Hybrid Face-Frame/Frameless Cabinet Design

Cabinetmakers discuss how to merge frameless techniques with face-frame construction. August 8, 2006

I would like to merge the efficient 32 mm techniques (i.e. system holes for drawer glides and hinges) while still using face frames. The customers in my market do not like melamine or frameless cabinets.

Things I would like to achieve:
1. Attach pre-finished face frames with pocket screws. I've always attached ff with glue and nails. I would start at one corner, nail, then move on down the line, measure for correct scribe/reveal, nail, etc. If you try to screw while holding the ff in place manually, sooner or later the ff will shift while screwing. Is it necessary to clamp every pocket screw location or is there a jig or some other technique for attaching pocket screwed ff?

2. The inside edge of the case sides need to be flush with the inside edge of the stiles to use system holes. Building out for the drawer glides and hinges is very time consuming. Attaching drawer glides and hinges to cases takes only seconds when using the 32 mm system.

Again, has anyone figured a way to use ff while still making use of the system holes? Am I going to have to for go the pre-finished ff in order to flush trim the insides edges of the ff to the case?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor D:
I've asked and answered (for myself anyhow) the questions you ask. I've mostly copied the techniques used by a very high end shop whose work I admire and here's how I now do it. The description below applies to flush inset face frame cabinetry with system 32 on the inside.

I build all my boxes out of 3/4 material (usually pre-fin maple) so that when you attach boxes to one another, the total thickness of the abutted side panels is 1 7/16 (since ply is 1/32 shy of 3/4). Before I install the boxes, I put a 5/32 slotting bit in my router and run a slot down the front edges of all vertical front edges of my boxes. Then I mill my beaded face frame parts to exactly 1.5" width typically, and 7/8" to 15/16" thick. The extra 1/8 to 3/16 allows for bumper thickness plus a little bit so that the face of the drawer/door is slightly recessed relative to the face frame. The 1.5" width means that the face frame will overhang the inside face of the box side panels by 1/32, which doesn't create any problems with hardware clearance in my experience (use Blum Tandem, Blum clip hinges, or Accuride side mount - no problems).

I make my face frames so that one frame covers a whole bank of cabinets (rather than one frame per box, which I don't like). Finish the face frames and then with the biscuit cutter, put the occasional biscuit slot into the back face of the face frame parts to align with the slots cut in the box edges. I attach the face frames to the boxes with the biscuits/glue and Bessey edge clamps, which provide excellent pressure to keep the face frames tight to the boxes while the glue dries.

Once you have the knack for accurately aligning the biscuits (make some setup blocks out of hardwood, delrin, etc.), the system is excellent, I've found. No nail holes to fill, no alignment issues with pocket screws, etc. Fast, too. I also sometimes make the face frames so that the top edge of the bottom rail on the ff is 1/2" below the top edge of the box deck panel. This allows me to use the leading edge of the deck as the stop for the door. A stretcher below an upper drawer accomplishes the same thing to stop your drawer.

So this method allows you to use all the system 32 settings for hinges and slides, since the door/drawer front stops in the same plane as it does with frameless cabinetry. You'll use full inset hinges instead of overlay as in true frameless The slight overhang of the face frame is also nice because it means you don't have to band the verticals, and the 1/32 overhang is very clean looking. The tolerances on this method have to be tight, but once you have a dead accurate stop system for your ff notcher, chop saw, etc. and everything is calibrated, it works like a dream. If you're doing overlay ff cabinets where the drawer/door closes on top of the face frame, then I guess this doesn't help much.

From contributor S:
The above system is very similar to the way we do it. In fact, I wonder if he's been spying on me.

The only thing I would add is… At the end of his description he says, "If you're doing overlay ff cabinets where the drawer/door closes on top of the face frame, then I guess this doesn't help much." If you move your system holes forward by the thickness of the face frame and add an equal reveal around the doors and drawers, then it works well also.

From contributor P:
Throw a piece of ff material against your line-borer fence, and the system holes automatically work with overlay doors. Kinda like magic, huh?

From contributor F:
This is an incredibly fascinating thread. Since the whole idea of using system holes is to facilitate installation of hardware, I was wondering if you guys are line drilling the system holes "balanced" or to accommodate the slides. Also, what do you do with an exposed end panel? Do you plant another 3/4 plywood panel or raised panel to accommodate the recess left by the face frame overhang?

From contributor P:
"Balanced" refers to building a standard panel where the distance from end of panel to first or last hole is identical, so the panel can be used as either a right or left end. We bore upper cabinets equal distance from face and back (37mm), lowers 37mm from face, rears to work with the slides. We don't use a universal balanced panel, as cabinet heights seem to differ all the time. (Doing 30" + kick set now for concrete tops, next job may be 32.5" + kick for people with back trouble...)

From contributor J:
I am using a similar system. When covering the end panel, I use a sheet of 1/4" face wood glued and nailed with 23 gauge nails to hold the panel in place while the glue sets. I over cut the panel by about and 1/8" give or take, and use a flush trim bit to size the sheet. Works and looks great. This also gives me a flush outside, since I overlap the frame 1/4" to cover the 1/4" edge of the ply. It saves a bundle compared to buying the 3/4" A grade veneer ply.

From contributor C:
And if you're doing inset, band the deck and let it be proud of the bottom rail by 1/4 - 3/8 to act as a stop. A 7/8 frame will let you use a 1/8 bumper and still finish out flush. Problem with the pocket screw, though. I've been using drilled blocks that brad onto the deck bottom - they also locate my ladder bases. Better methods out there?