Speedy Face Frame Construction

Cabinetmakers debate the details of fast methods for building and attaching face frames. July 9, 2005

I am looking for some advice on a fast or quality face frame construction technique. Ive heard about pocket jigs, but I am wondering what the pros like to use.

(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor W:
Here is an article that may help.

From contributor T:
Personally, I've not had a lot of luck removing veneer after it's been contact-cemented to a substrate, let alone precision re-attaching strips of it afterwards. My Castle machine has worked very Ive owned it since 1988 and it still works fine every day with the original router motors.

From contributor S:
To contributor T: You can temporarily attach veneer with contact cement by only spraying onto the back of the veneer and not onto the substrate. You have to use a sticky type contact such as Dap methylene chloride base or equivalent.

You then spray contact the substrate pieces themselves after they have been joined into a face frame and just before you nail the face frame to the cabinet. Then you re-apply the veneer pieces to the attached face frame. The pieces fit perfectly, of course, because they were cut to the exact size of the corresponding face frame piece when being milled as single pieces.

I know that this method sounds crazy, and that's what I thought when it was explained to me. It has worked perfectly when Ive used it though, and it has tremendous advantages - I never again have to finishing assembled cabinets.

From contributor S:
To contributor T: The face veneers do go on quite easily, being the exact right size and all having perfectly square edges. Your fingers naturally line them up with the stiles and rails as you go along. Remember that when veneers are cut into strips they will bend in case the face frame members warped in ripping.

The edge banding is PVC of matching color to the face veneers. I spray contact cement, get a bunch of 8' pieces together, and then apply it to the edges which are automatically contact sprayed when the face frame was sprayed.

It is quite easy to trim it into the openings using an edge band end trimmer as you go (I use a Virutex). You can either hold the PVC flush with the back edge of a stile, or rail and trim off the excess with a wide chisel flush at the front, or do just the opposite, holding it flush with the front, and letting the back edge lap over a flush shelf or bottom.

This hides any crack or offset level at the joint between the face frame and the cabinet. I finish off the PVC by quickly filing it to a bevel at the front edge like you would do with a Formica laminate joint.

I have done this for ten years for cabinets in high end homes in southern California. It's not really that unique a process when you consider that it is somewhat like doing a re-facing job, but the cabinet is new rather than existing.

From contributor M:
For a truly high end face frame, doweling would be the preferred method, done on a horizontal boring machine. I've seen the face frames put together with the pocket screws, and they just don't have the rigidity of a doweled frame. My customers are very interested in the fact that I tell them my cabinets are put together without any nails or screws. I pre-finish my face frames and send them through a wide-belt sander on the back side and glue them on.

From contributor S:
To contributor M: I assume that you pre-finish your face frame to avoid having to mask off melamine or pre-finished interiors when finishing the cabinet with the face frames attached? This seems like a good idea to me. How then do you attach the pre-finished frame? Do you shoot nails through it and then fill the holes with some kind of color matched putty, or do you have an attachment process which doesn't require showing fasteners? If so, how long does that process take?

The process which I described above, though it does involve a series of steps not usually involved in the cabinet assembly process (veneering, edge-banding, etc.), in fact saves a lot of time when everything is factored in. There are more steps than the traditional method, but the steps are each fairly fast. You are then left with a cabinet which is ready to install with no further work needed.

From contributor S:
To contributor S: You are correct in that I do pre-finish my face frame. I attach them with just glue and clamps, no nails. They only have to be in clamps for 10 minutes. I have enough clamps to get a cycle going that lets me glue and clamp without stopping and having to wait.

From contributor KS:
I like Marks method of gluing and clamping the pre-finished face frame. I would also use biscuits for added strength and glue area and I would put the frames together with pocket screws and assemble the boxes. Then I would dry-fit the frames to the boxes using clamps and flush trim if needed. The frames and boxes can then be biscuit-joined, and the frames go to finishing, come back, and are ready to be glued and clamped. All in all you spend the same amount of time assembling the frames and boxes with only one extra step.

From contributor S:
To contributor K: It seems to me you actually have two extra steps: dry applying the face frame to the cabinet front to size and align, and cutting holes for and inserting biscuits at the final glue-on stage. Plus you have the extra headache of having to keep a bunch of clamps on to hold the face frame to the cabinet until the glue dries. If it's not a fairly small cabinet, it is probably then too heavy to move and you have to assemble the next cabinet in another location until the first one dries.

The method I use involves assembling the face frame very quickly by shooting corrugated fasteners, and shooting it onto the cabinet with nails. The pre-finished and pre-sized veneers then hide the nail holes. The only added step is putting edge banding onto the plywood face frame edges. (This is only because corrugated fasteners will split a solid wood face frame.)