Face Frame Construction Details with Prefinished Plywood

Using pre-finished plywood has helped streamline one cabinetmaker's process. Here, he gets ideas from others about touches that could make his product look better. November 20, 2005

We are a high end, fully custom shop (38 people). Four years ago we moved to nbm using a thermwood router and had a lot of success. The problem now is getting the product to move quicker after assembly. I decided to manufacture all my frameless cabinets using pre-finished plywood. It relieved much congestion and management nightmares. For framed construction I have not been able to perfect it yet.

My main issue is (and the question here) is how do I integrate end panels and finished ends with the frame? My framed cabinets are one piece construction with 3/4" plywood and 3/4" paneled ends glued and sanded before finishing. I am looking for guidance on how others in my situation solved the issue.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor G:
The simple answer is to use the pre-finished for the box and have a separate planted on end instead of one piece.

From contributor R:
I would suggest using either plant-on end-panels or pre-finished-both-sides for exposed end panels that don't get plant-on EPs.

From the original questioner:
I do understand pre-finished (one sided) and plant end-panel, but I am concerned about it looking good. For example, extend the frame an eighth beyond, put a bead on the end-panel and etc. I am talking about how the finished product looks from the side.

From contributor R:
On my face frame cabinets the face frame edge is flush with the interior surface of the box side and not the outside surface. I use 1 1/2" wide FF bottom rails & stiles and 3" wide top rails. This means I can add an end-panel and it sits flush with the edge of the FF. Sometimes I run either a shallow V groove or bead on the rear of the FF stile between the FF and the panel to "hide" the joint if it's a ply end panel.

If it's a raised end-panel I don’t use a groove/bead. The end panel is slightly undercut/beveled (1-2 degrees) so that the joint is tight looking after assembly. This bevel is only 1/2" tall so that there is a 1/4" wide flat which butts against the rear of the FF. The purpose of the bevel is to make sure the panel can close the gap and nothing (stray glue, sawdust, etc) keeps it from closing.

Between cabs I either omit one stile and pocket screw the FF's together after hanging or use a spacer to fill the gap on the underside. I prefer to omit the stile as otherwise the gap between adjoining cab doors is pretty wide looking but it depends on the design. Some designs have wide stiles between doors and can get away with 2 stiles between cabs.

Some manufactures overhang the FF's 1/4" on the outsides and use 1/4" thick applied end panels. On these a 1/2" wide filler is used between cabs after hanging to close up the gap on the bottom.
I've always thought the 1/4" thick end panels to be cheesy as there isn't any way to attach them and make it look good unless you're going crazy with moldings and, if so, why bother with using cheesy thin end panels.

You could go with 1/2" thick end panels I suppose but then you'd also have to use 1" fillers underneath. If so, your FF's would overhang the box interior by only 1/4" if you used 1 1/2" wide frame members - assuming you have 3/4" thick box sides.

From contributor M:
We recently made the same move. However, we solved the face frame problem by not building face frame cabinets. Sorry if that sounds a bit sarcastic, it certainly isn't meant to be. We've just found that we can sell frameless just as good as face frame, and our throughput is quite improved (no milling, assembling the frame, installing the frame, sanding the frame, etc).

From the original questioner:
My initial question regarding the frame problem is precipitated by the fact that in my market (just outside NYC), I must do much beaded inset kitchens. In fact, all of my framed jobs have been beaded inset for the past 5 years plus. With my Cabnetware program spitting out cutlists with a diagram, I make these frames very efficiently (mortise/tenon/mitered bead). My customers demand a framed cabinet 50% of the time. Obviously I prefer frameless for the same reasons you do. The fact that they do not need to be "handled" as much is what is driving me to pursue continued increases in efficiency.

I have since completed my first pre-finished interior beaded inset kitchen. Every piece was flat lined, much like frameless. The job was a paint glaze. After the frames were glazed, I glued them to the cabinet boxes, along with the end panels. It is scary how much faster the job got done, and I firmly believe it is better quality. My guys were able to finish the parts a lot easier because the parts were not 200 pound eight foot long monsters, but merely frames, doors, and end panels.

From contributor P:
I am not sure if it is a whole lot faster, but where I work we do the face frames with a pocket hole machine and mitre the beading onto the face frames. I just use a vise grip quick clamp to hold the joint down to the workbench and put the pocket screws in from the top with the face frame on the bottom which ensures a square flush joint. I then use the same process to apply the beading and glue/shoot is with a super pin nailer.

I have also used believe it or not a plate jointer to line up the face frame to the cabinets when there are several boxes being done at once. This sounds time consuming but makes lining things up so much easier. Another option is to go with one of the new machines that make mitered beaded face frames. You just machine your face frame material on the shaper or whatever you use and run the bead on it while you're there.