Face Frame Cabinet Construction Sequence

Another discussion of fastening, alignment, and order of assembly operations with face-frame cabinets. February 12, 2009

I currently am using a tongue/groove only for my stiles. I take the stiles and rout a groove and then take the cabinet sides and rout a tongue, cut my dados, pockets and shelf holes then assemble them to the prefinished faceframe. Now I cut the base, slide them into the dados and fasten to the faceframes with pocket screws. Does anybody have a better way? The reason I started doing this is because the alignment seemed to be a little easier. It seems like there are advantages to building the box and then fastening the faceframe to the box but didn't like alignment.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor L:
How about 2 slots and a spline?

From contributor N:
I know I've read here about people actually dadoing the stiles but that seems like a lot of work and a lot of material to cut out so I've used the tongue and groove. I just want to know if I am creating an extra step for nothing. It seems like I reconsider about every year to see if I can trim some time. What is kind of tough is when I put the sides into the faceframe I now have to measure for the bottoms. I use eCabinets and basically use it for designing and faceframe construction and build the cabinet around the faceframe. This means I can't use a cut list, especially for the bottoms because I have to measure after assembly. I might have to go back to making the frames, and then make the box. I don't know.

From contributor L:
If you setup your cabinets correctly in eCabs and draw your cabinets correctly it should spit out a parts list that is correct. I have been using eCabs for quite a while now and have just started to use the parts lists. I have not trusted them and myself but have been tinkering with the way I draw my cabinets. You really have to watch everything you do, or the parts list will be incorrect. The last two jobs I have used the info eCabs gave me. I still scrutinize it - mostly for my errors. I find I can do a better job with the laying out of parts on plywood, but the time used to do this makes it a wash.

From contributor M:
There was a thread about biscuits vs. pocket screws for face frame to carcase attachment, and one response talked about his method, which eliminates the hassles of both of them. He dados a slot in the back of the stiles equal to the thickness of the case, about an eighth inch deep, assembles the frame to the box dimensions and glues it up, clamps only.

I've done two kitchen projects with this idea and it's fantastic! The bows in the sides click into the dado - way easier than aligning biscuits or pocket screws and with an old table saw set up as a dedicated dado saw, it's probably faster. I'm still working out some details of the method, specifically how the intermediate stiles and rails attach (pocket screw or dado to ply backer strips) but I'll never go back to the assembly hassles I used to have with the more accepted techniques. So for me it's box first, face frame second, and leave the back off till last, usually after frame and any exposed panels are finished.

From contributor R:
I usually build the box first then attach the face frame. If the cabinet is going to have a finished end I will tongue and groove the face frame on and then scrape it flush. If the cabinet is going to be built-in or part of a run of cabinets where the ends are hidden I will just biscuit it on and use a few well placed pocket screws to eliminate clamp time (clamp, screw, remove clamps, on to the next one).

Also, I find a rabbitting knife on my shaper with a power feeder is more accurate than a dado blade on a table saw for plywood sides. If there is any bend in the plywood it will reflect in the thickness of the dado as you can only exert so much pressure with your hands while pushing it through the saw. The power feeder eliminates that. It is also considerably quicker.

From contributor A:
People switched from clamps to pocket screws because you need a ton of clamps to fasten a pile of cabinets together. Likewise, they sit all around the shop until the glue dries. You've got to get the clamps off the rack, carry them to the bench, take them off, and return them to storage. That's a lot of time moving a bunch of clamps. With pocket screws you can immediately move the cabinets out of the way and start doing something else.

From contributor B:
We buy 13/16 S2S1E hardwood, rip into widths cut stiles and rails, run finishes side through a drum sander, pocket hole rails, assemble frames, cut plywood, pocket screw to frames with titebond, and finish-sand at end. We hide pocket holes in the ceiling and floor and two go into the open area right where the shelves will be. When an end goes against a wall then it doesn’t matter. Our open ends are flush so we take a little time to line it up with the four screws and have ended up with minimal sanding.