Beaded Inset Face Frame Joinery

What's best - mortise and tenon, dowels, pocket screws...? April 10, 2005

I'm doing some beaded inset face frames. I prefer to rout the bead directly onto the rails and stiles, rather than nailing on bead moulding. After routing the edge bead, I simply use an old fashioned hand-saw and mitre box to chop off the beading at a 45 degree angle. Then the rest can be removed on a regular table saw. Since I don't do this a lot, I can't justify a dedicated machine, but I honestly don't feel disadvantaged by this method.

My question is in the joinery between the rails and stiles. I've searched this forum, and a few methods have been talked about: dowels, mortise and tenon, pocket screws, etc. What I was hoping for is that a few people could tell me why they choose to use whatever method they use.

The advantages or disadvantages would be things like equipment needed, labor time, joint strength, tolerances allowed, appearance, etc. My personal preference would be towards appearance (first) and joint strength (second). These beaded face frame jobs are higher-end, so an extra cost is usually justifiable.

I had thought about using a more classical rail and stile bit set only at the joints, because of their attractive appearance and good strength. But if you think about the way a router cuts, it would be difficult to do. Cutting the ends of the rail would be business-as-usual. But for the stiles, you'd either have to cut too far Ė i.e. the joining design would be visible where the beading should be. Or you'd have to stop short early, which would mean your rails and stiles wouldn't fit together, unless you took extra measures. Namely, you could either cut a notch into the rails, or carve out the stiles with hand tools or small rotary tools.

If labor time was no issue whatsoever, I'd like to try the latter method. But if someone could suggest a technique that looks fairly good, but isn't quite so complicated, I'd very much appreciate it.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor A:
I used to use dowels and clamps for my face frames. I tried the pocket screw system and I haven't looked back. The only thing is that they leave the pocket on the rear side. This is rarely a problem. I still use dowels on some things, such as 1" wide drawer dividers for inset drawers.

About your beading dilemma, I always have beads on my face frames. I do a lot of 18th century reproduction and this is just the norm for me. I make quite a bit of 1/4" bead material at one time and then I have it for a couple of kitchens. The only time I put beads in with a router is on my beaded drawer fronts. I have to carve the inside corners to make it look correct.

As for your problem with making beads, why don't you rout them into the vertical styles and then cut the 45ļ on the end and then you can cut and nail in a beaded piece for the top (horizontal). You won't even see it on the lowers without bending over to see it and in the uppers you would need to use a small amount of putty or filler to close up the nail holes. I use a 23 gauge headless pin nailer on my beads and the paint and primer is enough to fill them in.

From contributor B:
I think the joinery of the face frames depends on the equipment you have and what quality of joinery you want to produce. Mortice and tenon would be of the highest quality and take the most time to make.

I consider dowelling to be superior strength-wise to pocket screwing and also looks wise. I have done all three methods and for kitchen face frames, I dowel. I think mortice and tenon is overkill for kitchen and bath. I use mortice and tenon on furniture. I started my career in a shop that dowelled and later in business for myself. When pocket screw systems came around I tried them but I went back to dowels and never looked back. Please understand that I know they have a place in production work. Also, I have a pneumatic horizontal boring machine which is fast if youíre doing dowels. I know pocket screw machine systems are faster than dowels. Personally, unless you are just doing one art cabinet or something like that, you are not using your tools to your best advantage. I can dig doing reproduction work with a hand saw but you canít make any money like that on a kitchen. Anyway, Iíll tell you how I do it.

Run the quirk beads (thatís what they are!) on the face edge of your stiles and rails with a router table or shaper (face edge Ė thatís why rail and stile sets wonít work!) I use a miter gauge and fence to make the 45 degree cuts in the stiles and rail edges on the tablesaw. I then band saw in between those cuts, staying 1/32" or so on the waste side of the line. Then I trim whatís left flush with a router table and flush trim bit. The little radius that is left in corners shaves right out with a sharp chisel. For the 45 degree cuts on the ends of the stiles and rails, I set up a stop on a chop saw and saw the cuts. With close attention, my copes are very tight. As to nailing on all or part of the quirk bead on, I can assure you it is faster to mill the bead on to your stiles and rails and cope the joints.

From the original questioner:
Milling the quirk beads directly onto the stiles and rails is the way I prefer to go. As far as using a hand saw, my only reason was that I assumed any rotary type of saw wouldn't be able to make a flush vertical cut into the bead. I guess a bandsaw with a proper jig would be the modern version of my method. I'll give a try at doing the 45 degree cuts on my tablesaw and finishing with a chisel.

My one question to contributor B would be when you say *my copes are very tight*, I assume you're not talking about cope and stick joints, but rather butt joints with dowels, or mortise and tenon - with the exception that the 45-degree parts have to line up nicely. Do I have that picture right?

I guess mortise and tenon is a better joint anyway, so I shouldn't try to force a cope and stick style joint. But I think it could be done manually using four passes. You would have to use a slot cutter on the rails (pass 1) and stiles (pass 2). Then you would have to use the female coping pattern on the stiles (pass 3) and the male coping pattern on the rails (pass 4). This would be the opposite of the usual way you do it. So looking straight-on, the frame would appear flat (so far). Looking top-down, it would look like a cope and stick joint frame (most people probably wouldn't notice the difference). After all this you can apply the beading.

This would definitely be impractical in terms of labor, and it would be purely for aesthetic purposes. When many people look down on a door, they associate cope and stick joints with higher quality. That would be the only reason I would even consider doing such a thing. In reality, this joint would be rather weak compared to a mortise and tenon. It could actually crack depending on how deep the bead went, and how close it was to the edge. At this point, it's mostly just a challenge. I don't think it'll be a production technique. For that, mortise and tenon sounds most elegant.

After looking into things a little further, I may have had my terms a bit confused. I've always thought of *cope and stick* as the traditional rail and stile sets done on most routers or shapers. Technically, I guess that term includes *any* 90 degree (non-mitred) joint where the rail and stiles meet. So that would include mortise and tenon, etc. But in the post I just made, whenever I mentioned words *cope and stick*, I meant the type commonly done with a two piece (or even 1 piece) router bit or shaper. Hopefully that didn't cause any confusion.

From contributor B:
I am not confused by your references to stick and cope. Actually the modern conception (rail and stile cutters) is different from its roots of a woodworker making a door or such. He would run a molding plane on the inside edges of the rails and stiles. Then, instead of actually cutting the mirror image (reverse like a shaper cope cutter) on the ends of the rails, he would cut a 45 degree shouldered recess down to the depth of the molding in the stiles, and also miter at 45 degrees the ends of the rails to the depth of the molding. This is exactly the method I think we are both talking about concerning quirk bead inset door cabinet face frames. I am a little bit hazy about what you are saying in regards to using a stile and rail set as well as applying a quirk. Iíll just say that you could run a stick and cope with no inside edge detail (mortise and stub tenon) and use it for your face frame joinery but then you have a panel groove that gets no panel, and you would have to apply your quirk (miter it, nail on, clamp, putty holes).

Then again, you could run it (stopped cuts) just where the face frame members intersect, but still, make separate quirk, cut, nail, clamp, putty, sand putty. As I said earlier, I assure you it is faster to mill the quirk onto the stiles and rails and let the rails, mutins and mullions in.

So, back to the technique:
1. Yes, a miter gauge and fence board, saw blade cranked to 45 degrees, cut the shoulders just to the depth of the sticking" (quirk profile) - a little shy would be better than too deep.
2. Cut the waste between shoulder cuts out with the band saw (no jig, just by hand and eye). Cut as close as you dare without cutting as deep as the finished joint surface.
3. Trim what is left with a router table and a flush trim bit (one that actually cuts flush).
4. Clean out the slight rounded inside corners with a sharp chisel.
5. Use a chop saw with a stop to miter the end of the rails.

From contributor C:
A lot of these joints can be just screwed together. I just clamp the frames together with glue and after theyíre set Iíll run screws in to lock it. For anything visible I mortise and tenon - I have a dedicated mortiser.

From contributor D:
All of my kitchen so far have been frameless, so don't yell at me loudly for this suggestion. Why not rout bead on face and miter corners? I'm going to suggest it for my first face frame cabinet job.

From contributor B:
To contributor D: Quirk beading the face edges and mitering the outside corners will work fine if you take the time to reinforce the joints with dowels or floating tenons (biscuits are shown to be relatively weak). But unless all your kitchen face frames are just two stiles and two rails like a door, you will still need to let in your muntins and mullions in the traditional manner.

I forgot to mention, there is a formula I can give you to figure out the miter angle for 90 degree joints with different widths of members - for instance where a 2" outside stile meets a 1.75" top rail or a 1.375" bottom rail.

From contributor E:
I like pocket screws but for some reason not for face frames. I mortise and tenon them together - actually mortise and loose tenon. I built a mortiser to do this and once you have the machine, it's fast. I make 3/8" tenon stock by the yard and just cut it into 2" sections as needed. Before I built the slot-mortiser, I used dowels. It takes much longer and wasn't as accurate but plenty strong enough for face-frames. Have you considered small ff biscuits or spline? That should be pretty easy to set up.

From contributor B:
My hat is off to anyone who can make floating tenon and mortise face frames faster than someone who dowels!

From contributor E:
The reason dowelling was slower is because I only had a $15 Stanley jig and an electric drill. It would've been about the same speed if I'd used a horizontal boring machine I expect. With the slot mortiser, I can probably do a slot in 30 seconds.

From contributor B:
It probably takes a bit less time than that to bore the two holes with a horizontal boring machine, but your rig is very fast. I like to use floating tenons in certain applications.

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

Comment from contributor I:
I built a set of inset door cabinets about two years ago. I made an adjustable jig for my router that would hold several stiles at a time with all the inside edges facing up. The jig has sliding "fingers" with short fences on them. I used a 45 degree bit and ground off the bearing nipple leaving a short flat tip. With the stiles clamped down I was able to cut all of my notches for the rails the same width. Then I added a stop to my miter saw and cut the corners off the rails. With a little set up they come out perfect.