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  • Writer's pictureMatt Weber

Cabinet Hardware Upgrade: Installing Knobs, Pulls, and Hinges

Image courtesy Top Knobs


People with style know how to “accessorize,” and that same cosmetic enhancement is what makes modern cabinet hardware such a hot item for interior decorators. The options in available knobs, pulls, and similar handles number in the thousands, and their prevalence throughout a home makes them a major decorative component.


New knobs and pulls can make an old cabinet look newer and help tie together the design of a room. Modern options include a wide range of metal finishes such as brushed nickel, antique brass, zinc plate, and many more. Retro options include crystal, ceramic and wood-component hardware. Hardware stores and home centers offer a variety of choices for up-close inspection, but for large-scale purchases, online retailers usually offer the best deals and widest selection.


Check out the enormous hardware selection at suppliers like www.wayfair.com, www.leevalley.com, and www.woodworkershardware.com.


Available in a wide array of modern metal finishes, knobs are the most versatile hardware option and will complement cabinet doors of any size.


Decorative cabinet pulls should be measured in overall length, center-to-center distance, and its projection from the cabinet. Shown are new cabinet pulls from Top Knobs.


Replacement

When replacing hardware in wood-stained cabinetry, options in the size of replacement pulls will be limited due to the placement of the existing bolt holes. In this case,

you will need to purchase new hardware that has mounting holes in the exact same locations, or purchase hardware that conceals the old holes.


Paint-grade cabinetry and furniture can allow for more options in hardware size, because the old mounting holes can be filled, sanded, and repainted before drilling new holes to mount the new pulls. (This isn’t recommended where woodgrain is exposed, because the repair work generally doesn’t blend and remains noticeable.)

After removing the old hardware, take the opportunity to clean the cabinets, make any necessary repairs, and touch up the paint.


To measure drawer pulls, you must determine three measurements: length, center-to-center distance, and projection/depth. Aside from measuring the overall end-to-end length of the pulls, measuring the center-to-center distance of the holes is very important for installation, especially if you are replacing old hardware.


To find the center-to-center measurement, use a screwdriver to remove your current

pulls, then take a ruler or measuring tape and measure from the center of one screw hole to the center of the other screw hole. To find the center-to-center distance of a new pull from

your supplier, look for a "Weights & Dimensions" tab on the product page.

When replacing hardware of the same size, it’s most important to match the center-to-center spacing of the mounting holes.


Projection (also known as depth) refers to the distance between the cabinet or drawer and the pull. This is typically the gripping area where you grab the knob or pull. The larger the projection, the more room your hands will have to fit between the pull handle and cabinet. Consider how comfortable it will be to use your cabinet or drawer pulls. If you have large or arthritic hands, a larger projection is ideal. To find the hardware's projection, check the product page's "Weights & Dimensions" section.


When you’re determining an ideal projection for cabinet pulls, open your cabinets and see how close they swing to each other and surrounding kitchen objects. If your doors swing close together or toward another object, consider a smaller cabinet pull to minimize the risk of damage from swinging impact.


Also, test the clearance of drawers that are positioned adjacent to each other. In some cases, a drawer pull with a lot of projection might obstruct an adjacent drawer from opening the way it should.


Mounting pulls of the same size is a simple job that requires only a screwdriver.


Pro Tip: Store the old hardware until the replacement is complete. If the new bolts aren’t the right length, you may be able to substitute old bolts for the installation.


This photo shows why measuring projection is so important. In this case, the new drawer pulls nearly interfered with the opening function of the adjacent drawers. We narrowly avoid obstruction, but if the handles had projected as much as 1/8" further from the door, we would have had a problem.


We recommend installing the hardware with a handheld screwdriver. If you use a cordless driver, make sure to dial down the power to its lowest torque setting.


Cabinets and drawers are constructed in different ways. In the photo, note the face-board that doubles the wood thickness on this drawer compared to the thinner cabinet doors. To make sure you will have fasteners that fit, it’s a good idea to store the old screws for reuse until installation of the new hardware is complete.


Hinges

When using knobs and pulls with a metal finish, cabinets look best with hinges that match. Not only should the hinge finish match the new hardware, but the hinges should exactly match the size and configuration of the old ones. For example, some cabinets have a frame over the opening which will require face-frame mounted hinges, while other hinges have a recessed overlay to fit a different style of cabinet. Cabinet doors mounted completely on top of cabinet faces will get a full overlay hinge. If there is only a partial overlay, choose a 3/8-inch inset hinge. For no overlay, choose a full inset hinge. Frameless “European” style cabinets have a hidden hinge on the backside of the door, which conceals the hinge from sight when the door is closed.


Pro tip: When removing a door hinge, always remove the lower hinge(s) first, so the door’s weight hangs from the top. When hanging a door, install the upper hinge first for the same reason.


Repair tip: To tighten a loose hinge screw, remove the screw and tap pieces of toothpick into the screw hole. Cut the toothpicks flush with the cabinet face. Reinsert the screw,

and the toothpick material should tighten the connection.

When installing new hinges, you might find it helpful to pre-drill the screw holes with a “hinge pilot bit.” These specialty drill bits include a retractable metal sleeve that centers the bit inside the hinge’s screw hole, so a misplaced pilot hole doesn’t cause a screw to pull the hinge out of alignment.


First-time Installation

Whether you’re outfitting newly constructed cabinets with hardware, or you’ve refinished

old cabinets for a brand-new look, keep the following guidelines in mind for selection and placement of pulls and knobs.


Start by measuring the width of your drawer or height of your cabinet.

Knobs and pulls are installed 2-1/2 to 3” from the corner of the door.


Pulls—The length of the pull should be proportional to the size of your cabinet or drawers. Designers generally recommend a pull that is no longer than one-third of the total cabinet door height and no longer than one-half of the total drawer width. Long drawers (36 in. wide or more) might utilize two pulls—one on each side—to make it easier to open.


According to the experts at Top Knobs, a North American leader in decorative hardware, pulls measuring 3 to 7 inches long will best suit doors less than 24 inches tall. Cabinet doors 24 to 36 inches tall are best adorned with pulls 7 to 12 inches long, while cabinets taller than 36 inches (such as pantries, built-in appliances, and pullouts) look good when accompanied by pulls longer than 12 inches.


When fixed onto drawers, one pull 3 to 5 inches in length should be installed at the center of a drawer less than 16 inches wide. Drawers 16-32 inches can utilize two smaller pulls 5 to 7 inches in length or one larger pull 9-12 inches long. Drawers broader than 32 inches are best suited for pulls longer than 12 inches.


Knobs—The most versatile hardware options, knobs are available in a broad range of styles and finishes. Standard size knobs range between 1-2 inches in diameter and will complement cabinet doors of any size.


When arranged on drawers less than 16 inches wide, designers recommend installing one knob directly at the center. For larger drawers, two knobs should be installed. For a symmetrical appearance, measure the drawer into thirds and set the knobs in the center of the two outer portions.


Installation

On upper cabinets, knobs are typically installed between 2-1/2 to 3 inches from the lower corner of the cabinet door. For lower cabinets the same measurements apply but

on the upper corner. For drawers, knobs go in the center.


For both upper and lower cabinets, the pulls should be installed vertically 2-1/2 to 3 inches from the corner of the door. For drawers, they should be installed horizontally in the center.

It is critical that the placement of all the knobs and pull remains consistent throughout the cabinetry.


Whenever installation requires new mounting holes in the cabinets, make sure to pre-drill the fastener holes to prevent splitting the wood. Pro Tip: To avoid tear-out (when the drill bit splinters the wood as it exits the opposite side of the door), clamp a scrap block against the exit location of the bit.


For the pilot holes, make sure to use a drill bit the exact same diameter as the mounting screws to ensure a tight fit with no slop in the hardware.


All that is required for installation of cabinet hardware is a handheld screwdriver. If you use a powered screwdriver, it’s best practice to begin threading the screws with your fingertips to avoid cross-threading. When installing cabinet hardware, always lower the torque-setting of your power-driver to its lowest level to avoid stripping out the screw heads.

For new installations, drill pilot holes for the hardware to the exact same diameter of the screws to ensure a tight fit.


To avoid tear-out (splintering the wood with the drill bit), clamp a scrap wood black to the exit side of the door when drilling pilot holes.


A drill guide such as the DrillBlock from Milescraft can help to keep the bit at 90 degrees to the wood surface.

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Editor's Note: Special thanks to Top Knobs for supporting this story. The cabinet pulls installed in this article come from the company’s Dakota collection finished in Pewter Antique and Flat Black. Learn more at www.topknobs.com.



SIDE NOTE

Door Placement Jig

When installing door hinges, clamp a simple jig to the bottom rails to help support the door and gauge it’s installation height as you fasten it in place. The jig is made of a 1x4 block about 10” long. It has a 2” wide rectangular shim screwed lengthwise to the top and aligned along one side. Clamp the jig to the cabinet so the shim is aligned against the bottom rail. The thickness of the shim can vary based on the placement of your cabinet doors. In the photo shown, the shim is only 1/8” thick to provide a very small reveal around the doors. The shims tend to vary 1/8” to 3/8” depending on your cabinets.


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