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Installing Cabinets on Unlevel Floors

April 23rd, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

When installing base cabinets in the kitchen, vanity or laundry, the challenge is dealing with unlevel floors. Learning how to install on uneven surfaces whether they get tile, laminate flooring, real wood or linoleum is going to take some practice. These installation tips, from a professional cabinet installer, will help get you pointed in the right direction. Let’s take a look at the various flooring styles and match them to the methods that will need to be used in order to get your counters to be level.

There are two methods used for leveling base cabinetry. Actually, the two go hand in hand. One technique is scribing (or, “cutting”) the base so that is fits to the contour of the floor and the other is called shimming.

Scribing  a Toe Base or Cabinet
When you are using this method, the cabinet or toe base is set exactly into position   where it is to be installed. Shims are used to level the cabinetry. Now, with the shims in place, starting from the highest point of the void area, between the floor and the toe base, draw a line on the cabinet part using a set of scribes or a block of wood. Cut and sand the part down to the line using a skill or saber saw and a belt sander. Watch this video called, How To Scribe a Base Cabinet.  for a detailed look at what I am talking about.

Using Shims to Level a Base Cabinet
This seems a bit self explanatory. Place the cabinet or toe base exactly where it is to be installed and use shims to correct the slop of the cabinet on the unleveled floor.

How To Install Cabinets on a Floor That is Not Level

Different types of cabinets will require unique approaches for installing cabinets on a floor that is not level. The various types of tile, laminate, real-wood and linoleum flooring will make a difference as to how you will accomplish the task to yield professional results. In the next section we will match the correct method with the type of flooring that you may be using.

  • Tip: Always figure out how your cabinetry will be leveled in relation to the tall floor to ceiling cabinets (pantries) and the dishwasher area. You must never end up with less than 341/2” clear, in height for the dishwasher opening, after the finished flooring is installed. So, if there is a hump right where the D/W sets, all of the base cabinetry will have to be shimmed up to maintain the 34 ½” clearance that is needed.

Cabinetry Installation Methods Matched to Floor Types

If you’re going to be laying tile, it is important to consider the thickness of the materials. When calculating the allowance to be compensated for, most tiles are ¼” thick and then you should allow an eight of an inch for the mastic. The total allowance should be 3/8 of an inch.  The kitchen or vanity cabinetry should be installed before the tile. Although, you can do the opposite if you choose to. It’s just more difficult to fit the cabinet toe base to the tile.

Many Mexican tiles are ½” to ¾” thick. Make sure to check with your supplier in order to make correct calculations in relation to the unleveled floor and the dishwasher area. You will have to shim the cabinetry up the thickness of the tiles plus the mastic.

You can use shims to make the kitchen cabinetry level when there will be tile installed  on the floors after the cabinets get mounted to the walls.   The void between the sub- floor and the cabinet toe base should not exceed 3/8.” That is the size void that the tile will cover up or fill after they are installed. The tile is set tight to the toe base and the grout will fill the space to give the install a nice finished look.

Real Wood Floors
The best look with real wood flooring is to scribe the cabinetry to the finished floor. This means that the real wood gets installed before the kitchen cupboards. Protective paper must be put down to protect the floor during the installation of the cupboards. It is possible to reverse my first suggestion here and then use cheater molding to cover the area between the floor and the cabinetry. If you install cabinets first, on an unleveled floor, you can use shims because there will be a cheater mold that covers up the crack between the two components.

Laminated Floors
Cabinets generally get installed first and finished molding is installed around the edges of the toe base areas to cover up the voids.

Installation of the floor is done after the cabinets are in place. It is really important to scribe the cabinet bases to the out of level sub-floor, because linoleum is really extra thin. In other words, there is no room for error.  The cabinet base must be tight to the sub-surface because the material thickness of the linoleum is only about 1/8 of an inch.

  • Tip: Fat caulking lines are ugly. Even if you’re using colored caulking that matches the coloration of the cabinetry it still leaves a very unprofessional looking job. So, take the time to fit the cabinets to the finished wood or linoleum flooring.

Cabinet Fabrication Methods

There are two types of cabinet fabrication methods that affect the way the kitchen parts get installed on unlevel floors. Some base cabinets are made with the toe-kick notched into each unit. Once the cabinetry is installed level, using shims and cut alterations, toe pieces usually about 4 ½” in height are cut to length and attached onto the toe base area face with a pin nailer.  These final pieces are scribed to the humps and dips on finished floors. The other fabrication method requires that 4 ½” toe bases are built separately from the cabinets. During the installation of the toe bases is where the parts get leveled to the various floor type contours. Once the toes are level and screwed into place the base cabinetry is placed on top and then they are screwed to the wall. This method is most common among custom cabinetry fabricators.

That’s how to install base cabinets on an unleveled floor.

Categories: Installation Tips
  1. Mark Zietse
    November 23rd, 2010 at 14:05 | #1

    What is your recommendation for installing base cabinets against a wall with coved flooring at the base of the wall?

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