Removing Kitchen Cabinets

Removing Kitchen CabinetsIf you have more spare time than cash, you can save some money on your kitchen remodelling project by removing the old cabinets yourself. Whether you want to refurbish existing kitchen cabinets and reinstall them in a new place, or do a full kitchen renovation and need to get rid of the old cabinets completely, the process of removing kitchen cabinets follows a few basic principles.

Taking some time out to plan how you will approach your cabinet removal will make the job easier and safer. The basic steps will be to clean everything out of the cabinets, remove drawers and doors, remove countertops, take out the base cabinet first so you do not have to reach over it, then take out the upper cabinets. The actual process will depend on whether you are dealing with cabinets that were framed and built on-site, or manufactured cabinets.

Built-in Cabinets

If your cabinets were built in place, you will probably not be able to save them for refurbishing or re-use. Instead of a nice removable unit, these custom built cabinets often have parts nailed directly to the wall, with well hidden seams and joinery. Have a close look at the inside of the cabinets and try and figure out how they were built and how they are attached to the walls and floor. You might be able to save the face pieces but not the actual inner structure framework. Your tools will be a couple of pry bars and a reciprocating saw.

Start with removing all trim moldings at the edges, base and ceiling. Unscrew the door from the hinges if you have not done that yet. Begin with the base cabinets on the floor first.

Try to remove all panel face pieces, but instead of trying to remove the nails, which will probably be impossible, use a thin pry bar and pull the face gently off the framing. The actual framing will likely have to be cut up with a reciprocating saw into manageable pieces for removal. Get in there and gut the remaining parts with a pry bar.

This job will go quicker with a helper to carry away the surplus wood. You might want to rent a roll-away disposal dumpster to throw stuff in; a 6 yard dumpster should be plenty for a medium size kitchen and will run a couple hundred dollars. It is up to you whether you just have all the stuff hauled away, or go through it and salvage some of the wood.

Manufactured Cabinets

If you are removing factory built box unit cabinets, your job is much easier. Start with the lower base cabinet, removing all trim and moldings. If any appliances are adjacent to the cabinets, like a stove or refrigerator, disconnect them and move them out of the way. Take out all drawers and unscrew the cabinet doors from the hinges.

You may be able to leave the countertop in place, but you will need to install a temporary support framework of 2 x 4s to hold it up. If it is a heavy stone countertop like marble or granite, consider hiring a pro to remove it. Your safety is at stake here and this is no time to skimp. Make sure the temporary framework will be enough to support the weight of the countertop, as you will be working underneath it.

Think carefully about whether you can actually re-use the existing countertops. Even if the tops of the base cabinets are roughly the same dimensions, the height may be different and then your backsplash will not match up to the new counter surface. Measure everything carefully and compare it against the specs for the cabinets; if you are lucky, then the old counters can stay. Otherwise you will be removing the existing countertop, since it may not even fit on the new cabinets.

Countertops usually consist of a plywood underlay attached on top of the base cabinets, and a finish of tile, laminate or stone on top of that. Laminate countertops are the easiest to remove, as they are usually just screwed down to the plywood. The screws can be found by looking up inside the cabinet under the counter top. Sometimes laminate is glued on, and will take a little longer to remove.

Removing tile countertops is a bit messier, and it is hard not to damage a few tiles, but you should be able to save most of them.

Granite and marble can be quite difficult to remove; granite weighs about 25 pounds per square foot. Most stone countertops are just glued and caulked down. You need to remove the backsplash first, using a prybar, then drive wood or plastic shims into the seams where it sits on the cabinets until it loosens and comes up. A lot will depend on how it was installed and what adhesive was used; silicone glue is easy to loosen but epoxy or polyester adhesives can be problematic.

Now that the countertop is gone, is time to get rid of the cabinets. Factory made cabinets are typically attached by screws to the wall framing, floor, and adjoining cabinets. Start with removing the base units so you can stand underneath your wall cabinets for easier working. Remove all the screws holding the base cabinets to the wall.

These are usually in a frame member called a screw rail, probably a 1x3, or strip of 3/4" plywood, along the top of the cabinet in the inside. There might also be a screw rail at or near the cabinet bottom to remove fasteners from Once that is done, detach the individual base cabinets from each other, removing the screws holding the face frames together.

Wall Cabinets

Watch out, cabinets are heavy and unwieldy, so you should work with a partner or two for the upper wall cabinets. Upper cabinets will most likely be screwed into the wall studs and backer blocks. Some cabinets are hung from ceiling joists and blocking. There will also be screws attaching adjacent cabinets together through the faceframes. Have a look inside the cabinets with a flashlight and find all the attach screws.

Start with removing the sideways faceframe screws so you can take down one cabinet at a time. If you are working alone, place a stable support underneath each cabinet, a couple 2 x 4s, ladders, saw horses, whatever will hold it there so it will not fall on you while you get the screws out. Otherwise, have your partner hold the cabinet while you unfasten them.

Once you remove all screws and nails, the cabinet should come loose and you can remove it. Sometimes there will be a patch of old paint or plaster that is stuck and you have to slide a putty knife behind the cabinet to dislodge it first.

If you are dealing with metal cabinets, it is a matter of lifting the cabinets off of hanger brackets, much like shelving. The hangers can then be removed from the wall. Some wood cabinets are also installed this way, although rarely.

Additional Tips

-Use care during demolition; those guys you see bashing away at their kitchen with a sledgehammer on home improvement shows are just hamming it up for the cameras. Real pros take their time. When levering a prybar against drywall, use a scrap of half inch plywood as a backer board so you do not make a big hole in the drywall.

-Do not plan on installing new cabinets the same day as you remove them. It is a long, tiring job.

-Wear a dust mask and protective eyewear, and if you have any suspicion the kitchen may have had asbestos or lead paint at any time, upgrade to HEPA respirator mask. Forget the sneakers; heavy boots are mandatory.

-When removing drawers and doors from cabinets, label them with a piece of tape so you remember where they go. For the hinge screws, tape them to the door.

-Seal off the room from the rest of the house with sheets of plastic and tape across doorways to contain dust and debris.

-A wheeled platform dolly or the type used for moving appliances helps in moving cabinets out to the dumpster or wherever they will be going.

Photo by nolaclutterbusters, Creative Commons Attribution License