How to Use Stock Cabinets for Built-Ins

Mark Morris

Built-in cabinets are the hallmark of quality woodwork. While carpenter built custom built-ins can cost a fortune, there are many different styles of prefabricated cabinets that can be used to create a built-in unit to fill your need, for much less.

Prefab cabinets combined with crown and baseboard can have the appeal of built-ins.

The same tools and techniques used to install kitchen and bathroom cabinets can be used to create beautiful built-in cabinets for any space in your home. One of the keys to effective built-in cabinets is in using moldings that match or complement the existing woodwork.

  1. Sketch out the wall you intend to install your built-ins on. Draw it to 1-inch to 1-foot scale on a graph paper pad. Include any windows and doors, and other obstructions you will need to work around. Use a brochure or prefab cabinet catalog to select prefab units to fit your space and draw them in, using the dimensions from the catalog to ensure proper fit.

  2. Remove the baseboard and crown molding from the area where you intend to install your cabinets. Use a stud finder to mark the studs in your wall. Press the buttons on the unit and run it across the wall, marking each spot where the device lights up and beeps at.

  3. Position the lower units against the wall on the floor to begin. Place a level on the first unit and wedge shims underneath to adjust the level of the cabinet from side-to-side and front-to-back until the bubble is centered in the indicator. Find the horizontal plywood brace at the top of the cabinet back and drive a 3-inch screw through it into each stud that is aligned with the cabinet.

  4. Set the next unit in place and level it and screw it to the wall as before. Drive 1 1/4-inch screws through the inside of the new cabinet's side panel, or bulkhead, into the first cabinet at the top and bottom. Continue adding base units one at a time until all units are installed and level. Place the countertop or worktop on top of the base units, with its back against the wall. Locate the horizontal installation cleat in the top front of the cabinet. Drive two 1 1/4-screws up through each cabinet's cleat into the bottom of the countertop.

  5. Mark the location of your upper units on the wall using a level. Mark a line for the bottom edge of your cabinets. Screw a piece of 2-by-4 lumber to the studs, with its top edge along the bottom of this line. Set the upper cabinets onto this cleat and drive screws through the installation cleats, located at the top and bottom of the back of the cabinet. Do this from inside the back of the cabinet. Place one upper and lower screw into each stud. Add cabinets side-by-side, screwing them together. Remove the 2-by-4.

  6. Measure the base of the cabinet unit and cut baseboard to fit each face. Use 45-degree miters to fit the corners, one at the end of each corner piece to create a 90-degree corner. Mark and cut baseboard along its top edge, cutting it equal in length to the face it will be against. Set the baseboard on the miter saw, bottom edge on the table, back against the fence, and make cuts from the top down. Install baseboard to the surrounding wall as well, mitering the corner where it meets the cabinet for a seamless, built-in look. Use the same molding profile as the baseboard in the rest of your space.

  7. Measure the top of the cabinets and cut and install crown molding in the same profile as the existing crown in the space. Mark and cut crown molding from its bottom edge, positioning it on the saw, bottom against the fence, top against the table, as it will be between the wall or cabinet and ceiling. Make cuts from the bottom edge to the top. Use a pin nail gun to install the trim, one nail every 8-to-10-inches.

  8. Apply two coats of stain and finish all-in-one or semigloss latex paint to match the existing wood work. Use a fine bristle brush and apply the finish in long straight strokes with the grain of the wood. Apply the finish as evenly as you can to prevent runs and drips. Allow the label recommended drying time between coats for best results.

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