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How to Install Wall Cabinets

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December 17, 2023
Zoe Hunt

Now that you have your wall cabinets built and ready-to-go, it’s time to actually install them! In this post, we’ll cover the simple way to install upper wall cabinets and how to finish them off with some trim to give them a more elevated look. 

If you are choosing to add trim, please read this entire post before you begin installing the cabinets. There are some things that you can attach to the cabinets prior to installation that will make attaching the trim easier. 

how to install a wall cabinet

Alright, let’s dive in and talk about installing upper cabinets! 

How to Install Wall Cabinets 

Recommended Tools:

Shopping List: 

  • 2×4
  • 2.5” cabinet screws 
  • 3.5” wood screws
  • 1.25” wood screws* (see note in Step 4 before purchasing)
  • Spackle

This shopping list does not include the materials needed to trim out your cabinets since those steps may vary based on your project. We will include links to those materials when we get to the trim section.

STEP 1: MARK THE STUDS

Using your stud finder, find and mark each stud that will intersect your cabinets. 

STEP 2: HANG 2×4 SUPPORT

Mark where you want the bottom of your cabinets to be. 

Cut your 2×4 to be approximately the same width as the cabinets you want to hang. This doesn’t need to be exact. If you’re hanging over 8’ of cabinets, you can use multiple 2x4s, move your 2×4, or if it’s just slightly over, you can center your 2×4 up so that it’s underneath each cabinet, even if it’s not fully spanning the end cabinets. 

Line your 2×4 up with your line and use a 3.5” screw to secure it into the stud that is closest to the center.

installing 2x4 to wall to help hold wall cabinets in place during installation

Place your level onto the 2×4 and ensure it is level. Secure the 2×4 to any more studs that it spans across using a 3.5” screw. 

STEP 3: HANG THE FIRST CABINET

Place the cabinet box on top of the 2×4. We still like to keep a hand on the back of the cabinet to ensure it doesn’t tip forward before it’s secured to the wall, but the 2×4 should be doing most of the heavy lifting here. 

Once you have the cabinet positioned where you would like from side to side, mark where the studs line up with the cabinet backs. 

Secure the cabinets with (3) 2.5” cabinet screws into each stud that the cabinet hits. It’s okay if it only hits one stud.

Installing upper wall cabinet using cabinet screws

Note: if your cabinets do not have full backs, don’t fret! They should instead have stretchers along the top and bottom of the cabinet back. You’ll add your screws through those boards.  

STEP 4: HANG ADDITIONAL CABINETS 

If you have multiple cabinets next to one another, that’s where things vary based on what cabinet style you have. We’ll break down how to install both options. 

Personally we install we build our cabinet so that the face frames are flush with the outside of the cabinets. We like to do this because I would rather secure cabinets to one another via the cabinet boxes rather than the face frames themselves. You have to drill just right (and perfectly straight) to avoid damaging the face frames if attaching them to one another. 

So if you install your face frames flush like we do or you don’t have a face frame at all, follow the “frameless cabinets” part of this tutorial. If your face frames extend past the side of your cabinet, follow the “face frame cabinet” tutorial. 

Frameless Cabinets

Place your second cabinet so that it’s touching the cabinet you already installed. Clamp the front of your cabinets together so that they are flush. 

clamping face frames during upper cabinet installation

Using 1.25” wood screws, secure the cabinet sides together, near the front of the cabinet. We usually use 2-3 screws along the front. 

If your cabinet had a face frame, screw them in right behind the face frame. The goal is that these screws will hold the front together so that your cabinets remain nice and flush throughout the year, even as the temperatures rise and fall. 

attaching two wall cabinets together

Once the cabinet is secured to the other cabinet, secure it to the back through the studs using 2.5” cabinet screws. 

Face Frame Cabinets 

To determine the screw length that you’ll need for this, measure the width of your face frame. Generally they are 1.5-2” wide. Your screw length should be approximately the width of your face frame + (at least) ½ of the width of the face frame. So if you have a 1.5” face frame, use 2.25” screws. If you have a 2” face frame, you’ll get 3” screws. 

Place your second cabinet so that the face frame is touching the cabinet you already installed and clamp the face frames together. 

Pre-drill through one face frame and into the other in 2-3 places. It’s very important that you drill straight. Since we’re drilling such a long distance, even being slightly angled can result in the screw popping out or cracking the face frame. I would highly recommend using a drill guide for this step. 

Once you’ve pre-drilled, add screws to secure your face frames together. 

Then, secure the cabinet box to the wall using 2.5” cabinet screws into the studs. 

Want to DIY buy don\'t know where to start? Click here to grab your free guide!

STEP 5: REMOVE THE 2×4 SUPPORT 

Now that your cabinets are hanging on their own, they don’t need the 2×4 support anymore. Remove the screws and take down the 2×4 support. 

Lightly sand the wall where the screws were and then fill the holes with spackle. We like to let the first coat dry, lightly sand, and then add a second coat and sand again before painting. 

Free download wood sizing cheatsheet

Adding Trim to Your Wall Cabinets

Now that the cabinets themselves are actually installed, it’s time to add some additional trim and mouldings to really take it up a notch. All of these are optional and may not be applicable to certain cabinet installations, but we wanted to share just in case it was of interest to you! 

For this part of the tutorial, I’ll walk through how we finished off my mom’s laundry room cabinets which spanned from wall to wall. 

STEP 1: INSTALL BOTTOM TRIM

For this step, we used a trim that is designed to be added to the bottom of face frame cabinets. It has an L shape, so instead of needing to nail through the front of the trim, you can secure it to the cabinet underneath instead. 

Add a bead of glue to your bottom trim and then place it along the bottom face frame of the cabinets. You can use a single piece of trim across multiple cabinets. Secure the trim to the bottom face frames using 1” nails. 

Installing upper wall cabinet moulding

STEP 2: INSTALL CROWN MOULDING 

If you want to install crown moulding to your cabinets, first cut a piece of scrap wood to be the width of your cabinet. Use pocket holes to secure it to the top of your cabinet. This will give us something to attach the crown moulding to.

If you know you want to add crown moulding, it’s easier to attach this piece to the top front of the cabinets before installing them, but it can be installed after the fact as well. 

Secure the crown moulding to the scrap piece of wood you attached to the cabinet using 1” nails. 

DIY wall cabinets with crown moulding installed

If you have a face frame with partial overlay doors, you can also attach it directly to the face frame as long as it’s high enough to clear the doors. 

STEP 3: INSTALL SIDE TRIM 

This step will vary depending on how big of a gap you need to fill. If you have a larger gap (greater than ¾”), it’s best to attach a small scrap piece of wood to the side of the cabinet before installing them. This way you don’t have to try to squeeze your drill or nail gun into the tight space. 

This scrap piece of wood should not go all the way down to the bottom side of the cabinet so that it’s not easily visible. We recommend stopping it about 4-6” from the bottom of most cabinets. This piece of wood can just be a scrap piece of plywood or a scrap 2×4 if your gap is large enough to accommodate that.

Secure it to the cabinet side so that it is setback from the front. You can use nails or screws to secure it –just make sure it doesn’t poke through the inside of the cabinet! The setback should match the thickness of the piece of wood that you’re using to fill the gap. 

In the past we’ve used a standard 1×4 for the filler piece. 

installing side filler piece to DIY cabinets

After your cabinets are installed, install the filler piece using 1.25” nails to the piece that you secured previously. 

For us, our gap was small enough to just use a small moulding and did not require a filler piece or attaching a piece to the side.

DIY upper cabinets installed with trim

Technically there is a slightly thinner version of the shoe moulding we used that’s a better fit for cabinets, but we were short on time and needed something pre-primed, so we went the shoe moulding route. 

Our overlap between the trim and the face frame was minimal, so instead of nailing it, we secured it with wood glue and a few dabs of superglue. The superglue just helped keep it in place while the main wood glue dried since we weren’t able to clamp it. 

blue DIY wall cabinets in laundry room

There you have it! Now you know how to install wall cabinets and how to add some trim around it to make them look more professional. 

For More Information About Cabinets, Check Out These Posts: 

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