Protect Yourself, First and Foremost
Depending on what they are made of, these cabinets are likely to be pretty heavy. Even the lightest cabinet will be unwieldy and may come off the wall suddenly and without any real warning. Before you even begin the process of removing the cabinet, it is important to take some precautions and to know your limits. This is not a solo project especially for overhead cabinets, solid oak cabinets or anything that might fall apart and cause injury. Since failing to prepare is preparing to fail, here are some tips for preparation:
- Get a work buddy. Decide who is doing what before you get started, assigning tasks based on strengths and preferences
- Remove all breakable items from the entire area and then empty all cabinets. Make sure that adjoining cabinets are emptied because they may decide to come down as a unit.
- Remove all pets, small children, whiny teens and anyone who is not going to be of any help whatsoever.
- Have all necessary tools in the area and ready to go. Include a first aid kit, just in case
- Put down a drop cloth to protect as much of the area as possible.
Assessing the Cabinets and the Walls Behind Them
Part of whether the cabinets are getting removed without damage will depend on what the back of the cabinets are made of and what kind of walls are behind them. The cheaper the material the cabinet backs are made of, the higher the risk of damage. With walls, it may come down to accepting some damage but trying to minimize it as much as possible. Drywall is the worst because cabinets may have been screwed in to studs using long screws and metal brackets. In some cases adhesive may have been added to make the connection between cabinet and wall even more secure.
If the connection is not immediately obvious you may have serious trouble. If you cannot tell where screws, nails or adhesive is you won’t be able to easily or safely remove it. While there is no easy way to find the adhesive you can use a magnet to help you find some of the nails or screws so you have an idea of where to start your removal process. Try to remove the screws evenly, holding the cabinet with one hand (or having another person do this) while working the screwdriver. Once you start feeling the cabinet move, you will know you are moving in the right direction.
If you have removed all of the screws and the cabinet is still in place it is time to switch tactics. In this case you will need a slender tool that you can slide behind the cabinet. Gently work the tool in as far as you can safely and give it a slight back and forth wiggle. If you get any movement, it is a safe bet that the cabinets were installed using adhesives which means that you will have to pry them from the wall. This also means it is highly unlikely that you are going to get them free without some damage to their backs as well as to the wall.
At this point there is an unconventional suggestion that you might try. If the backs of the cabinets are thin, cheap wood you can leave them in place and remove the rest of the cabinets. When you install the new cabinets right on top of the old wood making sure that your screws will be long enough to securely hold the cabinets in place. This suggestion does not work if you are not placing the new cabinets in the exact same location as the old ones.
There is another, even easier suggestion here. Instead of removing the entire cabinet, you can replace just the cabinet fronts with a fraction of the cost and the work. However, if the cabinets are not in good condition or are made of fairly cheap wood you will be better off sticking to your original plan. If the old cabinets have been painted, it might be impossible to find cabinet fronts that will match and the work of stripping and refinishing them will be the same as or even more strenuous than just replacing the whole thing.
Repairing the Walls: How Much Will Need Done?
Let’s say that you and your work buddy managed to get all of the cabinets down. The cabinets themselves are fine but the walls are kind of a wreck. How much repair work will you need to do before installing the new cabinets? That might depend on a few factors.
- Where are the new cabinets going?
- Will there be anything for screws to lock in to without major repairs?
- Will the damage show once the cabinets are in place?
Obviously if you are just putting new cabinets right over the spots that you removed the old cabinets from, you will only need to do minimal, functional repairs. If the cabinets are moving, even to a very small degree it is best to repair the wall for both function and aesthetics. This may mean something as simple as filling in some holes and smoothing that all out to an all out effort with repairs and painting or wallpapering. If you have removed a lot of screws that seemed to be placed in odd places, they may have been placed in hopes of hitting a wall stud. Make sure you take advantage of this moment and mark the correct location to make installation of the new cabinets easier.
Install a single cabinet and then step back and make sure that you are not seeing any remaining damage that may need to be addressed before installing the others. Some slight touch-ups here and there is one thing but if you are going to need to do more than that, do so before moving on to the next cabinet.
A Final Note of Caution
Some cabinets can hide things such as wiring especially cabinets located above built in microwaves and those that have attached lighting. If this is the case and you cannot see where the wiring runs and exactly where it starts and ends, do not attempt to remove that cabinet without shutting the power off to that area. You don’t want to start prying a cabinet and end up slicing in to a live wire.
Be aware of all hidden dangers whether they are wires, exposed nails or falling cabinets so that you can do this and other home repair projects in good health for now and in the future. The added satisfaction of knowing that you did this on your own is more than enough of a reward.