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Recently was involved is a discussion about hanging cabinets and noted that some do not know how this it to be done in a safe manner.  Hung wrong on a wall is a dangerous situation in a home, business or shop and anyplace where people may be walking, standing or seated.  It my post in reference to a question I wrote about how a lady was severely injured when her new recently hung cabinets fell off the wall and landed on top of her.  This could have been much worse than it was as it could have killed her.  Had it been a child it most likely would have as the cabinet would have hit the child in the head.  As it was the lady was tall enough that he cabinets hit her at the level of just below her shoulder and it fractured the large bone of the arm and bruised her pretty bad all the way down to her knees.   The cabinet run was about 8 feet long and 12 inches deep and about 36 to 38 inches high.   It was filled with dishes causing the cabinet to be pretty heavy.   The failure of the cabinet installation was when the company installed them using long dry wall screws of which many of the few that they screwed into the cabinet missed the wall studs. 
 
In order to properly install an upper cabinet to the wall, the cabinet must first be built correctly.  It should be built with at least a 1/4 " thick back of which it should be properly applied to the back.  The material to build the cabinet carcass should be of quality material and should be build using 3/4" thick material.  This would be for the top sides and bottom as well as any interior panels.  All joinery should be glued and screwed or other wise firmly attached with the end cut to the length of the desired finished height and the top and bottom then glued and attached with screws or other suitable fasteners.  I build mine using all pocket screws hiding the screws from sight by boring pocket holes to be located on the top side of the top and the bottom side of the bottom.  All inter panels are screwed and glued by driving the screws upward from the bottom and downward from the top.  This hides the screws the best.  Before assembly of the cabinet box you should cut a 1/4 inch deep rabbit along the inside (inside of the cabinet)   The rabbit should be cut 1/4 inch deep and 3/8 of an inch or half the thickness of the 3/4 inch thick panel.  Now do the same thing on the two side panels but make the rabbit the full length of the panel. (This rabbit is for the rear 1/4" thick panel that will be added.) There is not rabbit cut in the top panel (top of the cabinet as the top will extend out covering the top of the rabbits in the end panels.  Your 1/4" ply end of the back will then be covered by the top. 
 
 
The top rear of the cabinet should have a hanging rail (aka cleat) that is firmly attached using glue and screws.  It should be made of 3/4" thick material and 4 inches wide.  ( I use the same hard wood that I will making the face frame out of)   It is inset a total of 1/4  inch in from the back edge as I will be using a 1/4 inch think back panel of which I will add to the cabinet back.  This makes the cabinet back flush to the wall.  The hanging strip or cleat should be glued and screwed to the top every 6 to 8 inches apart and at least 2 screws on each end.  Placing the screws on the back side of the hanging rail will hide the screws when viewed from the front of the cabinet.  
When cutting the interior panels these will be cut 1/4 "  less in width than the end panels and the top as this allows you to pass a 1/4 " thick panel over the inter panels allowing you to use a single continuous panel across the back. You will need to also cut the the bottom 1/4" less than the side and top panels.  There are two schools of thought when installing the inter panels as you either have to make a cut out for upper hanging rail in the inter panels or cut the hanging rails to fit between each inter panel.  Both work well as long as you secure the hanging rail secure to the inter panels.  My usual choice it to make the cut out to go around the rail and attach the rail as one continuous piece and drive a screw through the back of the rail and into the back edge of the panel.  This is a harder method as you must be precise in cutting the fit for the rail in the panels.  [Assembly of the cabinet is done by keeping all of the members flush at the front. 
 When this is done you will now have a cabinet box of which is strong and will remain square after it is built.  You need to square the cabinet box up when adding the back panel as the panel will be inset into the rabbits you cut earlier.  This will make a rigid and strong cabinet and will keep it square.  Do not attach the panel at this point. 
 
To determine the length of the rear panel ( cabinet back) it is simply the distance from the inside of the top panel of the cabinet (top) to the bottom edge of the side panels.   As an example it is 37 1/4 inches on a 38 inch high cabinet so you would cut the panel to 37 & 1/8 inches long.  This causes the panel to extend down past the bottom of the bottom panel but 1/8 less than the side panels. 
 
Now it is time to cut a lower hanging rail of which is also a hardwood so it looks finished on the outside.  The length is the width of the inside between the two side panels and the width is the amount that the side panels extend down past the bottom of the lower panel. Glue and screw this piece to the cabinet bottom but also set in to the inside edge of the rabbit.  Now you can square up the cabinet and attach the rear panel using glue and fasteners.  (I use a fine wire stapler and attach the back at all locations where a fastener can be inserted without showing.) The reason for the panel being  1/8 less that the 37 1/4 inches is to hide the bottom of the plywood however In most cases it will not matter as a back splash is usually enough to hide the almost inviable seam.  
 
This is one method of building a cabinet using pocket holes and screws.  I also use a second method and it is by cutting tongue and grooves in all the members and using glue and pins to hole the members tight until the glue cures and also by using as many screws that I can and still hide them.  I do this on the router table using a special bit set.     The hanging strip is done the same way.  It is this upper hanging strip that secures the cabinet to the wall studs and the lower one secures the cabinet to the studs at the bottom and keeps the cabinet bottom tight to the wall.  Now that you have built a well constructed cabinet carcass now installation time begins.
 
The hanging of a cabinet is simple but a critical step in making sure that they stay on the wall and hold the load that is placed in them.  Simply adding a baton to the bottom of the cabinets and adding a few screws at the top is really not a safe method and to be honest with you it looks rather un-professional even if it is in a garage or on a back porch. It will make even the best looking cabinet look like trash.
 . 
In a wall with the 16 inch center spacing is going to be the easiest to hang the cabinets in but the ones that only allow you to place one every 24 inches will change the total picture of how you are going to hang them and still have a safe and secure installation.  Installation of a cabinet run on a wall with 24 inch centers can be safe providing that there is more than one or two studs available in which to install screws through.  It is important that the ends of the cabinets be secured as well as the center portion of the cabinets.  This means that it will depend on the length of the cabinet run as to how many screws you should apply.  There is also things encountered in cabinet installations that will cause you some difficulty in how you are going to hang the cabinets.  Things like bowed walls, both looking at the wall vertically and also horizontally .   A wall the in either bowed inward or outward at the point where the cabinet top meets the wall is going to cause you some troubles.  Depending on how severe the bow is can alter your plan.  A wall that is bowed enough to hold the cabinet off the wall more that 1/4 inch will need some special attention to it installation.  A bowed inward at the middle area of the cabinet will require shims to make sure the cabinet is tight  along the wall and the same thing applies to inward bow at the ends of the cabinet.  An outward bow presents a different scenario as to how you are going to hang the cabinet.  It depends on what is causing the bow and how severe it is. 
 
Tricks to fix a outward bow in a wall includes simple things like shaving the wall at the bow as well as shaving the cabinet down.  It does have its limits and some have been so severe that I have actually had to remove the drywall at the location where the cabinet is going to be installed and repair the framing by adding studs in a bearing wall as well as shaving back the studs.  You find this is old buildings as well as new ones and some are more severe depending on not only the skill of the framers or the finish plaster man but on homes that are build in the winter and not properly allowed to dry out between the framing process and the finish plaster or dry wall installation.  The lumber is soaked and covered when it is still soaked with give you a wall that is ever changing and causing nail pops and walls the change day today until the water is finally dried out and the wall studs become stable.  This is also where a lot of mold in new construction begins.
 
This is why it is most important to visit the site of the installation even before you start building cabinets for it as it may change your method of building the cabinets. Beside taking a tape measure take along a camera, a 4 foot and an 8 ft level and a good framing square.  Check the plumb of the wall and the level condition of the floor.  Check the square of the corners and do both the plumb checking and squareness of the corners in several locations.  This was you can get an idea as to what you are facing come installation time.  Photograph the area and note any special points that you see that is going to become a critical circumstance in either the building of the cabinets as well as installation
 
If replacing cabinets this is also of importance.  Take a look at the walls and how plumb is it and also how square if the wall.  Use the square is as many places as you can.  Take a good look at the existing cabinets and look for joints that have spread apart.  Look for recent or old repairs that have been done to the cabinet.  Look for a cause of the failure as it might tell you the story of the walls behind the cabinets.  Check the run of the floors for how level are they.   Take a general overall look at the cabinets construction.  Is the back of the cabinets pulling away from the carcass.  Do the cabinets sit plumb and level across the span of the cabinet run.  Do the cabinets fit flat against the wall. 
 
Consult with the owner of the cabinets and or the general contractor and point out any items of concern.  There has been many times where I have had to build a cabinet altering the normal build.  Such things have been over sized panels that allow scribing to the fit a wall .  The building of a cabinet where you can fit a second panel on the ends where the eye can see such as between sinks and the ending run of a cabinet.  I have had to build cabinets that had a deeper floor or bottom that the top and vise versa other wise build a cabinet that will fit the wall.
The addition of using a French cleat hanging system of which is best done if you build the cabinet to fit the French cleat and actually build the French cleat into the cabinet as you do not have to alter the cabinet to add the French cleat.
 
Well by now you have built the cabinets and should be ready to install them.  Of great importance is the screws that you are going to use to mount the cabinets to the wall.   The quality of the screw will depend how well your installation is and is it safe or unsafe or just marginally  after you have finished the install.
 
Do not use things like dry wall screws to mount the cabinet.  On the box it says "dry wall screws" so that is the only thing that they are good for.  You need a screw that is not brittle and break easily when sheer load is placed on it.  Of most importance is the tensile strength of the screw.  It must resist the weight of the cabinet and the load in the cabinet, building stresses from movement and then the stresses that are placed on the cabinet by opening and closing the doors and drawers.
I use screws that are 2 & 1/2 inches long and the last inch of these screws have a bare shank.  The thread are aggressive and highly resistance to pull out and the purpose of the bare shank is to allow the screw to pass through cabinet hanging rail and into the studs and allow the cabinet to firmly seat against the wall.   Of importance is that the bare shank will spin in the cabinet rail and will not give you a false indication that you have hit a stud and not missing it and are getting the feeling of the firm seating of the screw from the threads still being in the cabinet member.   These screws are made for installation of cabinets and not like deck screws or other types of screws that are not satisfactory for installing cabinets.
 
There many tricks in building and installing cabinets and I have only touched the basics.  I will be glad to discuss additional tricks that my long time of doing this has taught me if anyone is interested.  Just remember that the finest cabinet ever built will be like the worst ever built if it falls off the wall.  Have a good day.   

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Jay,

Very informative---GREAT info.

Thanks for sharing and posting the details.

I agree, cabinet construction and installation is critical.

Many are clueless and the advice some give is scary.

Outstanding article Jay! Thanks for always being so very helpful.

Jay very good comments and detail on the proper way to hang or install cabinets in home or shop, think you have covered more then just the basics and know you are speaking from many years of building very nice looking cabinets and know what you are talking about , I would recomend  that any one that is going to hang cabinets , to read this discussion , thanks for helping as all ways , JIM !!!

Good info Jay. Do you have any images or illustrations to share which make it easier to visualize some of the points?

Also Ken I assume you mean my suggestion on the previous posts was "scary" as I was only other person that offered information on what had worked for me. If so then I resent that as it has worked for me and others I know. Apologies if it didn't meet your personal approval.

Jay thanks for your advice :-)

Jay thanks for sharing. Great information

In response to the question about where or not I have photos and or illustrations to show my point better.   I can offer a good explanation of the process of how something falls off a wall.  I could also offer photos of cabinets that I have build and how I have installed them but the photos actually will not show a lot of detail that I have not already discussed .If I still had the photos that I took at the time it would explain what happened crystal clear.    I do not have it in a illustrated book however that might be a good thing to think about doing.  What I posted is from information that I have learned from practical experience as well and from detailed studying of the works of other cabinet builders.  My experience comes from over a quarter of a century in construction not only from building cabinets but also from being involved in many construction phases of new and remodels of older buildings including exposure of and assisting in the repair of fire damaged buildings. 
 
In this situation of which I posted about, occurred a few years after I left law enforcement as an investigator where my profession exposed me to many different scenarios of construction as an investigator seeing many buildings damaged from criminal actions such as, but not limited to automobiles running into buildings, explosions and arson fires.During this time I also conducted many serious and fatal accident reconstruction.  Then adding at that time another 15 years being in the cabinet building and construction trade gives me a good background of which I should be able intelligently build and install cabinets and be able to explain the physics of why something should be done in a certain manner.  To clarify as to how I can recall this so well is that I have been gifted with a photographic memory and testified many times in murder cases with out notes.  Certain things that I happen upon I recall them just like I was looking at a photograph.  This incident certainly left an impression on me as I was involved in the same profession.
 
I was called to a residence by the insurance adjuster of the victims insurance who inquired of me as to what my opinion was as to what had happened.  I was told that the owner (lady of retirement age) had been injured and will spend some time in the hospital from injuries that she had suffered when the wall of cabinets fell off the wall on on top of her.  I was told that the cabinets had been installed by a company that installed cabinet systems for customers a couple days before the incident and was told that it had happened the day prior to me being called.
 
What I saw was a nice new set of cabinets that had been moved from where they landed by the paramedics in order to remove the victim for medical care.  The cabinets were upper cabinets and were around 8 feet in length and about 38 to 40 inches in height ( standard size heights for a 8 foot high ceiling) The tops of the cabinets were damaged more severely than the lower half.  The lower cabinets were granite surfaced and the counter top was broken at the front edges in several places.  Some of the doors were broken off as well as damaged to the point of ruin.
 
Looking at the walls I noted several holes that had been made by screws and or nails and looking at the cabinet backs  I saw a few broken off screws and noted that they were sheet rock screws and not screws that were manufactured to use in mounting cabinets.  Physically checking the wall many of the holes in the sheet rock were just that holes with nothing behind to screw to except insulation.  The top of the cabinets were just below the top plate of the walls.  The holes in the wall matched the screw holes in the cabinet back. 
Looking at the cabinet and the manner of construction I saw no flaws in their construction or material that would have caused them to fall off the wall, meaning cabinet construction or material failure.  The amount of weight that was put inside the cabinet was not enough to cause over stress of the cabinet box.
The cabinet had the upper hanging cleat or rail and there was one on the bottom of the cabinet box (outside of the of the bottom that makes the back of the cabinet box the same height as the face frame at the front.)  There were a few screws in the bottom cleat as well but most of these were broke off or had simply pulled out of the sheet rock and still intact. ( not screwed into framing)
 
I explained to the claims adjuster my opinions and explained to him how I believed it happened and did this showing the points why it fell off the wall.  I explained that there was insufficient screws properly placed in the cabinet to mount it safely.
 
A few months went by and I was contacted again by the insurance adjuster who gave me a subpoena to appear for a deposition about my knowledge and what I had seen at the home.
It finally came down to a civil trial and the insurance agency for the victim hired a civil engineer who did a re-enactment of the incident and filmed it and played it in slow motion at the trial.  What I saw in that film showed exactly how I had explained it in court.
 
Simply put the installers failed to firmly attach the top of the cabinet to the wall missing the framing in most of the screws  that they installed.  The screws that they were using (sheet rock) were incorrect as they do not have the tensile strength (resistance to pulling and stretching) and were brittle so they lacked sheer resistance. This caused the failure of the cabinet to not remain on the wall. 
 
The re-enactment of of the falling showed the following:  As weight was applied to the cabinet it began to pull away from the top.  This continued until it pulled totally away from the wall and as it fell the top rotates outward while the bottom remained against the wall.  As if finally reached a point of it's downward fall, the bottom of the cabinet now moves upward scrapping the wall.  This was when the cabinet was at about a 90 degree angle to the wall.  By now the cabinet had already hit the victim knocking her down and the cabinet follows.  The cabinet now hits the counter top at the front edge and breaks the granite top and then slides down onto the floor and on top of the victim.  During its downward tumble, the doors have opened and dumped the cabinet's contents out of the cabinet and onto the floor and on top of the victim hitting the victim just before or at the same time as the cabinet and sand witched them between the victim and the cabinet and floor
 
In simple physics when weight is applied directly on top of a stationary object such as a baton or in this case a few screws in the bottom rail it will remain stable as long as the weight  is directly on top of the stationary object.  However if you take the same amount of weight and move it outward such as would be on a cabinet shelf, the pressure now become lighter on the stationary object, and begins to add pressure to the top and the pressure is an outward pulling effect.  ( physics of leverage) This is why the cabinet begins the fall at the top and not at the bottom.  This makes the bottom pivot and when the cabinet does move, it moves upward and not down like most will believe.  So this being true the more weight that is put in a cabinet shelves towards the front the more the outward pull at the top will be.  It is the same principle as if an object is top heavy it will tip over but it does not tip over from the bottom.  The tipping over begins at the top.   This is why there was no damage to the back of the counter top and no damage to the bottom of the cabinet. In reality the bottom just rotates and switches from being the bottom to being the top. The cabinet bottom never hits the counter top but slide off on the cabinet face.
 
So to sum it up, proper cabinet installation is just as important as cabinet construction.  It is hard or impossible to hang a cabinet safely if it is not constructed properly.  This is why giving correct information to those out there who do not know is important.  Following wrong information can become something that you will regret  This is why you should really weight information that you read and or hear before you follow it.  Now I have included my experience and back ground and hope you will consider things that people state as being the right way to do something.  I guess question the information,  Would you go to a doctor that has never had any experience and if so what does his credentials say?  Would you ask a person how to build a cabinet door that has never built a cabinet door in his life.
 
This incident would never have happened had the cabinet been secured to the wall properly by installing the proper screws and screwing the screws into framing members and installed enough screws.  Do not fail to add enough screws into the top hanging rail and as a rule of thumb in each point in the framing that you can.   I use 4 inch wide hanging rail in a standard cabinet and increase this as the bigger the cabinet gets.  Best to be safe than sorry.  Incorrect work can hurt you in many ways.  If you recall recently there was  discussion about using kreg screws for framing.  There is a reason for certain things to apply in construction.  Gravity and motion is the ruling factor in most things.

Jay,

GREAT read.

Very well illustrated.

Thanks for sharing your insight. 

Jay, very good reply , well written , great details and very easy for any one to under stand !!!  Thanks for the information  and your help as all ways , JIM !!!

hi,  i have started using a method  of shimming the base cabinets the is far superior to using wood shims.  i reenforce the toe kick area with 2 X 4 material cut to fit inside the toe kick  and drill with a forsner bit a 3/4 hole about 1/2 inch deep then use a 1/2 inch brad point bit to drill a 3/4 inch deep hole in the center of the forsner bit hole.  i drive a t-nut into the hole and install a bolt into the t-nut .i also put a felt piece over the head of the bolt so it won't mar the floor and you can move the cabinet around with no problems. to adjust height just move the bolt in or out of the nut. i use 3/8 inch bolts about 1 to 1 and 1/2 inch long.  sounds like a long procedure to use but it works really well.  try it you might like it.

Hi Frank,  It would be a long proceedure and in fact I have used similialr methods during my time building cabients as a profession and have done many different types of builds.  It is a method of which I seldom found a need for as I have no problem just picking you the cabinet and setting it into place.  The problem that I see with your method is that it places all the weight on a small diamater of which will sink into some floors over time.  The use of wooden shims works well as it is fast and accurate and does distributes the cabinet's weight over a larger area than a small diameter of a bolt head.  

There is a system similiar to what you are discribing of which uses legs that are adjustable down from the cabient floor and found in some of the pre-made European cabienet of which yoiu set in place a level them to the proper height by extending and retracting the legs height.  Expensive and did actually nothing to speed up and or make the job of installing cabinets.

Another method of which I have used is to build a seperate toe kick assembly seperate from the cabinet box and set the toe kicks into place first and make the tops level making the adjustment using both shims and also by shaving the toe kicks to fit the uneven floors.  i only do this when the floor is very much out of level and  requires an extream measure to get the cabinets level.  In some cases that allows me to add material between the cabinet box and the toe kick.  In cases like this the use of a seperate toe kick that is prefinished is then glued and pin nailed to the toe kick.  This is done after the toe kick are inplace and just before sitting the cabient boxes onto the toe kick frame.  Anything that I can't fix with this method then the floors should be leveled before any cabinets are placed on the floor.

Once this is done it is a simple process to sit the boxes onto the toe kick and screw them into place screwing them to the base and to the wall studs and then together to make a firm base for a counter top of choice.

 There is not the danger like hanging a upper cabient up on a wall that I wrote above in my post.  They are either out of level and or out of plumb and is either is wrong will have to be corrected to remedy the ailments.

You idea would work but not practicle for what I have been doing.   Every cabinet install is different and that is why I suggested a visit to the location of the cabient installation when possible before the build as it can aid you in the final installation.  You can build a cabinet to fit many problems and make a cabinet of better quality without having to do so many alterations once at the place of installation.  I had rather know about the floor and wall conditions so that I can correct what I can and then build the cabinet to fit without having to go to the extreams as I would had I not known of problems before arrival of the install.  That is the beauty of building a true custom cabinet as it is built to fit the walls and floors both in height and width and length and also on what the cabinets are attached to and are sitting on.  

I do thank you for your imput as it may give others ideas.    


Frank R. Clark said:

hi,  i have started using a method  of shimming the base cabinets the is far superior to using wood shims.  i reenforce the toe kick area with 2 X 4 material cut to fit inside the toe kick  and drill with a forsner bit a 3/4 hole about 1/2 inch deep then use a 1/2 inch brad point bit to drill a 3/4 inch deep hole in the center of the forsner bit hole.  i drive a t-nut into the hole and install a bolt into the t-nut .i also put a felt piece over the head of the bolt so it won't mar the floor and you can move the cabinet around with no problems. to adjust height just move the bolt in or out of the nut. i use 3/8 inch bolts about 1 to 1 and 1/2 inch long.  sounds like a long procedure to use but it works really well.  try it you might like it.

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