Q&A / 

Bathroom Vanity Cabinets

DEAR TIM: I thought the process of selecting and installing bathroom vanity cabinets for a remodeling project would be simple. It turns out bath vanities come in many different sizes with all sorts of different options. I cringe at having to install all of these things, and worry I will ruin any bath vanity cabinets I will buy. My wife wants all of the options, but I would prefer to buy one simple box I can nail to the wall. How do I solve this conundrum? Bob F., Norfolk, VA

DEAR BOB: The first thing you are going to do is tell your wife to pick out whatever vanities your budget will allow. The second thing is you are going to do some deep-breathing exercises and relax. Installing bathroom vanity cabinets is not as hard as it may seem. I feel you are suffering from a significant case of anxiety because you either lack the tools, skills or a combination of the two.

There are many different methods to properly install bath vanities, but I am going to share some of the tips that have served me well over the years. There is no doubt other carpenters may have techniques that will work faster and better. Perhaps you know a handy person in your neighborhood or at your place of work that can help you if you get into a bind.

This bathroom vanity cabinet is really three separate cabinets and two accessory pieces of trim. It took less than an hour to completely install them. PHOTO CREDIT: Tim Carter

This bathroom vanity cabinet is really three separate cabinets and two accessory pieces of trim. It took less than an hour to completely install them. PHOTO CREDIT: Tim Carter

One of the reasons you want to consider bathroom vanities that are made from multiple cabinets and parts is the finished look. By combining cabinets that have different depths to them, you can create a stunning bump-out look where the center sink-base cabinet projects just 4 inches or so into the room. Adding trim accessories creates the look and feel of true custom cabinetry.

When the countertop is formed to follow an extended profile, it looks rich and elegant. These small features make your home really stand out if and when you decide to sell. Think about it, anyone can get a straight countertop out of a box from a home center.

One trick, when working with different cabinets that need to be screwed together, is to remove all drawers and cabinet doors. This can be done easily with a screwdriver. Some cabinets have quick-release levers that allow you to pop a door off its hinges with no tools. Removing the doors and drawers prevents scratches and allows you to work on the cabinets with nothing in your way. The cabinet boxes are also much lighter.

I prefer to use squeeze clamps that have rubber tips to hold cabinets together in the exact alignment as I screw them together. Sometimes you can screw through the sides of the cabinets to draw them together. Other times you have to carefully install screws through the finished frames. If you need to do this, take your time and be sure the length of the screw is not too long to where it passes through the finished side or front of a cabinet frame.

It is extremely important that the finished bathroom vanity cabinets are level side to side and front to back. This can be a significant challenge as floors are frequently out of level and walls are not plumb or square. Use tapered shims under the cabinets to get them level. You may have to install shims between the back of the cabinets and the finished wall to keep the cabinets level as you screw them to the wall. Yes, screws not nails.

Some bath vanity cabinets come with fancy trim that can be added on the face of the cabinet frames. This trim can sometimes be attached to the cabinets with screws from behind. Once again, be careful about the length of the screw. Always clamp the piece in position and slowly install the screw. You can rent nail guns to attach the trim, but be sure you use a pin nailer that shoots nails that are not much thicker than the shaft of a needle.

If the total width of the assembled bath vanity cabinets is 5 feet or less, I would screw them together and install the system as if it were one box as you originally wanted to do. The trick is to install no less than six screws through the sides of the cabinets where two cabinets touch one another. This way, when you start to move the cabinets around, they are very sturdy, and they should not pull apart.

If you have an accident and crack a cabinet frame, ruin the finish of a cabinet side, frame, door or drawer, do not panic. If you live in a mid-sized or large city, there are any number of wizards who can come to your home and repair this damage with little effort. These furniture repair masters come with a small box loaded with sticks of colored lacquer and an alcohol-fueled lamp that they use to match the color and wood grain of your cabinets.

They can repair holes, scratches, dings and splits making the cabinet appear as if it is in perfect condition. This safety net should give you the confidence to move ahead on this project.

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