How to Remove Wall Cabinets and Install Shelf Brackets

Give your kitchen an open look by removing cabinets and replacing them with open shelves. These tips explain how to tackle this DIY job.

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Removing wall cabinets and replacing them with open shelves can be a great way to update a kitchen. Open shelving is a fresh, modern style that's here to stay, and our step-by-step instructions make it easy to get the look. While not a difficult DIY project, wall cabinets can be heavy, so have a partner on hand for safety. 

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Before You Begin: Know Your 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 pre-made 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.

Understanding what type of cabinets you have before you begin allows you to better prepare for the project and gather the right tools. 

What You Need

  • Furniture pads or quilts
  • Screwdriver, or cordless drill with a screwdriver bit
  • Lumber scraps, for support
  • Heavy duty hammer
  • Flat pry bar
  • Crow bar
  • Safety glasses
  • Crowned hammer
  • Putty knife
  • Spackling or joint compound
  • Medium-grit sandpaper
  • Sanding block
  • Wallboard saw
  • 1x4 lumber
  • Drywall screws
  • Drywall tape
  • Shelf brackets
  • Stud finder
  • Level
  • Chalk
  • Long screws

Step 1: Prep the Space

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.

Step 2: Disassemble the Cabinets

Start by unscrewing hinges and removing 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 pre-made 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 crowbar, 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.

Step 3: Repair 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. Then 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. Finish by sanding 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. Then 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. Finally, sand the patch smooth with the surrounding wall.

Step 4: Install Shelf Brackets

When installing shelf brackets, it's important that each bracket is screwed into a wall stud; drywall alone can't support much weight. Pre-made 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.

Use a stud finder to determine the location of the wall studs. Mark the desired height of the brackets on the wall, then 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.

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About Danny

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.

Visit Danny's website.

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