Kitchen Fitting

Kitchen fitting requires multiple different skills, including but not limited to plumbing, electrical and joinery. Actually, many years ago I knew someone who was apprenticed as a shopfitter (note NOT a shoplifter, that's something different !), and he was very clear that this was a cut above "mere" joinery. In fact the skills required for kitchen fitting are more similar to shopfitting than general joinery.

In the case of our renovations, the job would be made extra difficult by the fact that I would be removing and reinstalling in a different location an existing kitchen, all the while still living in the house and needing to use it as a kitchen. This required some careful planning and not inconsiderable forbearance on the part of my family and particularly my partner Sarah.

Most kitchens in the UK are put together from standard-sized carcases that are multiples of 300mm wide, the most standard size, i.e. a single cupboard, or a fridge or oven enclosure, being 600mm. Their height and depth varies, depending on whether they are floor cupboards, wall cupboards or full-height units. Worktop and trimming items like cornice, pelmet and plinth generally come in lengths between 2 and 3 metres, and need to be cut to size and/or jointed as needed.

Having planned on paper the new layout and how the existing units would fit into this, I did need to purchase some additional carcases and doors, as the new kitchen was larger. Brand new work surfaces and trims would also be required. Luckily the style of the kitchen, although nearly 20 years old, was still popular and so I was able to find good matches for the doors.


Before the move began, the old boiler had been removed and a new one installed in the garage. I also had my gas-safe engineer install a spur off the gas supply in the intended location of the hob. The inbound supply pipe for the sprinkler system (the thick orange pipe at the bottom of the wall) had previously been installed. All of this would be hidden behind the kitchen units so needed to have happened first.

Although in this photo it is very dusty and not looking its best, the floor had also just been tiled with hexagonal ceramic floor tiles which were very kindly donated, along with quite a few other building supplies, by my Cousin Mark.


The original kitchen was installed back in 1999 by a kitchen fitter named Paul, and he did a very good job of it. Whilst I didn't help with that job at all myself, I had learned much from him at the time, and the quality of his work was now my target and benchmark.

As it was so well installed, having first removed all the fixing screws and jointing bolts from below it was still necessary to (rather creatively I thought) employ a trolley jack to lever out the first section of work surface. The work surfaces would not be re-used, so it didn't matter greatly if they were damaged a little in the process.

Given the dependencies, the respective amounts of time needed for joinery and plumbing, and the fact that I was mostly limited to working evenings and weekends, the plan was that the sink unit and dishwasher would be moved last. There was a period of a week or so therefore where the cooking facilities were downstairs but the sink was upstairs, which was obviously far from ideal.

Here you see one of the large corner floor units that has just been removed, before it is carried down the stairs to its new location. The holes in the top of it allow access to the jointing bolts which pull together the separate sections of work surface on top.

Installing the First Floor Units

Clearly the first priority had to be getting the hob installed so that we had some means of cooking other than the microwave. Also pretty important, some sort of work surface for food preparation. Given that installing the new work surfaces would be a time consuming and painstaking task in itself, and could not be done until all the carcases underneath were fully fitted, as a temporary measure I placed the old work surfaces loose on top of the newly fixed units.

The separate carcases are securely screwed together from the inside, and also to the wall behind. In this case, that was a little more difficult because even though I had not asked for it, and did not want it, our builders had stuck plasterboard all round the space using "dot and dab" adhesive. This meant there was an air gap between the surface and the solid wall behind. In order to get a solid fixing, for every unit I had to cut at least two holes in the plasterboard and insert a wooden block which was screwed and glued (using Gripfill adhesive filler) to the solid wall behind. The units were then screwed to these blocks.

The feet of the carcases were also placed on wooden blocks. The feet on these usually come with some height adjustment, but because the tiles only just reached under the units and they therefore rested on the lower level of the floor beyond, and because Sarah and I are both quite tall and like our work surfaces on the high rather than low side, a little extra height boost was needed. The remaining adjustment in the feet was then used to ensure that the carcases were all at exactly the same height and perfectly level in both horizontal dimensions.

Filler Panels

Given that units generally come in fixed widths that are a multiple of 300mm (you might get something like a wine rack that is 150mm), and given that your room is very unlikely to be an exact multiple, inevitably you will need to fill the odd gap with filler panels. So long as these are not too large and are thoughfully placed, they will not be noticeable or detract from the overall look of the kitchen. In this part of the installation just one was used, at the far end between the last cupboard (with no door) and the corner unit.

Temporary Sink

My intention was to install a brand new sink and mixer tap when I installed the new work surfaces, but in the meantime we had to have a sink, so I temporarily plumbed in the old one, in its original spot in the old work surface which was again just slung loosely over the carcase. This carcase was somewhat water damaged at the rear by a longstanding and largely unnoticed leak from the tap when it was in the old kitchen. Had I realised how bad it was before I ordered the new carcases I would have probably ordered an extra one to replace it, but as it was I repaired it by removing the rotten parts and replacing with new MDF. As this was the back of the cupboard under the sink, it would not be on display so the colour did not matter.

Wall Units

With the oven and fridge moved down, connected to the power and hence useable but not yet properly installed, the next priority was to get the extractor hood and a minimal set of wall cupboards up. Handily, this corner unit had previously been installed in front of the soil stack and so did not really need any extra cutting down to fit around the extractor duct and other pipework located in that corner. The corner and gallery end unit did not reach quite as far as the wall on the left so I fitted a post between the floor and the ceiling, which I eventually built out as a proper stud wall, full-height behind the gallery unit dropping to half-height above the sink.

Cutting Down Carcases

The next wall unit in the row had in the old kitchen been located between the fridge housing and the wall. As fridge housings are the same depth as floor units (600mm), which is much deeper than standard wall units (300mm), this was very deliberately specified at 450mm deep so as not to look strange. Unfortunately, in its position in the new kitchen this would have meant it stuck out by 150mm, so it had to be cut down to size. This was a complex joinery task, not as simple as just running the circular saw round it. Instead the back panel had to be carefully removed, the excess cut off the top, bottom and sides, then the necessary slots for the back panel re-cut using a router before the whole unit was reassembled.

The third corner floor and wall units also needed to be customised due to an annoying but very important brick pillar which protrudes slightly into the corner of the kitchen. These were an even more complex joinery task, each having not one but two back panels which had to be carefully removed before the excess material was sawn off, the slots re-cut, and the units reassembled. In the case of the wall unit, one of the mounting fixtures also had to be relocated. These units are not really designed to be disassembled and reassembled in this way, so this was a difficult and time consuming job.

Worktop Fitting

Worktops, done properly, are the most difficult aspect of kitchen fitting, and the ones in this kitchen were more complex than some because firstly there is a lot of worktop, and secondly I had designed 45 degree sections rather than 90 degree angles at the three corners. In a simple, cheaply-fitted kitchen, sections of worktop may well be joined with a visible metal covering strip. However, the gold standard is what is called "butted joints". In these, the edges of the two sections are butted tightly together so that the join is practically invisible. Worktop bolts fitted into specially shaped cutout slots on the underside pull and hold the edges together, and if really done properly then so-called biscuit joints additionally prevent any possible vertical movement betwen the two.

If you are going to achieve invisible joints then first of all the cuts have to be absolutely clean. Any chips made to the laminate surface along the edge will show up badly and ruin the effect. In order to cut laminate this cleanly, you need first to ensure that you have a decent quality, brand new and very sharp TCT (tungsten carbide tipped) circular saw blade. Always turn the worktop over and cut it from underneath, and also into the piece from the bevelled edge at the front towards the back. The shape of the teeth and the direction that the blade spins mean the laminate is much less likely to be chipped if you do this.

Finally, you need a second pair of hands to hold the waste piece as you cut, otherwise as you get towards the end it will break off under its own weight, rather than being cleanly cut by the saw. This was Sarah and the kids' main contribution to the fitting of the kitchen.

In addition to not causing chipping to the edges of the laminate, the cuts must also be dead straight. It is therefore vital to use a guide for the circular saw. Trying to do it freehand following a pencil line will just not work. My solution to this was to clamp my long spirit level to the piece and run the metal guide plate attached to the saw along that.

Especially so when you have a three-cornered run with 45 degree corners like this, the other thing that must be absolutely perfect is the angle of the cuts. Given that a straight section could be four or more metres long, if the angle is even slightly off then schoolboy geometry decrees that either the edges will not butt together completely all the way across the width, or the error will be magnified along the length so that the far end of the work surface sits many millimetres or even centimetres away from the wall that it is supposed to run parallel to.

The tool shown in the picture above is the biscuit jointing tool, which cuts the half-oval shaped slots, of which you can just about see three on the cut end of this section. A corresponding set of slots is cut into the abutting section, the tool ensures that they are exactly the same height below the top surface. Oval-shaped wooden "biscuits" are then placed into the slots, with a generous amount of wood glue, which over the next hour or so, after the two sections have been brought together, will make the biscuits swell up and then set rock hard, meaning a strong joint and that the two sections cannot subsequently move relative to each other.

Specially shaped recesses are cut in between the slots using a router and a template as shown in this picture. Copious quantities of clear silicone are then smeared all over the cut ends of the work surface. This will further stick them together and ensures that they, and particularly the join at the surface, are impervious to moisture. If any moisture were to work its way into the joints then over time the chipboard would swell, and the joint would gain an uneven profile and become very visible.

The two sections are placed in position (the already-joined section shown here was the first, and small, so was done not in final position) and the bolts fitted into the recesses and tightened, pulling the sections together horizontally, during which operation they must be held in perfect vertical alignment. This can be a bit fiddly !

You also need to plan carefully and take care that none of the joins fall in or near an area that will eventually be cut out, for example for the hob or the sink.

I initially worked round the kitchen in an anti-clockwise direction from the tall fridge enclosure. However, in this picture I am preparing the left hand side of the long section into which the new gas hob would be cut. The total run was longer than a single 3m piece (the length in which they are supplied), so the shorter right hand portion was done second, meaning that I could get the difficult angle right first and then the final join was a much simpler straight cut i.e. the angle was known to be an exact 90 degrees. This allowed just a little margin for re-cutting the angle on the short section if necessary.

Fitting Doors

Another job that very much affects the final look of the kitchen is the fitting of the cupboard doors. For the existing units it was just a case of reattaching them, and the new carcases had come with hinges already attached to them, but it was then necessary to drill suitable recesses into the doors in order to fit them. Most kitchen cupboard hinges give you a little adjustment in terms of the horizontal position of the door over the front of the cupboard, and how far out from the cupboard they sit, but there is no adjustment in the vertical dimension and the recesses need to be cut in exactly the right position. I did hire this jig from the kitchen door company, although it came with half the pieces missing and was only of limited use. It effectively allows you to precisely position a router blade of the correct diameter for the hinge to fit into, you then apply your electric drill to the hex slot at the top, it spins the blade and makes the hole in the correct position.

Cornice, Pelmet and Plinth

Cornice is the trim that runs along the top of the wall units, and pelmet is the trim that runs underneath. These will ideally be single pieces which span multiple separate carcases, bringing them together and making the whole installation look like one single item rather than a collection of separate ones fitted next to each other. Plinth is the board that runs under the edge of the floor units and fills the gap between them and the floor, hiding the adjustable feet and providing a similar unifying effect.