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Proper cabinet knob placement is a must since a hole drilled cannot be undone. But choosing where to put the hole isn’t always obvious with the various styles of cabinets.
And, as important as location, once you’ve decided on a hardware placement the next challenge is perfectly drilling the holes. Or, as you can guess, mis-aligned or tilted handles will ruin your investment.
So, to help your placement this guide will cover:
- Where to place knobs and handles
- How to test placement without drilling a hole
- Cabinet knob placement tools that will put the hole where you want it
After building and installing over a hundred kitchens of all grades and styles, I’ve learned placing hardware is ultimately up to the user. While standard placements factor in the cabinets’ visual lines, sometimes the kitchen owner is going for a different look or function.
What is the best way to decide? From farmhouse pulls to modern knobs, it’s best to buy the hardware, then hold it on the cabinet. And, of course, use a cabinet hardware drilling jig to ensure holes are correctly installed.
Steps to Installing Knobs
These are the basic steps to placing your cabinet knobs correctly:
- Complete installation of the cabinets
- Align all doors and drawers
- Use a putty-like Loctite Fun-tak to hold a knob in place temporarily
- Sample different locations on doors and drawers and find your visual preference
- Use a cabinet hardware jig set to the desired location
- Drill holes with a pilot point bit and backer board to prevent “blowing out” the inside of the door
- Make sure you have suitable drawer screws. I always have 1-5/8″ drawer screws on hand – the supplied screws are usually too short.
- Install knobs with a screwdriver or cordless drill with the clutch set to a low trigger
Cabinet Knob Placement Options On Doors
Let’s start with door knob placement. Generally, doors and drawers can be considered separately when laying out the knob location. There are a few considerations and placement options that we’ll review for cabinet knob placement:
- Location on the door rail or stile
- Upper cabinet placement for ease of use (height)
- Hinge location – especially for end cabinet doors
Explaining Door "Stiles and Rails"
I’ll refer to stiles and rails a few times, so it’s best to start with a picture. As shown above, rails and stiles make up the outside frame of most cabinet doors and are integral to the door’s construction. As you can see, the rails are horizontal at the door’s top, bottom, and sometimes middle. Stiles are vertical and can be remembered as “stiles stand.”
Classic Knob Placement
The classic knob placement centers the knob on the stile and lines the knob stile height with the inside edge of the rail. Or in other words, the knob is placed about 2-1/2″ from the bottom of upper cabinet doors or 2-1/2″ from the top of a bottom cabinet door.
As you can see, this arrangement allows for a visual balance as the knob is centered on the horizontal edge of the rail. And because of this, I’ve installed 99% of knobs in this fashion.
Tip: Why do I prefer to install the knobs with the doors mounted on the cabinets? As you can see from the diagram, the upper and lower rail is needed to place the hole. So attempting cabinet knob placement and hole drilling with the doors off introduces the opportunity for error, such as mistaking an upper door for a lower one.
There are two other options for placing knobs. First, the knob can be centered on the stile and rail. While second, the knob can be placed in the center of the door stile.
There is no right or wrong answer if you are getting creative. However, usability must be kept in mind, and one example is center knob placement for pantries, as in the diagram below.
Bottom Cabinet Pull-out Doors
One last variation to consider is base cabinets that have a pull-out door front. And for these, I recommend looking at a knob design that incorporates a handle for ease of use. Just install this handle horizontally on the upper rail, centered left-to-right and in the center of the rail (remember Stiles stand!).
Frameless or Slab Doors
So what if I need to get traditional rail and stile construction? Well, you can repeat the visual placement of the conventional door.
As you can see, the traditional placement will work – or you can vary the order and choose a symmetric approach where the “up and in” measurements are the same. In either case, I’d recommend using a cheap putty like Loctite Fun-Tak to hold a few knobs in place temporarily. And make sure you put a soft pad below the putty to catch the knob n case it slips off.
Outside or Inside Edge of Door
For the door’s usability, which may mean changing the “swing,” you’ll want to consider end cabinets carefully. By this, I mean how the door will operate. For example, with an end cabinet, you won’t want to walk “around” the door swings to access its contents.
It’s common to have the hinges on the side closest to a wall or open end of the cabinet.
Double-checking this is important with cabinet knob placement, as you’ll decide on the door swing permanently once the knob hole is drilled.
Cabinet Knob Placement On Drawers
Drawers have a couple of considerations that doors don’t:
- Centered left to right and top to bottom, one knob or two knobs
- Handles or Knobs
- Bottom drawer placement in a “drawer stack.”
knob placement for solid drawer front, under 24" wide
This is the simplest and most common configuration. Because most drawer fronts are under 24″ wide, simply installing the knob centered both vertically and horizontally is common.
Framed Drawer Front, Under 24"
Depending on the construction of the door, there are two options here:
- Centering on the drawer vertically
- Installed in the upper rail
If you choose to install it in the upper rail, remember how the countertop overhang may impede the use of the knob. Due to this, it could be best to wait until the counters are installed.
placement for a solid drawer front over 24" wide
The only change here is considering two knobs may be necessary to support even weight distribution as the drawer is extended. To help with even drawer action, when a drawer is over 24″, two knobs are generally used and spaced out in 1/3rds.
To do this, measure the drawer front, divide by 3, and from the left and right, put knobs at that distance. For example, a 27″ drawer front would be 27/3 = 9″. Then place the knobs at 9″ from the left and right.
Lastly, visual preference comes into play here. Due to this, it is acceptable to spread the knobs out a little further to the edge of the drawers. Again, try the putty method and see what you like before committing to drilled holes.
Framed Drawer Front, Over 24"
You can take the same approach as with a solid front. However, consider using the top rail where you have room under the countertop, and it is visually appealing to you or the homeowner.
Cabinet Knob Installation Tools
Choosing where on the drawer or door the cabinet will go is essential.
But without the right tools to install the knobs, you’ll run into issues with:
- Knobs on adjacent doors drilled at different heights
- Drawer knobs not vertically aligned on stacks of drawers
- Drill bits “wandering” when they start drilling
Lastly, if you have longer handles, you’ll want to use a jig made to extend up to 38″.
Related Article: Best cabinet hardware jigs for installing knobs and handles
How to Avoid Damaging Your Kitchen
Your kitchen is expensive. But when you look at the cost of replacing a door or drawer front because of a lousy knob placement, it isn’t cheap. And if you are remodeling older cabinets finding a replacement door or drawer may not be feasible.
So how do you avoid putting a hole in the wrong place?
- Measure three times. Just because you use a jig or other method doesn’t mean it is correct.
- Always drill knob holes with the doors and drawers installed. By doing this, you will avoid an upper cabinet door having a knob drilled for a lower cabinet door—or other disasters.
- Use a backing board when drilling holes to avoid “blowing out” the wood on the back side of the door or drawer. Or worse, drilling into your finger (hey, after drilling thousands of knobs I’ve done that…).
- Have the knobs in hand. Due to variations in knob appearances, don’t even think about drilling holes until you have at least one knob available.
Four Things NOT to Do When Installing Cabinet Hardware
As promised, here are three common errors you can make when installing your cabinet hardware:
Mistake #1: Rush your hardware installation. If you’ve just installed your cabinets, take your time with the hardware on the same day as the installation. While you have a week or two until the counters are installed, test your handles and hardware, and see what and where you like.
Mistake #2: Freehand your holes. Haven’t you drilled a lot of holes in wood? You’d be surprised that wood grain will lift your drill bit sideways and make for a misplaced spot. You can use an inexpensive cabinet hardware jig instead.
Mistake #3: Drill all the holes and test a knob. Like sawing, measuring twice, drilling once, and installing a test knob. Then, could you make sure you like it and keep going?
Mistake #4: Splintering your cabinets. Look, wood is made of fibers. And when a drill bit forces through them and finds a soft spot on the inside of the door, it makes a splinter. How do you think you could avoid this? Use a backing block on the inside of the door and drill slowly.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a cabinet door stile?
A cabinet door stile is the vertical “standing” piece of wood to which cabinet hardware is attached.
Where should cabinet knobs be placed?
Cabinet knobs should be placed with consideration for the cabinets’ usability, aesthetics, and design. For usability, the door’s swing must be considered, as well as the height of the knob. However, aesthetics dictate that knobs be placed in a visually appealing place. And lastly, the cabinet design and construction will decide if the knobs are placed on the door, drawer frame, or wood front.
What tools are required to install cabinet knobs?
Aside from a cordless drill and drill bit, a cabinet hardware placement tool is a must to ensure the accuracy of the final cabinet knobs.
Choosing the proper cabinet knob placement isn’t one of the decisions you may have planned for. But with any cabinet installation or update, it’s a critical decision you can’t undo.
Cabinet Installation Series
Planning & Tools To Install Cabinets
Guides for Cabinet Installation
Finishing Cabinets With Molding and Hardware
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Eric has been a professional woodworker for over thirty years and has worked in small cabinet shops making everything from kitchen cabinets to hand-made furniture. Now working from a home woodworking shop Eric is sharing his passion for woodworking, tool advice and how-to knowledge from his Minnesota-based woodshop.