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Remove old cabinets that were built in place with nails

Periodically, we will need to remove an old set of kitchen or vanity cabinets that were fastened and installed with nails instead of screws. If this is the case with your remodel project, you will NOT be able to save the cabinets to install elsewhere. When you’re done taking them out, there will just be a bunch of bits and pieces left.

Take a flashlight and look inside your closets. If you don’t see any screws, this method of removing cabinets is for you.

Tools needed:

  • Hammer
  • Small one-handed hammer
  • Pry bar
  • Gloves
  • Protective goggles
  • Razor knife
  • Reciprocating saw
  • Jig Saw
  • Skill saw
  • Assorted screwdrivers

Steps to remove old cabinets

  1. Turn off the water supply to the sink faucet and the power supply to the stove, dishwasher, hood vent, or space-saving microwave.
  2. Remove the sink and all appliances. You may need someone else to help you with the sink. Most old houses have cast iron sinks and they are very heavy. I’m not kidding here, DO NOT try to pull out a cast iron sink alone.
  3. IMPORTANT: While attempting to remove the cabinets, be careful NOT to pry against the walls with too much force. Most likely they are made of drywall or plasterboard and are somewhat brittle. Try to remember to simply push things away from the walls, rather than prying against them.
  4. Cut all sealant lines everywhere that are attached to cabinets and counters against walls, floors, or ceilings.
  5. Put on your safety glasses and cut large sections of Formica countertop, oversized base cabinet bases, front frames, and toe sections into smaller pieces. You can do the same with the bottoms of the upper cabinets which are also large. Do this with the saw that is most comfortable for you.
  6. If the backsplash is only three-quarters of an inch thick (3/4 “), they are glued to the wall with liquid nail. Insert the putty knife between the wall and splash, then push it down with the force of your hammer. Continue do this in several places until it comes loose from the wall.
  7. If the splatters are thicker than three-quarters of an inch (3/4 “), it is very likely that they are stuck to the countertop. No need to nail the putty knife behind if they are stuck to the top.
  8. With gloves and safety glass on, you can begin the extraction process by tapping the counter up. Once it has started to loosen, you can use the lever to lift it higher. I can almost hear the screeching of the nails! Eventually, you should get to the point where you can grab it with both hands and pull it out of the cabinet.
  9. Remove all drawers from their respective locations.
  10. Using your hammer and mallet, disassemble all parts of the cabinet. Start by tapping the finished ends, then the face frames, then pry at the bottom, and lastly at the back. Cabinets need to be removed fairly quickly if you follow that pattern. Whenever a piece is difficult to remove from the cabinet, cut it into a smaller piece. Most of these older kitchens were made from pine and plywood. They were also glued with carpenter’s glue. This can make them stubborn to separate at times.

You should always be on the lookout for roaches. Who knows, if you’re lucky you might find an old newspaper article from the late 1950s. I was retired when I discovered an old million dollar safe hidden under the base of a kitchen cabinet in Hollywood. I think the house originally belonged to Jed Clampet of the Beverly Hillbillies. Having a little fun during the project is a good thing!

The trick to making this all easier is to cut as many parts as possible into smaller pieces before you start ripping them off. This will make it easier for the garbage man or for you when you take the pieces out of the house and throw them in the trash cans.

Whenever you remove old kitchen cabinets, be prepared to find things that need to be replaced or repaired. It is not uncommon for there to be water damaged areas where mold has been growing. Sometimes roofs have places where there were leaks years ago. Aside from the cost of your new cabinets, set aside a little more for unexpected repairs.

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