So, you’ve decided to go the extra mile with your new closet and cover your shelves with cabinet doors. However, they didn’t come with the handles pre-installed. Now what? You’re going to have to put them on yourself. How do you do it and make sure they all line up for a quality look? Luckily, there are a few tricks of the trade to ensure your door handle installation experience is both simple and professional.

Handles & Knobs: Cabinet Hardware Basics

Handles, knobs, pulls — they all fulfill the same function. Use them to open and close your cabinet door and drawers. The difference between a handle and a pull or a knob is that a handle is broad enough to grasp with several fingers. But this difference is mainly cosmetic. Thus, the terms are often used interchangeably.

Drawers displaying different cabinet handles. Shown on a velvet background like jewelry.
Selection of cabinet handles displayed in a velvet lined closet jewelry drawer.

For best results when installing any type of cabinet pull, we first need to understand the basics of door handles.

Choice of Finishes

Cabinet door handle hardware is available in many colors/finishes. Metallic finishes are the most popular. It is possible to mix finishes, but that’s kind of like mixing polka dots and stripes. Unless you’re really, really good at it, results could be a disaster. Choose a single finish that reflects other hardware pieces in your home for tried and true best results. You will always be able to find finishes in the colors that are currently trending in appliances, faucets, and other hardware/small electronics. Favorites include slate (a metallic gray), matte gold, oil-rubbed bronze, black, brushed chrome/matte nickel, and the ever-popular polished chrome.

Door Handle Styles

Maybe you like glitz and glamour. No problem. There’s a door handle for that. Maybe you prefer modern minimalism. Easy peasy. You’ll find many choices. There are plenty of cabinet handles, knobs, and pulls to suit every taste. It all comes down to preferences. Door handles are available in many styles. From ultra-contemporary to antique-looking pulls, there is bound to be a style that resonates with your personality. Choose the look that you like best. After all, it’s your home.

And don’t be afraid to experiment. Handles and knobs are among the easiest, least expensive changes you can make in your home to update your look. That’s why you shouldn’t be afraid to go trendy. Even if your choice falls out-of-style, you can always replace them later on with minimal effort and cost.

Hole Spacing

Before you drill any holes in your doors, you will want to check the hole spacing on your handle/knob/pull. Some smaller knobs will only have a single hole, making it easier. But all handles, and many larger knobs, will have at least two holes.

The good thing is that the spacing between holes on all cabinet door hardware is somewhat standardized. Spacing is measured in millimeters. Chances are, the space between the holes on your pull is either 16 MM, 96 MM, 128 MM, or 160 MM depending on the size of the handle. 96 MM is the most common. You should select handles with this hole spacing if you think you will want to update the look of your doors by changing these handles later on. By selecting a piece of hardware with two mounting holes spaced 96 MM apart, you will have the most choices when swapping out the hardware later on.

Hole spacing for door handle installation
Four different size handles showing different hole spacing for drilling and mounting on cabinet doors. These are the most commonly used hole spacing dimensions. Other spacing is possible depending on the size of the handle.

Door Handle Installation

Door handle installation made easy using a Kreg hardware jig.
Door handle installation made easy using a Kreg hardware jig available from Kreg tools.

When you receive your cabinet doors, they won’t have any holes for the handles predrilled in them. You will have to drill the holes into the doors and mount the handles yourself. Doors come this way because there are so many options in door handles — all with different hole spacing. Not only that, but everyone seems to have a different idea on where to best place the handle on the door.

Handle Position

One school of thought is to always place the handle on the right side of the door. But even this rule of thumb is fraught with variations. Some homeowners prefer the bottom right corner. Some like the top right. Others prefer the middle of the right side. And then there are those who don’t want the right side at all. They like centered handles. That means when two doors are next to each other, one handle will be on the right side and the other on the left so that they face each other in the middle of the cabinet. But where in the middle do you put them? Is it the top-middle, the bottom-middle, or middle-middle? Basically, it’s all a matter of preference and different people like different handle locations. Some will change their preferences depending on whether the door is to be installed over a lower or upper cabinet/shelves. Knowing this, you can easily see how it becomes very confusing for the cabinet door manufacturer. Therefore, holes for door handles are rarely predrilled.

Mount your cabinet doors before installing the handles. After you have all the doors leveled and adjusted, decide where you want the handles. As a rule of thumb, they need to be at least 2-inches down from the top or bottom of the door and 1.25-inches in from the side/edge. If you like your handles in the middle, measure the height of the door and divide it by two. Then measure the height of the handle and also divide that in half. Subtract half the handle height from half the door height. This will tell you how far down to place the top of the handle. But you still need to mark your hole position. Do this manually for the first handle. Then use a jig for the rest.

Use a Hardware Jig

You will have to drill the holes yourself. But you can’t move the hole after it is drilled. Therefore, you need to be very careful. It is important to make sure the holes on each of the doors are drilled in the same spot for continuity. To avoid misaligned handles, use a hardware jig like the one pictured above when drilling the holes for your door handle installation.

A hardware jig functions as a template for where to drill the holes. It’s easy to make your own. But since they are relatively inexpensive to purchase, why not buy one? Owning the right tools will make it easier to get the job done right. Just set the jig to the spacing that you want to use and use the guides to drill all your holes so they come out in the same place every time. This will ensure that all of your handles are nice and straight and even.

Even if you don’t want your handles in the same place every time, it is still best to use a jig. Maybe you want handles for the upper cabinet doors on the bottom corner and handles for the lower doors on the upper corner. You still need to drill the holes the same distance from the edge of the door so that they line up vertically. A jig is the best way of doing this. You just set the distances you want and clamp it on. The jig can also make sure that your holes are spaced the proper distance apart every time.

Take Your Time

Remember that the holes for the handles cannot be moved after they are drilled. This is why you should set aside enough time to do the job right. Make sure you are free of distractions. You might have to send the kids to the neighbor’s house for a few hours depending on how many doors need handles. The important thing is to be precise and use a jig. As long as you’re careful, you should get professional quality results.

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