14 Tips for Assembling and Installing IKEA Kitchen Cabinets

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Assembling and installing IKEA kitchen cabinets is not for the weak of heart; it’s no wonder some contractors refuse to do it. Today I’m sharing 15 DIY tips to help you get started!

I will never forget the very first time the mister and I assembled IKEA furniture.

Having just gotten married, we were dead-set on quitting our jobs to travel Europe within the next six months. To save money for our big trip, we skimped on furniture, furnishing our entire living room for less than $800. (Shoutout to Target and IKEA!)

Sure, it wasn’t anything fancy, but we had other priorities.

So one evening, as we settled in for the final stretch of assembling the media cabinet, we heard a knock on the front door. Startled and without much thought we opened the door, hammer and knife still in hand. There stood our neighbor from downstairs, with an extremely annoyed look on his face which quickly changed to concern and borderline fear as his eyes landed on the tools in our hands.

Talk about a first impression, right?

I’ve heard horror stories of contractors refusing a project as soon as they realize the cabinets are from IKEA. Now, I understand why: It is not for the weak of heart. In fact, if you’ve been following the installation progress on Snapchat (FOXYOXIE), you’re well aware that it’s been WEEKS since we first started assembling the cabinets.

Granted, we’re only able to work in the evenings and weekends, as both of us have corporate jobs during the day. Either way, assembling IKEA kitchen cabinets takes lots of time and a whole lot of patience.

To help you get started, I’ve rounded up 14 helpful tips for those that decide to DIY.

Tip No. 1: Turn on some music. Seriously, you will be spending hours upon hours reading through assembly instructions written in hieroglyphics; you may as well make this part of the process somewhat enjoyable with some upbeat tunes.

Tip No. 2: Be prepared to use your own tools. If you’re expecting IKEA to provide tools for assembling like they do with some other furniture, you’re in for a surprise. For starters, make sure you have a screwdriver, drill and hammer.

Tip No. 3: If hanging the cabinets on suspension rails, you’ll need to buy your own screws. Suspension rails are a better option than attaching the cabinets directly to the wall: It’s easier to keep the cabinets level when they’re on an already level suspension rail; plus, a suspension rail allows more flexibility; you can easily shift the cabinets to the right and left before attaching them together.

Tip No. 4: Do not assemble the cabinets on the bare floor. IKEA cabinets are made from Medium-Density Fiberboard (“MDF”), also called “particle board.” Although it has its advantages like superior strength and warping resistance, particle board is easily prone to chips and scratches, so assemble the cabinets on top of an old blanket or dropcloth.

Tip No. 5: The assembly process is fairly easy for one person to handle, but when it comes to installing suspension rails and hanging the cabinets, you will need a buddy to help. Not only are some of the bigger cabinets quite heavy for one person to lift, but certain parts of the process will require more than two hands.

Tip No. 6: Follow the assembling sequence laid out in the installation guide. Even if you’ve already assembled five identical cabinets and think “you’ve got this” – refer to the instructions anyway. There will always be that one minor detail that you THINK you know how to install, and it won’t be until later (when it’s too late to change anything) that you realize you messed it up. Certain parts can be disassembled and re-assembled again, but not all.

Tip No. 7: Know when to improvise. For example, when it comes to nailing the back of the cabinets, IKEA has a multi-page nailing sequence that goes something like this: Nail one nail in the top right corner, then in the bottom corner, then midway through the left side, then just a tad bit lower – you get the point. It’s stupid, and it’s pointless, and anyone with common sense knows to distribute the nails throughout so that the back of the cabinet is attached evenly.

Tip No. 8: IKEA forums warn not to use drills when attaching screws, but unless you want to spend MONTHS on just the cabinet assembly, I say use the drill. Just don’t screw it in too tightly; use the drill to guide the screw almost all the way, but use a screwdriver to finish manually. The screwdriver gives you more control, so you don’t over-tighten the screws and cause the cabinet to crack.

Tip No. 9: Double-check that the boards that slide into the back of the cabinet are facing the right direction. I cannot stress this point enough. The white side should be facing inside the cabinet, and the brown side should be facing outwards. Because IKEA installation guides are written in black and white, there’s really no mention of which side is supposed to face where. In the very first cabinet we assembled, we made the mistake of installing the brown side facing inward; now, we have to find matching paint just to paint the inside of the cabinet white. Remember how I said certain parts of the assembly are irreversible? Well, this is one of those parts. The board is then nailed into the cabinet using teeny-tiny nails, and there’s no way to pull them out once you’ve driven them inside.

Tip No. 10: Start the installation with the corner cabinet, and work your way out. We started with the upper cabinets because at that time we were still having our hardwood floors refinished, which prevented us from installing any of the bottom ones. Besides, because upper cabinets are more shallow, it’s easier to get them out of the way so you’re not having to reach over the bottom cabinets to hang the upper ones.

Tip No. 11: Hang the upper cabinets as high as you can to avoid having a soffit. IKEA offers two heights for the upper cabinetry: 30 and 40 inches, and I suggest opting for the 40-inch ones. Keep in mind that the distance between the lower and upper cabinets should be approximately 18-20 inches. Countertop height is typically 36 inches, so add a 20-inch distance, plus 40-inch tall upper cabinets, and you’ve got 96 inches or 8 feet, which is the standard ceiling height. We have slightly higher ceiling – about 9 and a half feet – we no matter how hard I tried to eliminate the soffit, we will have to install filler pieces to extend the cabinets all the way to the ceiling. More on that later.

Tip No. 12: This tidbit of wisdom should probably come at the beginning, but do your research. I learned far more reading about other bloggers’ and homeowners’ experiences than I did reading the official IKEA installation guides. Every time we would happen upon a dilemma or weren’t sure of the best way of doing something, I’d Google the question and happen upon yet another helpful blog. Some of my favorites are Pink Little Notebook (we’ll be building our peninsula thanks to Sabrina’s helpful tutorial), Chris Loves Julia (I’ve been a long-time reader of Julia’s blog and was over-the-moon excited to find out her kitchen is also from IKEA), and House Tweeking (Dana is an official IKEA brand ambassador who travels the country designing IKEA kitchens for the masses).

Tip No. 13: Who writes an entire article on advice for buying IKEA kitchen cabinets, and then doesn’t follow it? Me! Despite warning readers to double- and triple-check the product inventory, we were quite far into the installation process when I finally mustered up the strength to do just that – only to find that I had ordered double the necessary doors and forgotten three of the upper cabinets. Off we went to IKEA, which, by the way, is about two and a half hours away. You live and you learn, right? Oh, how I wish.. Only four days have passed since our trip to IKEA, and I already know of several items we’ll need to return for. Moral of the story: Do a product inventory as soon as possible!

Tip No. 14: Contrary to popular belief, the legs that come with IKEA’s bottom cabinetry are not meant for holding the cabinets up. Those little guys are plastic and will snap and chip the second a heavy weight is placed on them. (Trust me, I know!) Just like upper cabinets, bottom cabinets need to be hung on suspension rails. The legs’ entire purpose is so that you can easily attach the toe kick plate to them. When installing the bottom cabinets, screw in the legs all the way, hang the cabinet on the suspension rail, then unscrew each leg so that the cabinet is level. If your floors are uneven like ours, each leg height will be slightly different.

Next on the list is to figure out the kitchen peninsula situation. Thanks to Sabrina’s helpful tutorial, we should have that up and done within the next week or so. I’ve also ordered a sample of some gorgeous brass cabinet hardware and am eagerly awaiting their arrival. Then there’s the countertops, enclosing the soffit above the cabinets, installing filler pieces throughout… Phew, just typing out our to-do list is exhausting!

I’ll be back oh-so-soon with more updates from the magical world of bungalow renovations, and in the meantime, please keep your fingers (and toes) crossed for us to make lots of progress over the next few weeks so we can (hopefully) move in some time in July, although it’s looking more like August at this point.

To catch up on what we’ve renovated so far, you can browse “Our Bungalow Renovation” series.

If you have any questions about designing, ordering, assembling and installing IKEA kitchen cabinets, feel free to ask. I know first-hand how nice it is to hear real-life experiences from fellow DIYers. Follow along with FOXYOXIE on Snapchat for behind the scenes!

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