Level floors are a rare thing… even in new homes.
You might not even notice how badly a floor slopes until you start installing base cabinets – and discover that the dishwasher won’t fit under the countertop or that you need a 1″ stack of shims at the end of the cabinet run.
While this reality is understandable in older homes and inexcusable in new construction – the method of coping with the issue is the same in both cases.
The standard countertop height is 36″ above the finish floor (AFF).
If the floor is sloped, there will only be one point where the countertop will be exactly 36″ AFF. I’ll get to that later.
What are standard toe kick dimensions?
A quick internet search indicates that this tends to vary slightly (by +/- 1/2″ to 3/4″ in height) but it’s in the ballpark of 4″ high and 3″ deep for most kitchen cabinets. 4″ x 3″ is the standard that I use for kitchen cabinets. But I also design custom cabinets with no kicks or kicks that are 12″ high.
For the purpose of this example I’m working with a 4″ nominal kick height. (NOTE: The installation pictures shown are for a custom kick that’s 2 3/4″ high).
Attached or separate kick?
There are three basic approaches to toe kicks:
This generally means the cabinet end gables are 34 1/2 – 34 3/4″h with a 3″ x 4″ notch cut in the gables. A 3/4″ x 4″ kick board is attached to the vertical edges of the kick space after installation. In this case you start at the high point in the floor and shim as required to keep the run level.
A shoe moulding is usually added to cover the gap at the bottom of the kick.
These are separate legs that attach to the bottom of the cabinets that can be adjusted individually to level the cabinets. The kick board is attached to the legs with clips.
While this makes for a quick and easy installation, the downside is the fact that they can pop off if accidently banged with a shoe, broom or mop.
SEPARATE FULL-RUN KICK
A custom full-run kick supports several separate cabinets in a continuous run. It’s basically a long rectangle with sleepers spaced every 18 –20” for strength. They’re usually made of paint grade 3/4” plywood and can be assembled in the shop. They’re quick to install and level on site using support blocks made from scrap plywood and cedar shims.
This is the preferred method for kicks on the custom cabinets that I deal with everyday. We make the structural kicks 3 1/2 – 3 3/4″ h depending on how bad the floor is likely to be, which allows the installer to get the kick down to 3 1/2″ high at the highest point in the floor if he needs to. This keeps the counter from getting too high when the floor slope is 1″ or more – which is more common than you’d think.
Once the kick is levelled, the cabinets are set on the kick and attached to the wall and each other. A 1/4″ ply facing which matches the wood species and finish of the cabinets is scribed to the floor and nailed to the structural kick, eliminating the need for a shoe moulding except in the most extreme cases.
Where to start
Assume your floor is not level. If it is level, congratulations!
If not, there are a couple things to keep in mind when determining the specific location where to set your 36″high counter level. Countertop thickness is relevant too. 1 1/4″ & 1 1/2″ are most common depending on the material and construction.
One of the most critical considerations is the dishwasher. Most dishwasher heights can be adjusted down to a minimum of 34″ so you have to be sure the clearance below the countertop is at least that high at the dishwasher opening. It can get a bit more complicated if the cabinets wrap around a corner and you have to deal with slopes in two directions.
Another critical point comes into play when you’re installing a slide-in range since these are integrated with the countertop. Read the installation manual to determine the clearances at the countertop before you start installing cabinets.
A conventional standalone range is less of an issue since it’s independent of the cabinets and countertop.
Other factors that can play into this are window sill or outlet heights and other site-specific details. The best thing to do is get the lay of the land as early in the process as possible and adapt your construction to suit the conditions.
End toe kicks
Unless we’re adding a separate baseboard, I like to leave the end kick slightly recessed from the end panel. This can be 3/4″ or more depending on the situation.
If people are likely to stand around eating veggie dip at the end of the cabinet run, leaving a 1 1/2 to 2″ end recess may save a bit of wear and tear at the kick.
Typically, if you make your structural kick an inch short of each exposed end, when you add 1/4″ ply facing, the end kick will be recessed 3/4″ and line up with the joint between the door and the cabinet end panel.
Once you’ve determined the point where the countertop will be 36″AFF, mark that on the wall and use a level to extend the line within the extent of the cabinetry.
Measure down from that line and mark the top line of the toe kick. (36″ – [counter plus cabinet] = toekick top). Extend this line as before.
Set the assembled kick in place using shims and a level to prop it up to the line. You’ll also need to level the kick from front to back at the same time. Attach the kick to the wall studs with 2 1/2″ screws. Leave the back shims in place for additional support.
Double check that the kick is level in both directions and screw the kick support blocks to the inside of the kick front – spaced 16 to 20″ apart.
If you’re installing on a wood floor you can screw the support block to the floor as well. If you’re installing over ceramic, they can just rest on the tile since there’s really nowhere for them to go.
It’s important to make sure islands and peninsulas are well secured since the floor is the only anchor point available.
When installing kicks on either side of an appliance, a long straightedge or 48″ level will keep you on level.
The cabinets can then be set on the kick and screwed to the wall, kick and each adjacent cabinet.
Add the kick facing
Once the cabinets are installed and the floor is finished, you can add the pre-finished 1/4″ plywood kick facing.
Measure the kick height at each end of the cabinet run and mark a cutline near the bottom edge.
Subtract 1/8″ to give some working space at the top. Mitre any outside corner joints and nail the facing on with a brad nailer.
Image: Adjustable legs – woodworker.com