Scribe Rails -- Why Not?

Why are custom shops not including scribe material on backs? August 26, 2004

I have been installing cabinets from custom shops. The cabinets do not have scribe material on the back to fit to the wall. Why are shops not doing this? I am used to Fountainhead and a couple of other stock cabinet companies doing this, but why would you let your work look like that after install? Is it that much harder to make the sides 1/4-1/2 inch bigger to accept a scribe?

Forum Responses
From contributor C:
I never do it, unless the walls are very bad. There are many ways around it. A lot of times I have a separate radiused panel for the finished ends, and I'll just scribe those a hair if need be. How bad are the walls that you are referring to? New construction or old homes? Everybody has their own way of doing things, I guess.

From contributor R:
The reason I don't scribe and cut my finished ends is because it's slower. If the walls are out bad, on a raised panel end, it can still be seen by a trained eye, in the stile being wider on top or bottom. I make up moulding that matches the profile of the finished end. A scribe looks great to a professional cabinetmaker, but that's the only person that will ever say "Hey, look at that perfect scribe - a true craftsman taking pride in his work." Most people don't have a clue, so it's impossible for them to care one way or the other. I do care and love to see fine work, but a scribed gable will not make the cabinets last any longer, make the drawer slides any smoother, or make the finished look any better. I focus on things that the customer's knowledge allows them to focus on, and moulding doesn't look bad.

From contributor G:
I always add a 1/4" scribe, as I usually install the cabinets myself. Yes, I agree - it is a lot easier to do a quality install with scribes or you are stuck with moulding or caulk.

From contributor R:

I kind of agree, but being stuck with moulding or caulk beats being stuck on the job scribing and cutting when I could be stuck in the drive-through at the bank, cashing my check.

From contributor D:
I agree with contributor R. When I need to close a gap, I make up 1/4" x 3/4" scribe mould. I round over the front edge and pin it on. It looks great and 99.9% of customers don't even notice it. Granted, it doesn't look like my cabinet grew out of the wall, but frankly, who cares. We have to remember that we are not in this business to make cabinets as much as we are in it to make money. This is what separates the hobbyist from the pro.

From contributor N:
I used to scribe to the wall, until after one job. After spending countless hours scribing and being really proud of how good all the cabs met the walls, the customer asked if I was going to "trim out" the cabinets. He wanted "the molding" that goes to the wall, that gives the cabinets "that finished look." Ever since then I give the customer the option of scribe molding at no additional cost. They always go for it and are happy to get their free scribe molding, and I'm happy with all the time I save. Go figure!

From contributor B:
Customers who ask for scribe moulding have always seen half-assed installs with cabinets that aren't truly custom. Scribe mould is a shortcut and therefore an inferior method to hide gaps that are not necessary. If the cabinetmaker saves a few bucks by not adding scribe to cabinet ends, and if the installer pins on scribe mould, then the two of them have made more money by giving the client a lousy job. How about making more money by doing a better job instead? I make more money because I don't use scribe moulding. The designer makes more money by using up some of the profit in the extra expense of extended sides, in exchange for a quality job that brings in referrals! Extend those sides, boys, and brag that your cabinets don't look like they were purchased and installed by Home Depot.

From contributor M:
I am glad I am not the only one that looks for quality for higher wages rather than doing quantity. It seems more and more installers are happy making less if they can get the jobs done quicker.

From contributor N:
I agree that from a cabinetmaker's perspective, scribe molding is lower quality, but I don't build cabinets for cabinetmakers. If the customer wants me to scribe to the wall, I will. But if I can save 1 to 2 days work on a job for the same amount of money and have the customer just as happy, if not happier, with the end result, I'll gladly swallow my cabinetmaker pride. My work goes into custom homes in the 500k+ price range and the customers are very discriminating. They just don't usually give a rip about scribe. Would you turn down a 50K job just because the customer requested scribe molding? I come from a furniture maker background and had a hard time stomaching butt-joints and screws in cabinet joinery, but I don't see anyone dovetailing their cases together. In my book, "custom" means giving the customer the option.

From contributor K:
Regarding scribe moulding as poor quality makes as much sense as insisting that a drawer box must be dovetailed to be any good. Some cabinet designs do look more complete with scribe moulding. It's an aesthetic thing unrelated to functional quality.

From contributor T:
I really hate to ask, but I can't help wondering how you handle the electrical inside the boxes at the walls? Or fire heads?

Still wondering here... Do you scribe over the baseboard close to the wall with no scribe or is the cabinet 1/2" - 3/4" off the wall?

I'm not saying there is anything wrong - just that you can't call this custom or high-end. I believe in giving the customer what they want. Not what I want. I just try to be clear on what the customer expects from me and my clients do expect the best, so I have to do the best I can. If they ask for less, then I will gladly give it to them, but that is not "high-end".

From contributor N:
Not sure I follow your first two questions.

90% of my work is going in new homes, therefore, no baseboard yet. Cabinet tops or bottoms are rarely over 1/4" away from wall. Most contractors in my area prefer cabinets installed unfinished over painted walls. They have their finisher apply finish after install. Scribe molding is pre-finished and pinned after cabinets are finished. This saves a lot of time for their finisher. This is what the contractors in my area want and it saves me money, as I charge the same for install with molding or scribing end panels.

Electrical boxes in cabinets are roto-zipped after install, if that's what you were asking.

If scribe molding disqualifies my cabinets from being custom or high-end, so be it, as long as I get paid the custom price and the customer is happy, which I do and they are.

From contributor R:
I do about 50% kitchen remodeling and if I have an electrical outlet or switch box behind a wall or base cabinet, I move the electrical box. There is an electrical box named a "sheet rock box" that has little ears that fold over and clamp the drywall, so a 2x4 stud to nail the electrical box to is not necessary. I put the electrical outlet where it needs to be, not behind the cabinets. As for scribing an end around base board - I would not think that is custom at all. I remove the base board, install my base cabinet, cut base to fit, reinstall base, caulk and paint as needed. Base cabinets over baseboard would make me look very bad if someone tried to remove the baseboard due to water damage or a flooring upgrade, so with moving the electrical outlets and removing, cutting and resetting the baseboard, would that be a custom kitchen, with mid-range cabinets and scribe moulding? If the walls were perfect and no scribe moulding was needed, would they be custom cabinets then?

From contributor V:

I could never get away with using scribe moulding. I build custom cabinets for million dollar homes and designers, and homeowners expect all cabinets and countertops scribed to the wall. Scribe moulding is for tract homes.

From contributor X:
Simply put, scribe mould is for jobs where either the homeowner or installer doesn't care.

From contributor G:
Wow, seems like a good debate going here. As stated in my previous post, I scribe my cabinets to the wall. I also only do dovetailed drawers. I do these not to please just the customer but more to please myself. I am a cabinetmaker not just to make money, but for the reward of building something I am happy with. I find I am constantly learning how to do things better, faster and differently after 25 years of building cabinets. I still find when my cabinets leave the shop that I want to try to do the next ones better. I find many customers wouldn't know the difference between scribed ends and ones with moulding. Many can't tell the difference between face frame cabinets with inset doors fit tight to ones built onsite by the local carpenter with nailed on face frames and overlay doors.

I try to please my customers as much as I can, but will not sacrifice my standards because I can save money or they don't know the difference anyway. Yes, there have been times when I have spent more time than I should have fussing with details that no one cares about but me, but I can't leave a job until I am happy.

That's what I love about my craft and people in it - we get to work with wood and play with our tools all day long building things, and people actually pay us good money for it. Many people have bought my cabinets, but they are still mine.

I am the happiest guy in the world who will never be a millionaire.