Trimming off the bottom of kitchen cabinetsToday’s new refrigerators are modern, energy efficient and filled with gadgets and features that we couldn’t imagine possible just a few years ago.  But a lot of today’s best refrigerators are designed with one fatal flaw that prevents them from being bought and used in more homes: their size.

Allow me to explain: Traditional refrigerators stood at about 67 inches high, 29 to 36 inches wide and about 31 inches deep (distance from wall to front of the door).  But many of today’s newest refrigerators try to squeeze in more storage space by expanding those measurements a few inches in every direction.  That means a lot of homeowners simply can’t upgrade their refrigerator because it will not fit into their current kitchen cabinet configuration.

That’s the situation we were in.  Our 19 year old side-by-side refrigerator was loud, not particularly energy efficient, lacking a lot of decent features and simply not very suited to a growing family of four.  But we put off buying a new refrigerator for years simply because all the newest refrigerators that we were interested in had a refrigerator base height of 69 or more inches.  But underneath our cabinets we only had about 68.5 inches of clearance.  No room?  No fridge.

This is not a unique problem.  My brother’s 50 year old house had a kitchen that was so small he had to put his new fridge in his garage.  My home is barely 20 years old and I have the same issue.  I didn’t want to remove my over the fridge cabinets (the spare space would be wasted) and I couldn’t shift them upwards due to an existing bulkhead.

You might be in the same situation: you want (or need) a new fridge, but all the models that appeal to you most are too high to fit in your kitchen.  Almost all of the best rated French Door refrigerators available have base heights that are 68.5 inches or higher.

If you’re handy and have some free time you might want to try your hand at some basic kitchen remodeling and trim off the bottom of your kitchen cabinets to make room for a new fridge.

Tools Needed

  • Oscillating saw (sometimes called an oscillating multitool)
  • A semi-circle/round oscillating saw blade
  • Quality utility knife or razor
  • Metal straight edge or bar (I used a cork backed metal ruler)
  • Safety mask, goggles and gloves
  • A sanding block
  • A stain touch-up pen or paint to match your cabinets (needed for basic touch up work afterwards)

Measuring Your Cabinet Space

Before you embark on cutting the bottom off your cabinets, you want to make sure that your kitchen situation is really what you think it is.  That means moving your existing old fridge out from it’s current location and then really measuring and (and re-measuring) all your cabinet heights to be absolutely sure trimming the bottom of your cabinets will work out.

The Home Depot explains fridge measurements.

The Home Depot explains fridge measurements.

You want to be sure the floor under your fridge is flat, level, and strong enough to hold up a new fridge. You also want to measure from the floor up the bottom of your cabinet in 3 or 4 different places to make sure that your cabinets are also level with the floor.  You’d be amazed at how often one side of the cabinet is 68 inches from the floor and the other side of the cabinet is 68.5 inches from the floor. Everything looks even to the naked eye, but simple measurements can tell you a different story.

You also want to be sure that your kitchen cabinets have enough of a lip beneath them that they can be trimmed. I’ve seen older cabinets that had no overlapping lip on the bottom, which means trimming that would remove the bottom of the cabinets themselves.  Even in that situation, you could either put in a new cabinet bottom or simply use the top of your fridge as the de facto cabinet bottom.

Lastly, you want to be sure you’re looking at the correct measurements of your new refrigerator.  I would recommend checking out the manufacture’s website to be sure you’re getting the exact measurements.  In all of my refrigerator shopping I’ve learned to be suspicious of most measurements on big box store websites.

You typically want to make sure you’re getting the “height of the refrigerator” base or “without hinges.”  Refrigerator hinges typically add an inch or so to the height, but they are at the front of the refrigerator and aren’t usually a problem with cabinets.

Scoring and Marking Your Cabinets

 

Be sure you have extra space that can be trimmed from kitchen cabinets.

Be sure you have extra space that can be trimmed from kitchen cabinets.

All your measuring should be done to answer one question: If I trim off part of my cabinets, will my new refrigerator be able to fit in my kitchen?  In my case I only needed an extra 1/2 inch or so of height, so I planned to cut about 3/4 of an inch off the bottom of my cabinets.  That would give me a 1/4 inch of “wiggle room” for my new fridge.  Most manufacturer’s actually recommend allowing even more space around the fridge for air flow, but in my case the side of my fridge is exposed, which should alleviate any heat build up problems.

When you’ve determined that shaving off a portion of your cabinets would be helpful you want to first begin marking where you plan to cut.  Use a straight edge or ruler to draw a line around the inside trim of your cabinets that marks where your cut will be.

Measure and score your cut line in advance.

Measure and score your cut line in advance.

After marking you want to once again double check your measurements from your score line to the floor just to be sure.  Remember: Measure twice, cut once.

Once your measurements are true you’ll want to begin scoring the inside of your cabinet trim.  By using your utility knife and metal guide to score along your measurement line you’re making a small “gutter” along the inside of your cabinets. This gutter is incredibly useful because as you begin using your oscillating saw the blade will tend to jump or bounce along the surface of the wood as it begins cutting.  This scored trench will reduce that bounce and help guide your saw blade in a straight design.

Cutting Your Cabinets

Now that everything is measured and scored you can begin using your oscillating saw.  Unless you’re a professional carpenter I would recommend starting off under your cabinets, in the back, where your cuts won’t be seen when your fridge is pushed back into place.

A quick word of caution: cutting your cabinets with an electric oscillating saw is going to create a lot of sawdust.  You may want to move any kitchen counter appliances to another room and cover your counters with some old sheets or painter’s tarps.  If you can’t do that consider hanging place sheets around your work area.  Your kitchen will be remarkably dusty when this is done.

You want to start off in a hidden spot like this because you might need some practice using your oscillating saw.  I know I did.  To trim your cabinets simply turn on your oscillating saw and begin running the blade over that score line you’ve already made.  If your score is deep enough the blade shouldn’t skip or jump out.

This is a slow and noisy process, so be patient.  After moving your blade over one length of score line you simply go back and repeat, pushing the blade in a little more as you go back and forth.  And then back and forth again.  And again… and again.  The slower you go the smoother and straighter your cuts should be.

Using A Metal Guide For Your Saw

metalguideI ended up cutting the inside/underside of my cabinets by freehand (which is why the scored line was so helpful) but when it came to cutting the exposed face (outside) of the cabinets, you might want to consider using a metal guide.  Either way of cutting is fine, and your kitchen situation and comfort level with the saw will determine how you proceed.

When you’re using a metal guide for your saw you want to be sure it’s held securely in place along your measured cut line.  In my situation I tried using three different types of clamps, but I simply couldn’t keep the ruler secure enough on my cabinets.  I ended up using simple blue painter’s tape.  It worked out well because even though painter’s tape is very “temporary” it provided plenty of secure strength when it was taped perpendicular to my ruler.

cuttingcabinets

A metal ruler can guide an oscillating saw.

Again, measure and double measure to be sure your line is straight and even.  Make sure your guide is secure.  Then begin slowly moving your oscillating saw along your guide line, gradually cutting a line that’s deeper and deeper as you move back and forth over it.  It takes time, but you should be able to cut a fairly straight and even line with a little bit of patience.

I didn’t even bother to remove my cabinet doors, though your kitchen cabinet set up may require otherwise.  I was able to secure my metal ruler on the front of my cabinet by just open the doors and cutting below them.

Video Guide to Trimming Off The Bottom Of A Kitchen Cabinet

Finishing and Touch Up

The process of trimming off the bottom of your cabinet with an oscillating saw will take some time, but I think you’ll find it’s a pretty precise way of doing things if you are patient.  It took me a good two hours or so of methodically running my saw back and forth to trim off the bottom of my small kitchen cabinet.

Once you’ve shave off the bottom of your cabinet there will probably be a few spots that need to be cleaned up. My cabinets splintered in a few places (mostly out of my own carelessness) though you can minimize that by applying masking or painter’s tape on the outside of your cabinets before cutting.  I didn’t think to do that until it was too late.

You may also want to take some sand paper or a sanding block to the bottom of your cabinets and just lightly clean up any sharp edges or little splinters you may have created with your cuts.  Once sanded you can take a stain pen or pencil and just touch of any scratches or dings that might be seen when your new refrigerator is in place.

I am not a professional carpenter so this project took me about four hours, start to finish.  The simple act of vacuuming up all the dust and wiping down all my kitchen surfaces took another half hour or so.  The job was daunting at first, but as you break down each step you’ll find that there’s really nothing difficult about this project.  A professional carpenter would probably charge $300 or more for a job like this when all was said and done, so you can weigh that cost against your own tools and skill set to help you determine if trimming off the bottom of your cabinets is something you want to try on your own or hire out.

Enjoy your new refrigerator!  I know we do!