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Subject: Re: MDF face frames


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Message Thread:

MDF face frames

frank Member

framed inset cabinets. nested cnc shop...the door sits in the opening, euro hinge plate screwed to the 3/4" box. the frame imo gets zero abuse. it would seem this would be a natural thing to run yet i see no where in any searches the industry even talks about this.

currently my frame making (46 yrs) is mortise and tenon...if i can cut frames on the router , omg the productivity leap i envision.

no joints, perfectly square openings, time savings...i'm no spring chicken either but this cabinet business hates change. someone tell me they do this or considering the potential?


1/26/20       #2: MDF face frames ...
Pat Gilbert

Begs the question is the increase material cost less than the labor saving?

1/26/20       #3: MDF face frames ...

Weíve been doing this for a year or so, works great for us.

1/26/20       #4: MDF face frames ...

Well, my typical frame job takes literally four to seven days to build from ripping stiles and rails to complete frames. I used to make frames and I was much faster but busy running the shop these days.

One big road block is getting cabinet vision to see a face frame as one piece. Currently I run a frame only door to mimic a frame..

1/26/20       #5: MDF face frames ...

I've often wondered if you could cut the drawer fronts and doors [inset] with the face frame.Of course this would be paint grade. Could one use an 1/8 in. tool with .1 stepdown for the door and drawer cutouts. this would produce a perfect 1/8. in gap. Machine the profiles on door drawer parts first.

1/26/20       #6: MDF face frames ...
Leland Thomasset  Member


We started doing this and our test job was our showroom so far so good one piece nested door and frame

View higher quality, full size image (750 X 1000)

View higher quality, full size image (750 X 1000)

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1/26/20       #7: MDF face frames ...
frank Member

guys thanks so far.

what software are you using to create that?

again, its all about edges and to me to do these frames is a massive edge.

attached is an end panel frame i cut today overlaying over typical 4/4 maple mortise and tenon frame.

View higher quality, full size image (600 X 772)

1/28/20       #9: MDF face frames ...

The two main challenges in doing this that I can see are going to be

1) Getting an acceptable finish on the frame inner edge. You may get better results if you switch to HDF. We've found HDF routed doors to be a bit easier to paint but the difference isn't a salvation experience either. But, worth suggesting.

2) Hinge screws splitting the MDF. If your hinge screws are going into the edge grain of the MDF, that's not ideal by any stretch. Especially if using the large #10 pan head type single-screw hinges.

Either way, a pilot hole will help but I fear that any time a client opens a door and leans on it will stress that spot on the MDF and potentially start a small split.

1/28/20       #10: MDF face frames ...
Leland Thomasset  Member


We use Medex which machines and finishes nice. We use both Cabinet Vision and V-Carve pro. You can approach this two ways,
1. Send elevation to drawing in Cabinet Vision, then export dxf and load this in V-
Carve pro and tool path. First is the pocket for the recessed shaker panel, second cut the door outline with 1/8" compression bit and finally cut the outside outline of the face frame and 1/8" tool. This could be done with a larger tool but you may start to distort narrow stiles or rails if you are too aggressive with the cut.
2. Totally in Cabinet vision use your tool set for a shaker panel mdf door and create another door that is actually your face frame, this door would have no panel just stiles and rails. This process is in testing on my end. The plus would be just one software and it all happens in the nest

1/28/20       #11: MDF face frames ...

I use ecabinets. If you use their profile modeler it would be possible to do beaded faceframe and raised panel doors.

1/28/20       #12: MDF face frames ...
SteveL Member

When installing do you screw through the box in to each other? I seems like it would be risky to screw though the frames due to splitting.
I am following this with interest, may have to try it out. Beaded frames would be really nice to do this way.

1/28/20       #13: MDF face frames ...
Leland Thomasset  Member


We actually use Tenso and Clamex fasteners using the Lamello Zeta I can do it on the cnc but fixturing and spacing for the cutter make it very inefficient.

1/28/20       #14: MDF face frames ...
jonathan mahnken


Just switching to dowels or pocket screws will speed up your frame making...

1/28/20       #15: MDF face frames ...
David R Sochar Member

An old voice in the wilderness, here.

MDF is not a lumber replacement. It is a sheet good that has outgrown its purpose and been moved into the cabinet shops for doors. And now face frames?

Just because you can does not mean you should.

MDF edges have no integrity other than that lent to them by a finish. And that is not much. MDF cabinets will not age well - long a maxim of wood cabinet makers, knowing their work will look better over time and age very well. As the MDF edges get hit and bumped, they will flake and fuzz and deteriorate. Then there is no easy touch-up for owners or cabinetmaker.

Working wood should be an enjoyable endeavor, whether a 1 man shop or 100 workers. Wood is a marvelous material, while MDF is the opposite. At some point in the future, I feel this will be recognized, and those that embrace an MDF faced box now will find the market has moved on, perhaps without them.

If you are cutting Sugar Pine, or Maple or Cherry or any other hardwood, does not a visitor point out how nice the shop smells? The next thing they do is reach out and touch the wood.

With MDF, one must be defensive, wear defensive measures of several sorts, it stinks and covers the entire shop with a brown, slippery, devilish dust that is dreadful to clean.

If you think you must use MDF to compete, you have chosen the wrong field in which to compete. Money is not everything, but enjoying life and working with fine materials is.

Respect the craft.
Respect the materials.
Respect yourself.

1/28/20       #16: MDF face frames ...

I'm with David completely on this. FWIW

1/28/20       #17: MDF face frames ...
David Egnoski  Member


Another vote for MR. Sochar.

1/28/20       #18: MDF face frames ...

Another vote for David.

In order of dusty jobs Iíd pass on:

1. Asbestos miner
2. Coal miner
3. Fibreglass sander
3. MDF fabricator
4. Melamine fabricator

Iím sure thereís a few others that belong I. There.

At the end of the day this becomes a question for your customers. Our customers will not buy solid mdf doors. They ask us if we make real doors.

If moisture gets anywhere near that frame you are doomed.

Iíve spent my career avoiding the use of mdf. We use it where itís better than wood or ply. Cabinet door raised & flat panels, wainscotting panels, beaded paneling. Not much else.

1/28/20       #19: MDF face frames ...
frank Member

well David;

very thoughtful post and i agree on many of your points; although i stand by my point this industry at the same time is notorious in its refusal to look forward.
I remember like it was yesterday when I switched my shop from table saws and boring/dado machines to nested based manufacturing. The push back I got from peers , employees, and family in the business was enormous (nearly 20 yrs ago) but of course those same people who told me the cnc was going to be a paperweight sitting in the back corner of the shop ended up showing our customers our incredible tech and how it changed the shop for the better. Thankfully I persisted.
Now Iím older and more pragmatic but I see a change in customers and more and more acceptance to MDF (yes we use Medex). My customers care most about finish quality and seem to me more superficial than ever. (southern New England region) every new construction I go to is MDF wall to wall and people are even in the high end are seeing it as acceptable or a first choice product). So, despite the negatives I do feel the positives are possibly more ; hence my slow look in to this idea.
To another of your points David; I have also concluded customers are incredibly price conscious even in one of the wealthiest counties in the USA. So mdf frames are not simply to earn more or be more competitive; its to possibly give the customers a better product for some of the points made in previous posts. (reminder: I do not drill in to the frame; hardware is on the ĺĒ plywood interior)

Do I like the dust in the shop even with my great dust collection? Of course not! But I want to offer the best for my customers and also maximize shareholder returns. So I will continue to work through this concept.


1/29/20       #20: MDF face frames ...
jonathan mahnken


David We'd all like to work with nothing but the finest materials, but depending on what part of the country you are in you have to do what you have to do to be competitive. we put mdf in the mix where it is non structural, and if moisture is a question we switch to moisture resistant material. yes it does not hold a screw in its edge, but what he is showing here is inset cabinetry, which if using euro hinges, all you have to do is switch from a face frame plate to a euro pate and mount it to your division. Also in regards to paint grade cabinetry, how would a ding repair be any different than that of solid wood. patch and repaint... All that said Im personally gonna stick with wood frames.

1/30/20       #21: MDF face frames ...
frank Member


edges do ding easier i find on mdf doors. i think most of the damages occur in the manufacture to installation part of the process and not once in the customer hands.

so in our history we did a good share of mdf doors in frameless vanities back in the late 80's to mid 90's then we just stopped for no particular reason other than to keep my 5 piece door dept busier.

so back to those 30 yr old mdf doors; i get one time a month at least, customers bringing in broken hinges with mdf doors attached or blum meta drawers with the zinc plating broken and no one is complaining about the door! sure they look like hell (i would argue 30 yr old painted maple doors look worse than mdf ) but what lasts 30 yrs anyway?

i'm gonna keep testing and tossing in some end frames made of mdf on the next job and will post pics. my goals continue to be : make production faster (via less time to create frames and less finishing time) and an end product that looks new longer (eliminate hairline cracks).

imagine a better product and earn more?

1/30/20       #22: MDF face frames ...


Buy yourself a Castle pocket screw machine and you will be way ahead on every job.

1/30/20       #23: MDF face frames ...
David R Sochar Member

We each need to do what we need to do to get by. But choosing lesser materials starts a process that ends with children working in a 3rd world factory owned by Ikea.

Or, think of it this way: You and your competitor have similar shops, and compete on many jobs. You use the same vendors, and draw from the same labor market. your pricing is the same.

The difference is that you borrowed money to get some equipment, and your competitor already has all that equipment and owns it, along with all his other equipment. Debt-free. Not equal.

When he figures his costs, he will be lower than you every time, by definition, since he does not a machine payment to make. Many shops have large debt burdens that will force, due to competition, them to chase the cheaper whatsit forever. It is easy to see that if your overhead is 15% higher than your competitors, then you will have a hard time competing.

As a Nation, we are all pretty dumb when it comes to debt service, banks prefer it. The effects of debt on competing entities is rarely discussed.

What does one do?

Find your niche. Exploit an area and become the expert. Do all you can within your niche and ignore everyone else. Define your niche well enough, and your competition vanishes. You can then borrow when necessary to improve or just replace equipment. That loan will not put you into a descending spiral.

Think of the poor guy that borrows from the shark, can't pay on time so the amount increases, etc. In no time the poor schlub is robbing banks trying to pay off the screw.

For us, it is MDF, or plastic, or outsourcing, or minimal whatever. Not as a choice, but as survival.

1/30/20       #24: MDF face frames ...

MDF is over used and it is junk.


1/30/20       #25: MDF face frames ...
Pat Gilbert

It used to be used in tracts quite a bit a century ago on linens

It paints out pretty good, the edges IIRC were hit with a lacquer primer first

They were pocket screwed together which had a tendency to split the mdf.

Double refined offers a better edge or panel

I think it is ok for a panel, I used to make quite a few man doors routed out of a slab with double refined panels and panel molding.

For cabinet frames I'm thinking this is more trouble than it is worth and a poorer product.

1/31/20       #26: MDF face frames ...
Frank Member


pocket screws (change from mortise and tenon) started out as the main plan but since studying the implications of even partial MDF (Medex) frames I put that on hold. chances are really high i do move to Castle but also work on doing partial jobs in the MDF until i can fully decide.

1/31/20       #28: MDF face frames ...
Paul S

Leland, I think that's a great Idea. Now if there was a way to get a beaded face frame ? the fact the shape of the door could easily be curved or round top, etc.
Would be nice if you could figure how to do this in S2M. I will have to try your method. and you using V12 yet ?

1/31/20       #29: MDF face frames ...

I did my training in the early 90ís. Boss was a combo old school/new school. We would build everything in House thatís in a real mansion. We did m/t beaded face frames.

The first year on my own I switched to pocket screws & uv finished clear maple plywood. The quality was much better and way faster. It was truly a better product.

The only people that know there are m/t in a face frame is yourself and the people you tell about it. Unless you are building real furniture, it would be hard to convince someone there is a benefit that justifies the cost in a cabinet.

Iím one of those experimental guys who tries different things in all aspects of the business. The ideas and methods Iíve learned on the ww have greatly influenced my approach.

Give the mdf a try and update us as you learn the pros & cons. Good Luck

2/1/20       #30: MDF face frames ...
Leland Thomasset  Member


Hi Paul we are still using V11 everyday I am experimenting with V12 especially the connection manager which is a real game changer. I posted some beaded face frames that we did for a customer that requested MDF frames for a very $$$ mansion in Boston. Please excuse the primer color

View higher quality, full size image (750 X 1000)

View higher quality, full size image (750 X 1000)

View higher quality, full size image (750 X 1000)

2/1/20       #31: MDF face frames ...
frank Member

Leland, thank you for all the pictures.

those frames and beaded frame panel must be through v carve ?

i'm still in ver 11 also and will soon migrate to ver 12 CV. do you think connection manager will help with my quest to do mdf frames all in CV? i'd like to know how you see it as a game changer.

2/6/20       #32: MDF face frames ...


Why did they want mdf? I guess It would look like plastic if you threw two coats of catalysed primer and sanded it perfectly.

How are you fixing the mdf to the box?

2/6/20       #33: MDF face frames ...
Leland Thomasset  Member


Yeah the customer/builder specified it they wanted it seamless which it is. We used clamex and tenso fasteners which work great and you can remove them if you are working on a cabinet with doors and pre-finished maple interior

2/19/20       #34: MDF face frames ...
David Member

Iíve used mdf on several jobs for face frames with no problems and or complaints. Ok so I do miss the hairline cracks associated with using solid wood.
Money is never the problem if you have it.
I think I respect the craft enough to stay with it for 35 years and still try to be open minded enough to possibly advance it in ways that benefit it.
Iíve never been one to become one with the wood , I prefer my spiritual life to be just that so I keep that separate from my secular life.
For self respect , I choose to provide for my family in the most efficient means possible so that I can spend more time with them.
Iím obviously not a purist but that doesnít lessen the quality of my product.
After all most of us ride to the shop in our computer monitored pick ups , flip on the led lights then sit down on our pc s and tell everyone we should hand cut our dovetails!! Lol
please post back your results of the nested job, Iíd love to see the finished product.


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