Hanging Upper Cabinets on Out-of-Plane Walls

Advice on how to fit cabinets to twisted walls. April 24, 2014

When hanging an upper with 2 or 3 doors, do you account for twist in the wall? In hanging a French door I will pull cross strings from each corner of the jamb to ensure the jamb is in one plane and that the doors will line up. I have encountered numerous installs where the walls are out enough to cause a problem. Thoughts? What am I doing wrong?

Forum Responses
(Cabinet and Millwork Installation Forum)
From contributor F:
If I am hanging a cabinet like that where I am concerned about the doors, and there is not enough adjustability in the hinges to take care of some twist, I will use straightedges across the other cabinets, and then adjust the cabinet, while it is on the wall, by losing some mounting screws and tapping in some shims in one corner or the other to straighten the cabinet face out a little. I would probably hang the doors back on that particular cabinet to check them, before moving on to the other cabinets. It's always a good idea to check the walls carefully first, so you don't end up shimming everything else in a long run out to match one cabinet in the center on a bump.

From contributor K:
Installation needs to be level and plumb. If you do this, and your cabinet is square in the first place, you should have no problem or it will fall into an acceptable area where you can make adjustments with hinges (of course, inset cabs or doors without adjustable hinges are not as forgiving).

Think of installing a 6' cabinet... In the center on the wall, the sheetrock bows because of plumbing. If you put the 6' cabinet up against the wall, it will teeter back and forth unless you put something behind it on each side to bring the surface of the wall out to meet the back of the cabinet, which eliminates the effect of the bow in the first place (i.e. shim). Your other, less appealing option is to go flat to the wall on one side and shim the other (which will be more dramatic and more likely to be seen on the ceiling line). This option is not the one to use, but rather the former.

Now, if it is not one 6' cab, but 2-3 cabs, you check for level as you are installing (under the bottom rail of the cab) and you also check for plumb (on the face of the cab). You also check for the cabinets to be flush cab-to-cab by laying a straight edge (preferably a 4' level) across the face of the adjoining cabs on the top and bottom. It should lay flat, and if not, it needs to be shimmed out more until it does...

From contributor B:

Sounds like shimming to fit is the answer, however if one end is exposed/finished, the gap and shim will show, which could be covered with trim. If the gap is rather large I have scribed the cabinets if installed in sections as well as cut the drywall to take out a hump. If you cut the drywall, be cautious not to cut the vapor barrier behind. I have cut small sections of drywall, peeled the surface paper and filed down the drywall core to the thickness needed with a drywall shaver. A combination of scribing and shaving the drywall down a bit behind the cabinet works well for large differences. If installing against plaster, you're out of luck as the hard coat is too difficult to modify.

From contributor R:
If you are building the cabinets, then as stated above, either shim to either side of the hump and ensure the cabinet is plumb, level and square but also make finished end panels for the cabinets that will have exposed ends and scribe them to the wall to eliminate any gap from irregularities in the wall. Big box cabinets like Kraftmaide, Schrock, and Merrilat leave the stiles 1/4 inch proud so you can order a sheet of finished panel backer that is the same thickness and cut it to fit the wall.

It's always a good idea if you can to get to the job before the sheetrock goes up. That way you can check for potential problems and see where all the wires and plumbing go. (I know, in a perfect world.) Also if the GC will allow you, you can install blocking at that time to make install easier.

From contributor N:
What you're doing is wrong. You're not using a level on the face of the cabinet. If the face is perfectly plumb, you're not going to have an issue with twist. One thing I can't stand is big uneven gaps between the door and the cabinet.