Separate Toe Bases for Commercial Cabinetry

For convenience and efficiency, these cabinetmakers build the toe kick and the main cabinet as separate pieces. September 8, 2008

We are doing a medical office, all frameless, melamine interiors, HPL doors and drawer fronts, extremely short lead time, less than perfect concrete floors, steel studs, 4” vinyl base everywhere. We normally use levelers, but the architect rejected our method (don’t ask). On the first office we did for them, we notched all our base cabs for toes.

Since there is vinyl base everywhere, I am thinking of cutting all my base sides (including finished ends) to 30” and using a separate toe base. When they wrap the cabs in vinyl base, you’ll never see the 4” at the bottom. Yield jumps way up.

Can anyone suggest whether a separate toe should be done in the shop (one for each base) or built in long sections to be trimmed as needed by our (sub) installer, or made precisely for each base run?

Also, any suggestions for attaching the toe base to the cab? I can see pocket screws if done in the shop, or “L” brackets, but too slow. I don’t want him to shoot through the deck into the toe (he has done that in the past) - ugly! Has anyone just used Liquid Nails on the toe base and dropped the cab on it? Screws hold it to the wall anyway. Also, from an assembly standpoint, it seems quicker/easier to get a square cab when the deck is flush with the sides. With the integral notch, it seems slower to build and tougher to check for square. Can anyone suggest quicker assembly tips?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor M:
I have done miles of this type of cabinet in the last thirty years. Frameless plastic-laminated cabinets with overlay doors are pretty much the standard for commercial cabinets in the Southern California area.

I always use separate toe bases shop built to the length of the cabinet runs after installation. This allows you to set up a nice straight platform for setting, connecting and aligning a group of modules together to form a complete run of cabinets. I would much rather get the alignment and leveling function out of the way before I start putting down cabinets, which are much heavier and bulkier to align.

I have always attached the toe bases to the wall and then attached the cabinets to the bases with screws through the bottoms of the cabinets into the toe bases.

I use screw caps on the screw heads keyed to the color of the interior melamine and have never had a complaint.

I accomplish the same pre-alignment function for setting the upper-cabinet modules by pre-attaching a cabinet hanging strip to the wall for the uppers to hang from. Labor is really minimized by using these methods.

From contributor B:
I have a question to add. When you use a separate toe base, how do you hide the joint line on the side of the exposed base cabinets? If you make the base box 30" and have a 4" sub base and apply the vinyl base molding, then you're running it right on the joint or just below it if the cabinets had to be jacked up to be square. This assumes that you build the separate toe base to be flush with the side of the base cabinet. Or do you inset the toe on the side an amount to make the line more appealing to the eye?

I just did a dentist office job and we built the cabs with notched base end panels. The notch was 4 1/2", and yes, they wrapped the whole office in the vinyl base as well. There were a lot of exposed base ends and we figured it was the best way to have a nice clean look. I would also be very interested in other options because we spent a good deal of time making them the way we did.

From contributor N:
Separate bases. Scribe and install level and plumb. You can put two tapcons to the floor to hold them square and sit your cabinets on top. Leave the bases inset at the ends.

From contributor P:
I leave my kicks min. 1" short on a run that'll have a finished end. That way the vinyl cove, base shoe, or baseboard sits back. Screws through the deck are standard; no one has ever complained.

From contributor A:
Most new commercial casework calls for 34" finished height per ADA standards. Your sides should be 28 1/2" + 4" toes and 1 1/2" countertops should give you 34" AFF.

From the original questioner:
Thanks to all who have posted so far. They are specifying 34" (ADA) in Break Room only, which is typical for us. Sometimes if there are many exam rooms, one will have an ADA sink.

Regarding the side inset of the toe on finished ends, if you are more than 1/2" in (or so), aren't you losing all your support for the side/countertop? We use pocket screws on finished ends (zip-r's on unfinished). I can see where the 1" or more inset would look good. If I inset only 3/8" it would look like a mistake, don't you think?

From contributor P:
Probably losing some support, but the screws, Confirmats, or dowels ought to take that weight fine in shear. I use applied finished ends, so the structural partition is bearing on the kick anyhow if there's a 1" setback.

From contributor L:
On this type of job we use a ladder kick frame and hold it back about 1". The fact that the one end is being supported by the bottom has never been a problem. The shear support given by the backs probably helps as well as the support provided by the pry of the end pulling on the top and back nailer. All the parts are working together so that their total support is more than adequate. We use doweled cases for this kind of work so we don't have to have applied ends.

From contributor M:
Are you using an applied finish end for jobs which have a laminated plastic exterior, as this question originally referred to? I'm just wondering, since I cannot figure what would be the point in doing this with laminated plastic. You can simply stick a piece of plastic on the cabinet end at the end of the run.

From contributor P:
I don't do much plam, but use applied finished ends on everything. It keeps the shop work standardized, and makes it easy to change if damage occurs. On a fast-track job, I'll deliver and install rough cases so the countertop templates can be made, then bring finished ends and faces later.

From the original questioner:
Contributors P and M, I wonder the same thing as well, but from both perspectives. We too have installed rough boxes and come back with finished ends (usually because we could not lay up panels quick enough). I like the idea of a consistent process, screwing the box together and adding the end. But, with so many stand alone boxes (common in reception areas, exam rooms, and uppers with varying heights), we have gone to single thickness end using pocket screws. This hopefully saves money (less material) and installation time, but I am still not convinced.

If you post laminate after assembly, how do you deal with the black line of the laminate over the edgebanded edge? Again we are usually building from panels already laid up with color HPL on one side and white liner on the other (to go with the white melamine interior). Plus, in our area, melamine good one side and glueable the other is more expensive than good both sides.