Attaching Face Frames Revisited

Cabinetmakers kick around various ways to attach face frames to cabinets. August 15, 2006

I am based in the central valley of California. I t seems like over night there are a hundred cabinet shops in town. I have seen almost every cabinet makerís cabinets. In this area are shops that range from 40 employees and others with only 3. Every single one nails their face frames on their cabinets. I too am guilty but if I switch to clamping up my time sky rockets on each job. Do you have any suggestions on quick clamp up or other methods? The other area of concern is pricing. It will soon be out of the league for the area. I would have to educate customer on the difference - to nail or not to nail. In my experiences with nail up people donít notice or donít care. Any comments would be appreciated

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor A:
I would never face nail a face frame on. I very, very rarely do face frame so this is not a big issue for me. I pocket screw my face frames to the boxes when we do face frames, and yes, this is a waste of time compared to frameless but so is nailing the face frame on. For that matter, building the face frame is a huge waste of time and that is why we almost never do it.

From contributor B:
I can say I've seen more than one frameless set of cabinets that has edgebanding that's in rough shape after years of use. By the way, I usually nail on my face frames. I used to biscuit them on but I figured it's not worth it if I can pretty much make the nail holes disappear. I've never once had a customer ask me how I attach the frames so I figure they don't care as long as it looks good and they stay on.

From contributor C:
It's pretty widely accepted to nail on the face frames. I've done it both ways, and prefer to pocket screw them if I can hide the holes.

From contributor D:
With pocket screws and glue everywhere you can hide the hole. Clamp and /or nail every now and then when pocket screws won't be able to be hidden. When frame is going to be covered with molding, glue, nail and/or screw it through the face.

From contributor E:
I pocket them on. One big reason for me is that I prefinish my ply and face frames whenever possible. Where it's not practical to pocket, I use biscuits and clamp. Nails into plywood edges don't seem to give much holding power. I'm interested in hearing what kind of glue is being used with the nails, how many nails, what length, etc. I hate edgebanding, so I avoid it like the plague.

From contributor F:
The area in which I reside is dominated by face frame cabinets, whether ordered from the local box store or built by custom shops. I know that we seldom move from what is the norm and nearly all the kitchens that I build are face frame cabinets. I would never face nail the face frames. In my shop, the face frames are dadoed to receive the box components. I glue the dado and rarely need to clamp the face frames on as the tight fit nearly always serves to keep the face frames intact until the glue cures.

For dadoes that are a little loose - or for large cabinets, I will make sure that the face frame is seated well and shoot a few brad nails on an angle into the face from the inside of the box.

From contributor G:

From the original questioner:
I appreciate all of the responses. Does anybody do work around central California?

From contributor H:
We do a 1/4 x 3/4 dado in the face frame to accept the ply box - glue, clamp, shoot 3/4 inch staples between the face frame and box on the unexposed side of the box. Weíve never had a problem. We only use 3/4 ply for box sides.

From contributor I:
Go to a big box store or cabinet reseller and take a look at the factory construction. It is built just as described except that all of the box parts are 1/2" material. Those big factories absolutely build for speed. If that is what you want then that is the way to go. Dado and staple/glue on from the back.

From contributor B:
Yellow carpenters glue alone will hold a face frame on. The biscuits are used mainly for alignment.

From contributor J:
When I deal with a customer, I explain to them the various types of cabinetry that I can make, and its various construction methods that are incorporated into making their cabinetry. Since there going to live with my products, I explain all the numerous decisions they will have to make regarding the products - such as the types of hinges, pulls, wood, design, type of doors, slides, countertops, formica or ss, and the list goes on and on. This also includes a talk on pricing. They get what they pay for. If they want to save or spend money itís their decision. I'm still going to make my money regardless if I do custom, production, face frames or frameless. I prefer to educate my customer on my woodworking, thereby getting loyal consumers for repeat business and word of mouth advertising. I'll price the job for my profit to be there and you get what you paid for in return.

From the original questioner:
1/4 x 3/4 dado on the face then staple from the back? Are your dados on all stiles and rails? Do you angle the stapler? Can you be more specific?

From contributor I:
The stapler would be angled 45 degrees. I have seen it done two ways. On both, the stiles are dadoed. On most factory cabinets, the rails are dadoed as well. Where the frames meet, a small notch will have to be cut on each corner of the tops and bottoms. The bigger shops use CNC for this but I have seen a simple router table setup which is quick and works well. I will try to take a picture and post it later today when I get back to the shop.

From contributor K:
I pocket screw mine on, and use clamps on the finished ends. Best clamps for speed are the Aluminum Universal clamps. Theyíre light, and don't mar up the wood (except in softwoods, so a little sanding works well). I see only one other shop here in town not nailing face frames on. They use a staple gun from the outside (unfinished ends) and toe nail them, versus pocket screwing them. I believe their system is much faster than mine. They must involve clamps, or theyíre just darned good at it. On lower cost tract homes, I will face nail some parts, but only a few to speed things up, with pocket screws for everything else. I remember seeing some high end distressed pine cabinetry from New England with square cut nails everywhere, sticking out, dents, marred face frames, kind of that colonial look. It's all a matter of taste - often customers love their new cabinets even if there are a few face nails.

From contributor E:
I'm interested in hearing about the Senclamps. I looked it up, but it's hard to tell how they work. Looks like the gun to shoot them goes for $600. True? How do you use them to attach face frames to boxes?

From contributor L:
I put the face frame down on the assembly table and apply glue to the dados in the face frame. Next, I place the side panel in the dado and shoot the Senclamps at right angles into the side/face frame joint. The Senclamps are angled and pull the two parts together. The Senclamp holds the case together while the glue sets. The guns tip is designed to fit into the corner. You then just proceed installing the other sides. If you go into one of the big box stores and feel the joints between the face frames and sides you will feel the Senclamps.

From contributor G:
I dado my face frame on a saw after I have built them - not a deep dado or it will hit the pocket screws in the face frames. I then make all measurements for the boxes by the dados. The Senclamps are shot on the outside on a 45 just like you would a staple, but they hold the frame flat better than a staple until the glue dries. It works great when a shelf and stile meet. The gun is probably $600.00 nowadays, and the Senclamps are high too. It would be hard to drop 600 bucks just to try one, but I could not live without mine.

From contributor O:
Nail from the inside Ė no holes to fill.

From contributor M:
I know a way to do it using nails for convenience but leaving no nail holes to fill: veneer the face frame with prefinished veneer after the face frame is attached. If you're really old like me, you'll remember a time when everyone thought that cabinet finish ends had to be made out of glued-up solid wood. But, of course, we all now use veneered material like plywood.

From the original questioner:
To contributor O: What size nails do you use? 1"? Have you ever had a problem with the frame staying on? Do you also glue?

From contributor O:
Yes I glue. I use a 3/4 nail. Just adjust your depth of drive on the gun way down. That way it will sink the nail into the ply, and not protrude

From the original questioner:
Do you use that method on all of your kitchen cabinets? Have you ever had a problem? Do you produce a lot of cabinets? What are your box making methods? Do you dado or butt joint, etc. Just curious Ė Iím exploring all options.

From contributor O:
Yes - glue, clamp, nail. I do 1-2 sets a month. Itís just me, with occasional part time help.I do mostly butt joints. Cab sides get screwed to bottoms though. I do face frame cabs and specialize in staircases. Iíve never had a face frame failure. Faces are pocket screwed together.