Name one tool that’s the cost of a high quality miter saw and could save your back? While a cabinet lift might not have been top of mind, for a woodworker or contractor it’s one of those obscure tools that can avoid injuries.
Why do I care? Well, I’ve built and installed more than my share of kitchens and furniture pieces.
And I’ve had two back surgeries because of it.
Why do I link cabinets and back issues? Well, cabinets and furniture construction pose an unseen risk of putting your back into an unnatural position and applying sideways torque. Due to the boxy nature of cabinets, the need to lift and hold them overhead and weight with MDF construction they are a dangerous lift.
And not just during installation. For example, when building cabinets it’s common to build the cabinet on the bench and then move it to the floor. And then later lift it back up for sanding and staining. And then put it back on the floor while you work on other cabinets. Before lastly picking it up again for finishing and hardware installation.
Considering a typical cabinet box is 36″ tall, 24″ deep and from 24-48″ long if you do this by yourself all the pressure goes on your upper shoulders and lower back. Then throw in a sideways motion of shifting the cabinet to the bench and you’re applying sideways torque while your back is under strain. And that’s not good.
But a cabinet lift can alleviate this risk.
4 Cabinet Lift Uses Beyond Just Installing Cabinets
I had doubts when I first saw and read about a cabinet lift. It’ll be an expensive gadget in my workshop that I’ll use during cabinet installation day and then it will sit.
But then I started thinking of what all else a lift will do for my woodworking projects, and then took a look at my storage shelves and what I was manually lifting.
And I lift a lot of heavy things without realizing it.
#1 - Using a Cabinet Lift for Heavy Purchases
A few weeks back I decided it was time to invest in a generator. After years of holding off, skipping camping trips to non-electric sites, and risking spoiled food my research took me to buying a new Honda invertor generator.
And this generator weighs in at 131 pounds. Due to that weight the crew at Northern Tools used a forklift to put in the back of my truck.
So how do I use it at home and on the road? While I can technically lift it, it’s boxy. And this is where a cabinet lift comes in handy for taking a heavy load out of your vehicle, lowering to floor, and then using in reverse for future use of a portable tool like a generator.
#2 - Installing Microwaves & Appliances
If you haven’t installed a microwave the weight of it will surprise you. While most contractors have at one time or another dealt with this (demolition or installation) it’s an awkward process.
And microwaves are surprisingly heavy. As in WOW I didn’t believe they could be that heavy.
How does a cabinet lift help? Much like installing a cabinet a microwave needs to be lifted in place, set on the rear ledge, and then held in place while the hanging bolts are installed. Without a cabinet lift this job is ideally a two person task.
#3 - Building Cabinets and Furniture
While I touched on this prior, one of the under-looked uses for a cabinet lift is in the workshop building them. Here’s where it helps:
- Lifting plywood sheets to table saw
- Lifting cabinets down/up to work bench
- Loading cabinets into vehicles
#4 - General Construction (Beams & HVAC)
For contractor usage, with extensions on a cabinet lift, it’s possible to hold overhead beams and HVAC runs. Or, on flat surfaces for lifting deck beams.
How to Use a Cabinet Lift for Installing Cabinets
Before taking a look at my recommended cabinet lift, it’d be worth understanding the features and uses during cabinet installation.
Key features of a cabinet lift:
- Reach up to 70″+ for over-refrigerator cabinets
- Hand or power crank operation
- Weight rating to lift multiple cabinets “pre-connected”
- Extended forks to install upper cabinets with base cabinets in place
- Removable base to act as a dolly
- Easy to move wheels to support adjustment of cabinets
Steps to Using a Cabinet Lift
- Mark stud location on upper cabinets for wall cabinet screws.
- (Optional) Connect multiple upper cabinets together through the cabinet side or face frame
- Set cabinets on lift
- Use lift mechanism to move cabinets to required height
- Install shims as needed
- Screw cabinets to the wall
While it’s optional to connect multiple cabinets together it is one of the huge time-savers for a professional installer.
Recommended Cabinet Lift
The Telpro Cabinetizer-76 has been an industry leader for years.
With a three-in-one design it will (a) lift a single or “gang” of upper cabinets in place with a winch, (b) convert to a dolly to move both upper and base cabinets around and into the kitchen. (c) sit on a base cabinet and lift upper cabinets in place (wheels removed).
- 300 lb lifting capacity
- Lifting height of 72 inches (bottom of cabinet)
- Steel construction
- Convertible to a dolly
- Accessories to lift cabinets in place over already installed base cabinets
- Optional extensions for higher reach
Frequently Asked Questions for a Cabinet Lift
Can I install cabinets myself?
Beyond the skills and tools to install cabinets one of the largest barriers is being able to lift the cabinets in place. With a cabinet lift you’ll be able to remove most concerns with weight as it will dolly, lift cabinets and hold them while you screw cabinets in place.
Can you build a cabinet lift?
While possible, due to the lift and lock mechanism required to do this I recommend purchasing a factory designed unit for safety.
What's the difference between a cabinet lift and a cabinet jack?
A cabinet lift, as it’s name implies, will lift the cabinets in place and hold them. The cabinet jack, however, will only hold the cabinet in place once positioned and requires you to do the lifting.
While a cabinet lift is a large purchase, at a fraction of a cost of fixing back-related issues it’s a great way to force yourself to use mechanical help.