Fine Tuning

Clamps. You need good face frame clamps for screwing stiles together. Simple bar clamps hold the stile edges together, but I still have to fiddle around to flush up warped faces.

The Pony Cabinet Claw clamp from Adjustable Clamp Co. solves this problem. Its padded sides press the face frame stiles together and a padded plate flushes them up?even really warped ones. And, the Cabinet Claw's simple drill centering system means the clamp stays put while you pre-drill. A guide centers a 1/8-inch pilot bit in the middle of a 3/4-inch face frame. After piloting a hole, pivoting the drill guide away exposes a 3/8-inch countersink guide hole. Nothing could be slicker. For frameless "European" style cabinets, try the Euro Claw clamps.

Spirit Levels. Leveling and plumbing each box or row of boxes keeps the fronts from racking, keeps everything straight, and ensures your door and drawer reveals will be precise and will operate properly. The new Johnson box beam levels work great. We use 2-foot, 4-foot, and 6-foot levels. The frames have padded grip holes and super accurate vials. I also use Stabila's Plate Level to check the precision of the base cabinet fronts. Although it's not considered a finish carpenter's tool, its telescoping arm reaches most runs of cabinets I install and gives an accurate read.

Drill/Drivers. Cordless drills are indispensable on a kitchen install. Almost any drill will get you through, but Festool's extremely adaptable CDD 12 FX and TDD 12 FX get you through in style. The power and battery life of these compact 12-volt drills seem to rival bigger 18- and 24-volt tools?but you can easily get these little guys into a cabinet and have room to work.

Quick-change chuck attachments convert the tools into eccentric drivers or right-angle drill/drivers in seconds. The eccentric driver head lets you get into tight corners where the drill body or circumference of an ordinary chuck would get in the way and possibly damage your cabinets. The right angle head accepts a standard 1/4-inch driver tip or the chuck head can be coupled to it for drilling. I've never seen a better devised system for drilling and screwing narrow cabinets; every carpenter I showed them to practically drooled; they're that good.

In addition, the Festool drills are variable speed and reversible, have high and low transmission ranges with 18 torque settings, and have keyless chucks with bearing collars that protect cabinets from the inevitable bump. Each kit has two batteries and a 15-minute charger so you essentially have an endless power stream.

Scribing. Scribing base cabinets to a finished floor or filler strips to wavy walls is essential for a tight finish. Dividers work, but it's hard to keep them even along the whole scribe mark. AccuScribe is a new kind of scribing tool that is like dividers, but better. Its dual legs ride along a wall or floor so the pencil point precisely marks the undulations in the surface.