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Ceilings not Level-Install cabinet starter strips

When the ceiling are not level and you need to install your cabinets level what should you do? There are several methods that will work if you desire to have your kitchen or laundry upper cabinetry extend entirely to the ceiling. The style of cupboard will dictate how you will accomplish the task at hand.


Not all cabinets are made so that starter strips can be used to make them fit to the ceiling nicely. Some cabinetry will actually have a face frame on the top that will need to be fit to the soffit or ceiling. If you have a face frame style you just cut and sand it to fit the contours of the dips and humps. Kitchen cabinets that work with the starter strip installation method usually have flat tops.

What is a Cabinet Starter Strip?

It’s basically a long but narrow piece of flat wood that is ¾” thickness which gets fastened to the ceiling and then the cabinets butt up to it. The height of the wood can vary depending on the given situation as it relates to cabinet design heights.

  • Tip: It is possible to laminate the top of the upper cabinet where it meets the ceiling with a piece of veener or Formica plastic laminate. In this situation you would attach the starter strip to each individual cabinet and laminate over the surface, fitting the veener or mica to the ceiling, once all of the boxes were installed.

Installing a Pre-Finished Cabinet Starter Strip

  • When installing upper cabinets with this method a strip of wood about one inch to one and a half inches is screwed to the ceiling or soffit area, prior to installing the cabinetry. It is this piece of wood that gets leveled or fit to the contour of the ceiling. Holes are drilled using a counter sink and the wood is then screwed to the ceiling. It is usually recessed back from the front edge of the cabinet by about one half of an inch. This recess will allow enough of an offset for caulking to be used in various areas and not really be seen.

  • Combine These Two Methods of Leveling the Starter Strip
  1.  The first method is that the strip is actually scribed to fit the dips and humps in the ceiling by using a belt sander. I have used a table or saber saw for cutting large amounts off prior to belt sanding in extreme cases where the ceilings were way out of level.
  2. The other method is where shims are used on the top of the strip between the soffit and the long piece of wood and also placed between the strip and the top of the cabinet. The voids are then filled with caulking once the installation is complete.

Obviously miter joints will need to be cut on the pre-finished strips of wood where there are angles and finished ends that need to return to the wall.

Once the strips are cut to length, the miters have been made and the holes have been drilled, attach the strips to the ceiling. They do not need to be screwed into a joist or stud. Drywall will hold the strip in place just fine if you do not over tighten the screws. Once they are fastened into place, use a hand screwdriver to loosen the starter strip in various areas while using your level to adjust the wood into the proper positioning. As you begin to level the strip you will be able to determine if you will need to belt sand areas or just add some small shims to get things to leveled out. Remove the pieces that need to be altered and then re-install them after making the adjustments.

This is a great way to get your cabinets installed level when your ceilings are not. Not all cabinets are made so that starter strips can be used to make the cabinetry level. Some cabinets will actually have a face frame on the top that will need to be fit to the soffit or ceiling.

Categories: Upper Wall Cabinetry
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