Kick boxes

Building separate kicks for efficient installation. September 20, 2003

I am building more and more frameless cabinets and have been building the kicks separately. I have found it easiest for installation purposes and material usage. I am trying to build them faster, though.

I have been cutting out feet, about 1-1/2" to 2" in width to rest on the floor, minimizing contact for uneven floors. I make the cuts on the band saw, cutting in about 3/4" to make feet. I have been making these cuts with the feet on all the pieces, the fronts and backs and all the cross pieces wherever there are vertical components (sides, center supports, etc.) above on the cabinets. I was thinking I could save some time by just cutting the feet on the cross pieces for the kick boxes, then just keeping the fronts and backs narrower (about the 3/4 I am removing with the band saw on the cross pieces already) to keep them from any contact with the floor. I also run some 3/4 ply strips flat across the top of the kick box to provide a wider "hit area" for screws from the base of the cabinet cases above. I just factor the additional 23/32" for this 3/4 piece into the kick box height. Are there faster/better ways to make the kick box?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor S:
We build frameless cabinetry too and we gave up using leg levelers years ago. We find it easier and faster to build the kick boxes. We cut 3/4" plywood strips 3 1/2" wide X length of toekick less 3/4". One of these will screw to the wall and the other is separated by "rungs" 3 1/2" X about 18 1/2" long. Those are all stapled together like a 3 1/2" thick ladder. Then you plant the face toeboard on the front of the ladder, stapling through from the inside so the staples don't show on the front. The front I usually cut extra tall and flush the top edge with the top of the toekick ladder assembly.

To install these, we bring a box of shims and wedges and lay all the toekick boxes where they go. We level up all the kick boxes in the kitchen to each other very carefully. Then we determine at what height we need the top of the toekick to be based on the ceiling height, cabinet heights, height of appliances, etc. Then we cut a scribe block the right size and scribe all the finished toekick fronts to the floor, whether the floor is a finished floor or concrete slab, etc. Then after cutting with a jig saw we screw them all together and level them front to back and screw to the wall.

If you've taken the care to level them well, what you end up with is a level platform that you can just set all your cases on and screw them together, then screw to the wall in places, shimming as needed. We usually screw to the wall at the top of the base cabinets and then into the toekick to hold the bottom in place. Once you get used to the system it really goes quite fast, and by the time the toekick boxes are in place, the rest of the installation is a breeze.

From contributor D:
That sounds like a good idea (removing material to help deal with the high spots on the floor) but you don't have control where these high spots are going to show up and you still have to spend time shimming and leveling the kick boxes. On the floors I've worked with, I can't think that I would gain any real time on install using your "footed" toe boxes. However, I see no problem leaving the front and rear toes shorter in height, provided your front-to-rear pieces are located to support the end panels of each cabinet and somewhere close to the mid deck area of your wider base cabs. Having to be precise in locating these front-to-rear pieces would then add to the time issue. When the front and rear pieces go to the floor, they support the cabinet ends, wherever they fell along the run.

Do you really need a full 3/4" clear space? If you could reduce that some to 1/2" or better yet, 1/4", and run them off on a shaper with a large diameter cutter in a single pass, it should be faster than band sawing the pieces. Since all these pieces are the same length, stop blocks could easily be used to start and limit the length of the cuts. As an alternative to the shaper, and because these parts are all the same dimension, you could set up a jig with permanent stops, clamp the pieces in the jig, and route the edge using a powerful hand held router.

From contributor B:
Why not just reduce the height of your rips and add blocks at the corners where needed?

From the original questioner:
That's a good thought on using the router or shaper. I have heard of guys using their jointers to take off 1/8" or so. 3/4" is probably overkill, but 1/4" to 1/2" works for us. The main advantage we have found is when it comes to leveling the kick, there are considerably less points to shim or scribe in the unlikely event the floor is really out of whack - not to mention it helps you locate the parts under the end panels where I think you would want to be sure to get a shim anyway. That's a good system with the 3/4 front to the kick, contributor S, that you can scribe to the floor. We have used 1/4" and just liquid nails, occasionally a few pins if it's really stubborn. The 1/4" is less material and easier to scribe if need be. By adding the 3/4" face to the kick, you also resolve the problem of the "hit area" for screws when screwing cabinet bases to the kick as you have 1-1/2" area. Do you screw into the back of the bases as well? That's where we used to have problems hitting the 3/4" width of the ladder missing a few screws per install. We made the rips for the kick narrower by 23/32" and added a 3" piece or so horizontally on top across the front and back of the kick. This way we aren't measuring every time we put a screw in. Takes a little more time in the shop I guess, but makes installation easier, we find. We sometimes have problems with the kick lifting when screwing to the back of the wall, particularly on some smaller kicks for 18" deep base cabinets. Another thing we have done on occasion is add some 3/4" block on the top of the rear of the kick to keep the bottom of the kick off the wall. This has helped in messy renovations where debris is wedged in the corners or if an old moulding is left behind. Anyone else do something different they are willing to share?

I fought off on the leg leveler for a long time, too long in fact, for no other reason than how my customer might respond to them. It is faster, more cost effective, produces better yield, and makes loading and trucking easier. The levelers are dirt cheap, no need to spend the big bucks, as it's all compression load. I won't install without them, and my customers absolutely love them, especially after they recognize that they have an access area to run plumbing, wiring or other things they may have forgotten or want to add. Also they know that the cabinets have been leveled to a gnat's ass, regardless of how far out the floors are. It really shines when they drop the tops on a dead flat cabinet. I will not install without them, period. They are that good, that efficient, that easy.

Add the blocks, as contributor B stated. Tack them on with a couple of small brads. You only need a half inch at most to dodge the uneven spots in the floor. If a block is on a high spot, you can pluck it off with a pair of water-plumb pliers and put in shims as required. You can make the boxes with the "show" front integral to the construct. No need to add a separate piece. Glue and 1 1/2" brads are sufficient - all butt joints. If you want to scribe the show face, use a sidewinder grinder with a 60 grit disk. In fact, use a grinder for all your scribing instead of the clumsy belt sanders.

My suggestion is to check in with the person who's installing the cabinets. I'm not a cabinetmaker, I'm a cabinet installer, and if I'm bidding the installation, it will cost more to install on platforms rather then leg levelers.

Leg levelers are an installer's best friend. If you care about your installer, ask them what they prefer before you make your final decision.

I have to agree with contributor B. Just pin on some 1/4" blocks at the corners and at the intersections. If you need to come down, that makes for an easy fix also.

From contributor D:
I thought of using "blocks" when I posted but thought it would be a hassle and nothing much more than the shimming process that occurs anyway, but as explained above, it does seem to be the best alternative to your desires of speed while still using the kick box method. I've used several methods, including kick boxes, but personally, I prefer leg levelers, for all the reasons that have been stated, plus some that are important to me even before the cabinets leave the shop.

I've always used kick boxes as opposed to leg levelers. What I hated about levelers was laying on my belly to reach the ones in the back when they weren't adjustable from inside the box. Also one of the first times I used them was on a 42" wide pantry cabinet. Try wiggling that monster into place without collapsing the legs! I later realized that 42" Euro cabinets aren't that common and wouldn't even think of installing one without a kick box. I've always found attaching finished kick material onto levelers a big hassle too. Especially when mitering corners.

Just screw a ledge on the wall (I cut mine 1 1/4" shorter than the finished cabinet to leave a 5/8" end toe recess on the finished end) and just use the levelers on the front. I build a monolithic case so my base cabinets are sometimes 96-97" long, that's a little longer than a 42"er. I'd rather muscle a long cabinet than string together a bunch of boxes. The ledge at the back makes this a very straightforward, easy operation. Most of my tall cabinets such as pantries, ovens, linens get an integral base with an applied finish toe board so I don't drag the levelers off, the rest get levelers. Also, I'd just as soon not throw the 4" cutoff in the trash, as it doesn't affect yield on the tall cabinets.