Installing IKEA kitchen cabinets the DIY way

July 22 | the_kellbot

This is Part Two of Kellbot's DIY IKEA Kitchen project. For an overview of the design and planning process, check out How we DIYed our IKEA Kitchen Remodel.

All the cabinets in place... finally!
My DIY-installed IKEA cabinets.

I consider myself an IKEA veteran. I have assembled dozens, if not hundreds, of pieces of IKEA furniture over the last 30 years. I am one with the Allen wrench. So when I saw the raised eyebrows when I told the IKEA employees I'd be installing my kitchen myself, I knew it was going to be work.

"Wow," said one IKEA Kitchen employee. "I have a bed that I've been putting off assembling because it came with three bags of hardware. But you're doing a whole kitchen? That's inspiring."
Aw, thanks!
"You must be really handy!"
Heh, kind of I guess?
Then my plumber said "Oh wow, you're hanging the cabinets? That's a lot of work."
Oh god, what am I getting myself into.

Me, 10 minutes after committing to install this kitchen myself. Okay, actually this is GOB Bluth, but still. Same idea.

The overall installation process goes like this:

  • Make sure all your rough plumbing, electrical, and wall/floor prep are done.
  • Hang metal rails where the cabinets will go.
  • Assemble the cabinets and cut any utility holes you need.
  • Hang the cabinets on the rails and run wires for any cabinet lighting.
  • Level and even out the cabinets.
  • Secure the cabinets to the rail and each other.

Gee, that doesn't sound too bad. Let's see how the reality stacks up…

Installing the IKEA kitchen rails

Shims behind the rail in my not-even-a-little-bit flat wall
Shims behind the rail in my not-even-a-little-bit flat wall

The first part of this step is making a nice level line 32 3/16" from the floor. My floor is not even vaguely level, so I measured from the highest point in the floor and used a 4'-long level to keep things straight.

You cut the rails to size yourself using a hacksaw. This is the first sign that we are no longer in IKEA Kansas anymore: this project requires real tools. New/sharp hacksaw blades will save you a lot of time and aggravation here.

I used a mixture of cabinet screws and hollow wall anchors to secure the rail to the wall, hitting as many studs as possible. Because the walls are not even a little bit flat, they had to be shimmed to keep the rail from curving to follow the wall. I found out the hard way that I needed to pre-drill the holes in the shims to keep them from splitting.

To install the rails, we held them up to the line, marked the holes we wanted to use, and then set the rail down. We drilled pilot holes and installed the anchors in the marked spots and put the screws in loosely, with the last 1/4" sticking out. Then we put the rail back up along with the funky rectangular washers that go over the screws. We used the 4' level and made small adjustments as we tightened the screws.

Assembling the IKEA cabinet boxes

This part of the process is a lot like every other IKEA furniture assembly, minus the Allen wrench. The screws and hardware IKEA uses actually aren't Phillips head like most US hardware: they're a similar-but-different head call Pozidriv. The staff at your local Big Box Store will tell you that you can just use a Phillips head on them, but if you have a whole kitchen to assemble you will be much happier if you invest the $5 in a Pozidriv bit. It grips the IKEA hardware much better for less slipping and stripping as you assemble. You can get them online, and one is even included in IKEA's FIXA tool set.

Cutting utility holes

Installing these babies required a 2.5" hole saw. Wear safety goggles, hole saws are NOT fucking around.
Installing these babies required a 2.5" hole saw. Wear safety goggles. Hole saws are NOT fucking around.

This is a step I totally forgot until the cabinets were on the wall, so I had to take them all down and redo them. Learn from my mistakes! I had to cut holes for the microwave outlet, the cabinet lighting, and the sink plumbing. I used a hole saw and a spade bit to cut through the thick sides/top, and a utility knife to cut through the back. Use painter's tape to cover anywhere you're cutting into the veneer; this will help keep it from chipping.

I ran fishing line through the wiring holes and behind the cabinet backs while they were still on the ground. Then once the cabinets were installed I was able to tape the end of the wire to the loose end of the fishing line and pull them into place.

Hanging the IKEA cabinets

We hung the cabinets as we went along, starting with the upper corner and working outwards.
We hung the cabinets as we assembled them, starting with the upper corner and working outwards before moving on to the lower cabinets.

Hanging the cabinets went pretty smoothly, owing to the fact the the rails were installed nice and level. The hooks on the back of the cabinet just hang on the lower lip of the rail and are fastened at a later step. It's definitely a two-person job, but it goes quickly and is very satisfying. The lower cabinets also get plastic legs on the front and sides to help level them.

Once the cabinets are in place, you adjust them a bit so they're all flush and level. For us, this mostly meant smacking them a few times and then clamping them and screwing the sides together. One particularly insubordinate cabinet had to be loosened at the rail bracket, secured at the sides, and then re-tightened. The last step is to place a plastic nut into the rail bracket and secure the cabinet to the rail.

Custom carpentry for the fridge cabinet

Our refrigerator is about 6" deeper than the cabinet I chose to go over the fridge. Rather than have it stick out I decided to bring the fridge cabinet forward by mounting a frame of 2x4s to the wall and then hanging the cabinet from that. I cut an 8'x36" cover panel to size and attached it to the side of the cabinet, making a cozy spot for the fridge.

Unfortunately, when we slid the refrigerator into place we realized I'd mismeasured its height. Oops. Next weekend will be spent removing and re-hanging that cabinet about two inches higher, allowing the fridge to slide all the way into place. Once everything is fixed I'll add trim to hide the gap above and next to the cabinet.

We put the appliances in place... and realized I'd failed at measuring
We put the appliances in place… and realized I'd failed at measuring.

Assembling and securing the island

The island in the middle is the last step. Because we used a floating floor (one which isn't glued down) nothing can be anchored to it. I cut holes in the flooring so we can anchor the cabinets directly to the subfloor. Our two-cabinet island has six legs and two anchors which keep it from tilting. Cover panels are attached to the sides and back so it all looks finished.

All the cabinets in place... finally!
All the cabinets in place… finally!

We're finally at the point where the stone company was able to come out and make a template for the quartz counters. In the meantime, I've got to finish painting the custom doors and fix the cabinet above the fridge. The last steps will be to install the tile backsplash behind the counter and add the toe-kick boards below the cabinets.

This phase of the project took us a month and a half. A lot of that was because I could only work on the house in fits and spurts. Also, most of this is a two-person job, so I had to bribe friends and family to come help me.

For anyone else considering doing a DIY IKEA kitchen install, I offer the following advice:

  • Spend the extra few dollars on a Pozidriv bit. You'll strip far fewer screws this way.
  • Get good quality tools. You will need a power drill, drill bits, clamps (I really like these), a 4'-long level, a hacksaw, etc. I like to get a couple notches up from the cheapest version; the junky tools will drive you nuts.
  • Read through all relevant directions completely before starting any part of the process. Due to the flexibility of the system, a lot of the instructions read like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel, and you don't want to follow the wrong part.
  • Any time the IKEA instructions show you screwing into something that isn't pre-drilled, drill a pilot hole. IKEA is really optimistic about how easily their screws can pierce the cabinet veneer.
  • Keep a shop vac handy to clean up the constant supply of sawdust that results from drilling said pilot holes.
  • While the SEKTION documentation is sometimes spotty, the system is nearly identical to the metric METOD cabinets, for which YouTube has tons of instructional videos.

Stay tuned for the next installment of kitchen construction, where we add all the finishing touches to the cabinets and get the counters installed! And if I'm very lucky the gas inspector will approve my new gas lines so we can hook up the stove!

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  1. Your kitchen looks great! I never realized how much work does go into cabinet installation, so your post has been very informative. Thanks for the update and I can't wait to see further developments! Best of luck as you continue with the renovation!

    9 agree
  2. Congratulations! This looks great and is really impressive. Also, it brought back memories – as a teenager, I helped my dad build and install two IKEA kitchens – neither of them ended up quite right. We had missing cabinet doors and things but never got around to getting them corrected. We also had extra spaces around the fridge, which the cat really enjoyed, at least!

  3. " I am one with the Allen wrench." said me, never.

    I have never had a successful Ikea installation. You're my hero. (In Ikea's defense I gave up a good 15 years ago so they might have progressed past the baffling pictograms , mystery connectors, misplaced holes and split veneers.)

    • The pictograms definitely have not improved. There were a few I just held up to my dad and asked "do YOU know wtf is happening here?"

      The best was when I got to the end of the cabinet legs. We had these extra little clips I didn't know what to do with. Here's what the instructions have to say:

      "What are these for? Read about it!" Uh… ok. Two weeks later I realized that picture is of the toekick, and apparently the instructions for those clips can be found there.

      9 agree
      • Haha, good sleuthing! I wouldn't have had a clue. I think what's so frustrating about some of the pictograms is how happy the little person looks who's reading the instructions. Never have I felt that satisfied reading their directions to put together a piece of their furniture. (But after it's finally installed I feel like a genius for figuring it out.)

        2 agree
        • I think once our countertops are in I will feel some smug satisfaction like Pictogram Person. Then I think it will look like a kitchen and not a giant pile of What The Hell Is Happening In My House. It doesn't help that our entire first floor is a warzone because I'm also replacing the gross stick-on floor tile in the bedrooms and using one of them as a spray booth for the cabinet doors.

          The other thing that drives me nuts about this process is the giant pile of cardboard that seems to accumulate just as fast as we can drive it to the recycling center.

          But yeah, definitely envious of how pleased Pictogram Person seems with itself.

          1 agrees
    • I feel like a ton of people have issues with the IKEA directions because of their pictograms and complete lack of text, so you're definitely not alone. I've built a bunch of IKEA furniture over the years, as well as Target and lots of other assembly-required pieces, and honestly, I feel like the IKEA directions were far and away the best, at least for me. I didn't have a single problem with them. Target though? Oh man. I have the worst time with their directions. Like, to the point where I hardly ever bother to read them, and I just look at the pieces and the hardware and figure it out, because I am actually less likely to mess it up if I just sort of logic my way through the pieces. I'm really visual though, and a lot of times, written directions just confuse me, so I'm sure that's why IKEA works well and I pretty much suck at any other sets of directions for assembly. 😛

      4 agree
      • I totally agree that other flat-pack wannabes are way worse. As much as I gripe about Ikea's quality sometimes (particle board for everyone!) assembling some furniture from other manufacturers has made me appreciate how much work has gone into the Ikea stuff. It's good for what it is, though that may be damning with faint praise.

        I will say that the kitchen is a whole new ballgame compared to the rest of the furniture. This is mostly because the modular nature means you've got 3 or 4 totally different products that come together to form one cabinet, and each product has its own instructions. Reading through everything beforehand is essential to your sanity when doing an Ikea kitchen… and also the last thing I want to do when I'm excited about furniture assembly.

        4 agree
  4. I've worked on the technical side of theatre for more than half my life, my mother is the handiest person I've ever met, and her dad was in the Army Corps of Engineers in WWII. Reading directions or at least having a plan of attack and having good quality tools are the most important things about ANY constructive projects. (She inherited his toolkit and I fully intend to inherit it from her in turn. Those tools are amazing.) I've always had a Leatherman in my bag since middle school and it's saved me so many times.

    I stand in awe of your patience with the shims. I would probably have swung a mallet at the wall's bumps in frustration.

  5. Nice work! My husband and I have just gotten our new ikea kitchen cabinets assembled and installed and our counters are going to be templates tomorrow.
    A question about the metal support strips at the front of the base cabinets (they're not flush with the cabinet sides) Did you have any issues with getting stone countertops installed on top of these?

    • Nope, the stone company seemed totally used to the metal strips. The only thing was for the sink cabinet I had to swap out some beefier metal strips (which Ikea had sold me but I didn't know what they were for) to support the weight of the sink. All they really cared about was that the cabinets were totally level.

      • Awesome! Thanks for the reply 🙂
        We have our template appt this afternoon, so hopefully it goes well!

      • Good news… I was worrying about the strips. 🙂 Totally level… like 1/8" or less? Thanks!

  6. The island is tricky. I am not sure how you anchored it but you can use 2×4 base and shim the cabinets level and that way you can secure the base to the floor and the cabinets to the base. Ikea did make an island system and we have had good luck with it as long as the island is not over 4' long and 2' wide. If you use the 3' wide cover panels and bring them to the ground then you get some added support for the counter top.

    I have used Dendra Doors for custom IKEA doors a couple times. There doors are the exact same dimensions as Ikea's and it makes a really nice custom look or accent. http://www.remodelcabinetdoors.com is Dendra's Custom Ikea door site.

    great info in this post thanks,

    Pete

    1 agrees
  7. Thanks for the useful info. Still in the planning process, and have a question about your flooring. Did you install the cabinets over the laminate (ie, install the floors first) or did you install the cabinets and then install the flooring up to the base? Getting a lot of mix info from different flooring places and thought I'd ask someone who just did an install.

    Thanks in advance.

    • You can do it either way because the legs are set back and the toe kicks pop on and off. Your getting different answers because they aren't familiar with ikea products.

    • We used a click-lock vinyl, which is a floating floor. We installed the cabinets first and then floored up to the legs. Generally you don't want to put anything permanent like cabinets on top of a floating floor. Because the Ikea wall cabinets aren't permanently attached to the floor you could arguably go either way, but the general recommendation is to floor around them if you're not doing a glue-down floor. It also saved us about 40 square feet of flooring material, which adds up fast at $3/sqft.

      1 agrees
    • If you are getting granite countertop, don't install cabinets over flooring esp. tiling; the weight of the countertop will likely cause the tiles to crack. (I also would not recommend using the PLASTIC Ikea feet under granite slab, either. Mount the cabinets on 2x4s if doing this.)

  8. We did our kitchenette and our laundry room in IKEA cabinets, and our big kitchen in pre-assembled cabinets from Home Depot. Overall, I am more happy with the quality of the HD cabinets, but more happy with the versatility of the IKEA cabinets. All the varieties of drawers are so much fun!

    My least-fun IKEA cabinet moment was assembling a 90 inch cabinet in a 91-inch-high-ceiling room, and finding I didn't have enough clearance to tip it up. I busted a huge hole in the ceiling getting the cabinet where it goes, and it entailed a headache of a patch job. BUT DAMMIT I WAS GETTING THAT CABINET IN THERE.

    We originally planned to do IKEA in the kitchen, but they were taking so long to ship that we cancelled the order (I'm talking over one month). I am obsessed with IKEA's online room planning tool, and it did ultimately help us plan the room even though we ended up going with another retailor. We found solid wood cabinets at Home Depot for about 60% of the cost of what we had spent at IKEA. Shrug. Unfortunately not customizable at all.

    Solid pre-assembled wood worked out better for us in the kitchen anyway, as we were getting a solid slab of granite for countertop (that, in and of itself was another headache–it took 60 days for them to install it, ugh) and IKEA's little plastic feet would not have been able to hold tons, literally, of weight. Sorry but those would buckle for sure.

    For the kitchen, the order of operations went as follows:
    1. gut old kitchen
    2. plumbing
    3. paint
    4. install base cabinets
    5. install wall cabinets and range hood
    6. tile floor
    7. install dishwasher and stove; roll fridge back in
    8. install counter
    9. install faucet and accessories (garbage disposal, hot water heater, soap pump, etc.)
    10. tile backsplash
    11. finish electrical, including installing ceiling lights, under-cabinet lighting, and replacing sockets and switches.

    I've done tile, hardwood floor, replaced and hung doors, installed windows, built decks, plumbed, wired, and remodeled bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms, bedrooms; the works. We've only hired a contractor for three things: tree removal, driveway replacement, and roof replacement. I do not have a background in contracting: I say this because I want to encourage everyone to DIY to their hearts' content, because there really is no limit with enough motivation and money to do so. Not hiring contractors saves so much money and adds so much value to the home. IKEA is a great way to dive in.

    1 agrees
    • There's a "filler strip" that Ikea sells. You attach that strip to the back of the cabinet, then drill from inside the cabinet through the cabinet back, filler strip, and slightly into the cover panel. I'll see if I can dig up some photos of that part of the process, but any Ikea kitchen specialist should be able to explain it and point you to the right parts.

      • Thank you for your reply! I can't find those strips on their website though. By the way, this is the answer I got from the Ikea guy… there are 2 parts that are included with the METOD base cabinets that can be used to affix the panel. The parts are 124516 and 124517, you attach 124516 using the 2 screw holes not used in the normal way of fixing them, you then slide on part 124517, this is for the top of the panel. You will require L brackets and screws purchased from a hardware retailer to affix the bottom panel.

        • I can't find it on the website, but according to my invoice it was part 002.984.11, "SEKTION assembly kit for kitchen island."

          • Yeah it seems to be that part that IKEA is not providing anymore. We will have to figure out a replacement. Thank you heaps for your assistance. Much appreciated

  9. This is great info and perfect timing. We are in the process of buying a new house and remodeling the kitchen will be one of the first jobs to do!!

    How well is your IKEA kitchen holding up?

  10. I would appreciate it if you could post a few photos of your island cabinets, specifically how the cover panels meet at the corners of the cabinets. I have frames assembled, but I'm scratching my head over what the finished product is supposed to look like. I don't want to cut a cover panel the wrong length and have it go to waste. TIA.

    • Hi Jim,

      here are few picts of our kitchen island. Just finished. Hope they can help! It has been a bit of a challenge but we are very satisfied with the results!

      6 agree
      • Forgive me, but I can't find the pictures, unless you mean the ones in your original blog post.

        • Sorry! I don't know why the system didn't show the attachments.
          Have just resent you the email. Please do let me know how it goes!

          • Nope. Nothing. To be clear, will the photos be attached to the email, or will they appear in the comments section on the blog?

          • Yes, I've been checking both email and the blog. The emails don't have any attachments. I don't mean to take up any more of your time. Thanks so much for trying, and going above and beyond to send those photos. The blog post was very helpful.

            1 agrees
  11. Thanks for sharing your process and experience with the cabinet installation. Clearly your hard work paid off!! Fortunately I'm working with a contractor and he and I are figuring out the sektion system together. You were absolutely right about reading everything thoroughly before starting anything. I THOUGHT I read thoroughly but I had to unscrew some things and rescues them in the RIGHT holes and we had to remove the suspension rail because we installed it upside down! We learned our lesson. I do have a question for you before we make our next mistake, you may not have had to deal with this: my plumbing juts out of the wall where the SIDE of a cabinet will be. (I have a tiny kitchen and the sink pipes are in the corner.). We've assembled the sink base cabinet and are going to now cut out holes in the side of the cabinet for the pipes. Do you think this will cause weakness in the cabinet's sturdiness? I see in your pictures that your plumbing holes are through the cabinet back- which is just a piece of IKEA's version of glorified cardboard! Have you had to cut out any holes in any sides of any cabinets or have you always cut holes in the backs which don't help the cabinet's integrity. Thanks in advance!!!

  12. For the trim to hide the gap above and next to the cabinet – did you use toekick for this? And if so, did you have any trouble cutting it lengthwise (assuming the gap wasn't a perfect 4.5")? Thanks!

  13. I can't wait to see further developments! As of this article we're in the same state – making the finishing touches and getting the counters installed. Of all the Ikea kitchen related information out there this has been by far the best and most informative, and we would love to see pictures of your next steps.

  14. Now that's how being a handy man is done! That huge mistake scene really made me smile. It reminded me of some of my dearest memories, when I was far from an experienced handyman nor electrician and when I mean far I mean I would suicide rather than go fro an ikea installation, xoxo. Ikea is more than optimistic about how easily their screws can pierce the cabinet veneer.. May God have mercy upon inexperienced flat pack fitters, hallelujah.

    Kind regards!
    handyman Dima

    1 agrees
  15. Thanks for the info. I couldn't find stuff when I was looking for specifics on a few things.

    Here are a few notes.

    Utrista Lighting
    Lighting is powered by hard wiring the light/power source into a octagon shaped box. This is not the same as a single or double gang box.
    Single Nutid Oven:
    Nutid (Whirlpool) oven has a metallic romex whip that requires it to be hard wired. The electrical connections ideally will be made up in an adjacent cabinet. Make it close. I used a 30 amp 2-pole circuit breaker. Self cleaning oven and double ovens may require a bigger breaker. Check specs.
    I pulled 10/3 Romex wire(orange). This allows all 4 wires to be connected when you pull the whip to the junction box.
    Nutid oven will slide all the way to the back of the cabinet enclosure. If you have a gas cooktop you will need to have your gas connection in the very back bottom corner of the cabinet or in an adjacent cabinet.
    I was given a bunch of stuff to install oven the Ikea way. This would have included me ripping a door front down to make up a gap at the top of the oven. I decided to install it without that strip. I adjusted the spacers on the bottom of the oven in a vertical position and slid the oven into the cabinet. There is a small gap (1/2") at the top of the oven that is not noticeable. I put the trim strips at the bottom that were included with the oven. Looks great.
    Refrigerator:
    Standard Fridges are 36×70". There is no standard depth. I had to search for a counter-depth model. Ikea sells one. I got a GE. Takes up less space in the kitchen. I found the GE hinges seem to allow the door to open better in tight spots than other models I looked at. Double check all measurements.

  16. Nice work! Say, did you ever write and post the "part 3" of the article that features the final trim and counters? We are in particular looking for the best way to cleanly saw the finish panels to the right size for our kitchen.

    • The final photos got derailed a bit due to an emergency bathroom remodel that took all my time/energy (boo to water pouring from the ceiling). But to answer your question, I got reasonably clean cuts with a circular saw by using a fresh blade and taping the line to be cut with painter's tape first. Once they were in place I caulked along the back (cut) edge, which hid any wobbly lines. I used a jig with the circular saw to keep the cut straight (really just a couple strips of plywood nailed together). Hope that helps!

  17. Hello! We are putting our wall cabinets againtst the celing( looks like what you have done.) How far down did you place the rail from the ceiling?

    1 agrees

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