Face frame assembly

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Fastening face frame members that are assembled and sanded before being applied to a cabinet. April 17, 2002

How do you fasten together face frame members that are assembled and sanded before being applied to the cabinet? How is this assembly attached to the face of the cabinet?

Forum Responses
If I am attaching it to solid wood, I use glue and 18g 2" brads. If to plywood, and I can use a small piece of moulding, then I like to use 2" square drive, nibbed screws and glue.

From contributor R:
We assemble the face frame with one or more pocket screws per joint. The frames are glued to the cabinet box (glue only). The key here is even clamp pressure. Properly distributed clamp pressure can only be achieved by the use of clamp cauls. We use a 3/4 x 2 rip of plywood. The amount of glue surface is large, thus a strong joint. No mechanical fasteners are required. A brad here and there will locate the frame prior to clamping, but adds virtually no strength to the joint. Clean the dust off the face frame before setting onto the glued box. Dust in glue joint severely compromises the joint strength.

We use pocket screws to fasten our face frames together and then we finish them. We attach them to the cases (prefinished plywood) with pocket screws and clamps where we cannot put a pocket screw.

From contributor R:
We prefinish face frames also, if possible. Place a strip of masking tape where the glue joint will be before finishing.

Contributor R, could you describe in a little more detail how you clamp the face frames to the box? We are currently nailing or pinning them and we don't really like the filled nail holes except on paint grade cabinets.

I have good luck using pocket hole joinery on both face frames and face frame to box. I only pocket the outside of unfinished jambs and other hidden surfaces. I have not had a failure in the eight years I've been using this system.

From contributor P:
M&T on my face frames and router all face members at the table to accept 1/2" plywood cabinet cases, assemble, sand and install on the sealed boxes with Hipur heated glue. Then condition stain and seal or finish. We don't usually need to nail the faces, but sometimes a stubborn grain will escape the clamp if not held long enough and can pop or bulge out. Then we drill and nail that one piece, but that's unusual. There are usually no mechanical fasteners on the faces themselves, just glue.

Mortise and tenon face frames from oversize material (13/16"), then wide sand to (3/4") and apply to case with glue and biscuits #10.

I'd like to hear from someone who dados the backs of their ff's to allow the carcass to fit into the dados. I've been told it is the best way to attach them, but the thought of trying to register a 10 foot ff with dados to the carcass pieces seems impossible. I join mine with glue and pocket screws or brads if I must.

I use dowels to build my frames and then I dado the frames to the sides of the case and use biscuits to fasten the top and bottom. It seems to work very well and I have no holes to fill.

Why not make your face frames, with dados in the material? Sand the face flush, put the frame face down on a pair of sawhorses and build the box up from there. Put the back on last. Seems simple enough.

We glue and pocket screw the face frames together, two screws per joint always. Then attach the face frame. Cutting an 1/8" slot in the center of the edge of the case and the back of the face frame (with a trim router), glue and insert an 1/8" MDF spline, then clamp (I make them from the sheets used for packing material that comes with every shipment of ply). It's quicker than biscuits, self aligning, no holes to fill, and because the MDF is slightly less than 1/8", it still allows for some adjustment until the glue swells the spline. No failures to date. I love pocket screws - you can't beat them when it comes to speed and strength. I would screw the case to the face frame as described above, except that I have had some picky homeowners who looked on in horror while the installation was taking place, even though they would be hidden when the cases were mulled together.

From contributor G:
We put an 1/8" deep by 3/4" wide dado in face frame stiles only, with tablesaw dado head and powerfeeder before assembling face frame with pocket screws. Butt tops and bottoms up to face frame rails - no dado. Fasten tops and bottoms to sides with pocket screws and box to ff with pocket screws, also.

From contributor B,
So you cut all your vertical box parts 1/8" wider than the tops and bottoms?

From contributor P:
Contributor B, we dado the ff at the router tables. 1/2" solid carbide spiral cut bits cut clean and fast before we assemble the frames. The dado is kept 1/8" in on a 1-3/4" stile and the floor panel rabbets onto the bottom rail (panel 3/4", rail 1") so there is plenty of glue surface. It's fairly easy to install the frames onto the cases if you leave the top stiffener off of the cases until the last, so the only crucial parts are the bottom fit. On the wall units the ff are face down on the benches, the sides go into the dados, floor and tops slide into the dados from the back, hangers on top and bottom, 1/4" backer staples from behind last (so everything is pretty flexible until that point). Also, when using Hipur 75 hot melt, you will have little time for adjustment, but it grabs well and clamp time is almost not necessary except that I like to make sure the cases have bottomed out on the dados. I don't know if it's the best system, but it's the one I've grown accustomed to.

Contributor P, I'm interested in Hipur 75. What's the working time? What are other applications? Will it adhere to prefinished ply? What are the pros and cons?

From contributor P:
It tacks and starts to grab at a little over two minutes, then solidifies almost within seconds. If you are not set by that time, you will need to quickly scrape out any residue before the glue cools off anymore. It is urethane glue and will stick even to non-porous surfaces. Once set, there is no turning back. I like it for the reason you are wondering about, but if you make a mess with it, it has to be cleaned with solvents. It takes a little practice to figure how to get almost no squeeze out and if there is, sometimes it's better to let it set up, then cut it from the corners.

From contributor G:
Contributor B, our vertical parts are 1/8" wider. Because we dado tops and bottoms into sides only, we don't have to worry about lining up with ff dados also. We use 3/4" plywood for boxes so we use 3/4" wide dados so we don't have to do any machining on sides to fit into a narrower dado. Also by dadoing only 1/8" deep, there is still plenty of thickness remaining for pocket screws. You would have a strong enough cabinet with no dado at all if you use glue, but the dado lines and squares everything up, making assembly easier.

I can see the dado systems working just fine on single boxes (maybe up to 5' long with a vertical partition or two). However, I'm wondering how that works when you have a long box like the 10' one contributor B was talking about? We never make separate boxes unless they are stand-along units.

We glue and nail face frames to box. Rarely, we'll use a clamp to snug up if needed. I dislike this system, but it's not my call.

From contributor G:
For a 10' box, have at least one center partition that is 1/4" narrower and the same height as ends. We splice the backs and bottoms to this center panel since the box exceeds 8'. The bottom goes into 1/8" deep dados into the ends and center panels. The center panel is centered and dadoed into the back of a 1 3/4" face frame stile that was dadoed before the face frame was assembled. That way we maintain 1/2 inch reveal from the face frame opening to the side and center panels. We mount 1/2 inch thick build out blocks, that we get from our hardware supplier, to system holes we drill with our line borer. We mount the drawers and rollout trays to these build out blocks and shelf pins in the system holes. This is a very accurate way to position drawers, but parts have to be machined accurately. I know I got off the original topic but the processes all work together for speed and accuracy.

We build Euro style boxes drilled with 32 mm system holes, then attach face frames with 0 inside scribe. I hate using build out blocks and this makes the job go much faster as the hardware, hinges and slides go right in the holes drilled on the carcass sides. We pocket drill all face frame joints two times (minimum), glue and screw and then glue and pin (2" brads) to carcass. Our finished ends are either wrap around frame (miter FE face frame stile and continue around side) with raised panel or 1/4 inch skins which are placed on furr strips. We wrap our frames around 90% of the time on FE's because we do a lot of fluted stiles and it always looks better on FE's to continue the fluted stiles around with a raised panel in the field.

I use screws into countersunk holes and plugs from the same material. Works for me.