Installing your own RTA cabinets? Here’s some helpful tips for leveling the cabinets.

Cabinet leveling
Leveling Shaker Dove cabinets

In this era of DIY, we find that we all have the ability to make things happen. It is important to remember, though, that the difference between us and the professional craftsperson is experience. Of course, we can watch videos on how to do everything, but the content is only as good as the person presenting it. Experience sometimes acts without thought, and is as second-nature as raising a fork to the mouth. That said… yes, you can accomplish anything with the right information and a little understanding as to the “Why?” and “How?” of installing your own cabinets.

Let’s see what we can learn…

First of all, a fact that we need to understand is, no matter how new or old a room is, the floor is probably not perfectly level, and the walls are not perfectly plumb. Add to that, where a wall meets another wall, they probably aren’t perpendicular to each other, and can advance or recede into the space, not allowing for edges to match up. Imagine laying tile in a floor, then adding cabinets, but the base of the cabinet line doesn’t perfectly follow the pattern of the tile. Frustrating, but these are things the professionals have experience in minimizing effectively. You will need to as well.

Secondly, you need to understand that when dealing with cabinets, whether professionally made by a cabinet maker, or purchased as ready-to-assemble cabinets, there are many pieces to the box and frame, and there will be adjustments to make to have them appear uniform. Imperfections can add character, but, in general you will need to control those imperfections, and, more importantly, not be frustrated by them, but embrace them.

Lastly, and this is as important as anything else, remember that it is only wood. Wood can be cut, trimmed, sanded, painted, puttied, and taken apart, then put back together. In some cases, you will need to make adjustments to both the walls, the cabinets, and the floors, and it isn’t pretty. But, remember, what doesn’t show, doesn’t matter, so make your adjustments where it won’t be seen.

At the end of the day, knowing this is the case with cabinet construction, and the space you put them in, you can overcome any problem, and there is a solution to every blemish. Understand, your drawers and doors may, at first, hang funny; your cabinet edges may, at first, not seam together as they should; and the cabinets might not all install level, until you shim them up and screw them to the wall. The point is, you can do this! These days, our RTA cabinets come with adjustable hinges to move the door up-and-down, side-to-side, and in-and-out, all at the turn of a screw.

Securing cabinet to the wall once it is level and plumb
Hinge closeup showing adjustment screws
Adjusting screws on hinges to get your door and drawer lines right

Leveling the cabinets

You will want your cabinets perfectly level so that your countertop is level. This means you will have to find the highest point in the pitch of your floor, and shim up to that point. Hopefully, the pitch isn’t more than 1/4″ over 10 feet, otherwise you may need to pour on some floor leveling material.

Sight leveling cabinets

Even if you are building new, you can emphasize you want the floor as level as possible to the contractor, but, the truth is, the weight of you structure will settle the structure, and not always in a uniform way. Every contractor deals with some settling and floors not being level, and you will too.

You will level your cabinets by using shims underneath the cabinets (cut so they are out of sight), and screws – shims for leveling and spacing cabinets, and screws to tie things together and to the wall.

It is best to have a variety of shim thicknesses, so you can be more accurate in your leveling ability. Have a variety of wood screws at differing lengths available. You will be screwing into sheetrock, wood, MDF, an other materials, and you’ll need the right screws at different lengths to accommodate those materials. Gather these before you begin, so that you don’t have to stop and wait. That will cause frustration and make you want to cut corners. Professionals are patient, and love to accomplish their craft. You must adopt this way of thinking as well.

Having the shims and screws available will also aid in setting up and supporting cabinets, especially if you are working alone, or with limited help. Cut some pieces of wood the same height as you will lift your upper cabinets off the countertop – generally, this will be at 54 inches from the floor, at the bottom of the wall cabinets. Place a level on the wall and strike a line so you know where to place the bottom of the cabinet. Your first cabinet in a line will dictate the height of all the others, since you will level off that one.

Strike a line with a level at the height where
the bottom of the wall cabinet will rest.
Strike a line with a level at the height where
the bottom of the wall cabinet will rest.
Support sticks for wall cabinets
Cut sticks about 18″ and use shims to steady
the cabinet at the right height.

Okay, we will continue talking about installation of cabinets in the next post. Until then, make sure to gather your tools, shims, and wood pieces, so you’re ready to start with leveling your cabinets. You’ll need drills and drill bits, various size screws, shims, pieces of wood, a compound miter saw, a jigsaw, and a chisel, to start.

Don’t have your cabinets yet? No problem, search our website for the cabinet color and style you want for your kitchen, bathroom, home office, or laundry. We have many configurations available, and you can get them delivered to your door, assembled or unassembled.