DIY Ikea Kitchen: How Hard is it Really?
If you’ve been following along with our kitchen renovation, you know we did not originally plan nor budget for a full kitchen remodel. As we quickly realized as we priced out options, completely remodeling your kitchen with new cabinets and counter tops is expensive and not something you can easily just squeeze into your budget. To manage it, we basically had no choice but to install our IKEA Kitchen ourselves. If you are considering the same path, read on to find out how hard installing an IKEA Kitchen really is.
Before I dive into the nitty gritty details of our install experience, let me give some background on Matt and I and our skill set going into this project. First, I have to share that Matt and I actually work (past tense for me) in construction management and have degrees in Construction Science. That said, we MANAGE, we don’t do it ourselves with our own two hands. I do not think our profession matters much aside from maybe giving us a little extra confidence going in. We have taken on quite a few projects over the years but nothing of this size or complexity. Our prior home reno type projects have included replacing our baseboards, lots and lots of painting, building our son’s nursery furniture, replacing ceiling fans and light fixtures, and a little bit of tile work. We are self-taught for the most part. Neither of us grew up learning woodworking and construction from our parents. We do have a lot of tools and are comfortable using them… that helped.
Step 1: Organize the Delivery
Difficulty: Surprisingly Easy
Special Tools Required: Just some brain power
The IKEA kitchen install process actually starts when your kitchen is delivered to your house (or you can pick it up but, goodness, it’s worth the extra $100 to have IKEA pick it from the store, load it into the truck, and unload it into your home!). Every single cabinet, drawer, door, and drawer front come in its own individual box. Various accessories will also come in their own boxes which means on delivery day, 9 million boxes will arrive at your house and you will most likely want to sit in the middle of the chaos and cry because it is completely, 100% overwhelming.
So the first step in this whole process is to organize the boxes and make sure you actually have everything you ordered. Though it looked nearly impossible to organize and I started the process feeling down and depressed, organizing was really easy and painless. My recommendation is to separate your delivery into
- cabinet boxes,
- drawer fronts,
- shelves, and
At this stage of the game you really just need everything but the cabinet boxes out of your way as they won’t come into play until later. To figure out what is what, print a copy of your item list from the 3D planner that has both item numbers and pictures to help you easily navigate.
Caleb was a lot of help during this step…
Step 2: Build The Cabinet Boxes
Difficulty: Surprisingly Easy
Special Tools Required: Power drill (optional but can speed it up)
As someone who had never installed anything from IKEA ever before, let me assure you that building the cabinet boxes is very very easy. There’s really not much more to say about it. The IKEA instructions were clear and though there are minor differences in how each cabinet comes together, it was a quick and easy process. The hardest part is figuring out where to store the cabinets as they are built. If you don’t have enough room to store all the cabinets, build your upper cabinets first, then hang them per step three, then build the bottom cabinets and hang them last.
Step 3: Hang the Track
Special Tools Required: laser level
Hanging the track is probably the scariest part of the install process. It was not so much hard as it was so very important. The quality of your install hinges primarily on hanging the track level. The first step is to draw a straight and level line on your wall at the correct height for the top and bottom cabinets. We drew our lines at the height that corresponded to the bottom of the track which made it very easy to make sure our track remained level while we hung it.
There’s several methods of drawing a level line such as careful measuring with a tape measure and level, popping a chalk line, or using a laser level. Methods can vary but accuracy is crucial in this step. If you are off by even just a half inch you could end up with an entire bank of cabinets looking wonky and out of level. Thankfully, we had access to a laser level which made this process substantially easier. Laser levels can be rented for around $100/day which is definitely worth it in my opinion.
**Keep in mind that your floor and ceiling may not actually be level. Measuring off either could result in your track not being level either.**
After your lines are drawn, locate and mark the studs in your walls. Studs are usually spaced at 16″ on center and will always be on one side of any outlet boxes. Next, drill in screws into the studs about 1.5″ above the line (if you measured yours at the height of the bottom of the track like we did). You may need to use drywall anchors in addition to the screws.
The great thing about the Ikea track is that it comes with these nifty little washer type things that let you tighten down the track and get it perfectly level even if your screws are not all exactly even. Hard to explain it in writing, but suffice to say, the hard part in this step is drawing a level line at the correct height. If you can do that, the rest is very easy.
Step 4: Hang the Cabinets
Difficulty: Easiest Step Yet
Special Tools Required: Two People
Hanging the cabinets is so much fun because it is so easy and so rewarding. Ikea cabinets literally just hang on the track. It is as easy as picking them up and plopping them on the track. make sure you do the top cabinets first though so you do not have to lean over the bottom cabinets.
Step 5: Level and Attach the Cabinets
Special Tools Required: Power Drill & Rubber Mallet
After the cabinets are hung it’s time to level them and attach them to each other. For the top cabinets the goal is to align the front face of the cabinet boxes so that all of the doors are perfectly vertical and are in the same plane. If you have very wavy walls this step can definitely be harder.
If your walls are relatively flat then this step will be a breeze for the top cabinets. It’s just a matter of clamping, drilling pilot holes, and screwing the cabinets together
The bottom cabinets are a bit trickier. Again, if your floor is flat and smooth it’s going to go a lot easier. Leveling the bottom cabinets is done by twisting the plastic feet to make them taller or shorter. I feel like this step could become maddening and never ending if you aren’t careful. There were times when I would adjust one leg to match up a particular corner but doing so threw several other joints out of whack. The best approach for me was to first twist down all the legs to the same low height(or as close as I could). Then, I would try and identify what one leg area, if any, was significantly off. Then I would try to my best to adjust only that one particular foot or area to correctly align it to the rest of the cabinets in that section. I probably spent no more than an hour and a half leveling the bottom cabinets. There were a few areas that were not perfectly level but they were so minor that I did not think you would be able to tell in the end, and you can not.
Step 6: Assemble & Install the Drawers
Special Tools Required: Power Drill & Rubber Mallet
Now is the time to assemble the drawers and attach drawer fronts. Building the drawers is a little bit more complicated than the cabinet boxes. The diagrams in the instructions are a little more confusing and it takes some strength and effort at times. A power drill and a rubber mallet definitely helped speed up this process. Though more complicated than the cabinet boxes, assembling the drawers is still something literally anyone could do. The drawer boxes also come with the drawer slides. I was scared getting the slides in correctly would be difficult. It’s not. Ikea has it all figured out so that all you really need to be able to do is count holes and use a drill (or screw driver if you insist on being super slow).
Step 7: Attach Hinges and Doors
Difficulty: Not Difficult at All
Special Tools Required: Two people for the larger doors.
This step is incredibly easy. I was worried that the hinges would be complicated or that the doors would all be slightly wonky and make the entire installation look less that professional. No worries though, Ikea makes installing the hinges a breeze. All you really need is a hammer, screw driver, and a helper for the larger doors. Your doors will look nearly perfect from the moment you attach them. Then, with a few minor twists to the hinges you can tweak them so that the doors are all perfectly aligned.
Step 8: Install Filler Pieces and End Panels
Special tools required: Kreg Rip-Cut Circular Saw Guide
Difficulty: hardest part yet
Depending on your kitchen layout, you may need filler pieces and end panels. Filler pieces go between the wall and your first cabinet when the cabinets but-up against a wall. End panels go on the end or side of exposed cabinets. Basically, the Sektion base cabinets are not the same color nor finish as the cabinet doors and they look chintzy and unsightly if left uncovered. My kitchen actually did not require filler panels but we did have to cut two end panels on the peninsula and the process is basically the same.
This step was pretty challenging and pretty nerve wracking. The difficulty with this step is that you need to cut the filler pieces from a larger end panel piece. Ikea doesn’t sell filler pieces in the size you will specifically need for your kitchen. The software lets you draw them in but when it generates the product list for you suddenly you will see a full panel instead of a 6″ piece that your kitchen requires. This makes sense because every kitchen is different and there is literally no way Ikea could manufacture and sell filler pieces in every possible dimension that might be needed. Instead, they sell one big size and we get to cut it down to the size we need.
So back to the task at hand. You will need to cut the filler piece and, if you want it to look good, you will need to cut a perfectly straight cut. Not only that, you will need to make sure there is as little chipping as possible on the cut side or it will look horrible in comparison to the factory cut egdes.
There are a lot of ways to ensure a straight cut and I’ve tried most of them. For our countertops that we cut ourselves, we rigged up our own guide rail wil a 2×4 and cut it with a circular saw. I’ve also used a table saw to cut plywood. In my opinion, the easiest way that also provides the best results is to use the Kreg Rip-Cut. Here is a video that really shows how to use the Kreg-Rip-Cut and just how easy it is.
At $35, this accessory is far cheaper than investing in a table saw. Furthermore it is very easy to use and my results have always been amazing with it. For the end panels to our peninsula we used the Kreg Rig-Cut and were kicking ourselves for not having used it for the countertops too.
To further complicate this step, there is the concern of excessive chipping. Using a new blade and putting tape over the cut before you cut it will help decrease the chipping and keep everything looking high quality. With this approach we achieved the results below on our two end panels on the peninsula. It doesn’t look as great as it could but remember that we had two raw edges butting up next to each other which is an unusual situation and avoidable in most Ikea kitchens.
I’m not actually sure how you attach the filler pieces since we did not use any but I would imagine some kind of backer is necessary. The end panels are very easy to install though. You simply clamp them to the cabinet bodies and run screws through the inside of the cabinet and into the panel itself.
Step 9: Countertops, Sinks, and Appliances
We opted to use Ikea’s butcher block countertops but I will cover the finishing and install of those in a separate post since many of you will opt for professional installation of solid surface countertops at this stage. Sinks and appliances are also probably going to be installed by a pro. We did install and plumb our own sink and dishwasher but by code, a certified electrician needed to install our ovens and stove-top.
Step 10: Door Handles and Knobs
Special tools required: FIXA Drill Template, Drill
Difficulty: Scary but Simple
Attaching the door handles and knobs was very simple but also very scary. The cabinet doors look pristine and I was terrified that I would slip with the drill and either scratch the door or just completely drill a hole in the wrong spot. For this reason, It’s worth every penny to buy a drill template. Since we were using Ikea hardware we went ahead and purchased Ikea’s FIXA Drill Template.
To use the template, you first need to determine where the knobs or pulls will go. Tight in the corner? Two inches down? Etc. Once you determine the desired location, use a sharpie to mark the corresponding holes on the template so you do not get confused. Since we had both handles and knobs, I used two different colors to mark the holes for each. Then, align your template on the door and use a pencil to color in the location to drill on the door itself. Next, remove the template, stand back and look with your eyes to make sure it looks correct, and then use your drill and an appropriately sized drill bit to drill the hole all the way through the cabinet door. Most hardware will tell you what size drill bit needs to be used to accommodate the screw that they come with.
My best advice for this step is to go slowly and always, always step back and do an “eye-ball” check before you start drilling. You would be amazed how much you can look past when you are three inches away versus standing 5 feet back. Also, if you have two cabinet doors that close together (as pictured below), make sure to mark the holes on both doors first, eye-ball that they are indeed correctly aligned with each other as well as the other holes and knobs on the other doors, and THEN drill the holes. You won’t be able to see if a knob is 1/16″ higher than a knob on the other side of the kitchen but you will be able to tell those knobs aren’t even if they are right next to each other.
Y’all, that’s pretty much it! You are done….oh wait, you don’t have a backsplash…. Well, you probably didn’t buy your backsplash from Ikea which means I don’t have to cover that in this post!!! Also, we haven’t installed our backsplash yet so I wouldn’t know what to tell you. I hope it goes well though!
Final Opinions on the IKEA Kitchen
Overall, our experience with the IKEA kitchen install was far easier than I expected and our results look professional. We’ve had the kitchen largely completed for over a year now and even with a very destructive toddler running around, it has held up great and we are very pleased with the quality and durability. We really can’t recommend Ikea kitchens enough and we hope you won’t be too scared to give it a try!
Looking for more information and pictures on our Ikea Kitchen Remodel? Check out my other posts:
- How to Demo a Kitchen the Easy Way
- Tips for a 1970’s Kitchen Reno
- Our 1970’s Kitchen Renovation on a Shoestring Budget
- The Kitchen is Fully Functional