How to install overhead cabinets

Installing kitchen cabinets is well within the ability of the average do-it-yourselfer.

It just takes a willingness to be exact, and following a few simple tips.

Before you even lift a cabinet, you'll need something to keep the cabinet in place while you work on it. Even with two assistants some arms could get tired before the cabinet is secured. So, start by buying or building a cabinet holder.

They're simple to make. An upside-down U, made of a 2 x 4 cross beam and two supports, will do in most cases. Just brace the joints with an angled piece or two L-braces. With rubber feet it can be leaned against the wall without slipping. It will support the base of the cabinet while an assistant easily keeps the cabinet hugged against the wall.

Instead of a support structure, it's possible to substitute a 1 x 3 rail secured along a line where the bottom of the cabinet will be. Simply nail or screw it into studs at that location. That can work well, but it introduces the need to repair the holes made when you're done. Unless you plan on leaving the support there permanently.

Now for some measurements.

Measure the vertical distance up from the floor or down from the ceiling. In most cases, the cabinet will go up flush against the ceiling, so this is easy. Mark the wall an inch in from where the edge of the cabinet will be and down in rows for the vertical stays.

Mark a horizontal line on the wall where the base of the cabinet will reside and several X's along the line for the horizontal stays.

In sum, mark a smaller outline of the back of the cabinet with X's where you will screw in supporting hardware.

Now, using a stud finder, locate a stud (or better, two) where the back of the cabinet will be. Mark their locations, and draw X's six inches down from the top of the cabinet, and six inches up from the bottom. Studs are typically 16 inches apart, center to center.

Drill pilot holes at the X's that are slightly smaller than either the screws or screw holders you plan to use. For screws, the drill bit can even be much smaller. If you screw into studs, no inserts are needed, just wood screws about 2 inches long. For screwing into drywall, plastic or metal inserts are commonly used to ensure the screw doesn't tear out.

Depending on how heavy the cabinet and its contents will be, three screws each into two separate studs might well be enough. But a row along the top and/or bottom provides extra support. A cabinet can never be too secure.

Now for the tricky part. Ensure that everything is kept perfectly level while you secure the cabinet.

A cabinet that is not perfectly parallel to the ceiling may be inevitable. Not every ceiling is perfectly flat or horizontal. But if the bottom of the cabinet isn't, and therefore the sides aren't perfectly vertical, it will be noticeable.

It may be necessary to shim the back of the cabinet slightly to get the shelves exactly horizontal in the other direction. One direction is from your left to right. The other is from front to back. That's just more proof that some walls (and cabinets) are not at the exact right angles and perfectly flat. You need to compensate.