how to install cabinet knobs

How to install cabinet knobs (the RIGHT way)

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Learning how to install cabinet knobs is one part cabinet knob placement and a second part having the right tools. In this article we’ll show you where to place your cabinet hardware, what tools will help you drill and even the right screws to install the knobs.

Drilling a hole in your cabinets is a daunting task, isn’t it?

Putting a hole in the wrong place can lead to an expensive fix.

Or suffering with the consequences.

The good news is you can do this yourself with the right tools, patience and layout.

But, if after reading this article you just aren’t comfortable tackling this task just hire a pro. There’s no sense creating thousands of dollars worth of damage.

How to Install Cabinet Knobs

Basic Steps To Install Cabinet Knobs

The following ten steps are the basic steps you’ll need to follow when installing cabinet knobs:

  1. Have the right tools and screws on hand (we will review later)
  2. Align all doors and drawers first and keep them on the cabinets.
  3. Decide where your cabinet knobs will be placed.
  4. Use a tacking putty to hold a knob in place to test visual appeal.
  5. Setup a cabinet knob jig based on desired placement.
  6. Place the jig on the door or drawer and double check measurements are correct.
  7. Drill the knob hole using a drill bit of the right size (3/16” is common) and a wood backing board.
  8. Install the first knob drilled to validate location and accuracy.
  9. Repeat steps 3 and 4 as needed.
  10. Drill the remaining holes, checking constantly for accuracy of placement and jig settings.

Tools To Install Drawer Knobs

There are six tools you’ll need for a quality installation with the best accuracy:

  1. Cordless drill
  2. 3/16” bradpoint drill bit (preferably new and sharp)
  3. Cabinet knob jig
  4. Measuring tape
  5. Phillips screwdriver or cordless driver (with clutch set to light torque)
  6. (Optional) Cordless vaccum to collect all the wood chips

Importance Of Aligning Doors And Drawers

Can I Install Kitchen Cabinets Myself

As you might have guessed, installing knobs is one of the last things to do on a cabinet installation.

Because cabinet knobs (literally) stand out it is important they are visually centered. And having the cabinet doors adjusted will help catch any issues as you are drilling holes. Besides, this is a task you’ll need to do anyway.

Tip: When adjusting cabinet doors start with one door and make sure it’s overlay on the top and bottom are the same. Then use that door as a reference point to align the tops of all doors to it’s left and right.

Cabinet Knob Placement

Inset Frameless Cabinet Door

The good thing with knobs is they are easier to place than handles or pulls.

But placement decisions will still need to account for:

  • Alignment with rails
  • Narrow vs wide doors
  • Pantry doors
  • Garbage or other large pullouts that may require a handle

For more on placement options see the cabinet knob placement guide.

Using A Cabinet Knob Jig

For even a small cabinet a cabinet knob template will help you set the knob location once (for doors) and simplify drawer installation.

Just a few reasons to use a jig:

  1. Install knobs more accurately by eliminating manual layout.
  2. Cut installation time by more than 50%. Due to set and forget for doors a jig will let the installer drill holes rapidly – both upper and lower doors.
  3. Save money. Avoid damage to the cabinets by reducing mistakes from a manual approach.

Lastly, for a new kitchen I recommend the all metal True Position Tools TP-1934* as it is the most accurate jig on the market (and many reviews* support that). But for small jobs, or those on a tight budget, the Tourace* jig will work if properly used and monitored. Just make sure it’s properly squared and check measurements often as it has plastic sliders that hold the drill bushings.

cabinet hardware jig tourace vs. valiant
I've used the Tourace (left) and found it square vs. the more expensive Valiant (right) jig. The Valiant is missing the set screw seen on the left to keep the jig square - and that results in crooked handles.

Drills And Drill Bits

As drilling holes is a light duty job just about any cordless drill will do. But if you need a recommendation this Dewalt 20V Max* is an economical choice. And the batteries will work with a wide variety of Dewalt tools.

Consider these features in a drill for knobs:

  1. Weight might be your key consideration as power demands are low and you will be working at or over shoulder height.
  2. Look for a low “amp hour” or Ah rating as more amp hours translates to more weight.
  3. Compatibility with other cordless tools is a great bonus. Due to cordless innovation even workshop hand held vacuums are cordless.
  4. Adjustable clutch to insert screws without stripping the knob threads.

Lastly, for drill bits check the diameter of your jig bushing and the knob screws. Typically a 3/16” bit will work and a brad point* prevents the drill bit from wandering.

Using A Backer Board While Drilling

Take a look at this video demonstrating the True Position Tools jig* and you might notice the force used with the drill bit. While the jig is top notch, I recommend a backing board and light force to avoid blowing out the door backs.

Cleaning Up The Cabinets

There isn’t a task in cabinet installation that generates more dust and wood chips than installing cabinet knobs and handles.

A great way to quickly cleanup is a cordless handheld vacuum. And if you invested in a new cordless drill the Dewalt combination will let you buy just the tool* and not a battery.

Top Five Ways To Install Knobs Wrong

Learning how to install cabinet knobs is also learning about what doesn’t work. So, after years of experience, these are (some) of the best ways to damage your cabinets:

  1. Removing the doors from the cabinets and then drilling. By doing this you run the risk of drilling an upper cabinet door in a location meant for a lower cabinet. And vice versa. But if you must remove the doors put painters tape in the knob location.
  2. Not using a cabinet job jig. I think you understand why as a t-square and pencil are not going to yield a quality result.
  3. Drilling without a backer board and splintering the inside of the cabinet or drawer.
  4. Starting to drill without having at least one knob on hand. Due to needing to get placement right you need at least one knob to verify the knobs are positioned where you want them.
  5. Forgetting the garbage pullout requires a handle. Even cabinets with knobs require a few handles for usability.

The Screw You Didn’t Know You Needed

After installing thousands of drawers I know drawers aren’t all the same. And almost all drawers with dovetail joints will require a screw the knob manufacturer (likely) didn’t bother to include: a 1-5/8” 8×32 machine screw*.

Pretty precise measurement right? Well after cutting longer screws to length or hacking the inside of the drawer are options just go ahead and grab a pack of these 1-5/8” screws from Amazon* or a local hardware store.

Summary

Learning how to install cabinet knobs is one part preparation (tools and screws) and then patience and measurement. But, if you’re not comfortable there are professionals available who can help your project.

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