A cabinet handle can be a whole lot more than just something to grab onto to pull a door or drawer open. It can be an expression of your personal sense of taste and style, a whimsical addition to an otherwise plain surface, or even a quick facelift for a tired room.

Cabinet hardware takes two specific forms: the pull, sometimes also called a handle, which connects to the door or drawer at two points and forms a recess you can slip your fingers into, and the knob, which only attaches at one point and has some type of raised lip or other protrusion that you can grip. In general, knobs are less expensive than pulls, and take less time to install.

In addition to the pulls and knobs themselves, there are also backer plates, which sit behind the pull or knob. Backer plates are designed to help protect the surface of the cabinet from the wear while adding their own decorative touch, and can also be used to cover old screw holes.

Selection is simply a matter of personal choice. Between home centers, restoration hardware retailers, and catalog and online sources, you will find a tremendous variety of both pulls and knobs. Choices range from the very simple to the very ornate, and from classic Victorian and Shaker reproductions to miniature forks and spoons, wild animals, insects and dozens of other objects. You can choose from wood, brass, copper, chrome, aluminum, glass, porcelain and many other materials as well.

THE BORING TRUTH

If you are installing pulls and knobs on your cabinets for the first time, the choice of drilling location is up to you. There is no “correct” place to install them, and the location should be dictated by what’s convenient and what’s aesthetically pleasing to your eye. 

Once a location has been decided upon, the next step is to mark the cabinets and bore the holes. Marking needs to be very accurate so that the line of the pulls or knobs across the cabinets is consistent – having one slightly out of line with the others in a long row of cabinets can be glaringly obvious. Many professional finish carpenters will make up simple wooden or cardboard templates for marking repetitive hole locations, and there are also adjustable boring templates on the market for even greater accuracy and setup speed.

Once the cabinets are marked lightly in pencil, use an awl or a center punch to create an indentation at the desired spot. This small dent in the wood makes the intended location easier to see, and also helps keep the drill bit from wandering off as you drill. 

Use a sharp drill bit that is slightly larger than the diameter of the mounting screw, and bore in from the front of the cabinet door or drawer face. Hold or clamp a block of scrap wood on the back of the door to prevent splintering the wood as the drill bit passes through.

Both knobs and pulls are typically supplied with screws that are designed for use with 3/4-inch-thick material.  If the door or drawer material is thinner then that, you’ll have to cut the screws or substitute shorter ones; trying to get by with screws that are a little too long will prevent the knob from tightening down securely, and can also crack more delicate materials. If the wood is thicker than three-fourths of an inch, you can either substitute longer screws or counterbore the interior surface of the door or drawer so that the screw head is recessed into the wood.

A MINI REMODEL

Replacing your existing knobs or pulls with new ones can give your kitchen or bathroom a miniature remodeling and a fresh new look. New knobs, with their single point of attachment, can only be used to replace existing knobs; using them in place of pulls would leave an extra hole in the cabinet. 

New pulls, on the other hand, can be used in place of either existing pulls or knobs. In the case of using pulls to replace knobs, use the existing knob hole for one of the points of attachment for the new pull, and carefully mark and drill a new second hole for the second attachment point. 

Most pulls have attachment points that are three inches apart, so if your new pulls have the same screw spacing, you’ll be fine. If the new pulls have a different spacing, however, you can often use a backer plate with the new pull and cover up the original holes in the cabinet, at least from the front. The same is true if you want to use a pull in place of knob that was centered on a drawer front. Remove the knob, center a backer plate over the old hole in the drawer front, and bore new holes on either side of the old one.

Remodeling and repair questions? E-mail Paul at paul2887@direcway.com.

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