Getting Cabinets Level and Plumb

Common-sense tips on cabinet installation. April 30, 2009

Iíve installed maybe 50 kitchens since I started in the cabinet business and one thing I still struggle with is getting the bases perfectly level. I always aim to get the bubble centered between the lines at every angle. My mentor was not perfect and really never showed me the right way. Iím finding the cabinets are always racked at least a little bit. It always seems a corner is low or high, and I correct it and it sets another corner unlevel. Iím thinking of getting one back corner correct for height, screw it in really tight and then work around the box clockwise using whatever pressure it takes to square it up.

Forum Responses
(Cabinet and Millwork Installation Forum)
From contributor D:
1. Put as many boxes together as you can before screwing to the wall.
2. Pick your battles - cabinets beside of appliance openings are where you want as perfectly plumb as you can get.
3. Use the biggest level (straight edge) you can use for long runs, a wavy 12' of cabinets doesn't count for much even if each cabinet is level.
4. Always find your high point(s) and start there.
5. Perfectly level and plumb is a relative term. Thereís only so much you can do based on cabinet quality and site conditions. In the end it has to look good to the end user.

From contributor M:
Cabinets level and plumb don't matter as much as straight, square and flat. If you install cabinets level in a house which is 4" out of level in a 10' cabinet run, well then I guess what you'll have is something which will make the customer gag even though that perfectionist hump in the middle of your back was feeling so well massaged for a while.

From contributor V:
If you put your cabinets on one long base instead of four (or more) legs per cabinet, it's a whole pile easier to get the cabinets to sit properly. We always build a base big enough for all the cabinets of a run to sit on. Level that and plunk your cabinets down.

From contributor P:
I too build a 4" high base and spend lots of time getting that level, starting from the highest point. Then the cabinets just fall into place. Itís a lot easier than trying to reach behind a cabinet and inserting a shim, where necessary. (I also get better yield from a 4x8 sheet - 6 sides, 30 1/2" high instead of 5 at 34 1/2" high).

From contributor F:
I'll second contributor D's post. Itís good advice and pretty much how I go about installs. Are you just installing cabs or building them also? If youíre building them you may want to consider using ladder frames for your bases. I switched a couple years ago and have never looked back. It makes installation a whole lot easier.

From contributor A:
One of the fastest most accurate ways is to put a $300 laser on the floor and give it a spin. Then you have a perfectly level line around the room. Nail or screw a strip of plywood or wood to the wall so it catches the bottom of the cabinets. Or give yourself a level line at the top of the bases that you can see when fastening them to the wall. Using a 6' level is not accurate in the least over much more than 6'. The cheaper option is to make or buy a water level ($6 worth of Tygon tubing). Use this to make a few level points. You can use a chalk line to connect the dots.

The water level is old school the laser is new school. Both are equally effective. The fastest system for leveling cabinets seems to be a hybrid of the ladder and legs. Fasten the ledger to the wall and only use legs in the front. It's a little easier and more forgiving than building ladders and you don't have to adjust the feet in the back of the cabinets.

From contributor P:
I second contributor Aís suggestion to use a laser level, it's dead on.

From contributor W:
We have been building one piece toekicks for years and if you had not brought this up I probably would not have remembered that we used to have level problems.

From contributor A:
To contributor W: what do you mean by one piece toekick?

From contributor W:
Letís say you have a run of cabs of 96" long by x tall and 24" deep we would cut 4 pc at 3.25x95" and 4 pc at 3.25x19.5. We build a "stud frame" and run the extra two 95"x3.25 on top to add up to 4" tall x 21" deep x 95" long set toekick 1/2" from end of first cabinet level screw to floor with 4x4x.75 trash blocking place cabs on top, skin the toe kick with matching 1/4 inch or cove base (depending) works with euro style (all we build) not fixed toekicks.

From contributor L:
I think you posted your method a while back about the ledger strip on the wall and legs on the front. Thank you very much for the suggestion. I tried it out and it works great. Much faster and easier to get level/straight. That's about the only way I do it now. Thanks again.

From contributor T:
Something else to consider - if the boxes are not square then you can only have plumb or level but not both.

From the original questioner:
Thank you all. I'm going to try the loose toe next time.

From contributor J:
Here's a little modification I read somewhere on WOODWEB that is really nice on the separate toe kicks. Rip your front toe the width you want, 4" or whatever. Rip your sleepers and back toe piece 1/2" less. Assemble with tops of all pieces flush. Level and shim the front toe, then level back to the wall and screw the back to the wall. This gives you more wiggle room if the floor is uneven and also requires less shimming as the back requires no shims, just screws.