Continuous Cabinets Versus Multi-Piece Construction

What's better, one big cabinet or two or three small ones? Custom cabinetmakers discuss the pros and cons. March 20, 2006

Those of you who are building face frame cabinets, when you have a run of several cabinets side by side, are you building them with separate frames or one continuous face frame?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor S:
Sometimes the main visible difference between custom and stock is the one piece face frame. Of course, as the length of the cabinets increases, the options decrease.

From contributor B:
If design and field conditions allow, we build as big as 2'x4'x8' in all construction styles.

From contributor O:
I typically make my cabinets as large as I can handle, but I usually separate uppers where heights change, like over a stove or sink.

From contributor J:
I build separate frames and prefer to keep things under 60". I am replacing a kitchen in a home damaged by Hurricane Katrina that has a single upper unit that's almost ten feet long. I've never seen anything like that. It's actually quite well built. I guess as long as you have a fairly straight wall, a Gill Lift or plenty of help to lug them around, that system would work out okay. Not my thing, though.

From contributor T:
Individual cabinets are easier to plan, build and deliver. With the face frame attached on one end and the adjoining cabinet(s) fitted behind and screwed together from inside, who can tell? The customer? If so, then give them what they want. Just make sure they sign and that you get paid for it. Painted? Okay. You do the extra bit, but I often build paint ready units and the G.C. paints them on site. (Nice jobs if you can get them.)

One guy can deliver boxes much cheaper and easier than two or more guys struggling with a long cabinet into elevators or around corners or through openings standing on end and being dragged down a hall. Ever measure an opening that a long cabinet will barely go through, only to find out on delivery day that doors and jambs were added by the customer? Was that on the plans? Am I going to pay to build this box again? The customer pays? Either way, it's bad blood. Why should I spend the effort to map out an entire apartment or building layout when I am only contracted to do the end wall unit? Bottom line, why knock yourself out? If you are getting paid for it, okay - great!

From contributor Y:
I build things just as big as I can. Why duplicate parts for each cabinet? Anything I don't spend on material is money in my pocket! If you have to screw boxes together, they better look seamless if they are custom cabinets. The more boxes I've got to load and unload, the more trips I've got to make into the house. Every trip increases the chance of getting something dinged up. I'd rather build one big cabinet and be done with it. Sometimes I'll build multiple cabinets and screw them together at the shop, sand the joint, and finish them as one. It isn't uncommon for me to deliver cabinets longer than 96". I usually install with two helpers and myself, so that is doable. I'd much rather level one box as several. If I can save two or three rippings of plywood on each job by building them this way, it doesn't take long before I've saved enough to take the family out for dinner!

From contributor C:
I have one part time helper (my 15 year old son). I routinely build as long as we can handle. I am starting on a kitchen Tuesday that will have a 70" upper and lower cabinet on one wall. Fortunately, it is a new house and I worked last Monday with the framing contractor for four hours laying out all of the cabinets, vanities, and butler's pantry on the floor and wall. He is hanging 2 x 8 and 2 x 10 plates between the studs for me to work with. Said it was scrap they were going to throw out anyway. Love working with this guy. This is the second house I have done for him. The last one I basically installed the entire kitchen in seven hours by myself after getting everything in the house. No need to look for studs.

From contributor F:
Another maker here who builds them as big as will fit through the doorways, etc. I want as few field joints as possible. Be sure you don't build them too big to get into the house. I have had a few close calls, but no remakes.

From contributor K:
I just got done slapping myself over a stupid remake. First, I built a cabinet about 64" and the owner did have mouldings installed so that it wouldn't fit. Guess who ripped out the mouldings? Darn right. Of course, I reinstalled them. But we ripped out another two cabinets in a bathroom and I was thinking to myself "why are there two when it is such a small space?" Went back to the shop and built a new one. Took it back to find out that you can't turn it into place. Aha! That's why there were two. I'm going out there with two new cabinets this week. Stupid mistake, but it happens.

From contributor Y:
When I measure a house, I always look for problems getting cabinets in. If I'm going to build two to get them in, I always note that on my drawings in big letters. Hopefully I won't ever combine two into one. I think a big note on the drawings is always a help!

From contributor U:
I tried building modular for awhile, but the cost was killing me - time and materials. But at the time, that cheap market was no good for it. I ignored advice from another forum that it was suicide... I've found a happy mix now, mostly by varying the depths and heights and using different size crowns, etc. Most customers are willing to pay a bit extra for a more custom look, and for all adjustable shelves.

From contributor X:
My preference is to build cabinets with a continuous face frame. I may send a cabinet out with a loose stile on the end for those tight openings, but overall I prefer to build a cabinet that is square, one piece construction, and not in two pieces. It takes less room while standing in the shop and truck (this is all providing that I can deliver it to the site and place it in its right location).

The longest upper and base I have made was close to 13 feet in length. It took less time to install. Had a wall end on one side that I scribed the face frame to and a finished end on the other end that I scribed to the back wall. Didn't have that pieced together look. On many occasions I have sent items out that were kd and assembled on the job site to fit those tight openings. But if I can get it into the door and to the right location it will be one piece. Less materials are used, construction time is reduced, planning time reduced
and profit increased.