Should You Install Upper or Lower Cabinets First? – Let’s Check




Last night, as I was staring at my kitchen plans, wondering where to start. My pretty handy neighbor stopped by. and asked, confused should you install upper or lower cabinets first? He guessed, looking at my mess of plans.

I nodded, feeling totally stuck. “Yep, that’s my big question.”

Should You Install Upper or Lower Cabinets First

He giggled and shared,

You know, it’s usually best to start with the top cabinets if you want to do cabinet restoration. It’s like outlining a drawing before coloring it in. This way, you won’t ruin the bottom ones by accident while you’re working. Plus, it’s easier to make sure everything lines up if you’re not working around cabinets that are already there.”

That clicked with me. “So, hang the top ones first to keep the bottom space clear. Then do the bottom cabinets, and finish with the doors and cabinet knobs?” “Exactly,” he said, smiling. “Start from the top, work your way down, and then put on the finishing touches.”

Should You Install Upper Or Lower Cabinets First?

So, Should I install upper or lower cabinets first? When redoing your kitchen, figuring out whether to hang upper cabinets or base cabinets first can be tricky. Let’s simplify this and see what works best for most kitchen updates.

Experts usually suggest putting upper cabinets up before base cabinets. Here’s why this is a smart move:

Should You Install Upper Or Lower Cabinets First
  • It keeps the bottom area clear, so you have more room to move and work. This way, you won’t accidentally bump into or harm the base cabinets.
  • You’re less likely to scratch or damage the base cabinets and countertops since you’re working above them. Dropping tools won’t be as much of a worry.
  • Hanging upper cabinets first makes it easier to line everything up. You can use them as a guide to install the base cabinets, especially if your kitchen cabinets need to fit in specific stud locations or around uneven floors.

However, there are times when starting with the base cabinets might make more sense. If your project involves a lot of work on cabinet doors, drawer fronts, or appliances that fit into base cabinets, it’s better to install them first. This approach helps with planning for any filler strips or adjustments needed for corner cabinets.

Now, after going through the above explanation, hopefully, you get the answer to your question, “Do you install upper or lower kitchen cabinets first?”

Why Install Base Cabinets First?

Now, you know Do you install upper or lower kitchen cabinets first or not. But why? Starting with base cabinets makes a lot of sense. It sets your kitchen up right from the get-go, makes the whole cabinet installation process smoother, and ensures that when it’s time to add those upper cabinets, corner cabinets, or even a fancy wall cabinet, you’re all set. 

Why Install Base Cabinets First

However, do you install upper cabinets first? Well, no worries. But installing a base cabinet will offer the following benefits:

  • Firstly, base cabinets lay the groundwork for your kitchen. Think of them as the foundation of a house. Getting them in first sets the stage for everything else. 
  • Having the base cabinets in place first also means you’ve got an open field for working. You won’t have the upper cabinets hanging over your head, so measuring and moving around is easy. This is super handy when you’re trying to get things just perfect.
  • Plus, base cabinets are key for getting your countertops just right. You can’t put in countertops without having those base cabinets securely in place. They need to be level and sturdy so that when you lay down your countertops, everything fits like a glove.
  • Putting in base cabinets first also helps you figure out the layout of your kitchen faster. You get to decide where all your stuff goes early on, like your appliances and drawer fronts. This can save you a lot of head-scratching later.
  • And let’s not forget about the heavy lifting. Base cabinets are the heavyweights of the cabinet world. Getting them in place first means you can focus on the lighter, easier-to-handle upper cabinets afterward.
  • One more thing—kitchens aren’t always built perfectly level.  You might need to use some filler strips or adjust the cabinet doors and drawer fronts to get everything looking sharp.

Pros and Cons of Installing Upper Cabinets First

So, Should I install upper or lower cabinets first? Before making a decision,  you should go through the pros and cons of each. Leaning each step’s pros and cons will enable you to decide, what order do you install cabinets. 

What we like

  • Safety First: When you search for Do you install top or bottom cabinets first? You definitely think for safety purpose. With upper cabinets done first, you avoid damaging lower cabinets during installation. It’s easier to maneuver without worrying about hitting something below.
  • Clear Vision: Installing uppers first gives you a clear view of your workspace. This makes it easier to plan and adjust the layout as you go.
  • Efficiency: It’s generally quicker to hang upper cabinets when there’s nothing in the way. You can move freely, speeding up the process.

What we don’t like

  • Harder to Measure: Without the lower cabinets in place, it can be tricky to get accurate measurements for countertop height.
  • Physical Strain: So, your physical also impacts on the answer of Do you put upper cabinets or lower first? Working overhead first can be more physically demanding. You might find yourself reaching and lifting more than if you started lower.
  • Adjustment Issues: If the upper cabinets are off, it might affect how the lower ones fit. You could end up having to make adjustments twice.

Pros and Cons of Installing Lower Cabinets First

The advantages and disadvantages of installing lower cabinets first are different from installing the upper cabinets. Those are:


  • Stable Base: Starting with lowers provides a solid foundation. You can adjust the height and level before adding weight up top.
  • Easier on the Body: It’s generally less physically taxing to start with lower cabinets. You’re not constantly reaching up or working overhead.
  • Accurate Countertop Fitting: With lower cabinets in place, measuring for countertops is straightforward. You get a precise fit, ensuring a smooth finish.


  • Potential for Damage: There’s a risk of damaging the lower cabinets while installing the upper ones. Tools or materials could scratch or dent them.
  • Space Constraints: Working around installed lower cabinets can limit your movement. It might make installing upper cabinets more challenging.
  • Visualizing Issues: It can be harder to envision the final layout with only lower cabinets in place. You might not spot potential issues until the uppers are hung.

What Factors Influence The Choice of Installing Upper or Lower Cabinets First?

When you’re installing, whether it’s upper kitchen cabinets or the ones below, getting them in the right spot is important. You’ll want to make sure adjacent cabinets line up nicely. Sometimes, you’ll need to tweak things a bit to get a cabinet into position just right. However, the following factors influence the choice of installing upper or lower cabinets first:

What Factors Influence The Choice of Installing Upper or Lower Cabinets First


First up, how your kitchen is laid out matters a lot. You want to make sure everything fits nicely and makes your life easier. Group things you use together, like keeping your coffee stuff in one spot. If your kitchen is small, think about a layout that uses space smartly.


The size of your kitchen tells you what cabinets you need. If your cabinets are too small, things get messy. Also, look at your ceiling height too.

Higher ceilings might need taller cabinets. Since there are lots of sizes, talking to someone who knows their stuff can really help. They can take your kitchen floor plan and find cabinet boxes that work.


Cabinets are more than just boxes for your stuff. They can make your kitchen look cool and work better for you. If you like the idea of cabinets going all the way to the ceiling, go for it. However, if your ceilings are super high, you might have a hard time reaching stuff without a step stool.


People notice your cabinets right away. You want them to look good and match how you use your kitchen. A tip here is to think about what you like and share those ideas with a designer. 

Also, getting the height right is important. Too low, and you’ll be bending a lot. It’s too high, and you might need help reaching. Different things can make corner cabinets easier to use, and picking the right door style can keep cleaning easy.


Your budget should cover more than just the cabinets. You might need to fix up the walls or change where things are plugged in. Make sure the walls are straight with a level. If they’re not, wood shims can be a lifesaver. Also, decide if you’re redoing the floor now or later.

How To Install Kitchen Cabinets?

To install your kitchen cabinet, you need to follow certain steps. The steps for installing the lower and upper kitchen cabinets are different. Go through the details below to learn the installation process:

Step 1: Preparing Your Kitchen

First things first, make sure your walls are straight. Grab a 4-foot level and check for any leaning. If the walls aren’t straight up and down, you’ll need to remember those spots. You might have to use thin pieces of wood, called wood shims, to even things out when you’re putting the cabinets up.

Draw a line 48 inches up from your kitchen floor right across the wall. This is your starting point for everything else. A laser level can do this job quickly and keeps the line straight.

Find the highest spot on your floor by measuring from this line down. Mark it on your wall because it’s key to making sure your kitchen cabinet installation goes smoothly.

Now, mark another line 34.5 inches above the highest point. This is where the bottom of your upper kitchen cabinets will sit. Then, mark another line 17-18 inches above that for the top edge of your upper cabinets.

Spot the wall type and stud locations along these lines. If you’re planning to slot in any appliances, now’s the time to measure and mark those spots, too.

Step 2: Installing Upper Cabinets

To install the upper cabinet, follow the easy steps below:

  • First up, fix cleats (little supports) into the wall studs right under where your upper cabinets will go. These cleats are like temporary shelves that help hold your cabinet box in place as you work. 
  • Lay your upper cabinets down and use clamps to hold the cabinet face frames of adjacent cabinets together. This step makes sure they’re lined up nicely when you hang them.
  • Hold your cabinets against the wall and mark where the studs are on the back of your cabinet box. Drill small guide holes for your screws.
  • Screw the cabinet face frames together, then lift the whole setup onto the cleats. This bit is easier with a buddy or a cabinet jack to help hoist them up without risking a drop.
  • Drive screws through the back of the cabinet box into the wall studs. Once they’re securely attached, you can take off the cleats. Check if your cabinets are straight. If not, slide some wood shims between the wall and cabinets to adjust.
  • This step makes kitchen cabinet installation less intimidating. It’s all about taking it one step at a time and making adjustments based on your personal preference and what your space needs. With a bit of patience, you’ll see your kitchen transform.

Step 3: Installing Lower Cabinet

To install your lower cabinet, follow the easy steps below:

  • First up, pick a corner to start with your kitchen cabinet installation. Put the wall cabinet in that corner and check if it’s straight with a laser level. If you notice it’s not sitting right because of uneven floors, remember you might need shims to fix it.
  • Got plumbing to deal with? Push the cabinet close to the plumbing and mark where you need to drill on the back of your cabinet box for the pipes to fit through.
  • To make sure your cabinet is level, push it against the wall and lay a straight edge or laser level on top. You might need to tuck shims underneath or between the cabinet and wall until everything is perfectly flat and steady.
  • Now, secure your cabinet to the wall by drilling screws through its back into the wall stud locations you’ve found. Ensure each stud location gets a screw for a tight fit.

When adding more cabinets, line up the next one beside the first. Check with your level again, adjust with shims if needed, and screw it to the wall just like before. Keep going until all your base cabinets are in place.

Step 4: Attaching Doors, Drawers, and Trim

Time for the doors. Screw them onto the cabinet face frame using the right screws. If your doors click into place, just snap them into their slots. Test by opening and closing a few times to ensure they’re secure. If a door is off-kilter, pinch the hinges and try again.

Next, the step is to trim. This goes at the bottom of your cabinets to cover the gap above the floor. Fit it snugly and nail it in with 1-inch brads.

For drawers, match the drawer fronts with the drawer slots on your cabinet. Slide each drawer front along the tracks until it’s entirely in. Repeat with all your drawers.

By tackling kitchen cabinet installation step by step, you’ll manage just fine. It’s about taking it slow, checking your work as you go, and adjusting when needed. With some basic tools and these instructions, you’ll have your cabinets, doors, and drawers set up in no time.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Do you put upper cabinets or lower cabinets first?

Usually, it’s best to hang the upper cabinets first. This way, you won’t mess up the lower ones while you’re working. It’s easier because you won’t have to move the bottom cabinets when you’re measuring or drilling.

What Order Do You Install Cabinets?

This keeps the bottom space open so you can move around easily. Once the top ones are in, you can put them in the bottom cabinets without anything getting in the way. The last step is to add any trim or molding to make everything look nice.

Should Food Go In Upper Or Lower Cabinets?

Keep your food in the upper cabinets. Use the lower cabinets for heavy stuff like pots and pans. Plus, keeping food higher up helps keep it away from bugs and makes your kitchen look neater.


We are at the end of our guide on should you install upper or lower cabinets first? Hopefully, after reading the above guide you got the answer of your questions. You should install the upper cabinet in your kitchen first. However, if you have any more questions, leave a comment. ASAP, we will reply.

Richard Journey

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Richard Journey

Meet Richard Journey, the Antique Furniture Maestro. With a Fine Arts degree in Furniture Restoration and Conservation, he’s a guardian of historical craftsmanship. His accolades include the Golden Chisel Award, and he’s your guide to discovering and restoring antique treasures.

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