Launch Slideshow

Installing Custom Cabinets on Toe-Kick Bases

Installing Custom Cabinets on Toe-Kick Bases

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    Jeff Cleveland and Joe Peters rip plywood into five-inch strips for use in building toe-kick bases for a set of custom cabinets.

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    In the cabinet shop, Jeff checks the dimensions of a custom base cabinet before starting to build the toe-kick base for it.

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    After cutting plywood pieces to the required length, Jeff tacks the toe-kick base together using 1 1/4-inch staples with a 1/4-inch crown.

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    Jeff sets a stretcher into a toe-kick box. This provides a surface to screw the bottom of the cabinet to in the field.

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    Once the toe-kick base is tacked together, Jeff pre-drills and counter-bores in preparation for a stronger screwed connection.

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    Jeff sends home a 1¼-inch hardened screw. He doesn’t use glue for toe-kick assembly, he says, because he has always found the screwed connection to be plenty strong. Also, gluing the joints makes field modification difficult, should that be necessary during a cabinet install.

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    As a final step, Jeff uses a small clamp-on jig as a drill guide for making pocket holes in the toe-kick base. On site, he’ll set screws into the pockets to secure the toe kick to the kitchen floor.

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    On site, Jeff and Joe set a pre-built toe-kick base over the rough plumbing for the kitchen sink.

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    Jeff checks the box for level. The kitchen floor of the old house sags in the center and, as expected, the box is high at the back.

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    Holding the side of his pencil flat to the floor, Jeff scribes the back end of the toe-kick box to mark it for a leveling cut.

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    With a jigsaw, Jeff trims the back of the box so that it will lay flat and level against the sagging, out-of-level existing kitchen floor.

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    After scribing and cutting the back of the box to conform to the irregular floor, Jeff shims the front of the box to create a perfectly level base for the cabinet.

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    With the toe-kick base shimmed and leveled to his satisfaction, Jeff sends a screw home through the pre-drilled pocket hole, through the shim, and into the existing subfloor.

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    With the toe-kick base screwed firmly down, Joe buzzes off the shims flush to the base using an oscillating multi-tool.

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    Now it’s time to set the sink cabinet onto the leveled toe-kick base.

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    After setting two cabinets, Jeff clamps the pair up and screws them together.

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    Final step: Jeff fastens the cabinets down by screwing through the cabinet floor and into the spreader in the toe-kick base.

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    One last check with the level: looking good.

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.