Getting Into Frameless

A cabinetmaking newbie gets advice on making his first attempt at a frameless kitchen. June 16, 2014

Question (WOODWEB Member) :
I am just starting in the cabinet business and kKind of winging it. I have experience with trim carpentry, built-ins and cabinetry. I did my first full kitchen for a client this year. It was shaker style inset cherry. It turned out well and was profitable. I now have another job to do and it will be frameless. I was hoping to get some direction on the things I need to look out for. I am also curious about other peopleís pricing. What should this kitchen cost? Iím planning on alder arch top raised panel doors with melamine interiors with crown and a light rail.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor M:
From the standpoint of a small shop I will build frameless cabinets only when a strict euro look is desired. Otherwise I feel pretty strongly that there are a lot of advantages to building with face frames and full inset doors. The added benefit is that your cabinets won't look like everyone else's, as most shops do fames with partial overlay or frameless.

For one I find it faster to build face frames than to apply a solid wood banding. Also. I typically remove my face frames for easy finishing. When I have done frameless, staining/finishing banding is always a pain. I found myself spending too much time adding the necessary fillers/scribes required to properly install frameless cabinetry. By the time you account for this, and the additional trim/moldings often needed to dress up the look making a simple face frame, it becomes very attractive again. With face frames you automatically have any scribes or fillers you want by adjusting the dimensions. Itís something very versatile in residential cabinetry.

For a small shop that lacks a capable edgebander there is no good way to deal with edge banding. Anything you do is a compromise. Beyond easily replaced items such as shelves I simply don't trust the longevity of iron on banding, and won't put my name on it. Trimming it perfectly every time is also a pain. Applying and dealing with solid wood banding is slow. Finishing it is a hassle. I find building a face frame is faster and more enjoyable. I tried to go the frameless route and I even bought a small edgebander which turned out to be too expensive to run/maintain for the volume of work I was doing, so I ended up scraping it.

Ultimately I will bid frameless if the client is after a strict euro style look. Otherwise, I am much more comfortable with face frames. Now I do apply what I have learned building frameless to that. When I do build with face frames I apply them so that the inside edge is flush with the inside of the box. This allows the use of cup hinges with regular mounting plates, and simplifies the installation of drawer slides.

I also build my boxes sturdier so that they are square and structurally sound before I even attach the face frame. This combined with the fact the hinges are attached to the box allows for more slender face frame members and simpler joinery (pocket screws/glue). Because I build full inset I typically eliminate unnecessary mid rails in-between drawer fronts so that I can use available space more efficiently. Thatís something that can't really be done with partial overlay/inset. Frameless does work when you can stay within the euro system and keep things simple. Start to dress up the look or deal with a more challenging installation and it gets complicated fast and you start to lose the purported benefits people talk about.

From Contributor D:
What equipment do you have? That will influence what and how you deal with this. I'll admit my bias, I build frameless carcasses for companies such as yourself. Since youíre familiar with Sketchup you might want to consider something like CabinetSense which will lay out all the slide and hinge holes as well as lay out your material usage with an included (I think) nesting app. I use CS but not the Cutlist nesting, I use their CNC version. Make sure that your parts are dead square. Use PVC edgebanding that is closest to the final finish, whether stained or painted. If you don't have an edgebander, find someone who does and pay them to do it - it's money well spent.

If you can, find someone like me who will cut, drill and edgeband all the pieces for you. It will cost a few dollars but will save you more time than you can believe. You can concentrate on the custom components, doors and drawers (if you build them in house), trim, fillers, etc. and finishing. Don't skimp on material. It's tempting to save $5.00 per sheet on material but it's not worth it, especially with melamine. The lower cost stuff has a thinner coating and will chip easier.

From the original questioner:
I have a pretty small shop, but I do have an 8' sliding saw. Other than that I don't have anything to specialized, just standard hand tools. Do I need fillers anywhere but corners with frameless? I assumed that was the only place for fillers. I will probably have the doors farmed out. I don't think I can compete with price and quality of a custom door shop. I was also thinking of farming out the drawer boxes. I can get them dovetailed and finished for around $35 dollars a box. I do enjoy the woodworking part of cabinets but ultimately I want to make a good profit doing cabinets and hopefully can do more custom stuff with furniture. This whole kitchen install will cost around $14,000. I have been wondering about the edge banding part and Iím considering solid wood since I don't have an edge bander. I am a small one man shop with about 1,000 square foot shop, so I have to keep things as simple as possible.

From Contributor D:
Without an edgebander I think you should find a local shop to sub box parts to or order from one of the parts suppliers like Cbinotch, etc. Unless of course you intend on going into the frame-less cabinet business and then you should look for a small bander, line boring machine and hinge machine. All of these can be purchased at auction for a fraction of new.

From Contributor D:
All I know about solid wood edgebanding is that I wouldn't touch it. I'm sure it looks great, but I'd bet you'd have a couple days work into it. A decent edgebander can do this entire kitchen in less than an hour so you're better off to pay someone $100 or $200 to do it.

From contributor L:
You will regret doing solid wood banding! The time putting it on and the time finishing is way more than it's worth. Given that you are not setup to do frameless I'd sub out the boxes. To go frameless you've got to do the entire system or it just doesn't pay.