Beaded Face-Frame Techniques

Equipment and methods for creating high-quality beaded face frames. May 22, 2006

I am looking for suggestions on doing beaded face frames. Currently for paint grade jobs I use an applied bead, glued and pinned to the face frame. For stain and clear coat jobs I have been beading the rails and stiles and using a router jig with a 45 degree mullion cutter to machine the miters on the rails and stiles. Both are somewhat time consuming, and the machining operation usually requires a bit of hand fitting, trimming and cleanup with a chisel. Are there any other methods that you are using that are more efficient?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor A:
"Both are somewhat time consuming, and the machining operation usually requires a bit of hand fitting, trimming and cleanup with a chisel." This is what makes beaded face frames a challenge one week and a pain the next. There are no real magic tricks in this operation except make your face frames perfectly square.

From contributor B:
You can get a Morso machine that haunches the stiles and notches the rails so your beaded material looks continuous. I just did a bunch of cherry face frames and it's relatively simple, but the machine is a good buck.

From contributor C:
If you donít have a specialized machine, itís going to take some time, patience and hand work to have beaded face frames come out right. I have my own method which may be less hassle than trying to use 45 degree router bits. I use the table saw and a miter gauge setup to saw the 45 degree cuts for the female half of the joint. Then I cut the waste out between the two saw cuts with the band saw being careful not to cut as deep as the machined surface of the quirked bead cutters groove. After band sawing I use a 3/8" diameter flush trim bit to clean off the small amount of wood left. The router bearing rides on the machined surface that was cut by the quirked beading cutter. This leaves the rounded inside corners to be cleaned out with a sharp chisel. I use the 3/8" diameter flush trim bit to minimize the amount of wood left in the corners as opposed to a 1/2" diameter bit.

The 45 degree corners on the male half of the joint are easily cut on a chop saw with a duel handed alignment jig (shop made). I dowel my face frames together. When they must be beaded, it throws another curveball into the equation in that the hole depths for the dowels are different depths for the end grain holes than for side grain holes.

Iím not sure what contributor B means about the Morso machine making the beaded material look continuous. All true quirked beaded frames have that look no matter what method or machine is used. The only method I know of that looks different is when the bead stock is made as a seperate moulding and applied to the insides of the stiles and rails after the face frame has been assembled.

From contributor D:
I use the applied molding method on both paint and stained pieces. The best timesaver I've found is a local supplier who carries a pre-made bead molding in various species. At .60/ft for cherry, it was worth every penny for a 16' wall unit I just did.

From the original contributor:
I checked out the Hoffman machine and it looks pretty slick. I'm not sure that it is much of a timesaver though. I can gang cut 2 or 3 pair of stiles at a time in my router jig, and if I put a little more thought and time into it, I could probably make it a little more setup friendly. What I really need is a mechanical guy who can build up a router based machine out of 80/20 or something. I sort of know what I want and how it should work, but I'm just not quite mechanically inclined enough to put it all together. I don't use the applied bead on stain grade because there are too many grain and color match problems, especially with cherry. I am even going to stop using the applied bead on the paint grade, simply because I think I can do it faster with the router method.

From contributor F:
I use the applied bead method. As far as grain matching and for color etc, if you cut the bead off of the stock you are applying it to there are no worries. For instance, if I'm making a face frame I will cut a 1-7/8" rip for the 1-1/2" styles and then rip the 5/16" bead off of that. That leaves me enough to run through the planer to get the 1-1/2" I need. Then I simply apply the cut off piece back on with glue and brad, obviously after I round it over. You are gluing long grain to long grain so there isn't any worry about it coming apart. Even if the puttied nail holes are a little darker then the overall color, the doors hide it anyways. Just remember when making the beading to climb cut, otherwise you may have tear out and screw it up.

From contributor G:
As the beaded, inset look is one of my favorites and one of the most demanded looks in expensive homes worldwide, I choose to pose a somewhat rhetorical question. Is the method really that important or is the finished product and what you charge for it the real factor? The beaded face frame is the most labor intensive cabinet method I know of and thus the most expensive. In England the guys use a moulded stile/rail configuration and still mostly hand chisel the joints and hand fit the doors/drawers. The fit is perfect or it does not leave the shop and is very, very expensive even over here. So, all the posts here have given good answers but is the issue really efficient construction or charging enough for the product?

From the original questioner:
To contributor G: You bring up some interesting questions. The appearance, fit and finish, is the most important issue here. I believe I charge enough for my work and I make money at it, at least when a job goes smoothly. With a labor/skill intensive operation like this, there is a pretty good chance that there are going to be some do-overs along the way. These are for the most part built in to the price that I charge. The bottom line though, it is usually cheaper to do it right the first time and keep profit margins. By doing it right the first time also means that I get the desired fit and finish of the final product.

The process I am looking for should first of all maintain the high quality of the final product. It should be relatively error free. Lastly, it should be efficient. The case with the Hoffman machine satisfies the first two but comes up short on number three. I did a quick run through on the numbers and if I figure in time and materials on do-overs and the cost of the machine, I would still have to charge a bit more

From contributor G:
Another quick thought that just occurred to me - when I still had my shop going in the States I was building a hybrid system that gave a nice old world look to a frameless construction using beaded components. Most of the customers in my market could not, or would not pay for a true beaded look so I came up with this one and it worked well. It turned out to be very efficient. Just a consideration you may want to explore.

From contributor H:
The preferred setup in the UK now is the Morso machine to do the cutting, and the Hoffman cutter which cuts the dovetail slot for the plastic dovetail key which holds the face frame together. I was told by the salesman about £5000 for the two machines. Fortunately I don't have any call for beaded face frames at the moment - if I did then I guess the decision would be based on the same time/money considerations that apply to all our machinery purchases.

From contributor I:
I have not had a call for the beaded face frames so I haven't had a chance to make any. I'm having a hard time getting a visual on exactly how these things look. Could some of you post some close-up pictures of your frames?

From contributor J:
I've made beaded faces for over 10 years, on and off. Iíve tried routers, jig saws, chisels, made a radial arm saw fixture, and had the most success with the radial arm saw with a three head cutter on it. But the best, most cost effective, tightest, most consistent method I have found is to use my fax machine.

A local door company, Meridian Products, makes the faces just as I need them, with wide stiles, fluted and pre-fit doors. I know I am not handcrafting them. But, after awhile, the joy and challenge of making my own gave way to making a profit and having consistent results. I was pleased with the cost of the frames. It really was not worth it to me any more to struggle with the quality control doing it in my shop. I fax the order, check their confirmation in detail, and in 10 days I have them delivered to my shop. It may not be what a lot of people want to do, but for me, it has really been a great technique for custom, beaded inset cabinetry!