Installing A Recessed Cabinet
in Your Bathroom
Hooray! Now we can get all the stuff off the toilet tank!
IMPORTANT: Be sure you understand
what you have to do before you attempt to modify any wall in your home. You can cause severe damage to the house or yourself!
This article is not intended to be a precise recipe for installation of a
recessed cabinet. I've tried to cover the most important issues and guide
you in the right direction though my observations and suggestions, but you must have basic carpentry skills and a
degree of common sense to keep yourself out of trouble with this job, since each
job is different!
read the whole article before you begin. You will save yourself unnecessary
Be ready for more work than you expected!
recessed cabinet, such as a medicine cabinet, wall safe, or ironing board, can
be fairly simple and straightforward or may require the services of
carpenters, plumbers, electricians, structural engineers, and, worst case...
witch doctors! Let's walk this path together and see what we find!
Let me be frank (though I'd rather be NH)... there is more than a possibility
that there will be a wall stud or other obstruction interfering with the
installation of your recessed cabinet. In fact the odds are about 99% that you
will have to choose between cutting a wall stud, locating the cabinet in a
less-than-ideal spot, or ditching the whole project and installing a
The two most common obstructions are wall studs and plumbing vents.
Moving a plumbing vent is well beyond the scope of this discussion (and this
website). But you may be able to deal with a wall stud.
Before you think about cutting, ripping or otherwise destroying that nasty
stud, you should learn a little about load bearing walls. These walls do double
duty, acting as structural supports and as room-dividing partitions. Click HERE
for a brief primer on the subject! We'll wait for you to come back.
Plan the installation of your recessed cabinet...
Precisely mark the position of the cabinet. Draw a leveled rectangle
on the wall that is about 1/4 inch larger than the cabinet recess in both width
and height... there is no advantage in having the fit too tight.
You will need to view the inside of the wall by cutting a small
"peep" hole in it. Use a stud finder to determine if there is a
stud in the location you want to install the cabinet. If there is, you will have
to cut a small hole on each side of the stud to look for obstructions. A
4x4" square or round hole should be plenty big. Make sure you locate the
"peep" hole or holes within the marked cabinet location. Do not cut
too deeply through the drywall. You don't want to cut wires or plastic pipes
that may be inside the wall!
Is there is an immovable obstruction in the wall where you want to recess
the cabinet? If there are plumbing pipes or vents, electrical wires, or
heating ducts, these may make a recessed installation too expensive, truly
impractical, or totally impossible. This is why God invented surface-mounted
If there is a stud in the center of your cabinet location, be sure there
are no critical attachments to it. Is another wall attached to this stud, or
a cabinet or hanging appliance like a microwave oven? These might nix both
cutting the stud and recessing the cabinet, or at best cause lots of additional
work for you.
- If your wall is not load bearing,
or is load bearing without any wall studs in the way,
- If your wall is load bearing,
IMPORTANT: If the wall is
load bearing, but you can comfortably locate the cabinet between the existing
studs, you're in the RIGHT PLACE!!
Completely cut out the wall opening for the cabinet...
Cut out the drywall. I am assuming you have drywall... if you have
plaster, you can do the same thing, but you may want to use a reciprocating saw
with a nail-cutting blade to make the opening. I have used a drywall saw on
plaster (the teeth are hardened), but it is not nearly as easy. The
reciprocating saw will raise more dust, however. Now, you are probably looking
at an ugly hole with a 2x4 stud in the way!
Make two cuts through the stud, one at the top of the
cabinet opening, one near the bottom. The entire cut can be made with
a reciprocating saw. Try to cut as squarely as possible. Don't pierce the wall
behind and add to your repair job. Once the piece of the stud is free, bend it
back and forth to pull any nails or screws through the back of the rear wall. If
the wind is at your back, there will be no visible damage to the face of the
wall behind. If so, so be it!
Install the nailers for the cabinet.... Most
recessed cabinets attach to the wall by screws through the sides from inside the
cabinet. So you will have to install nailers on both sides of the opening. Cut
two pieces of 2x4 the length of the opening. Put some construction adhesive on
both edges of the 2x4's and slide them into the wall between the drywall. Use
drywall screws to secure them in place. Once the adhesive dries, they will be
All that is left to do is to insert the cabinet, level it
as necessary, and screw it into place!
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IMPORTANT: CLICK HERE
TO OPEN A GRAPHIC OF THE WALL DETAIL.
I am going to describe one method of cutting and reinforcing a stud in a load
bearing wall. There are other methods of doing this, such as removing the vanity
and installing full trimmer studs from floor to the sill, or do this through the
back of the wall if there is adequate access.
IMPORTANT: No matter how you finally decide to do this, keep in
mind that whenever you tamper with a bearing wall, THERE IS A RISK OF SAGGING.
Because this site does not deal with major restorations and construction, you
should seek out more information in the hundreds of books available today on
home renovation and restoration. It is imperative that you start projects like
this with as much knowledge as you can muster, and be prepared for the
Draw two parallel lines for cutting the wall opening.
Draw the first line parallel to the upper cabinet line, 6" above it.
This will allow space for the installation of the 2x6 header. Draw the second
line 2" below the lower cabinet line. This will allow space for the 2x4
Extend both of these lines to inside edge of the nearest wall studs. Connect
these lines vertically and cut out the drywall. If you are careful, you may be
able to reuse this piece of drywall after constructing the wall reinforcement.
Make two cuts through the offending stud, one at the top of the opening,
one at the bottom. The entire cut can be made with a reciprocating saw. Try
to cut as squarely as possible. Don't pierce the wall behind and add to your
repair job. Once the piece of the stud is free, bend it back and forth to pull
any nails or screws through the back of the rear wall. If the wind is at your
back, there will be no visible damage to the face of the wall behind.
You may also begin the cut with a circular saw. A standard 7 1/4"
circular saw blade won't fully cut through the stud, of course, but it will
start a very straight cut that will be easy to follow with the reciprocating
Be aware that the saw may jam in the cut if the
stud is under pressure! If the blade gets jammed, make a new a cut
with the reciprocating saw on a downward angle into the area of the original cut
to free the stuck blade.
IMPORTANT: This is a critical
cut. If the wall is under a heavy load, or if there is a seam in the top plate
of the wall, the ceiling may sag slightly after cutting this stud. If this
happens, you may need to jack the wall up slightly to release the pressure. This
would be very unusual in a single stud removal, but you should be aware that it
could happen. This issue is not addressed as of yet on the web site. If you want
this information, you need to obtain a book on this topic fill in the gap.
Before you spend $30 or more on a good renovation book, try the local library!
Make your header... Cut two
pieces of 2x6 lumber equal to the distance between the exposed upper section of
the two end studs. These pieces of 2x6 are assembled into a header by nailing or
screwing them together with a piece of 1/2 " plywood between them. This
produces a header that is the same thickness as the wall. Of course, if your
wall is other than a nominal 2x4 wall (which is 1 1/2" x 3 1/2"), you
must adjust the header thickness accordingly.
Install the header in the opening... Position
the header level in the opening butted up against the cut stud. Toenail it into
both the side studs and the cut stud.
Install the two cleats on the outside
studs... Use construction adhesive to glue and then screw or nail the
two cleats so that they are level across the top of the lower part of the cut
stud. As shown in the graphic, they will be inserted inside the wall. The length
of the cleats should be at least 12 inches, but can be as long as can be
inserted into the opening. The ideal length would be long enough to reach the
sole plate... the bottom board on the wall that is fastened to the floor.
NOTE: Hammering the nails almost all the way through the cleats before
inserting them in the wall makes the nailing easier. Ditto for screws.
Measure, cut, and install the 2x4 sill... The
sill helps to stabilize the two outside studs and also provides a nailer for the
drywall. Glue and nail the sill to the cleats and toenail it into the outside
Install the trimmer studs...
Measure and install the trimmer studs between the header and the sill. They
should fit tightly, be glued and screwed to the outside studs.
Install the nailers for the cabinet...
Cut and install the 2x4 nailers onto the sill and header, toenailing them into
place. Make sure they are vertical and spaced to allow at least 1/4 inch of play
around the cabinet.
Install the drywall over the opening...
If you were able to save the old piece of drywall, insert it into the opening
and screw or nail it into place.
Cut the cabinet opening into the
drywall... If you did your measurement correctly, and aligned the
vertical nailers properly, the lines you made originally for the cabinet cutout
should still apply. If you are off a quarter to a half of an inch, don't feel
too bad, 'cause everybody does it! You know the old expression, "Close
enough for government work!"
Now, if you are inches off, you are entitled to feel silly, cause your
cabinet may not be positioned where you want it. Of course, you can always take
the drywall down and move the nailers.!
Insert the cabinet into the hole to test for size and position. If it seems
to be where you want it (hooray!!), pull the cabinet back out, patch, prime, and
paint or wallpaper the walls.
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Written by Jerry Alonzy
Jerry Alonzy, a.k.a. the Natural Handyman, has been an active handyman for over 30 years with experience in most areas of home repair and renovation.
As a do-it-yourself author and web developer since 1995, he has been featured in USA Today, the Today Show and on radio shows, magazines, newspapers and websites. His material appears widely on the web, but primarily on his website... The Natural Handyman. You can also find him on Google+.