Attaching Partitions to Face Frames

Thoughts on how to attach face frames to center walls of cabinets. November 10, 2006

We want to attach our face frames to our boxes using pocket screws. We've pretty much got everything worked out, except what to do with partitions. I'm speaking mainly here about partitions that will have adjustable shelves on each side of them. I don't think the customers would like it very much if they opened a cabinet and saw a pocket hole in the side. I'd appreciate any insight into what we could do here.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor C:
About a year ago I saw a tongue and groove router bit set by Sommerfeld for cabinet construction. Thought it had some potential and bought it. While it is too slow for building carcasses, it has proven handy for accurately locating face frames and partitions. Basically, you mill grooves in the back side of your face frame and cut tongues on the carcass. It would allow you to place a partition and glue it in place relying on the tongue and groove strength, thus eliminating any need for pocket holes. It's a pretty neat system, but you almost have to see it in person or a video to get the clear picture. As I said, I found the system to be too slow for all my construction, but for partitions and helping locate my face frames on the carcass, it's been really helpful.

From contributor P:
I think Fastcap makes covers for pocket holes.

From contributor S:
We had the same problem a while back. After trying many different approaches, we finally settled on biscuits, glue and edge clamps by Bessey. We use the biscuits for alignment more than anything. A little pricey but well worth time saved in the long run.
Rather than buying dozens of clamps, we use three. While the glue dries, we work on other parts of the job, so there is no downtime. Gotten by just fine without additional clamps.

From contributor J:
I always just glued the face frame to the partitions with a couple lightweight pony clamps. It doesn't take long for the glue to set up if you use plywood partitions, and you don't need much anyway.

From contributor E:
Just into my first box of Lamello's new Fibro 20s. They set up very fast, so I can move the clamps in minutes. Cost less than the beech version. Most of my work shows all parts of the case, so P screws are not an option.

From contributor T:
Use a senclamp-sc1.

From contributor A:
Couple of biscuits, some glue, and regular Bessey k-body clamps.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the responses. It seems like biscuits and an edge clamp of some kind would be the most economical solution. However, our partitions are 1/2" plywood and usually line up in the center of a 2" stile. I'm not sure how accurately we would be able to line up the slots cut for the biscuits.

Tom A, how strong is the senclamp? What I mean is, will it be able to hold a slightly bowed or warped stile against the partition until the glue sets up? The prices I've seen for that gun are around $450. That's a lot to spend if it isn't going to work.

From contributor A:
A biscuit joiner is as accurate as you want it to be. Mine (nothing special, a DeWalt) has a fence with a scale that sets the center of the slot referenced off an edge. It goes to 1 1/4", so a 2" wide stile is no problem. 1/2" ply is no problem, either. Plus, biscuits allow for some vertical slop when assembling (which you want) and no horizontal slop (which you don't want).

On a typical base cabinet, 2 biscuits is plenty to secure a partition to a stile. I've used them on end stiles on exposed cabinet ends and they are very strong. I used more than 2, however. Remember, biscuits form a mechanical bond because they swell from the moisture in the glue, so they're pretty darn strong.

From contributor J:
I just shove a piece of scrap (that's wide enough to stick past the stile) at the top or bottom touching the partition, and run a pencil line on the scrap using the stile as the straight edge.

Then I bend the rest of the partition wherever it has to be using the pencil line as the guide, and then clamp it. If you are putting the backs on your carcasses first, try putting the face frames on first instead. It makes a whole lot of things a whole lot easier, including clamping and cleanup.

From contributor B:
I use biscuits and hold things down with green masking tape. Sometimes I'll need to pull tight with a clamp, but rarely do I leave a clamp on the cabinet. Often, just banging the frame on with a dead-blow hammer and scrap of wood is all that's needed.

From contributor F:
I also pocket screw my face frames on. On partitions, you can run one pocket screw at the very top. This holds the partition steady, then I throw on two aluminum bar clamps (Universal). They're lightweight and fast. I've had these clamps for over 24 years. Out of 40, I think 4 have worn out. I use them all the time and they hold up very well. I also do one pocket screw on the partition at the very back of the bottom of the partition. That also helps hold the partition while you throw on a clamp or two. Nobody has ever said anything about that one little pocket hole way back there.

From contributor M:
At the end of the day, the only fastener you need to hold the FF to the box is glue. So simply find a clamp you like. I found for really big casework, I use a long pipe clamp and wedge a shim shingle between the pipe and the face frame. The other option is to glue and face nail with one or two 23 gauge pins. No one will ever see those.

From contributor N:
I would look into 3M's Scotch-weld adhesive. The initial investment would be the only deterrent, in my opinion. I saw a demo down at the IWF show in Atlanta and it looked like some very good stuff!

From contributor Y:
We use pocket screws on the dividers, too. We only use pre-finished ply for our cases, so the holes aren't as visible as they'd be in white melamine. Well placed, they can hide under a hinge plate or a shelf. (I'm sure the percentage of customers that will actually relocate a pre-installed adjustable shelf is small, and the ones who'd care about exposing a hidden pocket hole are less still.) I believe that in most cases, a mechanical fastener beats glue and clamps.

From contributor Z:
I use doubled up 1/2" pre-finished ply for my partitions. I pocket screw one side in place and secure the second to the first with construction adhesive and brads. It's a little extra material, but I really don't like to see those holes.

I saw a guy in another shop a while back build a doubled up partition like I described above, except he glued the second to the first with StarStuk contact cement. It took him about 45 seconds to spray and install the second partition. I'm going to try that next time I get the chance.

From contributor V:
I use the two piece method. I pocket one side, and glue and brad the other. I like the contact adhesive idea. I think I will give that a try tomorrow. I also use nothing but pre-finished. While it costs a bit more, more than makes up for finishing time and cost of finish and sanding for a one man shop. Also makes great looking cabinet.