Face Frame Assembly Table

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Developing a bench for fast and accurate assembly. March 14, 2004

I am looking for an easier way to assemble face frames using a shop-built assembly table. I have a small shop and want a system that is fast and accurate. I use pocket screws for face frames and want to make a jig, probably with some toggle clamps and on a t-track for adjustability. Any ideas would be appreciated.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor B:
I'm looking, too. I've got a couple of old French doors that I think I'm going to take the glass out of. I use the Kreg vise-grip type clamps, and I think the windows will be perfect to let the clamps set down in while still supporting the rails and stiles. I think I'm going to take the glass out and put some legs on them and see how it works. I'm open to ideas from people who have found a winning system.

From contributor M:
When I first opened up I used a handmade jig bolted to the table of a floor model drill press. The jig was 12"x12" plywood set about 6 degrees off of perpendicular to the table with a cleat at the bottom to rest the stile or rail frame pieces. A De-Sta-Co (toggle) clamp held the pieces tight against the plywood and I used both a 3/8 spade bit and an official boring machine drill bit in the drill press chuck. I dusted the jig off not long ago when my boring tub went down and it still worked like a champ.

From contributor J:
Many years ago I did the same thing you are contemplating now. I built a face frame assembly table. It was hung on the wall at 45 degrees and when not in use hung flat against the wall. I had horizontal pneumatic clamps to hold the joint tight and overhead pneumatic clamps to hold the joint flat. My advice: buy one. By the time you engineer it, buy the raw materials and build it, you will have spent more than the cost of a new one. In addition, I was never able to get a decent flat joint with pocket screws.

From the original questioner:
I too use the Kreg jig and do have trouble with keeping the R/S flat. It seems when you use the vise grip, you get the flatness but not the sideways pressure into the stile. I think I'm on the same page as contributor B with the cut out (windows), but what if you used a toggle hold down clamp that would do the same as the vise grip without the awkwardness? I imagine you would have to modify the clamp tip to increase the surface area so you cover the entire joint. Also, if you made a right angle on the table, that will hold the FF at right angle with the clamp mounted to that. Or you could put the right angle on a T-track inset in the table running horizontally. Now you can make another right angle and join left and right stile to rails at the same time. I haven't yet put this to the drawing board but will sometime today.

From contributor J:
To be perfectly honest, I gave up on pocket screws for assembling face frames and went to the Hoffman dovetail system. No assembly table needed. I do, however, use the pocket screws to hold the frames to the cabinets.

From contributor T:
I like pocket screws for some applications but not for joining face frames - there's just something about it... I cut mortises using a shop-built slot mortiser and loose tenons. Betcha I can put a face frame together just as quickly as you could using screws and once the mortiser is set up right, it's dead-on. The joints are stronger and you just put glue in the holes, put in the tenon and bash it together with a dead-blow hammer (sometimes squeeze with a pipe clamp if it's being obstinate). Check corner to corner for square and you're done. Then I join the face frame to the cabinet with biscuits. I don't build boxes either - cabinets are as long as the run dictates, so some face-frames have lots of parts.

From contributor B:
I'm with you on building the cabinet as large as possible. Some of my face frames have lots of parts. As for the loose tenons that you can put together without clamping, that's something to think about. Can't stand the Senclamp type of guns for face frames, and don't like biscuits for face frames. Never had any problem with screws making great face frames, but I take my time with them. But... I'm always looking for a better and faster way to make more money!

From contributor G:
Mortise and tenon as fast as pocket screws? Give me a break. The clamping time alone takes almost as long as the entire job with pocket screws.

From contributor G:
Kreg has a new clamp that is mounted to a 12"x12" 1/4" thick plate you mortise into your benchtop. Mount two of them about 30" apart with a shop-made positioning fence and you have one slick, inexpensive face frame table. The clamps just slide out from the plate so you have an unobstructed bench top when not used for face frames. They cost $40 each. The actual clamp is half of a visegrip type clamp that is very strong and similar to their other clamps.

From contributor O:
I use some 6" vice grips with the flats on both jaws. I think I got them from Harbor Freight for $10 a pair. I made my assembly table with a sheet of melamine for the top. I left a 3 1/2" overhang all the way around. Put your stile to the edge of the table. Butt the rails to the stile and clamp them to the table with the vice grip under the table edge and over the joint. Screw together and flip the piece around, repeat. It takes about 30 seconds. I use spacer blocks for my drawer rail spacing. Short of buying a pro rig, this is by far the fastest and most flexible. I can do a 12" base cabinet or a 48" wide by 8 ft tall bookcase frame with no setup time. If you are looking for a pro rig, the Marcon is the cheapest. I have seen them new on Ex-Factory for about $1800.

From contributor K:
I have had good luck with the shop-made table Kreg suggested building for use with their clamps. Made out of scrap ply, it hangs on the wall or flipped upside down on a work table for storage. Very low-tech but it works. I can't spare the room for a regular assembly table.

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

Comment from contributor E:
Kreg sells a whole table with pneumatic clamping made solely for putting face frames together. It is pretty expensive but is the best investment you will ever make if you build face frames. You of course need to screw them together and the table is not made for doweling.