Q: I thought selecting and installing bathroom vanity cabinets for a remodeling project would be simple. It turns out that bath vanities come in many sizes with all sorts of options. I cringe at having to install all of these things and worry I will ruin any cabinets I 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?
A: The first thing to do is tell your wife to pick out whatever vanities your budget will allow. The second thing to do is relax and do some deep-breathing exercises. Installing bathroom vanity cabinets is not as hard as it may seem. I sense you are suffering from anxiety because you lack the tools or skills or both.
I'm going to share some tips that have served me well over the years. No doubt, other carpenters have techniques that will work faster and better than mine. And if you get into a bind, perhaps you know a handy person in your neighborhood or at work who can help you.
I recommend you consider bathroom vanities made from multiple cabinets and parts, because they look so good. By combining cabinets of different depths, you can create a stunning bump-out look where the center sink-base cabinet projects about 4 inches into the room. Adding trim accessories creates the look and feel of custom cabinetry.
When the countertop is formed to follow an extended profile, it looks rich and elegant. These small features make your home stand out if you decide to sell.
One trick, when working with cabinets that need to be screwed together, is to remove all drawers and doors. You can do this 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. It also makes the cabinet boxes much lighter.
I prefer to use squeeze clamps with rubber tips to hold cabinets 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 screw is not so long that 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 and walls often are not even. 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 vanity cabinets come with fancy trim to add 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.
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 one unit, as you originally wanted to do. The trick is to install at least six screws in the sides of the cabinets where two cabinets touch one another. This way, when you start to move them, they are very sturdy and should not pull apart.
If you accidentally crack a cabinet frame, or ruin the finish of a cabinet side, frame, door or drawer, don't panic. 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 fix holes, scratches, dings and splits, making the cabinet appear perfect. This safety net should give you the confidence to move ahead on this project.
Tim Carter is a licensed contractor. To view previous columns or tap into his archive of information, visit Ask the Builder at www.askthebuilder.com. You can write to him at P.O. Box 36352, Cincinnati, OH 45236-0352.