Low-Tech Frameless Cabinet Construction

How can a face-frame cabinetmaker switch to frameless, without investing in a lot of equipment? April 20, 2008

I'm a dyed in the wool type of face frame guy, however, throughout the course of my last kitchen, I may have seen the light. Basically, I considered what I was doing, and how it would differ with frameless construction. Also, dealing with flat melamine particleboard versus the warped up domestic pre-finished plywood. It seems so much easier.

I have a kitchen to remodel in a rental house, so this will be a perfect time to try out the new methods. I am looking for low tech options for frameless construction. I am thinking that butt joints, confirmats, and Roo glue would be the best way for me. 3/4" boxes with a 3/4" plant-on back (again confirmats and Roo glue). I am looking at the confirmat drill bit and screws offered by McFeely's. Would this serve me well for this project?

Concerning finished end, I was planning on planting plywood panels to match, but what about step-ups in wall cabinets (for example where the cabinet above the sink meets the cabinets to either side). How do you frameless guys tackle that?

Also, I prefer Blum hinges, so which hinge would you recommend (straight, half cranked, full cranked)?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor G:
Regarding assembly, you can do what probably a couple thousand shops are doing, butt joints, then use a few staples for alignment, then #6 x 2 Zip-R screws (Hafele), maybe 6 across a 24" basecab joint, 4 across the wallcab joints. No glue required. No Roo, no nothing.

A step-up-and-down at a hood where you will see carcass sides can be done either with part-height plywood (edgebanded) panels, or by veneer-skinning the exposed ends. We use the 107 degree straight-arm Blums (75T1590B in self-closing) with the tool-free Inserta cup and pressdown flap, and either the Inserta tool-free plates (174H7100I in 0mm), or the cast one-piece plate with the system screws integral (175L8100 in 0mm).
Tool-free hinge parts are a little pricier, but sure take the work out of fooling around with screws. Furthermore, what are you gonna do with all the extra screws you bought?

From the original questioner:

Thanks for the reply. I looked up the zipR screws, and it didn't mention anything about pilot holes. Do you not have to pre-drill? It says it has a self-tapping point, but it seems that it would split the particleboard.

About the hinges... I saw a frameless kitchen once with straight arm hinges, and the doors rubbed against its neighbor when opened... Will this happen with the hinge you specified? No glue either, huh? It seems like it would really secure everything, but if it's not necessary, then oh well.

From contributor G:
No pilot holes needed for the Hafele Zip-R screws, but you ought to be using one of those magtip drivers with a pull-down tube guide. Otherwise, a little 3/32 hole through most all your panel (don't even need to go through) will get the screw going where it is needed.

We do all 3mm (1/8") margins with doors and drawer fronts. That means the side margins for adjoining cabs are 1.5mm each, and joined up, voila, there's your 3. That means the cup drill distance is 6mm for that hinge, on the backside of the door. Doors aren't square-edged... there is always a teeny 1/32" roundover, and with that, there is no door-cab nor door-door interference.

Go to Blum's site and download their complete hinge brochure. Very informative spec and detail info inside. No one else in hinges has as good a document available online.

Form the original questioner:
I have the Blum book (but not with me right now). From what I remember, the face frame hinge section gives details regarding the clearance needed at the back of the door in relation to the cup distance from the edge. I didn't remember seeing that in the clip on/frameless section, but then again, I didn't look too hard. I'll just get a few hinges and do some mockups when the time comes.

About mounting the door, what would be the best way to drill the holes for the hinge plate on the carcass? Since everything won't be pre-engineered, I'll need to locate those holes precisely somehow. On face frame cabinets, I usually just put the hinges on the door and held it up to the cabinet and screwed it on. I guess the same might work for frameless if I figure out the right combination of spacers.

From contributor R:
To answer your last question, Rockler has some nice Jig-it templates that work with vix bits. They have one for base plates that placed in your box would make for 37mm insets and 2.25" from top and bottom of cabinet, which will make for a 3" bore top and bottom on your doors. Need a center hinge, measure to the center, make your mark and bore. Fast and accurate for the non-CNC. Staple, screw, no glue has been the way for decades and it still works today. Zipper screws or (I like) Quick-screws. Pre-drilling always helps, I think. Spray glue and veneer on for finished ends by sinks works well. I usually go the other way, though, and spray a matching interior laminate onto veneer MDF veneer plywood so I have no bubbling problems.

3/4" backs, ouch! Heavy, but yes, they do work. 1/2" is more than enough, or you could do captured 1/4" with nailers. How do you bore for shelf holes? Again, Rockler has a jig.

Once you have done it once or twice, you will never look back again.

From contributor G:
All our carcass parts are CNC-cut and come with hardware holes done in the nest, so drilling fixing holes is not in our repertoire. If I was doing a job like yours, drilling fixing holes manually, I would spring for either the Blum 65.5070 Eco-jig, or their template, number 65.5300. The Eco-jig gives more assurance of the two holes being exactly 32mm apart, because in using it, you drill one hole first, then set the jig's indexing pin in that hole, so as to locate the next hole.

Have your doors on hand before carcass assembly, set each cab carcass side on a work table, lay the mating doors hinge-side edge up against the carcass edge, and with both parts indexed, do the marking on both door and carcass side for hardware holes. Then drill all holes before carcass parts are assembled.

We build frameless carcasses as most all shops do, by fixing all hinge plate and drawer slide hardware to cab parts, before assembly.

From contributor W:
I have the equipment for frameless, so this is interesting for me. The obvious and most economical answer is to find a local shop that will cut your parts on a CNC. Typically they will charge you $20-30 per sheet for machining. You can usually find a local shop that will do it for you. Look at the Thermwood website and click on Production Sharing. They can even do MDF routed doors and dovetailed drawers if you find the right shop.

From contributor C:
If we could find a Thermwood shop to do it for us for 20-30 a sheet, we would do it. We had a shop that was charging us 40 per sheet for cabinet parts, and for the dovetail drawers it was 100 per sheet. It was cheaper for us to do stainless tandembox drawers than plywood dovetail drawers with tandem slides. Shipping costs and communication problems, mis-cut pieces, etc. all cost you in extra time and money. In my opinion you could buy a small scale CNC with Cabinetpro software and do it yourself cheaper.

From the original questioner:
Yes, 20-30 does sound like a good deal... Everything square, ready to assemble and install hardware. I have never checked into this type of service before. Will they provide the sheet goods too, or do you have to bring your own? It seems it would be easier to just buy it from them, but I guess they would want to mark it up too.

From contributor W:
The guy who machines parts for us on occasion charges $25 per sheet for machining and $100 per sheet for dovetailed drawers. He charges $15 per square corner MDF door. He also has an edgebander and will send the parts already banded for a fee. He is fairly close so I order the material from my supplier and have it delivered to his shop. We typically use the butt joint/staple/screw method of construction and use a separate kick. When we have the parts outsourced we let him do blind dado with notched kicks. As long as the overall sizes are correct I really don't care about the construction style.

From contributor Y:
If you are using material with melamine on both sides, the glue on the butt joint won't have any holding against the melamine edge. Save the time and the material.