More boxes, less time

Making the process more efficient, including discussion on toekicks and finishing. May 2, 2001

I am trying to improve my kitchen cabinet output time, specifically in finishing and box construction.

I have been cutting full-length side panels, notching the toe kick and dadoing every other joint. I recently tried making the boxes without the toe kick, but then installed the plain boxes on a 2x4 platform (faced with oak), which in the end gave me the necessary toe space. This was really fast and helped my bottom line, but I wasn't satisfied with the end result. What is the standard practice for box construction?

Do any of you spray your 4x8 sheets before cutting everything down to size? If it works for casework, will it also work on door and face frame parts? This must be torture on the blades. What are your tricks for speed without losing quality on finish?

Does anybody have experience to share with the compact type HVLP gravity feed sprayers?

Forum Responses
I also install my cabinet boxes on a separate toe-kick frame. I don't see where quality is reduced. It's a lot easier to shim the frame level than install the boxes. I can also get six side panels out of a 4x8 sheet of plywood, instead of four.

Gravity feed sprayers are great for little, tiny jobs. I run a small Grayco airless (an industrial model, not a homeowner model) with a grayco non-reversing fine finish tip. It does a better job than a pot gun and is faster, too. Just drop the sump in your bucket of lacquer after you stir it up, and start spraying.

I cut the notch for the toe in the side of my cabinet. I have been toying with the idea of setting up a jig to cut the notch with a router.

Cutting out the notch with a router is the only way to go for notching! A couple of simple templates, a 1/4" shear set straight bit (I tried spiral bits but never really liked them) and bingo, job is done. Route or chamfer the matching corner of the toekick board with a 1/2 radius bit to avoid any interference.

I build my toe kicks out of 4" rips of cdx fir plywood and cover with a toe skin after installing the boxes. I install kickers every 24" - 30" inches, depending on the length of the kick. I then put corner blocks on the bottom side of the kick front and back of every kicker. This gives me something to slide my shim under and screw to the floor. Being able to shim both the front and the back of the kick eliminates sagging cabinets under the weight of heavier stone countertops. Even if I build several boxes for a long run of cabinets, I will make one long kick for ease of installation. Your box material usage will increase dramatically, ie, six partitions for base instead of 4. I use melamine interiors as much as possible, with a wood hot melt glue and stain to match doors and ends.

I build my basic box out of 3/4" melamine. The sides sit on top of the bottom. There are 2 top stretchers on top of them. The back is planted onto the back edge of the box. Once rips are made, this allows the bottom, back and top stretchers to be cut without moving the fence (which helps with accuracy).

The toe-kick assembly is made separately with 3/4" ply and then attached. The face is made of 1/4" solid stock that is flush-routed to the box and then rounded over (combining the traditional face-frame cabinet with a Euro, but a lot faster). I do the same thing for upper cabs. Run the top and bottom through with the sides in between and the back planted on (parts are biscuited and stapled together).

I usually order the doors from a cabinet door company. I leave finishing to the professionals.

We use the Camar leveling legs. We used to use the separate box and use shims. You know--shim and check, shim and check, etc. Now we set the cabinet in place against the wall and crank the legs up or down as needed. It's fast and efficient. On some commercial jobs we have left off the kick, exposing the legs (the clients said it gave a more streamlined look, which is what they were after).

We use melamine whenever possible for cab interiors, but when someone wants plywood we use the pre-finished plywood we buy. We can get it in maple veneer, either C-2 or A-1 faces, as well as cherry and oak. The finish is a little softer than lacquer, but it works well for cab interiors and can't be hurt by lacquer thinner or the other solvents we use. We also use it for pre-finished bookcases and cabinets for one client who likes the product and the price.

We buy pre-finished banding and use Zenith Tibet Almond Stick on the banding edges after they are cleaned and eased. It looks pretty good and is real fast.

We also build loose toe kicks in long lengths from 3/4" ply and level them before setting the boxes on them. You can do a much better job of leveling when you can get to the back and in the corners of toe spaces; the boxes can then be set on them and slid around for scribing, etc. It also helps to have a good reference point when measuring for cutouts, sink pipes, etc.

We installed a kitchen once where the customer bought cabinets with the ends running to the floor. We couldn't get the cabinets level without several tries. I couldn't tell where the floor was not level and the corners were a real problem. We just refuse to install those now.

We made some changes at one point in our face-frame cabinet construction that increased our efficiency dramatically. My aim was to eliminate much (or all) of the finishing process and speed installation. Here’s what we did:

We used pre-finished birch ply (3/4” and 1/4”). The stuff is made and flat-line finished by Columbia (and others, I assume). We used it for all non-exposed case parts like sides, decks and backs. They also supplied pre-finished and pre-edgebanded ply for shelves; crosscut, rip, done.

We pre-finished our frames, doors, drawers and mouldings in a much abbreviated work-flow since the case parts were now out of the finishing line. In fact, ultimately, we farmed our finishing out to a high-end firm that was as good at what they did as we were at making doors and boxes. The charges were within reason since the larger plywood parts were out of the mix.

All joints were cut prior to sanding and finishing, and though it did call for a bit more care in assembly, this too helped our efficiency, since everyone knew they couldn’t just fix assembly damage (an often time-consuming job). I was surprised at how infrequently there was actually any damage done during assembly. It was far more likely that cabinets were damaged in transit or on the job.

We also used the Camar leg levelers (mentioned above). This allowed us to get 6 base sides with little waste from a 4 x 8 sheet. It also made our installer a happier guy.