Making and installing custom cabinets is perhaps more an art than a science. Unlike structural framing, for example, cabinetmaking isn't governed by prescriptive codes. Cabinetmakers learn by experience how to fabricate and install their product, and they're allowed to do it pretty much whichever way they have found to be their favorite method. As a consequence of this broad freedom, there are many styles and methods of cabinet construction, and many techniques for cabinet installation.
Last week, Coastal Connection spent a couple of days in the wood shop and on the job with cabinetmakers Jeff Cleveland and Joe Peters, of Coastal Custom Design in Portland, Maine. Cleveland prefers to set his custom-built kitchen base cabinets on toe-kick platforms that he and Peters build in the wood shop, separately from the cabinets that will sit on top of them. He pre-drills the toe kicks for pocket screws using a small clamp-on jig (which also travels to the job site in case there's a need to adjust the screw location or depth on site). These pocket-hole connections allow for a solid, firm connection of the cabinet base to the floor.
On the job, Cleveland and Peters set the toe-kick bases in place first, scribing the bottom of each kick to fit any irregularities in the floor, and leveling the tops of the bases to a common level line drawn on the kitchen wall. Once this step is done, the bases will sit level, even on an out-of-level floor. Then it's just a matter of screwing the shop-built cabinets to the bases and into the wall framing.
For this job, the cabinetmakers also had to install a custom refrigerator surround. Because of the tight quarters, they built this part of the job in pieces: They made a custom end panel the full height of a refrigerator cabinet, and attached the end panel on site to the upper cabinet that sits above the refrigerator. For details, take a look at the slideshow.