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.
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.”
“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.
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
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
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
Hanging the cabinets went pretty smoothly, owing to the fact that 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.
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.
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!