May 31 2017

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Cabinet Knobs

DEAR TIM: I am struggling with cabinet knobs on my new kitchen cabinets. The cabinet knob placement has me scratching my head. How do you know where to place kitchen cabinet knobs and pulls? Should I use cabinet knob backplates? Can you tell me the proper way how to position cabinet knobs? Lois M. Canton, GA

DEAR LOIS: You are by no means the first person to struggle with cabinet knobs. I have seen knobs placed in all sort of places on cabinet doors, but there is a standard many carpenters seem to follow that has worked well for me and many of my customers over the years.

This cabinet knob is being installed by master carpenter Manfred Ellers. You can do it yourself so long as you take your time and use the right tools. PHOTO CREDIT: Tim Carter

Cabinet knobs are a great example of a utilitarian item found in just about every home that is a crossover between function and form. The knob performs a very important job by allowing you to easily open a cabinet door. But at the same time, the knob needs to look good. and more importantly, its placement on the door must look right.

I am a huge proponent of function being more important than form. When you think about cabinet knob placement, you want the knobs at a height where they are comfortable to reach, and they provide the greatest amount of physical advantage or leverage when opening the door.

The farther away the knob is from the hinge, the less effort you need to open the door. You can prove this easily by placing a knob on an old cabinet door. Put the knob in the center of the door and you will quickly see it takes far more effort to open the door than if the knob is on the outer edge of the cabinet door frame away from the hinge.

The cabinet knobs for kitchen wall cabinets seem to work very well when they are placed somewhere between 2.5 and 3 inches up from the lower corner of the cabinet door opposite the hinge side of the door. Since many cabinet doors have frames that surround a raised decorative panel, center the knob on the frame or flat area of the frame. Many cabinet door designs are different, so carefully look at the knob on the door before you make the final decision.

The cabinet knobs for kitchen base cabinets are placed somewhere between 2.5 and 3 inches down from the upper corner opposite the hinge side of the door. When knobs are placed in these locations, you will discover that your hand comfortably can grab them without your arm stretching.

Cabinet knob backplates can be very useful. They often prevent dirt and grease from fouling the cabinet door finish. Some people do not like the look of backplates, as they can make the cabinet door look hardware heavy. I would suggest testing one to see how it looks on your cabinet door. Install a knob with a backplate on one door and then a knob on another door nearby and see which one makes you feel better.

You can use a tape measure and a pencil to make a mark on the cabinet door showing you where to drill the hole for the screw that holds the knob in place. But let my voice of experience tell you that this can be dangerous. If you are tired, distracted or just make a mistake, a knob will end up in the wrong place. It is better to use a template that fits over the corner of the door. The face of the template has a hole in it at the precise location where the knob will be. You then trace the outline of the hole with a pencil and drill a perfectly-located hole each time.

Master carpenter Bob Schmidt is using a handy template that tells him exactly where to drill the hole for the cabinet-knob screw. PHOTO CREDIT: Tim Carter

Plastic templates can be purchased at many hardware stores, home centers or fine hardware stores where you can buy premium cabinet knobs. The plastic templates are inexpensive and allow you to drill holes in the template for different locations to match your final decision on cabinet knob placement. I prefer to place masking tape over any extra holes so that only the hole I want to use is open. This prevents errors.

Be sure to use the proper length screws for cabinet knobs. The fastener must penetrate into the knob a minimum of 1/4 inch. Be careful when tightening the screws. Use screwdrivers that fit into the screw slot tightly. If the screw driver slips as you twist that final partial turn, the screwdriver can slip off the screw and scratch the inside of the cabinet door.

Drilling the hole for the knob should be done very carefully. The drill bit should be the same diameter of the screw or possibly larger by only 1/64th an inch. Drill from the front of the cabinet door to the back, but apply minimal pressure as you complete the hole. If you push too hard as you drill, the drill bit will explode out the back of the cabinet door leaving an ugly mess of splinters and chips of wood. Often the screw head will not cover the damage.


I have a similar issue as Kathleen. Our trim carpenter also happens to be the construction foreman of our custom home. He insists that we are getting too upset about cabinet knobs that are uneven (at first some were a 1/4″, others are at 1/8″), at different heights and having screws creating chips and splinters in our cabinetry. He has used wood filler for the larger discrepancies, but is there any sort of professional guideline we can point to?

YES. You should have purchased my New Construction Home Specifications. All you had to say in the specs are what you want. You state the acceptable TOLERANCE. You would say, “All cabinet knobs must be positioned as seen in the Detail drawing on page XX of the plans. No chips, scratches, or damage to either side of the cabinet finish will be acceptable. Damaged cabinetry doors or drawers must be replaced with new ones that match perfectly.”

Finish carpentry is an art. craft and the tolerance and margins of error for me come down the 32nds and 64ths of an inch.
It’s a real shame that some out there that claim to do ” fine finishing ” are in the buis. stick with banging 2×4’s together.
Homeowners please do your research on specific contracting.

I am installing a tilt out bin just under my sink. The panel is 16 inches wide. I am having a terrible time finding knob placement information.

I want to install knobs on my cabinets but there is a diagonal seam where the wood comes together in the center. Is it safe to drill on the seam to put a knob there? We wanted them in the lower corner and not a few inches up.

I gave a single pantry that is 15″ wide and 90″ tall. The top door is 30″ tall. Doors open left to right. I have installed a handle on the upper door at the lower left hand corner but am not sure if I should place the bottom door handle at the upper left hand corner or mid way down on the left side. Any suggestions will be appreciated.





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