Getting a Square, Clean Edge on Face Frame Stock

Cabinetmakers discuss tolerances for face frame edges, and compare ways of prepping stock. April 6, 2007

I currently use an edge tech to clean up and square my face frame edges. This does a good job but is very slow. I used to use a planer but found the material would tilt and come out of square. What is the best way to mill face frame edges that produces a square, clean edge?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor P:
A joiner and a good tablesaw with a good fence and a good rip blade.

From contributor J:
About two years ago my lumber supplier gave me a sample of their pre-milled 2" frame stock. It was nearly 100% clear and straight grained (red oak). It's run through a moulder. My first thought was that it couldn't be consistent. I ordered 200 feet and got more of the same. Since then I've been hooked. The only problem I've ever had was with alder... too many knots. Obviously there's a cost difference, but the time I don't spend prepping the stock is spent building cabinets. You should ask your lumber supplier for a sample.

From contributor F:
A planer is the only efficient way to surface and dimension the quantity of stock required for a kitchen. The out of square edges during the planing operation can be greatly reduced by ganging three or more pieces together and keeping them tight with one another as they travel through the planer. My method is to rough rip the stock 3/16" over finished width. Joint one edge to achieve a straight edge. Finish rip to .040" over width, keeping the straightened edge against the table saw fence. Then "gang plane" .020" off of each edge to finished width.

I dowel my face frames together, so although perfectly square to the face can be illusive in any type of milling operation, my edges come out well within tolerance for 100% tight joints in my finished face frames after gang planing all edges.

It’s amazing how outsourcing by today’s cabinetmakers seems to be boundless. I am not knocking it, but I can’t help notice how many questions on methods of work get answered by the phrase, “Just buy it… that’s what I do.”

From contributor A:
The other option is sizing on the shaper. This is fast and accurate. Unless you are doing 1 1/2" face frames, the planer is inconsistent at best. I usually just joint and rip. Very few parts of the face frame are actually visible.

From contributor G:
I do similar to how contributor F explained. It is important to run the material through the planer straight and not screwed to the feed rollers. Screwed will tend to want to tip the pieces, resulting in out of square parts.

From the original questioner:
Thanks. I might go back to gang planing to boost my production. Was just wondering if there was some new technique I wasn't familiar with.

From contributor F:
I don’t know what kind of planer contributor A has, but I plane every width from 3/4" to 8" across the grain on mine with no problems or inconsistencies. On the contrary, I set up my planer and use calipers to size all of my face frame members to plus or minus .005". I also have to say that using a shaper to size stock that is not being profiled seems very inefficient compared with a machine that was designed to put a flat surface on wood. Not to mention you aren't limited to feeding one piece at a time. Also, the only edge that isn’t visible on my face frames is the odd one that goes against the sheet rock. I mean, okay, you can’t see the rest if you don’t look…

From contributor A:
As I mentioned in my earlier post, edging face frame stock in a planer over 1 1/2" in width often leads to not square edges, snipe, chatter, etc. On a shaper you can run it at 10,000 RPM and often at near full speed. Running stock this way really isn't much slower than the planer. Every stick comes out with no snipe, perfectly square, etc.

I seem to remember that you use a small high speed planer for edging (Makita or the like?). On a kitchen, the only visible edges after install are obviously the ends and the inside of the face frame (cabinet interior). My customers have never complained about the barely visible saw marks (Forrest or glue line rip blade) on my boxes before I install them.

The kitchens I build usually have 2 1/4 top rails on lowers and a random width on the uppers top rail. The lower rail also changes job to job, often greater than 2". However, most of my face frame stock is for numerous built-ins like closets, studies, vanities, etc. Many different widths of stock. There are many ways to get the cabinets out the door.

From contributor F:
Good memory. Sure, lots of ways. But I still feel the planner excels because it was made for the work, has more cutter surface and changes settings in seconds plus runs many pieces at once.

My 15" planer does not snipe or chatter. If you can live with your face frame edges having saw marks, that’s okay for you. I cannot. Even in the bad old days, the shops I worked for would hand belt sand the saw marks out before assembling a face frame. It’s just a level of quality issue.

From contributor Y:
I stated that I do similar to contributor F. I do only in the fact that I run it through the planer. I never straighten the edges on the jointer. Never need to. The lumber is always straight enough off the ripsaw. Gang them together full length 3 or 4 at a time and hold them together as they go through the planer. One pass each edge and on to the crosscut saw. Once in a great while, to save the customer a few cents or if in a hurry, I too will saw to width and not clean the edges. No one ever noticed. Other than cleaning up the edges, my planer also gets the parts dead on consistent in width. I agree a shaper is a good alternative, especially with an outboard fence and power feeder.

From contributor D:
I rip the stock 1/16th over and send them through the 2 head wide belt, 1/32nd each side to get a finished width. Planers make them flat, but they don't make them smooth. When they are done, they need no edge sanding after assembly.

From contributor E:
Below is a post that may help you.... Keep in mind the part about the slight angle, as this is what keeps the stock parallel.

Planing on edge

From contributor L:

Mount a 3hp router under the table extension of your tablesaw, and zero a 3/4" straight bit at an inch mark when you slide the fence over to it. Using featherboards and a power-feeder, you can feed your stock through to take off 1/32 and put a nice square finish on a perfectly-sized and consistent piece.

You can also set this up on a shaper or a router table, but I find it only takes about one minute to set it up on my tablesaw once I have my stock roughed out. I edge all my pieces at once using this method, FF, R+S and any drawer pieces/mouldings, etc. Using the tablesaw fence makes it quick to adjust size to size.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for all the feedback. There’s a method that I've been using that not too many guys are familiar with. This may be something others want to try. I rip all my material 1/16th over. Then put an edge tech on my table saw set to 2 degrees. Then I feed the material through on both sides, cutting 1/32nd off each pass. The edge tech sands and squares up the edge perfectly. This method has one drawback. Feeding all your stock for a typical kitchen is time consuming. A self feeding attachment on a saw would really make this system timely.

From contributor K:
I'm with others... I use the planer. First I rip the stock into 1 5/8" and plane each edge down to 1 1/2". I do the same for the upper rails, adding the 1/8", then I run it all through to bring it down to 3/4". After this, I cut the lengths. Removes any concern about sniping, as I usually end up taking the first couple of inches off each side anyway due to checking, and/or rough cut. This way, when assembling the frames, a lot less sanding due to thickness variances.

Other than ordering it pre-milled, I don't know of a more efficient or more consistent way to do it. But I can't imagine doing it on a joiner or with a router bit... that seems like it would take a long time, running it one stick at a time.

I just did a 21 cabinet kitchen and it took me about 20-30 minutes (doesn't include ripping time) to plane four edges for all of the stock (running 3-4 sticks through at a time). Stock came out smooth as glass (well, almost), easy to assemble and joints were nice and solid.

On a side note, I recently bought a Steel City table-saw for home use, and although you expect that the generic blade that comes with a new saw to be cheesy and of questionable quality, this one rips real nice, leaving smooth cuts. I was quite surprised... I wonder how long that will last?

From contributor M:
If the face frame or door sticks are only 1.5”, why not start with 8/4 lumber and joint after each cut? I use a spiral cutter on the shaper. When face frames, no need to surface. When door parts, one pass through the planer brings the lot to size and finish.

From contributor F:
Because 8/4 lumber is more money per brd ft. 10 brd ft of 4/4 costs less than 10 brd ft of 8/4.

From contributor M:
It’s all about waste mitigation and vg material.