Dadoing Face Frames and Cabinet Assembly

      Cabinetmakers discuss techniques and fine points of cabinet construction using dadoed face frames. September 23, 2006

I am cutting a 1/2" or 3/4" wide x 1/4" deep dado in the frames to receive the sides, deck and any fixed shelves and partitions. Currently using a dado blade on the table saw making all the dado cuts on an assembled frame. What have you found to be the best method to cut dados in face frames? A router table or panel saw with router attachment?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor A:
Use a table saw, before you assemble the frame - that is, unless you have to change the set up every time you cut dadoes. It's a great set up for a dedicated machine.

From contributor B:
I only have one table saw and got tired of changing to the dado as often as was required. Now I have a dedicated router table set up with a 3-1/4 HP router and the undersized 3/4" carbide dado bit. I buy a handful of the el cheapo carbide bits from Woodcraft every time I'm in there. I've found that Whiteside, Amana, Freud, CMT etc only last slightly longer and aren't worth the extra money in this application. A dedicated table saw would be a better solution, however, I can't spare the space and the router table works great.

Cutting the dado after the frame is assembled is cumbersome to me. I prefer to cut them before I assemble the frames. 90% of what I do is red oak or soft maple so I cut and store a whole bunch of 30", 32", and 42" stiles in those species. Before they go to the bin, I cut the dadoes, leaving a 1/4" scribing ear. When the stile needs a wider dado to receive a finished 1/4" end panel, I just make a second pass to widen the dado, only on the stiles that need them.

From contributor C:
How are you doing the dadoes on the stiles when you have a mid-rail on the face frame that covers a partition for a drawer? Are they notched to fit over the partition?

From contributor B:
If I understand your question correctly, no I wouldn't dado a partition like that into the frame. I'd pocket screw it to the stile. Depending on how much of a hassle it would be, and the situation, I'd probably dado the partition into the deck and the top (if it's an upper) but again, not the stile. These dados would be more for alignment purposes than anything else.

From contributor C:
Ok, so change gears to the deck - you dado the stiles 1/4", so the bottom rail is not dadoed and the deck is recessed the same 1/4"?

From contributor B:
That's right. I've tried dadoing into a mid stile but it's too much trouble and doesn't add enough structural integrity to warrant all the work.

From contributor D:
I pocket screw FF together, then dado 1/8th deep on a dedicated table saw. I dado stiles and rails, but no center stiles get dadoed. I dado the box sides for the shelves, but rip shelves 1/8th narrower than the sides because I don't dado the FF for shelves, I just plant the backs on without dado. How can you guys dado the FF so deep before assembly and not have to fight with your pocket screws? And not have to router or chisel out some of the corners? I used to use a router but was never happy with the amount of time a bit lasted. I went to swapping a stacked dado blade, back and forth, back and forth, and then a friend gave me a delta cabinet saw. Now I am running 1/2'' stack and making 2 passes if I need 3/4'' dado.

From the original questioner:
Dadoing stock before assembly is interesting to me but what about dadoing for the deck across the stiles, how are you cutting there?

From contributor B:
I only dado bottoms and tops into the sides of the case. I don't bother dadoing across the stiles or into the rails at all. I just pocket screw the deck/top to the back of the rail. I pocket screw the bottoms from underneath so the holes won't be visible from inside the box. I usually put a false bottom on the uppers that's finished to matches the cabs. I use prefinished birch plywood to build the boxes. This false bottom makes everything match, plus enables the wiring and installation of lighting and covers up the pocket screw holes. If it's a low budget job, I'll forego the finished false bottom and staple a piece of 1/4" prefinished birch right to the bottom just to give a clean appearance and cover up those holes.

From contributor C:
How much space is usually between your false bottom and the deck to allow for wiring of lights, etc on your uppers?

From contributor B:
It's the depth of a 3/4" piece of prefinshed plywood - so just under 3/4". When I use a false bottom like that, I typically try to use 1/2" plywood (if I'm not too upside down in the job) to help support the weight of those lights, or an under cab appliance. I always drop my decks down about 1/8" below the top of the 2" stile. By the way, the deck is 3/4" prefinished also. When I add the 3/4" cleat or spacer, and 1/2" finished bottom, it flushes up with the bottom of the rest of the cab. Of course if all that plywood was not slightly undersized, the bottom would be a little proud, but since it is, it works out just right.

From contributor B:
To contributor D: I think I just figured out what you were asking here. I use 2" rails and stiles. These are considered a bit wide to many but it gives you plenty of room to screw the frames together and not worry about your screws going through into your dados. They make the math easier too.

From contributor D:
My stiles and rails run from 1-1/2" up to 3". For me itís easier to assemble my frames, and then run a shallow dado.

From contributor E:
You can avoid doing a dado for the top and bottom panel by simply putting a notch into either end of the top and bottom panels. Pre-dado all of your FF material, and then assemble the frame. The end panels will fit straight into the stiles of the frame, then the notched top and bottom will allow clearance for the remaining raised (un-dadoed) material of the stile.

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