Whether you install a kitchen a week or a half dozen customs a year, having task-specific tools on site increases both productivity and quality. From layout to lifting and scribing to screwing, check out some of the tools I use to help streamline the process and make sometimes troublesome details easier to control.


Lasers and Accessories. The first step in any installation is establishing plumb and level lines where you need them. The best tool for fast, accurate layout is a visible beam, self-leveling laser and adjustable laser pole accessory.

Laserjamb invented the adjustable laser pole, and while it was originally designed for cabinet installers, that's hardly its only use (see Tool Test: Laser Levels). The pole extends between the floor and ceiling, or for jobs with extremely tall ceilings or vaults, you can attach the pole to a 5-gallon pail filled with water or tools for ballast.

Typically, I set the laser to cast level lines at 34-1/2 inches from the subfloor to mark the top of the base cabinets first. The countertop takes up the other 1-1/2 inches to reach the standard 36-inch countertop height. Then, with an easy adjustment to the L-bracket on the pole, I reset the laser line to 54 inches to mark the bottom of 30-inch-tall upper cabinets, then at 84 inches to align the tops of all the cabinets.

Because the Laserjamb allows you to move the laser to known, repeatable heights, you don't have to transfer layout lines around the room or cobble together platforms above tripod height to establish new lines. You also can use the Laserjamb pole to quickly lay out receptacle heights along the backsplash for the electrician.

The pole's positive-stop set screws allow me to dial in frequently used heights for even faster adjustments. Because your body obstructs the laser's beam while you're setting a cabinet, use a rotating laser to cast a beam around the room then snap a chalkline along the beam. Or, use a dot laser to set marks, then snap lines between them so you can always see the line.

Plumb reference lines are useful for precise cabinet placement. I cast a plumb beam at each wall and snap a line. From there, I mark locations for the sides of certain cabinets, like narrow, single, and inside corner cabinets or full-height end panels. It takes about 15 minutes to establish level and plumb lines for three walls of cabinets with this method.

Stud Location. With reference lines snapped, I mark each cabinet's precise location. This serves two purposes: determining installation location and determining where to pre-drill holes for screws in the cabinet backs. Locating the studs is crucial for accurate pilot holes?especially in plaster?and is made easy with electronic stud finders. The Zircon MultiScanner Pro with "deepscan" is great for plaster walls that vary in thickness. It also identifies live wires and pipes.