Preparing Face Frame Stock

A lively discussion among cabinetmakers about whether, when, and how to joint, plane, or sand stock for face frames. October 8, 2005

When cutting your face frame stock to size, let' say 2 inches, do you rip exactly to 2 inches or do you oversize it and joint or edge sand it? If so, how do you keep it square/parallel?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor L:
I like to rip mine a bit oversized and run them through a planer, stacking a few of them together side by side. Then I know they are all the same size.

From contributor F:
I do it similar to the post above. My method is not one that a high production shop would approve of, but is an acceptable method if you are more of a craftsman type. First, I rip all my face frame stock oversized .1875" (3/16"). Then I joint the hollow edge of the stock. Next, the material is ripped to .040" over net size. Then, ganging three or more boards tightly together so they will not rock out of square, I run them through the planer, taking .020" off the first edge, then I flip them end for end and plane .020" off the second edge. I plane even the edge that had been jointed, because a jointer typically leaves more pronounced mill marks than a high speed planer. I always have a short scrap of each width that I am machining and I run it through the same steps as the rest so I can use the scrap to test and adjust the planer setting before I push the real parts through. I do my measuring with digital calipers and can get all the stiles and rails of a certain width to within about .008", which is about one half of 1/64". I run all parts of the same width through the same general area of the planer knives on the second pass to insure uniformity of that accuracy.

This is a lot of work to read, but in practice it is all fairly quick and routine to me. A few things I left unsaid are keeping track of the grain direction that the jointer will help you establish is a way to have nearly perfect edges on all parts because, if planed with the grain, there will be little or no tear out of the edges. I keep track of the grain direction by placing the ripping the same way every time they go from the jointer to the saw. After ripping, I know which end of which edge should be fed to the planer knives to be run with the grain. Lastly, at times when there was no planer available, I have jointed, ripped 1/32" oversized and then jointed the saw marks off while netting finished width. To me, this is preferable to beltsanded (hand belt sanded, that is) edges, which will not leave a nice machined surface for the intersection of stiles and rails, etc.

I should add, a properly tuned saw will get your stock edges parallel and square to the face of the board. Likewise, a properly adjusted jointer fence will make the edges square to the face. That squareness will be telegraphed to the opposite edge by the planer.

From contributor W:

I rough rip 1/4" over size then cross cut on an up-cut saw with a digital ruler, then I have a dedicated shaper setup with an outboard fence and I run all door parts and face frames through it on both edges, taking off 1/8" each edge. It has a digital ruler on it also, which allows me to mill stock to an accuracy within .002"-.005". With a 4 knife head at 72 feet/minute it gets done fast, but not as fast as ganged up through the planer.

From contributor F:
It might be faster than mine. Although it does give a fine finish, I have my main planer geared down to run at about 12 feet per minute. I am curious - does one pass through the shaper per edge with an offset fence and a power feed really get the edges straight (holding two together with no gap)? Also, if it will straighten an edge, how does it make the two edges parallel if there is no re-ripping done after the first edge is made straight and the second edge is run through the shaper?

From contributor W:
What I said is that I use an outboard fence (the wood runs between the fence and spindle). This allows me to cut some of the crown out of a work piece, turn it around and cut the second side parallel. No, it doesn't make it perfectly straight on the longer stock. I'll select and straighten those as needed. Shorter stock under 48" or so will straighten a great deal. The digital rule gives me a very accurate reading for whatever material width I want to finish at. The feeder tends to want to keep the stock tight to the outboard fence, so if the piece does still have some crown to it, the crown is run against the fence on the second cut, which brings the work piece through the cutter at the set material width.

From contributor M:
If you don't want to take all day to rip and edge your face frame members, just rip your stock to finish width, cut to length, put your face frame together, and vibrate or random orbit sand the exposed edges to remove saw blade marks after the frame has been assembled (either before or after the face frame has been installed on the cabinet).

From contributor W:
I question that contributor M's technique is a very good choice. The quality of frame edges will not be as good as jointed even if you choose not to sand the mill marks. I am quite sure that it will also take less time to edge joint all your stock than it will take to sand out the rip marks. It wouldn't take but an hour even on a big kitchen - far from all day, unless you're doing it with a hand plane.

From contributor I:
I've been using contributor M's technique for many years now and have tried planing and jointing, but found that ripping and sanding works best for me. The reason is that everything needs to be properly sanded before finishing. A piece taken from the planer or jointer and not sanded is asking for adhesion problems when it comes to finishing. The stain also doesn't take very evenly this way.

From contributor B:
Clean up the edges of the frames that will show (around doors, open cabinets, etc.) and those that go against walls, around drawers or point to the floor or ceiling don't waste your time or energy with. If your saw's not fine tuned, joint or plane frames that meet other frames for a nice seam, and fix the saw and get a good blade to rip with. The sooner the frames are on the cabinets, the sooner you get paid, but quality has to be there, too.

From contributor F:
I can't believe what I am reading. Even many years back when I worked in my first shops and the boss didn't have a planer or jointer, it was common knowledge that saw marks were first *beltsanded* (you know, hand held type) and then vibrator sanded. Sorry, contributor M - I'll race you any time planing the saw marks off my edges while you take a finishing sander to them. After you lose the race, you will have rounded over edges and most likely, saw marks remaining.

Also absurd is the notion that finishes won't adhere to planed or jointed surfaces. A planed surface takes a beautiful finish and is preferred over sanded surfaces by finer craftsmen.

I am not saying you have to plane your edges to make a decent face frame, but finish sanding saw marks will result in rounded edges, remaining saw marks (unless you've got a lot of stamina for mindless toil) and wasted sandpaper. Always beltsand first.

From contributor M:
I used to go the route of jointing or planing these edges, but I found that I still had to vibrate sand them in the end to remove planer or jointer lumps as well as all the chip out which is caused when a piece is run through one of those machines in the wrong direction or if the direction of the grain in a single piece varies.

So, let me get this right: You cut your face frame stock 1/4" wide, joint it, rip it again (still a little over width), then run it on edge through the planer to actual width? Then you belt sand and vibrate sand it? Whew!

Then you have to still cut the pieces to length, put the frame together, and apply it to the cabinet front. And you think you would beat me in a time race? Do you know how efficient random orbit sanders are these days, how fast they can take off saw marks? Do you know how good high quality saw blades are these days with regard to run out and near lack of saw marks? I've heard some great and exacting advice from you on this forum for quite some time, but I have to question it here.

From contributor R:
What about using your edge sander after frame is assembled? I tried the stack 'em up and run 'em through the planer... Works good except for losing 3 inches due to the possible snipe. I usually don't get snipe, but for some reason it was there when I planed 4 boards on edge.

From contributor F:

If we both just rip our material directly to finished width, and then while you start finish sanding your saw marks off, I gang edge plane mine, I will get done faster and have more accurate results.

I know production shops don't take the time to rough rip and edge straighten material or plane the edges and I know it isn't the only way to do this task. I guess I need to add that I hope you know that after putting planed edges on the frame stock, I do not then belt and finish sand those edges too.

Yes, I know random orbits cut fast and yes, I have saw blades that cut smoothly, but maybe I am behind the times. Maybe my understanding that a flat, machined, exactly 90 degree edge on face frame edges will yield the tightest joint you can get between a rail and stile is outdated. I do also understand the difficulty makers can have when the grain direction is opposing their planer's feed direction. I get very little tearout, but then I feed the material with the grain.

Contributor R, the bed-roll adjustment on your planer has an effect on end-snipe. Also, straight material will not snipe as badly as crooked stuff will. I honestly get almost zero snipe. I get an occasional snipe, but it is only .010" deep by .5" long. I use a Makita 2050 15" planer for finish work.

From contributor R:
What do you do with the snipe? Sand it out or cut it off?

From contributor F:
Since my occasional snipe is about .5" long, I cut my stock 1" over sized in length. I cut the sniped section off and toss it in the kindling box. Incidentally, if a guy was to sand snipe off of say, the end of the inside edge of an outside stile, he would be sanding right where the rail/stile intersection will be and that is risking getting a joint that could be less than tight.

From contributor W:
Using the shaper with an outboard fence as I do, I get no snipe whatsoever. I actually cut all stock to finish length before doing the edge jointing so that any chipping that may occur from the cross cut will be milled out.

From contributor H:
This is how we do it for our face frame stock. We use three main sizes for our frames, 2.5", 1.75", and 1.25". We joint up a pile of boards, run them through the table saw to 1/8" oversize, and then plane 1/16" off each edge. We also put 3 or 4 together at a time to keep it straight while it goes through the planer.

We have stock bins for each of these sizes, and just cut our frames from these lengths. This way, you won't have to worry about any sniping, etc. on a finished size piece. When the stock starts getting low, we cut up a bunch more. After the frames are built, it only takes a little sanding with a random orbital sander to smooth out any planer marks. As you can see, there are many ways, and each is probably as good as the other. Just use whatever works well for your shop.

From contributor T:
Contributor F, I pretty much do it your way except I saw the second edge about 1/32" oversize and then run it through the jointer. But I like your method. You're right, the planer does leave less machining marks than the jointer. When you gang plane the edges, do you clamp them together or just feed them together? I'm going to give this a try. Jointing really hurts my back when I'm at it all day. I agree with you that sanding edges is not a good idea.
From contributor F:
Yes, I can relate to getting sore from too much jointer activity. I did all the machining on the jointer for the longest time. Then one day I was helping a guy in his shop and he showed me the gang method. I grab as many as I can squeeze in my hands and then, having the ends basically lined up, I set the ends down on the planer infeed table, where I can feel that they are plumb and not tilted, and then start them through the planer. I continue to keep them grouped tightly together as they travel through and then I switch to the outfeed side and squeeze them together from that side until they exit the knives.

From contributor T:
I guess I'm lucky to just run it through the moulder. I really dig contributor W's method. It seems that it would leave the highest quality finish with minimal tear out, particularly on materials such as hickory and maple. Am I getting this straight that some of you cut your stock to a rough length and then mill it down and then cut it to finish length? Could you just run longer lengths (ex. 8'), and then chop it to your finished length? Before I had a moulder, I used contributor M's method.

From contributor F:
I think the reason that we sometimes cut to a rough length before face flattening and/or edge straightening is economy of material. When, for instance, you rough rip an eight foot long board into rippings of 2 3/16" widths when you want to finish with 2" net widths, the individual rippings will go crooked enough off the saw to where, if you were to joint the edge of the entire eight footer straight, you would fall under 2" on part of its length (the ends). But if you cross cut it to somewhat over the finish lengths of your individual parts, for instance shorter than 96", you would be able to get that section straight and flat and still net your desired thickness and width. This can sometimes be the only way to get any usable sections from a twisted board which will taper down to almost nothing on the ends and edges if you try to flatten it on the jointer in its full length.

From contributor V:
I must be sick. I pile my frames (which have been through the thickness planer) and give them a shot with my hand plane before assembly. Both edges. Faster, smoother and quiet.

From contributor F:
I think you might be running a bit of a temperature! I use hand planes, too, and I can attest to the fact that they are smoother and quieter. But faster than a jointer or planer? Better see the doctor.

From contributor T:
I've read ads for saw blades that claim to pretty well joint the edge of a board, i.e. no saw marks, no vibration. The one that comes to mind is the Freud triple chip rip blade (40 teeth, I think). I've heard similar claims for Forrest WWII from users. If there really was such a blade, that would cut out a whole jointing step on the second edge. Love to own one.

Contributor W, I've been thinking about your method and I may be wrong, but it seems a tad dangerous in that the wood is trapped between the fence and the cutter and if the @$%* hits the fan, it can only move toward the cutter. But what do I know? Never tried it.

From contributor W:
You're quite right that it could be dangerous if everything is not in place. The spindle still has its fence around it and I keep the fence pulled up as close to the cutter as possible. The fence is also set to be 1/4" behind the cutting diameter on the infeed side with the work piece wasting 1/8" on the cut and only a couple thousands behind the cutting diameter on the outfeed side to let the cut work piece just squeeze through. I also use a belt drive feeder to keep contact with the work piece at all times. In the 10 years or so that I have been doing it this way, I have never ruined a piece of wood with this system.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor J:
I have been a custom cabinetmaker for 16 years, from the drawing board to the finished product. Buy yourself a nice planer. (One that you don't have to chase around the shop while using - spend 10k if you have to. I have a sac with torsa knives - takes about 3 minuts to change all four blades and no adjusting nessesary.) Anyway, rip your frame stock 1/8" over size, clean one edge (4 pieces minimum), turn over and set planer to required size and plane other side, stack in your frame stock rack, cut and assemble frames. I did try edge sanding, and it does work, but you have to keep the plattem down to get a square, non-rolled edge.

Comment from contributor G:
We do the planer method. Just a word about planers/jointers: we bought both of these with "helical" heads. These are small carbide cutters on a spiral head. When they get dull (up to 4-5 months) you turn the cutter to another face. You will think you went to heaven as you don't get the constant nicks and have to change knives. The finish is fantastic. We are a small shop - 8-9 in the shop - and spent $4,000 for a Cantek 20" planer. I'm sure there are plenty of others with these heads.