Kitchen Renovation – IKEA build Part I – Tips and Tricks

Good evening everyone,

For the past 5 days, I’ve been adding some much needed cabinet and counter space to the kitchen.  Today, with the exception of a touch up here and there, the lighting, and a few final details, the project is finally complete.

I chose IKEA for the cabinets and countertop.  This post isn’t sponsored by IKEA in any way and I am not associated with the company, so I can tell you openly what I think of this idea.  I wish I was able to find some of the information that I learned below.  I watched a lot of videos but there were still some issues I was not expecting.

Let’s start with the planning phase.  I went online at IKEA’s website and used the Kitchen Planner to set up a plan for the kitchen, choose cabinets, counter top, hardware and some lighting.  The planner was reasonably easy to use though it crashed a time or two while I was working with it.  You simply measure your wall width and height, input that; add your doors, windows, electrical, plumbing … and you’re good to go.  You’re going to want to make sure these measurements are accurate.  A rough guesstimate is going to leave you frustrated when the kitchen parts are delivered.  The software contains all of the IKEA cabinets, hardware, appliances, counter, etc that are available.  As you choose pieces, you can move them around, choose the number of shelves and drawers in some cases, and whether the cabinets should open to the left or right.

The software will also warn you if you have design issues – for example you don’t have enough room for a cabinet, there isn’t enough room between the counter top and upper cabinets, you’ve covered a window with a cabinet… whatever the issue might be.  But, as you will see below, it won’t warn you about everything.

The software does have some downsides.  You’re not getting a full picture of what your new cabinets will look like, just a rough idea but sufficient to get the planning done.  If you want to see more details, you can look up the individual pieces on the main website or go to the showroom to see the pieces in person.  Also, the software will not warn you about things that you might not know.  For example, to add end pieces to your cabinets so that they look finished, to purchase end pieces to use to cut spacers where the cabinets will not meet exactly, to add valence pieces if you don’t want over counter lighting to be seen, and that you will need extra tools and materials to complete the job.

Upgrades can add to the cost quickly.  Cabinet doors, counter top, shelving, and hardware can all be upgraded.  However, you can also go for budget versions of these pieces to keep your costs down.  You can also purchase some items elsewhere, if you like.  The software automatically adds steel rails that the cabinets can be hung on.  If you want to mount your cabinets directly to a wall, you can remove these.

After the planning stage, you can contact IKEA online to ask questions and review your plan to ensure you have everything in order.  The software will generate a parts list for each cabinet piece and appliance included in your plan.  You can then purchase the pieces online and pick them up or have them delivered.  My delivery fee for 8 cabinets, countertop, and end pieces was only $99 and, as you can see from the video involved 55 boxes as well as a box of parts, which never would have fit into our two cars.  Even with assistance from IKEA, I was missing parts – the lighting they sold me did not include the transformer that you need to plug in all the light pieces.  The kitchen planner I spoke to missed that as well.  Also I ended up with one more end panel and 8 additional cabinet feet than I needed.

I would recommend that whether you pick up your kitchen or have it delivered, go through the parts list carefully before you sign off on the order, to ensure everything is there.

After delivery or pick up of your cabinets. unless you have very good carpentry skills, you have someone else install them for you.  This is not like other IKEA furniture, it is not as easy to do as it might seem.  IKEA does offer an installation service starting at $99 per cabinet – starting at.  If you want to save some money and you don’t have the skills yourself, hiring a carpenter for a day to help you out with the more difficult work might be worth it.  Or you know, a carpenter friend who will work for pizza…

I did almost all of this work myself.  This corner of my kitchen had no mounted cabinets to begin with, just some free standing racks and cabinets we used for storage.  Also, our house is very old and the previous owner was a DIY’er who did not know what he was doing.  There were electrical issues (including an outlet where no outlet should ever be and a telephone jack about 6 feet up one wall), bowing in the south wall preventing it from being level, a bizarre fall back in the south wall that covered 2 feet near the doorway and overlapped my cabinet plan, issues with the base boards which had been cemented to the wall, and issues with the floor tile below the base boards, which had no grout in them and had cracked.  There is no drywall in the house, except the basement.  It is all cement board.

I spent 2 long days repairing these issues, including having electrician rewire the south wall and add an appropriate number of outlets where the counter would go (5 hours).  I leveled and plumbed out the bowing in the south wall and built out the fall back so that the entire southern wall was even (8 1/2 hours).  I repaired the tile and grout (1 hour).  I patched and sanded down all of the holes left by the electricians and painted where the patches would show (3 hours).  I removed all the base boards in the area and repaired any spots where the cementing had caused damage (2 hours).  I then drew the new kitchen plan directly on the walls, including where the steel rails would go, where each cabinet would go, where the lighting would go, where the end pieces would go, where the countertop would go and where I would need spacers (1 1/2 hours).  I located and drew the locations of all of the studs in the west and south walls (40 minutes).  I also drew these items directly onto the floor tile, reducing the measurements by 1.5″ to account for the feet and toe kicks (1/2 hour).  I realized that I would have a floor vent under a cabinet, so I made a plan to deal with that issue (1/2 hour).    You may want to consider having electricians, plumbers or carpenters to assist you with all of this.  Again, not easy and you are likely to run into unexpected issues as you do this work.

When the delivery was made it took me an hour to organize the boxes and triple check everything against the parts list.  I then ensured that I would have all the tools and materials that I need (IKEA does not give you a convenient list of these items).  For my build, I needed the following tools and additional equipment (including material and equipment I used to make my memo board (which covers part of the built out wall, leaving in level):

  • Drill
  • Drill bits in various sizes
  • Screw bits in #2 Phillips, #2 Robertson, #3 slotted, #2 Allen
  • If you are heavy on your drill trigger, you will want these in screwdriver form as well
  • A 3 foot level and an 8 inch level
  • Wall anchors
  • Stud sensor
  • Hammer
  • Pencil
  • Paper (to make templates for handles)
  • Try-square
  • Drywall screws
  • Wood screws
  • Moulding
  • Baseboard
  • Shims
  • 2 x 3 lumber
  • 1/4″ oak plywood
  • 1/4″ poplar hobby board
  • Dry erase paint
  • Finishing nails
  • Paint brush
  • Paint to touch up your walls
  • Tile for a backsplash for the counter top
  • Grout
  • Thin set
  • Trowel
  • Drywall patches
  • Drywall knife and scraper
  • Box cutter
  • Black and white caulking
  • Caulking gun
  • Sandpaper
  • Hack saw
  • Hand saw
  • Circular saw
  • Painter’s tape
  • Hobby planks
  • Wood glue
  • Finishing nails
  • Sponge roller
  • Dry erase paint

Once the delivery was made and triple checked, I set about looking for the instruction book or DVD.  None.  Nada.  Nothing.  There are instructions sheets in each of the pieces that you buy.  That’s it.  That’s all.  You can go online and watch several videos and even get some guidance from IKEA “manuals” that are available there… but, again, if you don’t have very good carpentry skills, I recommend hiring a carpenter to help you out.

Though I did this almost entirely myself (with some help lifting a few of the items), it really is a two person job.  If I do this again (and I probably will), I’ll be sure to do it when others are available to help out.

The first thing I installed were the rails.  Measure twice before cutting!  I cut them 1/2″ shorter than required to account for overlap in the corner.  The rails come with holes at set intervals.  Try to avoid cutting through these holes, if you can, as it is a pain to deal with with a hack saw.  Line your rail up where it needs to go on the wall and ensure it’s level.  Then mark which holes you want to use to secure the rail to the wall, preferably where there are studs but also at a minimum of 6 inch intervals.  Remove the rail and install your anchors where necessary.  I drove my screws in, leaving about 1/2″ out.  Then you need to cover each screw with a screw lock (ten are supplied with each rail) and drive it in the rest of the way.  Be sure your wall is level, using shims where necessary so as not to bend or warp your rail.  It has to be level and straight if you want your cabinets to hang level and straight.

If you are not using rails, you can move on to the next stage but be careful to follow the instructions for mounting your cabinets to the walls without the rails (included in each of the cabinet boxes.

I decided to hang my upper cabinets first, so that the lower cabinets would not be in my way.  I began with the corner wall cabinet and moved left along the west wall.  The corner cabinet was very large and very, very heavy but the instructions were clear and the cabinet went together pretty much like any IKEA furniture.  No surprises there.  I recommend working on one cabinet at a time and then hang them.  It will be easier to balance, level and secure your cabinets if you leave the doors, shelves, drawers and hardware for later.  Do all your cabinet boxes first.

Corner cabinets have to be hung on two different rails, making this a two person job.  Hang it, ensuring that both hooks are securely on the rails.  Then level the corner cabinet.  Prepare the next wall cabinet in the same way.  Clamp the two cabinets together and make sure again that they are level.  Then using the screws provided, secure one cabinet to the other by choosing spaces between the cabinet holes to screw through.  I drilled a guide hole before doing this.  Proceed in this way until the last wall cabinet is hung.

I then went ahead and installed the doors, shelves and hardware for these cabinets.  (I had to uninstall the door on the corner cabinet temporarily to secure the full height cabinets).  Again, I recommend doing the doors, shelves, drawers and hardware last.

Next came the floor cabinets, hung on rails (optional), and again beginning with the corner cabinet and working left to the end.  I leveled each cabinet as I went.  This time I was smart enough to leave the shelves, doors and hardware alone.  IKEA gives you a parts list that is cabinet by cabinet so that helps to keep all of this organized.  On the bottom, I have a 3″ spacer between the left-most cabinet and the middle cabinet, to make the bottom even with the top.

To cut the spacer, I used the extra end piece that I was given and drew a line in pencil at 3″ down the back.  I then used painter’s tape and taped the entire back and front over that line.  I drew it again and cut the piece with my circular saw.  I also needed a 10 1/2″ filler piece for the corner cabinet to cover up the area between the front of the full height cabinets and the brace for the countertop, so I cut that at the same time and set that aside (we’ll get back to it – it was tricky).  The end piece will chip if you do not tape it well, so take the time to do that.  Use a paper tape and not a nylon tape (like electrical tape) if you don’t want to damage your saw and blade.

I did not install the spacer right away.  First I made sure that both cabinets on either side were level and plumb.  You level the lower cabinets with plastic feet below them.  Once they were level, I made sure that the space to be filled was an even 3″ from front to back and top to bottom (in other words, I made sure the empty space was level and plumb).  Then I installed the spacer using the extra screws provided with the end piece that I used to cut this filler piece.  I chose spaces between holes inside the cabinet that I knew would not be in the way of any shelves or drawers, and screwed in the spacer.  I could not clamp in this position so I just proceeded slowly, making sure the spacer did not move between each installation of a screw.  I used a small amount of white caulk to make the rougher (slightly rougher) edge appear smooth.

I then had my son help me lift the counter top onto the cabinets and slide it into place to measure it for cutting.  (IKEA has two sizes of counter top so you may well have to cut yours or get a separate counter made).  Luckily, the counter fit perfectly.  If I were to cut it, I would have taped it as well, as the finish will chip.  Cut it from front to back, as the area most likely to chip is at the end of the cut, not the beginning.  That way, a chip will be at the back part of the counter, where it is easier to disguise.

If you have a counter top on both sides, you will need to cut your tops at angles to one another.  In this case, you will also need to build extra supports into your cabinet to ensure the ends are firmly secured to the cabinets on all sides and to one another.  I did not do this but I’ll show you how in a future project.

With the counter top on and screwed down, I moved to the full height cabinets, which I also hung on the rails.  This time I worked to the right, ensuring that the first was level, plumb and secured to the cabinet to the left before moving on.  Because of the time of day I was doing this, I was alone.  I went ahead and lifted that massive cabinet onto the rail by myself.  Completely wrecked my back.  Don’t be stupid, like me.  Wait and get a hand putting this up.  Not just because it’s heavy but it’s also bulky.  Don’t care if you bench 900 lbs with one arm while stopping trains with the other – get a hand with this.

When I built out my wall, I ensured that there would be new cross-studs where the rail would be, at the floor level, at the bottom of the cabinets (4 1/2″ above the floor) and at 12″ intervals in between.  There are shims behind where appropriate to ensure that the new lumber remained good and plumb.  This was to provide the best possible support for the cabinets and it is overbuilt rather than under built.  I did not plaster over the build out but left the bare lumber.

There is an additional brace on the corner unit for the counter top.  That would not be an issue if the cabinets to the right of it were 24″ depth.  But because of the size of my kitchen, I chose 17″ depth cabinets, so I needed to fill that 5″ space.  To do that, I could not screw into the brace without the screws being seen.  So I cut the 10 1/2″ piece that I mentioned earlier.  This extra space allowed me to overlap the piece onto the full height cabinet by 5 1/2″  I then used 2″ wood screws and screwed in 6 of those.  Three in the spaces between holes in the cabinet that I knew would not interfere with shelves and then 3 more about 3″ to the left of the first line.  I had only one clamp to help me in this position, so I also used a small pieces of 2 x 3 to help hold the spacer in place while I secured it.

I used moulding to cover the gaps between the cabinets and the walls that are caused by the rail and plastic shims on the backs of the cabinets.  1/2″ moulding on the left side and hobby board on the right, where I am using the build out to create a “barn-door” memo board.

I then installed all the doors.  These were easy.  The hinges (there were two types), are easy to install into the doors and then they snap on to the cabinets.  I had no issue with the doors.  I recommend though, as you will see, installing the connecting pieces for all of your hinges into your cabinets before installing shelves and drawers.

Shelves were also very easy.  Select your holes, insert four supports and lay the shelf down.  Boom.

Drawers were much more difficult.  They give you a diagram in each cabinet that can hold drawers.  That diagram sets out common configurations of drawers (two large, three medium, five small, two medium and two small, two deep drawers and five shelves, etc).  Not a one was the configuration that I had chosen.  Not a one.  Also, with the exception of two deep drawers, all of my drawers are hidden behind doors.  You will need to do some basic planning if you have anything but one of these standard configurations.  Trying to figure out which holes you out to use for drawers by trial and error is no fun and will leave “scarred” holes all over your new cabinet.  Luckily you can figure it out fairly well from the diagrams you are given.  I only had to adjust two drawers.

All of the drawers have dampers on them so that they don’t slam shut.  One one version of drawer rail, you will have to snap these one yourself.  On another, they are built in.  Either way, easy peasy.

I installed dampers on all of the door hinges as well, which prevent the cabinet doors from being slammed.  You will get two for larger doors.  Use them both.  I tested the large doors with one damper and they just don’t work as well.

The toe kicks were next.  These are plastic with a little vinyl piece on one side to prevent water and dirt from getting under the cabinets.  They are very easy to cut and line up.  However, IKEA doesn’t really give you measurements for how to do this.  I laid the entire piece on the floor and, using my handy dandy pencil (I have tile floors and the pencil marks just wipe off), I marked line where the toe kicks would go and then extended those until they crossed one another.  I then took those measurements to cut the toe kicks one piece at a time (to ensure they would indeed fit.  They clip on to the feet of the cabinets with plastic clips.  To line up the clips I place the cut toe kick on the floor back side up.  I then inserted the clips line up with the feet.  I could have just put the clips in the toe kick and shifted them but this was a lot of work and one of the clips slipped out and damaged the toe kick when I tried this.

On corners, I worried that I would not be able to put two clips on one leg but the IKEA engineers think of everything… well, a lot of things.  The clips have a longer side and a shorter side, if you flip them over, two will clip on to the same leg, without any difficulty.  The IKEA engineers might have thought to put that little trick (along with some idea of how to measure the cuts) into their instructions…

I installed the lights next, very easy to install but… the IKEA kitchen planner didn’t tell me that I need a transformer to connect the lights to the power source.  So… it’s on it’s way.  Instead of in cabinet lights, I installed the pot lights on the ceiling above the cabinets.  I installed the over counter lights in a straight line below the upper cabinets.  That way, I did not have to lose counter space by using a valence piece to disguise them.

I installed the remote control for the LED lights on the wall next to the west wall cabinets.  That was as easy as putting two small screws in the wall.

I purchased a kitchen cart to use as a small island (my space is quite small so a full island attached to the floor isn’t feasible).  This was easy to put together and took maybe an hour.  I purchased a cart with locking wheels so that it wouldn’t be easily shifted around the room.

I then chose some black/grey tile for a back splash for the counter.  This is important because the rail will leave a gap between the counter top and the wall.  You need something to cover that.  I used a dark grey thin set to attach the tile with 1/16th spacers.  The tiles are 2 x 12.  The thin set dried overnight and the following day I applied a gray grout and let that dry for 36 hours.  If you haven’t tiled before, be prepared to wipe, wipe, wipe with a damp rag and sponge to be sure to get all that thin set and mortar off the tiles and counter top.  It takes a lot of wiping and rinsing.  Also here’s a little trick.  You can protect your wall (where you don’t want thin set or grout, by taping down some painter’s tape and waxed paper in all areas where the thin set and grout shouldn’t get to.  Nothing will stick and clean up will be much easier.

I used black caulking between the tiles and counter top.  So much less messy and easier to clean up than I ever expected.  Tricks to apply caulking well:  use one stroke of even pressure all along the joint.  Keep moving steadily right to the end.  Put the caulking gun down over a piece of waxed paper (some of the caulk always leaks out), wet your finger (for silicone and latex based caulks) and run it down the line of caulk you just laid to even it out and ensure it gets into the joint.  Again, keep moving steadily and apply even pressure.  Clean up any wayward caulk with a damp (not wet) paper towel or rag.  Caulks are water repellent so avoid using too wet a rag for cleaning.

Finally, I made a “barn door” from hobby wood (1/4″ poplar planks).  After the barn door was built to cover up the build out on the south wall, I cut two small pieces of 1/4″ cedar plywood and painted that with dry erase paint.  I attached the plywood to the barn door with glue and used wood fill to cover any remaining joints.

All of the trim installed will be painted a high gloss white to match the cabinets.  When I get more energy… because 7 days… 7 days I’ve worked on this kitchen area in total, along with everything else that makes up my day… probably I’ll have energy for painting next week.  Did I say week?  I meant month… next month.

I hope some of this has helped you make decisions around installing kitchen cabinetry, and whether or not you should have help doing it.  IKEA, the bastion of easy to make furniture… kitchens, not so much.  Though to be fair, IKEA has made installing a kitchen much easier than it otherwise would be.


Until next time,
Peace and love,



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