Home Project Tip 13 – Installing Cabinet Knobs



Installing cabinet handles and knobs isn't exactly rocket science.


A few months ago I installed some cabinets in my laundry room. These have been great for the added storage, but until yesterday they never had knobs. Installing knobs or pulls isn’t rocket science, but there are a few things to pay attention to as you go about the job.


A display featuring cabinet knobs.

There are hundreds of colors, sizes, and materials to choose from.

You may not want knobs or pulls on your cabinets, but I’ve found they make opening them much easier. I’ve also discovered my cabinets and drawers stay cleaner if I’m not constantly prying them open with fingers. And these days there are so many different kinds and styles available you can spice up the look of almost any cabinet by finding that perfect knob.



Location Is Everything


My new cabinet knobs look and work great.

Take the time to locate your knob is a place that looks good and makes the most sense.

Installing knobs is relatively easy as most projects go, but it’s good to take a bit of care. The biggest issue is locating the knob correctly on the cabinet or drawer face to begin with, and then drilling a proper hole. I always prefer to locate my knobs on the exterior frame of the cabinet door rather than the center door panel. I’ve seen it done on the center, but I thought it looked funky and it doesn’t take advantage of the natural leverage you get by installing the knob farther from the hinge. Sadly, there is no set or perfect formula for how far up or down you should locate the knob on the frame.


Eye It


Generally, you’ll want to position the knob in a place which is pleasing to the eye. If you’re working on upper cabinets locate the knob just a few inches from the bottom of the door on the center of the frame opposite the hinge. If you’re working on lower cabinets, locate it a few inches down from the top of the door on the center of the frame opposite the hinge. For drawers, it’s much more common to locate the knob or pull in the center of the drawer. If you’re using handles on the drawers you’ll need to locate the center and then measure out in each direction to locate the drill holes.


Some specialty cabinet pulls.

The style of knob you pick may also affect where you’ll want to locate it. The options are endless.

There is another issue to consider in locating knobs: In my laundry room I actually have smaller cabinets installed above my main ones. If I would have installed the knobs on the upper units using the same measurements I used on the lower units, the knobs on the upper units would have appeared too high. This means is it’s best not to assume you’ll be doing the exact same thing for all your cabinets. You might do just that, but before drilling look with a critical eye and make certain you’re going to be happy with the end result. It’s never a bad idea to have a friend hold the knob at various positions so you can step across the room and have a look.


Accuracy Is Important


The tools for the job.

You only need a few tools for this job. Set them on a towel so they don’t accidentally scratch your counter top.

Depending on the number of knobs you’re installing and the knob type you select, you can use a measuring tape to locate the correct position, a tool like the Swanson speed square, or a pre-made drill template designed for just the purpose. Figure the more knobs you have to install the better tool you want for locating them. Also, as you go to put pulls or knobs on drawers, templates are usually the best option. They’re especially useful for locating drill holes for those handles that have more than one screw. You can find templates at the stores selling knobs or check out the Amazon link in the advertisement below.


You may need to buy cabinet knob screws.

My knob came with two screws. You may only get the shorter screw with your knob, which means you may need to buy longer screws if your drawers require it.

Once you’ve located where you want the knob to go, it works well to use a scratch awl or nail and make a tiny impression in the cabinet surface on the spot you plan to drill—this will help keep the drill from slipping left or right as you go to start your hole. STOP! It’s critical to check to make sure your mark is exactly where you planned it before drilling. If you’re even a little off, your cabinet knobs from door to door will all look different. You do have a small amount of leeway for error as the base of most knobs will cover a hole that needs to be widened a hair to get the knob into a better position. However, the more accurate you are at locating your drill holes in the first place, the better end result you’ll get. For this reason, if you have trouble seeing items up close or reading the fine lines on a tape measure you may want to get some assistance before you start drilling.


A Tip On Drilling


Most cabinet knob screws (or bolts, if you prefer) require a 3/16” drill hole. This should allow the screw to slip in with little or no effort. However, if you drill straight through the cabinet using a 3/16” drill bit, the chances of chipping on the back of the cabinet are pretty high. To avoid this problem, start with a drill bit about half size (i.e. 3/32”) and drill all the way through. Now, switch out to your 3/16” drill bit and drill just a short distance (say 1/4”) into the back side of the door cabinet—your first hole tells you exactly where you need to drill. Finally, drill all the way through the frame from the front. This method isn’t perfect, but it generally keeps chipping to a minimum. One other note: Do not under any circumstances drill through your cabinet door when it’s resting against the cabinet frame. If you do that, you can expect to create a hole in the frame itself.


I'm installing my new cabinet knobs using this method.

After marking your drill location, check the measurements to be sure you’ve centered it on the door frame. Measurement D should be the same going from the outside edge of the frame to the drill location. Click to expand.


Oops. I Made A Boo Boo.


Okay, what if you’ve done your best and still make a mistake? Sometimes the worst happens and the door is beyond repair. If that’s the case, check with the store where you bought the cabinets or one that specializes in building custom cabinets and see whether they can order a replacement door for you. In other cases, you may want to check and see if you can replace the knobs you bought for something else that has a bigger base and thus provides more cover—enough to cover your mistake. Finally, a little putty may be your only real option. If the cabinets are painted they will be much easier to fill, sand, and repaint. If the cabinets are stained and coated you may find some wood putty that’s a close match. Check down at your local hardware and ask the guy in the paint section for his input, or check out MinWax. This company offers a variety of products that may help get out of a jam. In a case where the shade is the issue you can sometimes buy two or even three different colors of putty and mix them by hand until you get a good color match.


Final Word


As you go to install knobs start with the least visible cabinet or drawer you’ve got. For example, a laundry room is a great place to get your basic method down. Once you’ve mastered the process the rest should be a snap. Finally, this is one job that shouldn’t be rushed. It’s bound to come out perfect if you just take the time to double or even triple check your measurements before drilling. Good luck!


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