Not sure how to hang upper cabinets by yourself? In this guide we’ll show you some tools and tricks that should let you do this job yourself. From helping with the weight of upper cabinets to having the right screws and cabinet installation tools this job can be done alone…
First, I’ve installed many kitchens without help.
And while it’s not my preferred approach it can be done. However, I’ve had the experience of installing over 100 custom-made kitchens and know a few tricks like:
- Using a cabinet jack is a must to hold upper cabinets in the air
- And a cabinet claw for face frame cabinets will free your hands to drill and screw
- Or, using a cabinet hanging system like the HIY System Hangers*
- Having the right cabinet installation screws that won’t fall off your bit driver
- And of course, having all the right cabinet installation tools.
How to Hang Upper Cabinets by Yourself
WARNING: Installing cabinets is a high risk activity. Use a professional if you are unsure.
It’s tempting to save that $2000+ a professional will charge. But, because cabinets are usually 3-4 times more expensive than the installation it just doesn’t make sense to damage them (or worse) by trying to save a few dollars. Especially if you have no prior woodworking experience.
With that resolved, let’s take a look at how to hang upper cabinets by yourself:
1. Have the Right Tools On Hand
You probably know this, but there’s no way you’ll tackle this job with just yourself and a screw gun.
Or, if you do, you’ll end up with a low quality installation that wasn’t worth the money you may have saved.
While you’re likely choosing a DIY installation because of budget, I’d recommend having at least these three things on hand:
- Cabinet Claw to hold face frame cabinets in place AND allow you to drill and connect the face frames.
- Cabinet Jack that will hold your cabinets in the air and free your hands for drilling and screwing.
- PowerHead Screws with a torx head that almost glue themselves to your drill and won’t fall off at the worst time.
2. Preparing the space
Before you start attaching cabinets to the wall you’ll need to answer one question. Which upper cabinet will go up first?
While every kitchen is different there are a few rules of thumb on which cabinet, what height, planning for filler strips and considering appliances.
Trust me, installing the upper cabinets first is a must to avoid awkward lifting over base cabinets.
Picking the first upper cabinet to hang
You might have guessed it, but the shape of the kitchen will decide where you start. As you learn how to hang upper cabinets by yourself this is the first big decision. Let’s look at the most common configurations:
- L-shaped kitchen: In this configuration you will have a single corner cabinet with upper cabinets extending to the left and right of it. Start with the corner cabinet. This may be a “single” corner that is an odd-shape (like a baseball diamond when looking at the top), or a straight cabinet with a face frame that “stops” where another cabinet will fit into it.
- U-shaped kitchen: Similar to the L-shaped, a U-shaped kitchen also starts with the corner cabinet but you may have two corners. Which one should I start with? I’d recommend starting with the cabinet that has the refrigerator on one of it’s walls. Why? The height of the refrigerator cabinet is a key concern. We’ll get to that later.
- Straight wall – no refrigerator: Start with the cabinet that might go into a corner wall. If there are no end-walls or refrigerators then a starting point might based on lower cabinet appliances. Why? Filler strips are usually required and I try to plan them around appliances to avoid un-natural gaps in the cabinets.
- Straight wall – with a refrigerator: If you have a refrigerator side panel (wood) then starting with the refrigerator cabinet is a good starting point.
Find the starting height
With the help of a laser and a good tape measure you can find this in minutes. When you are installing upper cabinets yourself the last thing you’ll want to do is redo the installation.
Steps to finding the starting height:
- Find the highest floor point in your kitchen. A laser level with a 360-degree beam is invaluable for this. I recommend the Firecore F112R laser and a floor-to-ceiling Firecore pole.
- Set the laser beam at 54″ (the standard floor-to-ceiling height for cabinets).
- Measure the distance from the beam to the floor every few feet along the wall. If your measurement is less than 54″ you have a high spot.
- Keep searching across all the walls until you find the “lowest” measurement.
- Set the laser level to read 54″ at this high point and you have your starting height.
Plan ahead for cabinet filler strips
The cabinets likely came with filler strips to account for your room measuring an “odd” width vs. standard cabinet dimensions. If you had a design service they should have indicated where these go. Make sure you follow that plan.
If you are self-designing using box cabinets, then make sure you have filler strips and do an overall layout yourself.
Generally, try to plan filler strips around appliances and “split” them so you don’t have a 2″ filler strip creating a visual “why is that there”. Instead, use two 1″ strips where they will be visually complementing.
Laying out the appliances
Only the microwave layout matters for upper cabinets right? Well, not necessarily.
Any gap in the upper cabinets that corresponds to a range (standard), sink, or refrigerator needs to be pre-planned. Typically this is for ensuring filler strips on the upper cabinets are planned and will put the range in the right position.
Remember – the microwave or range hood cabinets have to be vertically “level” with the base cabinets.
3. Lifting the Cabinets In Place
There are a few schools of thought on installing cabinets. And while some “old school” installers use a ledger board I’ve never seen a good reason to put holes in finished sheetrock that will show.
So how can you lift the cabinets and hold them?
Well, there are a few solutions:
- As mentioned, use a cabinet jack to hold the cabinets
- Or, if lifting is going to be an issue, a cabinet lift will take a 200 pound cabinet to a finished height without you breaking a sweat
- Cabinet hangers allow you to install cabinets by simply lifting and dropping them into place.
- Lastly, if you are in the middle of sorting out the job you can consider the ledger board method. But I don’t prefer it…
4. Using Clamps as Your Fourth Hand
While FastCap has named their cabinet jack the “3rd Hand”, a cabinet clamp for either frameless or face frame cabinets could aptly be named the “4th Hand”.
When installing cabinets you’ll need to understand the cabinet box construction:
- Cabinets without a face frame are called frameless, and you can use a high quality cabinet clamp to secure the sides.
- However, a face frame cabinet can use the cabinet claw (mentioned earlier)
So, during the installation you can lift the cabinet in place, set it on the cabinet jack and then use a cabinet clamp to firmly position the upper cabinet.
5. How to Install Upper Cabinets Yourself Without Screws
Installing upper cabinets is a balancing act.
Literally – you’ll be balancing the cabinet in place while you insert screws.
An alternative to this, though, is using a cabinet hanging rail system like the one from EazyHang. While an added expense, a small investment in the hangers allows you to simply hang the rail, install fasteners to the cabinets and then simply lift them in place.
6. Have the Right Cabinet Screws and Supplies on Hand
If you skipping the cabinet hangers, you’ll be back to using cabinet screws.
But, you’ll need the right ones that don’t fall off the drill driver. And, to further complicate it, you’ll actually need three different types of screws to:
- Attach the cabinets to the wall
- Screw the cabinet sides together
- Connect the face frame with trim head screws
You can learn more about these screws in our cabinet installation screw guide.
Lastly, you’ll want composite shims that are consistently sized, slide between the wall and cabinet with ease, and can be “snapped” to length vs. cut.
7. Installing Cabinet Crown Molding by Yourself
While maybe not your first thought, one of the last tasks in a solo kitchen installation will be the installation of crown molding.
Which has a surprise waiting for you if any of the trim is longer than 3-4 feet.
Why? Well, you’ll need to follow these four steps:
- And, then nail the crown molding and ensure it’s accuracy is perfect
So what can help? Well, a 3rd Hand Jack will offer the reach and swivel head to support your crown.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it difficult to hang cabinets?
Cabinets can be installed by most DIY’ers with the right planning, tools and patience. While cabinets are heavy, they can be held in place by cabinet jacks or lifts to take the weight off you.
Do you screw base cabinets to the wall?
Base cabinets are almost always screwed to the wall. Generally, the only exception to this rule is an island cabinet that is screwed to the floor.
Hopefully this article helped you understand how to install upper cabinets by yourself.
But, if you want to learn more on installing cabinets check out our series on cabinet installation for more tools and supplies to make your installation go smoother:
Cabinet Installation Series
Planning & Tools To Install Cabinets
Guides for Cabinet Installation
Finishing Cabinets With Molding and Hardware
Tools on Amazon
Last update on 2022-01-26 at 14:04 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API