A Shaker Look with Frameless Construction?

A detailed thread on ways to combine Shaker style and simplicity with modern frameless construction methods. August 29, 2006

I have a customer who wants a traditional Shaker look with the full access features of frameless. I've been keeping a keen eye on this forum for awhile as I'm currently a small face-frame shop considering the True32 method. I'm wondering if this is the right time for a first attempt or pass on the work, since I'm not sure how you would accomplish the traditional inset look with a construction method rooted in full overlay? Any words of wisdom?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor A:
An edgewise, 3/4 batten fastened between the boxes and flush with the door surface gets you part way. But it doesn't frame the drawer boxes.

From contributor B:
I do 95% frameless myself but have had customers who wanted something along the lines of what you're talking about. Not to mention the fact that I hate the wasted space in typical face frame construction. I did a rendering of what you describe and it simply looked wrong. The doors were Shaker style but the other proportions were not at all visually pleasing - it just looked like frameless with inset doors. My solution was sort of a hybrid. I doubled up the partitions between sections (one could simply make two boxes and fasten them together also) and covered everything with a face frame with 1-1/2" vertical stiles where the doublers were. I edgebanded the front of the deck and had it sit 5/8 " above the top of a 2" bottom rail, and also placed a stringer so it extended 5/8 below a 1-1/2" mid rail so the doors had a stop. The top drawer went between that mid rail and a 1-1/2" top rail.

Granted, there still was more dead space than I would have liked but the cabinet sides were flush enough to the edge of the face frame so I could still use all my usual "euro" methods for hinges and slides and I think your client might be OK with that version since traditional shaker and full access just isn't possible. I also remember an earlier thread about a similar approach combining face frame and frameless - you might do a search.

From contributor C:
A couple of comments here - I hope to answer your question in a roundabout way. If it doesn't fit, just ignore it.

First is the comment about traditional Shaker. There were several styles of Shaker woodwork, and inset just one of them. Some preferred overlaid doors/drawers because it did a better job of keeping the dust out. Many of these would have an overlay that fit inside the opening and lipped over the face.

Maybe I am focusing too much on Shaker, but if that is your focus, I would see a full overlay to fit the Shaker model. You see, Shaker work was a reaction against the highly ornate Victorian style. The Shakers wanted to simplify their lifestyle, and let their work attest to their relationship to God. As a result, their work was a very simple design, but highly skilled.

The frameless style seems to fit this model of simple, but precise. With 3mm (1/8") reveals of full overlay doors and drawers, you can have a very simple look that requires a great deal of craftsmanship. If the Shakers existed today, I imagine that many would adopt a frameless philosophy.

If you still want to stick with the frameless and inset, then yes, you can. Use inset hinges and move your drawer guides back. But to me, having built many Shaker pieces, full overlay with uniform reveals is a very nice look.

From contributor D:
We have done what you are describing many times. We are a frameless shop and do most of our work with and inset style of construction. We build individual boxes and fasten applied end panels to all exposed ends that project 7/8" from the front edge band, upper applied ends hang down 2" from bottom of case for light rail. We attach 1-1/8" x 1-5/8" wall scribes where any box meets the wall, and the front of the wall scribe projects 7/8" from front of edgeband. Upper wall scribes hang down 2" for light rail that I will get to later. We attach 3/4" x 1-5/8" fillers between all the boxes out 7/8" from the front edge band to align with the front edge of the doors or drawers with bumpers on. We use a 3/4" x 2-1/4" ptbd cleat at the back of the cabinet. We don't use any horizontal fillers between anything so that all of our boring for our hinges, metabox or dovetail and tandem drawers work the same as they would on our non-inset looks. We also do a lot of furniture toe details that are 3/4" out from the front of the doors and ends on base cabinets with cutouts and that helps the look of things without having a bottom rail on bases. On all of our upper cabinets we use an attached light rail that runs from wall scribes to applied ends with fillers setting on top. We screw from below with 2-1/2" screws, assuming 3/4" box construction. The light rail moulding is 2" tall by 1 5/8" deep same as the fillers so that they all line up on the back edge because your going to have to skin the bottoms of your uppers with 1/4" matching ply to hide the cabinet liner and your filler gaps.

We gang construct most of the cabinets right on the bench, like vanities and uppers. If we can handle it we put it together at the shop - bases on combined toes etc. For uppers we use a 3/4" x 2-1/4" ptbd cleat that we fasten flush with the front of the banding and back side of the applied ends so that a ptbd nailer with a banded bottom edge measuring 3/4" x 4" can be fastened to the cleat and follow the doors and applied ends flush with the outside of the doors and applied ends. We also use a 2 piece crown assembly that starts with a 1/2" x 3" base mould that is upside down then a 4-9/16" crown on top of that. That way if we are going to the ceiling and it is out, we have approximately 2-1/2" of flat surface of the base mould to work things out. All edges of your doors and drawers and applied ends and fillers and light rails and wall scribes are left square. All of your reveals will be 1/8", with the exception of your base top reveal which should be 3/8". You can prefinish with this type of system with everything flat and apply everything after the boxes are built.

We have done this many times with pigmented lacquer type finishes and quarter sawn oak looks as well. Finally if you are serious about switching from frame construction to frameless your tolerances with this type of inset system will have to be dead on.

From contributor E:
To contributor D: I really like your system. I've been doing something similar for years, but now we're doing our own finishing and having to adjust to assembling with prefinished parts. Two questions - Do you have a top rail detail for the base cabinets? Maybe more 1-5/8 linear footage, and maybe held a bit proud of the stiles to help the joint? Also, I wasn't clear on the 2-1/4 and 4" cleats on the wall cabinets. Thanks for sharing

From contributor D:
The 2-1/4" cleat is fastened to the top of the wall cabinets laying down, with the front edge flush with the front of the case edge band. Then the 4" nailer with one edge banded in matching veneer is mounted in an L configuration so that the banded edge looks down at the top of the door and is flush with the top of the cabinet, and flush with the outside face of the door or close, you won't be totally flush due to the door bumper.

We don't use a top filler or rail on our bases. We just have a 3/8" reveal. We use a lot of metabox and it has a self-close feature that raises the drawer as it comes out of the cabinet approximately 1/8" to 3/16". It probably wouldn't be a problem but that way again all of our fronts are the same if their inset or not. Depending on your slides I don't see why you couldn't. We hold all of our applied ends, wall scribes, fillers and light rails out from the case 7/8" with all joints flush. This takes some time with everything prefinished but all of your parts can be prefinished in linear footage and cut to fit while gang constructing.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor F:
The only way to get an inset look is to use the old fashioned face framed cabinet method. The idea that you lose space in a cabinet with a frame only pertains to the drawer box size (which you only lose a small percent). A framed cabinet box has as much storage space as a frameless box. Frameless cabinets give you a more stable box that is far more durable than a cabinet without the frame.

A quality cabinet with a frame can be built to almost any size because it is very stable and strong. Frameless has size limitations because it is not strong. I don't recall ever seeing an antique frameless cabinet, but framed antiques over 200 years old are common. People like the inset look because it brings back memories of quality. Yes, frameless is easier to build, but has many restrictions not placed on tradition framed cabinet construction.