How to level existing base cabinets for coutnertop install

rob155October 4, 2006

Our house is 50 years old, cabinets are probablly that old as well. After pulling off the old countertop I found that the cabinet tops are not level and the company won't template for me until it is. How can the cabinets be leveled without shimming from underneath the cabinets? Removing the cabinets is not an option. The tops are off at most around 5/16, depending on the area that is checked. Thanks is advance for any help.

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If I were having to do that, I would install a layer of 1/4" plywood over the top of the cabinets------shimming it to fill any gaps. I would use wooden door shims, gluing them together and then to the 1/4" plywood.

    Bookmark   October 4, 2006 at 9:50AM
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Thanks for the response... How should the plywood be fastened to the top of the cabinets... screws or nails? The shims would be installed under the plywood before fastening the plywoood down?

My problem seems to be only in the area in front of the sink to the left wall, about 6 feet. This area is lower than the cabinet corners and back. Is there a way to just bring this area up a bit?

    Bookmark   October 4, 2006 at 10:34AM
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Can you afford to loose 3/4 inch x 1 inch inside the top edge of the cabinet? The only issue is usually drawers.
Screw and glue pieces of 1x2 cut from D-select to the inside edge of the cabinets to produce a level surface. Start at the highest spot with a flush piece and level it.
It goes a lot faster than trying to shim.

    Bookmark   October 4, 2006 at 8:43PM
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brickeyee, what your suggesting was what i thought to do initially. If I attach a piece to the inside edge and level it, I am left with gaps from the outside edge to inside edge and attaching to the inside edge of where the drawers are also poses problem.

    Bookmark   October 5, 2006 at 8:36AM
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The drawers are a bigger problem than the small gaps.
3 cm granite will easily span the minor gaps.
You can actually cut the wood down to even 3/4 x 3/4 but all screws require pilot holes then to avoid splitting.
The gaps between the bottom of the granite and the top of the cabs will not show much anyway (unless you are kneeling on the floor looking) and can be caulked with colored material to fill them.
Shims often show under gramite if you look carefully. The bottom of the slabs is not polished and gaps largeer than a few inches are often shimmed.
The perfect fix is to re-level the cabinets by removing the existing screws and shimming again.
Most of the alternatives will have some drawbacks. Even trying to shim plywood will result in a lot of unsuprted area between the shims (besides taking a pinfully long time to get correct.
If you decide to go this route, lay the plywood on the counter, remove the drawers, open the dooors, and take a drop light with you as you shim from underneath.
Be sure to screw the plywood down at the highest spot so you do not jack up the entire piece.

    Bookmark   October 5, 2006 at 7:37PM
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The countertop to be installed is laminate, which I will be installing myself. I don't understand why it can't be templated if it's over 1/8" out of level. My plan was to level it once I put the counters on, but they won't tempalte until it's level first. Pulling apart the cabints will most likely damage them, they are screwed and nailed together and to the walls. Does your suggestion still apply to laminate countertops?

    Bookmark   October 6, 2006 at 8:08PM
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When i need to level old cabinet tops using the shims, I use a 6' level across the tops. That makes it very easy to add shims---I simply use Titebond glue or an 18 gauge air nailer.

That way, I can see if the shims are in the way of a drawer/etc. and can modify the shims if necessary. Just seems the most efficient way to me.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2006 at 11:27AM
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Did they just tell you this or did they come out to template and then tell you this? I had a similar situation (old house with un level cabinets). They told me they needed to be level, I spent a ton of time leveling them (I shimmed them from the bottom and then added a new toe kick) and when they showed up to template, the guy didn't even check level! He said he could care less... Just a thought...

    Bookmark   October 9, 2006 at 9:21AM
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They came out to template. He put a level all around the cabinets and said it is not level and needs to be leveled before they come back to template. I can't get under the cabinets to shim, so I need to somehow level on the top.

    Bookmark   October 9, 2006 at 11:55AM
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Rob... I am having the SAME PROBLEM... What did you end up doing???

I need all the help I can Get!!! They templated for me and said that they WILL NOT INSTALL on 10/16 unless they are w/in 1/8" level...

Hope to hear back from ANYONE!!!

Thanks In Advance

    Bookmark   October 1, 2008 at 9:18PM
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Doesn't anyone do full service work anymore? Is the construction trades so compartmentalized that they can provide only the labor to install the darn thing but not the carpentry necessary to have a successful install?

What is wrong here? In my business I do full service work, soup to nuts, and I get the job done and everyone is happy, including me. If a floor needs to be flattened to within 1/8" in eight feet, well that is what I do. I don't tell the homeowner that I'll be back to install the floor after someone else brings the floor into spec. Of course, I get paid for the additional work, but what's up with this countertop nonsense?

I just don't get it. Find another fabricator who will provide full service or find a carpenter who can do the prep or DIY I guess.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2008 at 12:16AM
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rgrecco, how out of level are you? Can you describe the directions that it goes? And what countertop material are you using?

    Bookmark   October 2, 2008 at 7:59AM
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How about shimming both sides then filling with floor leveling compound and removing the shims. Sounds far out but it may work.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2008 at 10:02AM
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I went the 1/4" over the existing 3/4" route shimming as the 1/4" elevation didn't have a negative effect on anything, but i can tell you it was a tedious and time connsuming project to get it to the counter installers specs. I used screws so that i could back them out or drive them in accordinly along with the shimming and you have to be careful about "hollows". I think that i would consider brickeye's method next time around.

I agree with glennsfc and feel these counter installers shouldn't consider themselves pros if they aren't willing to take on the task of leveling out the cabinets. The folks that i leveled out for got silestone from the big box store and the counter install contracted out. Something about voiding warranties if they install on a non-level surface which is understandable, but like most these days, they just want to come in and blow and go not messing with the craftsmanship part, which imo, they aren't craftsman, they are wannabe installers. They did a nice job on the installs concerning seams and all, fwiw, but full service is a dying breed these days.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2008 at 10:09AM
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I am about 1/4"-1/2" out of level over 9'...

Its a gentle down slope left to right...

I am going with GRANITE COUNTERS!!!

Thanks for the replys... keep em comming...


    Bookmark   October 6, 2008 at 11:48PM
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First, I'm assuming that your cabinets aren't movable. Leveling the cabs properly is the most elegant solution...

But into the real world. If it wasn't granite (ie, heavy), I'd say that I like brickeyee's idea of adding to the sides of the cabinet boxes.

However, I'd go with material (thin strips and shims) sitting on top of the edges of the cabinet to bring you to level. That'll get you past the templating stage.

If it was me, I'd be asking the installer to rip the shims off and just install the counter a little bit out. They can then shim any spots that really need the support.

If the installer doesn't like that idea and you have a 1/2" gap, then I'd suggest a little bit of molding to tuck under the edge of the counter to make everything disappear.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   October 7, 2008 at 6:43PM
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Stone needs to be fully contacting all of the cabinet sides for proper support. It's too heavy to rely on single points of contact here and there without placing it under enough stress to potentially crack if weight is placed on it. And you do NOT want anyone other than a cabinet installer or finish carpenter modifying your cabinets---unless you are indifferent about them being butchered.

A realistic assessment of the quality of the kitchen that you are placing a fairly permanant countertop in place needs to occur. I've seen plenty of folks want to install granite onto cabinets that were really not strong enough, or frankly, built well enough (builder grade) or attractive enough to be able to really be worth the investment. Way too many folks are "updating" a kitchen with stone and the money would be better spent on new cabinetry instead. Shiny new granite doesn't make an old dated kitchen look new. It just makes the old dated cabinets look that much more old and dated next to the shiny new granite.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2008 at 11:10PM
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I am having granite countertops installed on cabinets built in 1956. They were built directly on the slab and later a tile floor was put in around them. If the countertop sits directly on the cabinets it will seal the dishwasher in a 2" hole and make removal/replacement very difficult.

I have decided to attach an oak 1x3 to the top of the cabinets using dowels glue and screws. I then plan on drawing a line using a level and cutting it with a circular saw. the cabinets will be painted afterwards.

I would appreciate any comments/warnings/alternative ideas

    Bookmark   January 20, 2009 at 9:47AM
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I have to agree, unfortunately, spending the big dollars on granite to put on cabinets that pre-date the space age seems foolish. If you do decide to redo the cabinets later, which is probably a given, you will probably not be able to save the granite unless you are very, very careful. In my experience, lower cabinets and countertops don't come out gracefully.

As for bemoaning the lack of artisans etc and how unfair it is they won't do the template until cabinets are level, that's not unfair at all. Read the OP's posts more carefully, he's doing it himself so the suppliers are not even getting the install business. I think they're commendable for stipulating that, although from their point of view, it's good business, otherwise, they template and cut countertop, Rob installs and screws from underneath within an inch of its life, then countertop undulates or cracks. Human nature being what it is, the customer may then complain the suppliers SHOULD have shimmed it or insisted on it being level etc.

I think it's fair.

Personally, unless the countertops are literally unusable I'd stick with them til I could afford to do the kitchen, I doubt very much it would add to the resale at all, and might make it look very half-baked. At the most, I'd spend a few hundred at most to half-update such an ancient kitchen. Granite on 50-yo cabinets just makes no sense to me....and I love granite.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2009 at 2:10PM
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I simply can't afford new cabinets. The existing countertop is the original tile and I never feel the counter is clean. When Home Depot advertised $300 off plus 10% off on granite countertops it seemed like a no-brainer. I like the original cabinets other than the fact they are too short. If the cabinets are in good shape why replace them? Has lumber changed since we went to the moon?

I tried what i posted above and the results were way less than what I hoped for. The oak made a seamless extension to the cabinets but when I cut the "level" line it didn't come out as straight as I wanted. There is a foot long run that dips about 1/8" low. I don't know if that will be a problem or not but i've been trying to think of a way to correct it.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2009 at 4:17PM
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If you have a section that's on;y 1/8" low you probably didn't do too bad, did you use a laser level? I would think you can probably bridge it, are you going to glue the granite? Construction/flooring adhesive is designed to bridge gaps up to a certain point, you'd have to read the label.

You could also stick some 'formwork' either side of the low section, put silicone paper or parchment baking paper there first, then clamp some rigid material like strips of waste plywood there, then mix some epoxy and fill the low spots. When it's set, remove the 'formwork', sand epoxy where necessary. I doubt you'd see the gap when you're done.

Have cabinets changed that much since then? Umm yes, but yours may be solid wood vs chipboard, which I guess when you think about it, may be a good thing.

In the end, if you like them and you get the look and function you are looking for, go for it, and have a happy life :)

    Bookmark   January 22, 2009 at 11:30PM
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I had a very similar problem (with up to a 1 inch taper) prior to installation of granite countertops in a continuous "U" shape. After unsuccessfully exploring many options, I had a custom cabinetmaker construct and install custom taper shims along the perimeter of the top of the lower cabinets. He also stained the face of the shim to match the cabinets. Although a little pricey, it provided a stable, level base for the granite. I felt it was worth the expense compared to the price of the granite especially since it eliminated the possibilty of the granite cracking.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2009 at 8:28PM
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