’m on to leveling the base cabinets. Ikea says that cabinets must be secured to the wall and level within 1/8 of an inch over a 9 foot run. Notwithstanding that I have no idea how I would measure that since I have a 1 foot level and that’s it, it’s got me a bit depressed. If the installers come in and decide that the cabinets aren’t where they need to be, we get charged $225 for them to come out again after it’s fixed. So now the pressure is on for me to get these right.

The problem is, I am far from a meticulous woodworker. For most of my projects, this is ok. I have a way of problem solving that ends up making most things look like intentional bung ups and most things turn out beautifully. But this is a whole new level of precision that I do not employ in my shop. You’d think it was due to impatience, but with as much time as each of these cabinets has taken me, I can’t imagine how much longer I’d have to work to be precise.

I’ve spent the last 2 days leveling one corner of cabinets- just 3 cabinets. It took forever and it’s still not 100% level- it’s slightly off. So now I know it’s going to take me a lifetime to get the rest of them leveled before these countertops come in, and I’m still nervous that all that work will amount to them rejecting the cabinets anyways and charging us.

I guess what I’m looking for is assurance that all woodworkers go through this. Or that I’m sweating it too much, and the installers will be fine with it. It all makes me feel like a pretty crappy craftswoman and a hack.

I spent 3 hours yesterday sanding down the bases of 2 of the cabinets because they couldn’t match the level line I made from the first cabinet. And they weren’t flush all around the bottom of the cabinet. Little variances so that it wobbled a tiny bit on our tile floor.

-- SoCalWoodGal

7 replies so far

View Rich's profile


4553 posts in 1007 days

#1 posted 06-17-2019 10:34 PM

You’re sanding them down? What you want to do is use shims to level them. You can do this with your 1 ft level even.

Set your first cabinet and shim it level. A 1 ft level will work fine, just get the front, back and both sides as level as you can. Now, set your second cabinet and shim it level as well. As long as the top edges of the two cabinets are even and they are both level, then the entire assembly will be level. Continue on for the rest of the units that will be part of that countertop assembly.

Be sure to attach the units together by getting the stiles perfectly flush with each other and screwing through the side of one to connect them.

Also be sure to shim the units to the wall and attach them with cabinet screws through studs.. Cabinet screws have washer heads that make them best for attaching something to a wall.

Do them one at a time as I described and put in the wall shims and screws and you’ll have rock solid and level cabinets that you could hang off of without tipping them. That’s what you need as a base.

-- Knowledge is not skill. Knowledge plus ten thousand times is skill. -- Shinichi Suzuki

View Woodknack's profile


12842 posts in 2798 days

#2 posted 06-18-2019 04:57 AM

Another way, which I prefer, is to make the base and box separate. So if you have 9’ of cabinet run, build a 9’ base, level it, then set the cabinets atop and screw them together. Then attach the kickplate.

-- Rick M,

View TungOil's profile


1272 posts in 913 days

#3 posted 06-18-2019 07:20 AM

It will be worth your while to pick up a 4’ or 6’ level to install your cabinets. I use a laser level.

Start with the corner cabinet. To late now, but Before any cabinets are in place it is useful to find the high and low spots on the floor and check the walls for any wonky studs (easier with a long level or straight edge). As rich said use shims to level and square the boxes. It’s also useful to think of the installed cabinets positioned slightly above and in front of the floor and wall, with the spaces filled by shims to keep things level. Place a shim where you will screw them to the wall, or the boxes will flex out of square.

The counter top guys can shim any minor out of plumb when they install the tops as well, but for appearance you will want the cabinets as close to true as possible.

-- The optimist says "the glass is half full". The pessimist says "the glass is half empty". The engineer says "the glass is twice as big as it needs to be"

View SoCalWoodGal's profile


64 posts in 1152 days

#4 posted 06-18-2019 07:35 PM

I guess I didn’t cut each panel as accurately as I could, which is making some of the cabinets ever so slightly taller or shorter than the others. Which means when a taller one went in, I couldn’t shim it or it would be above the level line, so I had to sand it down to take off some height. It’s frustrating, because if I shim the back bottom of the cabinet to get it level side to side, then it throws off the front to back level, and vice versa.
Here’s the set I’ve leveled. You can see the bubble is slightly off.

-- SoCalWoodGal

View ChefHDAN's profile


1417 posts in 3267 days

#5 posted 06-18-2019 08:38 PM

Trust me, with how fast some of the builders are throwing houses onto the market, finding a dead-nuts level install is very rare. Your counter top installer can also shim minor tolerances between the counter and the cabinet top. Once they are in place and once you run a bead of caulk around the gap, it’ll never show.

-- I've decided 1 mistake is really 2 opportunities to learn.. learn how to fix it... and learn how to not repeat it

View SoCalWoodGal's profile


64 posts in 1152 days

#6 posted 07-13-2019 08:37 PM

Update from OP: I’m happy to say that the installer came today to template and everything was level enough for them! Hooray! It took me 4 days to get them all level, but it’s done! Countertops, here we come.

-- SoCalWoodGal

View Rich's profile


4553 posts in 1007 days

#7 posted 07-13-2019 08:43 PM

That’s great news. I’m glad it worked out for you.

-- Knowledge is not skill. Knowledge plus ten thousand times is skill. -- Shinichi Suzuki

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