Attaching Face Frames Without Nails

A cabinetmaker wants to avoid nail holes in the faces of his high-end product. February 11, 2010

We're trying to produce some high-end furniture grade cabinets, with glossy fully-filled finishes, and want to avoid nailing through our face frames when affixing them to the cabinet boxes. We have experimented with a number of different techniques to attach the face frames, but most are pretty labor-intensive (e.g. pocket screwing from the back or biscuits) and cause other problems. We tried 3M Jet Weld glue and pin nails and that didn't work too well, either.

Does anyone have a method of attaching face frames that is labor-efficient and doesn't involve nailing through the face? Has anyone tried doweling face frames onto the box?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor X:
Electronic welding. Fast method of drying glue.

From contributor B:
For years I have attached face frames and sides using rail and stile joint. Put the male joint on side panel, run face frame stile on edge and put in female joint. Allow about 1/32 extra lip on stile to allow for sanding.

This gives a very strong, quick aligning joint with about 1 1/2" of glue surface. We do the same thing for 45 degree corners. Doing it this way leaves only about 7/16 edge grain showing, which is usually masked with edge profile on cabinet.

From contributor T:

We use corrugated staples. They work well and are fast.

From the original questioner:
I need more detail on the "electronic welding" comment. Is there some kind of portable RF head that you are referring to? I'd also like more detail on the corrugated staples.

From contributor J:
You did say "high end, furniture grade" right? I think that implies that it takes longer than your usual method, correct? I've always glued and clamped face frames to the box. Not the fastest method, but it looks good and accomplishes your goal. I've also pre-finished frames and attached on site for really big units this way. I will sometimes use a few pocket screws from the back as clamp - they are pretty fast.

From contributor X:
Search for info on the Workrite Wood Welder. Works great with various attachments.

From contributor A:
"High end furniture grade" would imply fabrication methods that are pretty labor-intensive. If you have a pile of panel clamps (Bessey or Jorgenson), glue alone will suffice. However, most people cannot afford enough clamps so they pocket screw or face nail. When fabricating high end furniture grade cabinets, none of these methods should cause other problems. Accuracy is the determining factor in manufacturing. Doesn't matter if you are building melamine condo cabinets or high end furniture grade cabinets.

From contributor R:
I have used biscuits and pocket screws a lot for this kind of work. It is pretty fast to biscuit the frames to the boxes, registering right off the box and frame, and use a few pocket screws from the back to clamp until the glue dries. The biscuits give you a little alignment room, and hold well, if glued properly. One advantage to this method is that you can attach the frames unfinished (without glue), and then remove after fitting everything for finishing, and then re-attach. It's a lot easier to finish the frames this way, and I think it saves time, when you figure masking and cleanup in other methods of finishing.

From contributor B:
Glue and clamps.

From contributor S:
Pocket screws from the back (see the five spindle machine by KREG).

From contributor P:
I have used a knockoff of the tongue and groove method for years. I have seen this type of joint used pretty widely. I use 3/4" S4S material and plywood sides. I dado a 3/8" groove in the back side of the face frame about 13/16" in from the edge. I then machine a matching tongue on the side piece and glue the two together. This allows me to use 3/4-1" brad nails on an angle from the inside. This gives a very nice face with no puttied holes.

Being high end means taking few shortcuts and giving the customer a piece to brag about. (Fit, Finish and Function). So far, it has worked for me.

From contributor I:
Right on - there are few shortcuts to quality. Better ways, yes.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for all the great suggestions. We're obviously trying to build a very high quality cabinet here, so we're not looking for shortcuts - but at the same time, I don't want to destroy the flow through my assembly department. We have already tried some things that worked but required 3 or 4 people to help pull off, or tied up assembly stations for an hour at a time (and we don't have assembly stations to spare). A couple of these ideas look great, and we will try them out.