How to assemble flatpack cabinets & shelves

Introduction

Flatpacks have been available for many years - but they just keep getting better. The choice now is almost endless. Whether you need a fully-fitted kitchen or just an extra set of shelves, you'll find a flatpack to suit you. But when you're assembling yours, it's important that you follow the individual manufacturer's instructions carefully.


This compact cabinet is a typical building block in a flexible, modular storage system. You can add drawers, a shelf and/or a door to make it into a cupboard. And you can buy a number of them to make a unit that gives you all the storage you want. But make sure you always read the manufacturer's assembly instructions, as individual products can differ.

how-to-assemble-flatpack-cabinets-shelves-1

Step 1

Start by laying the panels out on the floor so you can easily see each part. A good tip is to use the packaging to protect the panels from scratches. And it's best to keep screws and fixings inside their packaging until you need to use them.

how-to-assemble-flatpack-cabinets-shelves-2

Step 2

Push the legs into the pre-drilled holes underneath the base panel. If you're using decorative legs that you've bought separately, use the fixing instructions that come with them.

how-to-assemble-flatpack-cabinets-shelves-3

Step 3

Turn the base panel over so it's standing on the legs. Using a screwdriver, screw four cam studs into the pre-drilled holes closest to each corner.

how-to-assemble-flatpack-cabinets-shelves-4

Step 4

Squeeze a little of the PVA wood adhesive that comes with the cabinet on one end of the four wooden dowels. Then slot them into the pre-drilled holes on either side of the base panel.

how-to-assemble-flatpack-cabinets-shelves-5

Step 5

Tap the dowels into place with a small hammer (they should fit snugly). Take care not to damage the end of the dowels - a light tap should do the trick.

how-to-assemble-flatpack-cabinets-shelves-6

Step 6

Put a locking cam into each of the larger holes at the bottom of the side panels. When you do this, make sure the arrows embossed on the cams point towards the end of the panel. After this, use a trimming knife to take off any extra edging at both ends of the grooves running along the length of the side panels. This is where you'll be fitting the back panel.

how-to-assemble-flatpack-cabinets-shelves-7

Step 7

Put a dab of PVA wood adhesive on the end of each dowel that's sticking out.

how-to-assemble-flatpack-cabinets-shelves-8

Step 8

Fit the first side panel to the base - it should slide neatly onto the dowels you've already glued. Take care to keep the panel at right angles to the base, otherwise you might risk damaging the dowels. Then make sure the grooves in the base and side panels line up.

how-to-assemble-flatpack-cabinets-shelves-9

Step 9

Secure the first side panel by tightening the two locking cams. Use a screwdriver to turn them clockwise.

how-to-assemble-flatpack-cabinets-shelves-10

Step 10

You're now ready to fit the back panel. Run a bead of glue along the grooves in the side and base panel you've already put together, and slide the back panel into place.

how-to-assemble-flatpack-cabinets-shelves-11

Step 11

Slide the second side panel into position and tighten the two locking cams.

how-to-assemble-flatpack-cabinets-shelves-12

Step 12

Put four locking cams into the holes on the top of the side panels - the arrows should point towards the end of the panel. Glue four wooden dowels and fit them into the top panel. Then put four cam studs into the pre-drilled holes and run a bead of glue into the groove. You can now fit the top panel. Finish by tightening the locking cams and fitting cam covers to all the exposed locking cams.


Some flatpacks come with shelves. But if yours doesn't, just buy a shelf pack to match the cabinet. All the fixings you need will be included.

how-to-assemble-flatpack-cabinets-shelves-13

Step 1

First, decide what height your shelf is going to be. Take a screwdriver and fit two shelf support screws into each side panel - making sure all four screws are at the same height. Try not to use any of the pre-drilled holes, as you'll need these to fit the door hinges to the cabinet.

how-to-assemble-flatpack-cabinets-shelves-14

Step 2

Place the four shelf support inserts into the pre-formed holes in the shelf. You might need to tap them into place with a small hammer.

how-to-assemble-flatpack-cabinets-shelves-15

Step 3

Slide the shelf into the cabinet and clip it into place by pressing down. The shelf will rest on the exposed screw heads on the side panels.


If your unit hasn't come with handles, you'll need to buy them separately. Always drill at a 90 degrees angle to the door and choose a drill bit that allows half a millimetre of space around the screw.

how-to-assemble-flatpack-cabinets-shelves-16

Step 1

First, decide where you want the handle. It can be in the centre of the door, or towards the upper corner if that's more convenient for you. Mark the position on the front of the door with a pencil (that way, you can easily rub the marks out later if they're visible after you've attached the handle).

how-to-assemble-flatpack-cabinets-shelves-17

Step 2

Place the handle on the pencil marks. Then tip it back a little and mark the position of the fixing holes.

how-to-assemble-flatpack-cabinets-shelves-18

Step 3

Use the recommended drill bit (normally 3mm) and make the holes so you're ready to attach the handle.

how-to-assemble-flatpack-cabinets-shelves-19

Step 4

Put the handle on the front of the door. Line up the holes and put in the screws from the back of the door to secure it.

how-to-assemble-flatpack-cabinets-shelves-20

Step 5

Stick one door buffer to the front edge of the base panel, and another to the front edge of the top panel. Position them both around 15mm-20mm in from the side panel


Hinges are usually supplied with the pack, along with all the necessary fixings. Your doors and cabinets should have cut-outs and guide holes to fit them easily.

how-to-assemble-flatpack-cabinets-shelves-21

Step 1

Use a bradawl to make guide holes in the pre-marked positions on the cabinet door. Put the circular part of the hinge into the large hole in the door - and do the same with any other hinges you're fitting.

how-to-assemble-flatpack-cabinets-shelves-22

Step 2

Fix the hinges to the door using the screws provided, making sure they fit squarely. Once all the hinges are in position on the door, you'll need to fix them into the guide holes on the side panel of the cabinet. But be careful not to over-tighten the -->{C}


After you've finished putting together your flatpack cabinet, you might find the doors need adjusting. You can adjust badly-fitting doors on most modern cabinets in the same way.

how-to-assemble-flatpack-cabinets-shelves-23

Step 1

If the door is hanging too high or too low, just use a screwdriver to loosen the top and bottom screws on the hinge mounting plates. You can do this simply by sliding the door up or down until it's level with the top, and then re-tightening the screws. If you want to adjust the door to the left or right, just turn the front screw on the arm of the hinge.

how-to-assemble-flatpack-cabinets-shelves-24

Step 2

If your door doesn't fit flat against the front of the cupboard, loosen the screws at the back of the hinges. Then just reposition the door and re-tighten the screws. You'll need to adjust the screws at the front of the hinge if the door isn't square with the cabinet, and tighten them again when you've got a good fit.


Most flatpack systems give you the option of having drawers instead of a shelf and cupboard door. Another possibility is to create a combined drawer and cupboard unit by joining the two together either vertically or horizontally. Or you could use them as parts of a bigger built-in storage system, depending on what you need. Whatever you choose, make sure to read the manufacturer's instructions, as different products are often assembled in slightly different ways.

how-to-assemble-flatpack-cabinets-shelves-25

Top tip - Lay it out

When assembling any flatpack, it's a good idea to start by laying out all the parts. That way, you can clearly see how they'll fit together.

how-to-assemble-flatpack-cabinets-shelves-26

Step 1

Start by pushing the drawer sides onto the drawer back to form a frame. The sides will be marked left and right - so make sure you fit them the right way round.

how-to-assemble-flatpack-cabinets-shelves-27

Step 2

The drawer base has two different sides. Decide which one you want to show and slide it into the groove that runs around the lower part of the frame.

how-to-assemble-flatpack-cabinets-shelves-28

Step 3

With the drawer upside down, make guide holes with a bradawl for the four screws - these will hold the base in place. (Holes for the screws will have been pre-drilled on some units). Next, screw the base panel into place.

how-to-assemble-flatpack-cabinets-shelves-29

Step 4

Each drawer front will be marked 'top,' 'bottom' or 'middle' to let you know their position in the finished cabinet - so make a note of this order. Fix two retaining clips into the pre-drilled holes in the back of the drawer front - each clip needs two screws. Then turn the clip round to cover the screws.

how-to-assemble-flatpack-cabinets-shelves-30

Step 5

Push the drawer front into the drawer sides. Repeat Steps 2 to 5 for each drawer to complete the set.

how-to-assemble-flatpack-cabinets-shelves-31

Step 6

Choose where you'd like the drawer handles to go. Make sure you measure carefully, so the handles are the same height. Use a bradawl to mark the hole positions and then drill clearance holes. Put the screws in from the back of the drawer and fix the handles in place.

how-to-assemble-flatpack-cabinets-shelves-32

Step 7

There'll be pre-drilled holes in the side panels of the cabinet where the drawer runners will fit. Use two screws to fix each runner onto the side panels. But when you do this, check that you fit the left and right-hand runners on the correct sides - and that opposite pairs of runners are at the same height.

how-to-assemble-flatpack-cabinets-shelves-33

Step 8

Put your assembled drawers onto the runners, taking care that the top, middle and bottom drawers are in the right order. Next, check that the drawer fronts line up. If they need adjusting to the left or right, turn the screws nearest to the drawer front. Make certain you do this on both sides, or you might create uneven pressure. To adjust up or down, turn the rear screws. When you've finished all your adjustments, fix the two locking plates into position.


You can join units vertically or horizontally by using exactly the same method. You'll need to secure three or more units joined vertically to the wall with steel angle brackets to keep them stable.

Safety first - Safe drilling

Never drill directly above or below a light fitting or power socket. Always check for pipes and cables with an electronic detector before drilling into a wall.

Safe fixing

How you fix the units to the wall depends on what your wall is made from. * Plasterboard - push a bradawl through at the fixing position. If you hit a stud, drill a pilot hole and fix with a 30mm screw If not, use a special hollow-wall fixing. * Solid plaster - drill with a masonry bit, insert a wall plug and fix with a 30mm screw. If the plaster is old or crumbly, use longer screws and plugs.

how-to-assemble-flatpack-cabinets-shelves-34

Step 1

To join your units vertically, first find the four joining points marked on the inside of the top panel. Wrap masking tape 30mm from the end of a 3mm bit and drill through the top of one unit into the base of the next - stopping when you reach the tape. Then insert 30mm screws and cover the heads with screw caps.

how-to-assemble-flatpack-cabinets-shelves-35

Step 2

Place steel angle brackets on top of the uppermost unit, 100mm in from the outer edges. Next, mark out the screw positions and drill pilot holes into the wall with a 3mm drill bit - but be careful not to drill right through the top panel when you're doing this. Screw the brackets to the units, then put the units in position and mark the screw holes on the wall. Finish by fixing the units to the wall.


You can adapt your kitchen unit to take a sink base - but you'll have to alter the back of it to house the pipework.

How-to-assemble-flatpack-cabinets-shelves-36

Step 1

Put together the base unit as you would a small cabinet. Start by fitting the central support and securing it with four screws.

how-to-assemble-flatpack-cabinets-shelves-37

Step 2

Next, put the leg brackets into the pre-drilled holes on the underside of the base panel. Make sure the screw holes don't sit over any panel joins.

how-to-assemble-flatpack-cabinets-shelves-38

Step 3

Use a small hammer to tap in the central plastic lug.

how-to-assemble-flatpack-cabinets-shelves-39

Step 4

Using a 3mm bit, drill some pilot holes through the screw holes in the leg bracket and into the base panel. Then secure each bracket with three screws.

how-to-assemble-flatpack-cabinets-shelves-40

Step 5

Next, fit the plastic legs into the brackets. Place the unit in position and adjust the legs until the unit is level at the right height.

how-to-assemble-flatpack-cabinets-shelves-41

Step 6

Push the shelf supports into the pre-drilled holes at the height you want. Turn the shelf on its side and feed it through the opening, then rest it on the supports.