Removing wall cabinets and replacing them with open shelves can be a great way to update a kitchen. While not a difficult DIY project, wall cabinets can be heavy, so have a partner on hand for safety.
Removing Wall Cabinets
Kitchen cabinets in older homes were often built in place on the job site using the walls for support. Newer cabinets, on the other hand, arrive as premade units and are attached to wall studs with screws.
This means removing newer cabinets is much easier and causes less damage to walls -- than taking out built-in cabinets. It also means older cabinets usually have to be dismantled piece by piece, making them unfit for reuse in a garage or laundry room.
Unless you're planning to replace your countertops, cover them with furniture pads or quilts to prevent damage from a dropped tool. Then take everything out of the wall cabinets, including the shelves if they're removable. Next, unscrew hinges and remove cabinet doors to make the cabinets lighter and easier to carry. A cordless drill with a screwdriver bit will make the job go much faster.
If removing premade cabinets, cut a few scraps of lumber to act as temporary supports between the countertop and the bottom of the upper wall cabinets. Remove the screws that connect the cabinet units to each other. Then remove the screws holding the cabinet to the wall, leaving the screws at the top of the cabinet for last. Once the cabinet is free from the wall, you and a partner can lift it down from the support blocks.
If removing wall cabinets that were built in place, you'll need a heavy-duty hammer, a flat pry bar, and a crow bar, along with goggles or safety glasses for eye protection. Start by using the hammer to remove the frame on the front of the cabinet, followed by the sides, top, bottom, and back. To limit damage to the wall, use a block of wood between the wall and pry bar, and pry over a stud.
Repairing Drywall Damage
Once your wall cabinets have been removed, you'll need to repair any damage to the drywall.
To patch screw or nail holes in drywall:
- Tap the hole lightly with a crowned hammer to dent the surface slightly around the hole.
- Use a putty knife to fill the hole and dent with spackling or joint compound.
- After the compound has dried, apply additional coats as needed until the hole is level with the wall surface.
- Sand the patch flush with the wall using medium-grit sandpaper on a sanding block.
To patch larger holes in drywall:
- Make a patch by cutting a scrap piece of drywall slightly larger than the hole.
- Hold the patch over the hole, and trace the outline of the patch on the wall.
- Use a wallboard saw to cut a hole in the wall following the outline.
- Insert two pieces of 1x4 lumber (longer than the hole) in the wall opening, and screw them flat against the back of the hole through the drywall using drywall screws.
- Insert the drywall patch in the hole, and screw it to the 1x4s.
- Apply joint compound to the patch, then press drywall tape into the wet compound over the seams.
- Apply additional coats of joint compound to the patch, allowing each coat to dry.
- Sand the patch smooth with the surrounding wall.
Installing Shelf Brackets and Shelves
When installing shelf brackets, it's important that each bracket is screwed into a wall stud; drywall alone can't support much weight. Premade shelving is available at home centers. Solid-wood shelves sag less than plywood, while melamine or laminate-covered particleboard shelves are the most prone to sagging.
To attach shelf brackets to a wall:
- Use a stud finder to determine the location of the wall studs.
- Mark the desired height of the brackets on the wall.
- Use a level or chalk line to make sure all the brackets are level and the same height.
- Hold each bracket in place, and attach it to the wall with screws that penetrate into the wall stud at least 1-1/2 inches (predrill the holes for easier screwing).
- Attach the shelves to the brackets from underneath with screws.
Danny Lipford is the host of the nationally syndicated TV show Today's Homeowner with Danny Lipford and the radio show Homefront with Danny Lipford.