Need to add an over-the-stove microwave to already existing cabinets? Follow these steps to retrofit a cabinet for a microwave and then install it over your stove to gain counter space and usability in your kitchen. Includes tips and lessons learned - and the one time we don't want you to follow the recommendations.
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Adding an over-the-range microwave was one of the first steps towards the remodel of our ranch-to-cottage kitchen, and it made a huge difference right away in how we were able to use our kitchen and counters.
Getting the microwave off the counter allowed us to have a coffee station in a more convenient area and gave me more room for bigger cooking projects like canning. It also just looks cleaner and less cluttered.
However, we had to reconfigure the cabinet above the stove to make this a reality, and while it may seem daunting at first, it's really just a few easy steps, especially if you have the right tools.
We did learn a few things though, and thought we'd share a tutorial along with our tips - the biggest of which is to measure YOUR pots and think about how YOU will use your stove when you're deciding where to place your microwave. DON'T just go by the general recommendations.
So, if you, too, would you like to go from something like this typical range hood set up (we'd already removed the doors on the cabinet):
Then read on for the steps we took to retrofit our too-low cabinet to hold a microwave that still allowed me to use a canner or lift pot lids without banging my knuckles.
How to Retrofit a Cabinet for a Microwave
1. Remove the Range Hood and Bottom Cabinet Shelf
Our cabinet was not a separate box, but part of the whole wall cabinet, so after turning off the power to the range hood and removing it (which was not vented, as we have a Jenn-Air range which vents below, though the steps are the same whether vented or not) the next step was to use an oscillating tool to cut out the bottom shelf of the cabinet.
Why use an oscillating tool/saw?
Brian sometimes calls this tool a "plunge saw" because you can cut right into the wood cleanly in smaller places than a sawzall or jigsaw. This is the one tool you really need for this project, though you can borrow one like we did at the time (though we bought one not long after because they are so handy for lots of other DIY projects like this).
How to use an oscillating tool to cut out the shelf:
- Remove any finish pieces (ours had a 1 x 2 finish piece across the front).
- Make sure the correct blade is on the tool, one specifically for cutting wood (we had the wrong blade on our borrowed tool and it smoked and created a black spot, so always check).
- Use the saw to cut flush against the side cabinet (as pictured above).
Our goal was to be able to cut the bottom out cleanly and then be able to just move it higher and create a new cabinet shelf.
Using the correct blade, Brian had the bottom of the original cabinet cut out fairly cleanly in a short amount of time. (Please ignore how awful the wall looks - it's never meant to be seen...)
2. Determine How Far Above Your Stove to Hang The Microwave
The photo above is out of order (you'll notice the bottom of the installed microwave), but I'm using it here to illustrate a major point to decide before proceeding:
Decide the height you want the microwave to hang above the stove.
Here's my tip to help:
Get out all your biggest pots (including a boiling water canner, if you use one) and have someone measure the space you need not only to have the pot sit there, but also as you lift the lid to look inside and take things out.
Really think about how you use your stove top and not just where others put theirs. You get to customize your microwave! I had seen many examples where the microwave was installed so low that the back range burners were almost useless and I didn't want that to happen in my kitchen.
What is the recommendation?
To illustrate how important this is, the recommendation on the instructions is 30 inches from the top of the stove to the top of the microwave - that is considered "standard."
After measuring with our pots, I knew I needed the bottom of the microwave to be 22 inches from the stove top to easily remove jars from a canner, for a total of 38 inches from the top of the stove to the top of the microwave. That's a full 8 inches difference.
Yours doesn't have to be that high and if you're shorter than my 5 foot, 5 inches height that might be a factor, too. But my point is to talk about it and customize it for you.
Okay, so we decided on 38 inches and then added another 1/2 inch because the directions seemed to indicate it was needed for installation or something. (Spoiler: it wasn't.)
3. Reattach Self and Deal with Electrical
Secure the new shelf:
Once you determine the height you want, use simple L-brackets to re-mount the cabinet bottom to the new spot. Another option would be to use a nail gun from the insides of the cabinets on either side and nail right into the sides of the shelf.
Creating an electrical outlet:
Our range hood had been hard-wired, as are most houses I assume. We had turned the electricity off to this before initially removing the hood.
Luckily, Brian had learned to do some basic electrical work through our remodels and we decided the best option was to place an outlet into the corner of the new shelf for the microwave cord and plug.
The other option would've been to put the box on the very top of the cabinets, but it would've left a really large hole for the plug to fit through that could've been seen while standing in the kitchen.
He used an electrical box we had that was bright blue, spray painted it white so it would blend, hooked it up, and then attached a white switch plate.
4. Attach Mounting Bracket and Create Hole for Electrical
Attach the microwave's metal mounting plate that it will sit on according the the directions.
Custom Tip: The bracket/mount is supposed to attach to the wall, but if you have cabinets like we did this tip might be helpful:
- There was 1/4 inch space created by the wood backing of the upper cabinet left after cutting out the bottom. Brian found a scrap piece of plywood and cut it to fit.
Lesson? Keep your scraps! You never know when they might come in handy.
Also, you might notice how grainy the pictures are becoming. Sorry! Our morning project progressed to nightfall (granted, pre-daylight savings), as DIY projects often do, right?
Next up, you'll need to drill a hole through the shelf bottom that's big enough to get the microwave cord plug through. Then plug it in to the electrical box before mounting on the wall.
TIP: it helps to have someone standing on a stool to pull the cord through as the other person lifts the microwave to the mounting bracket so it doesn't get caught behind the microwave.
Learn from our mistakes: See that L-bracket towards the back? Yeah, Brian had to take that off after trying to shove the (heavy) microwave in place a number of times and realizing it was getting hung up on just this bracket. Sigh.
5. Mount the Microwave
Set the microwave into place according to the instructions using the mounting bracket. For us this involved a lot of grunting and saying things like "what's wrong? Why won't it go in?" And removing one of the L-brackets like I mentioned.
After the microwave is on the bracket, use the template included with your microwave to attach the screws through the shelf into the top of the microwave hood.
This was when we realized that the extra 1/2 inch wasn't needed, so our "customized" microwave is actually sitting 1/2 inch higher than we had originally measured.
Oh, well, I can see inside fine. It might be too high for shorter folks, although our 5' 4" daughter doesn't have a problem with it. In my book it's better than being too low, because I use the stove A LOT more than the microwave.
6. Finish Off the Shelf Above
Even with the electrical box painted white it didn't look too great on the newly created shelf with the visible cord and unfinished wood that was always meant to be inside cabinet doors.
We planned on creating a false back but until we could get to it I used a plate and some teapots to distract and cover the outlet.
UPDATE: The finished beadboard cover for the back of the shelf:
A few months later we created a simple false back to cover the electrical out of scrap beadboard and picture molding.
- We cut all the wood to size.
- Attached the wood frame molding to the beadboard with glue and clamps.
- Painted it to match the cabinets.
- Screwed in a simple hook to be able to pull it out if needed to reach the outlet.
Perfect - we loved the finished look!
But the biggest thing I was happy with?
That we took the time to raise the cabinet instead of just attaching it at the recommended lower height.
I was grateful for this every time I lifted the lid to my stockpot. Using just the 30 inch measurement the microwave would've actually hung 3-1/2 inches below the bottom of our cabinets!
I would not have been able to lift the lid of my stockpot like I showed in the earlier photo, and can you imagine trying to lift jars out of a canner? Or to check on a soup or stock? It was SO worth measuring.
This tutorial has been updated - it was originally published in April of 2011.
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