Cabinet Scribing Hows and Whys

Basic tips on fitting cabinets to floors and walls. November 11, 2005

Since I am fairly new at this, I am reading everything I can find and have found references to scribing cabinet bottoms to the floor and cabinet backs to the wall. I am not to sure how to do this or if it really applies. I would suppose that if you have an uneven wall and you recess your backs you could do this, but is there a site that explains the process? Also, I have been lucky to not run into any uneven walls yet, but I know they are coming. Is there a method of building your upper cabinets to help avoid this problem?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor A:
You shouldn't have too much trouble scribing a cabinet to the floor unless there is a hump in the concrete, in which case you'll need to cut the cabinet to fit around it. Usually, I just find the high spot of the floor and shim everything to that. As for scribing to walls, we don't bother to inset our backs. Wherever there is an open (exposed) cabinet end, we put a 1/8" skin on it and leave a 1/4" scribe at the back. That's usually plenty of room to make the cabinet match the wall. If necessary, you may need to shim out some of your uppers, and if there's a really bad problem with the wall (say like a stud that's 1/2" out), you can carefully cut the drywall and make the cabinet fit in. Just make sure the customer isn't home when you're doing it.

From contributor B:
I do things in a rather old-fashioned way but here it is - if the side of a cabinet butts to a wall, I make the face-frame overlap the box 1/2" or so, depending on how out of plumb the wall is. On the end of a run that doesn't butt to a wall, I make the exposed side hang out the back 1/2" or so, with a rabbet for the back. These get scribed to fit the wall. For bases, I build 2-by platforms and level them with shims. I then face the base with 1/4" ply finished appropriately and scribed to the floor. Then I screw down the base cabinets to the bases. For scribing, I use a really cheap pair of compasses (because they work better than anything else I've tried) to draw a line that mimics the wall shape. I cut to the line with a sabre saw, tilting it a bit for a back-bevel. Sand the edge a bit to smooth it out and get rid of the stringy stuff.

From contributor C:
I always spec the upper and lower carcass to be 1" from the wall and with a 1/4" back that leaves a 3/4" space, which usually is enough for any bumps in the wall. A few times I have entertained the idea of 1" clear to the wall because 3/4" is sometimes just not enough. You just don't know how well the walls will be built so you have to be prepared.
I also have clients who attach their cabs directly to the wall. I don't know how they get away with this and I would not recommend it. Attaching a continuous 3/4" cleat securely to the studs in the wall will allow you to easily attach any cabinet to the cleat along any spot inside the cabinet that is convenient and aesthetic too. I would be careful when using 1/4" backs. If the cabinet back is not shimmed tight to the cleat then when you run a screw through the back into the cleat you run the risk of the back pulling off when it is drawn tight. For this reason I prefer 1/2" backs. The price difference is not that much and for the uppers it really adds strength to the hanging cabinets.