Square Edges and Edgebanding

Woodweb's Cabinetmaking forum straightens out a shop owner who has been edgebanding after putting cabinets together. Along the way there's a detailed discussion of how to produce square edge cuts, even with basic equipment. March 3, 2009

I recently learned that my production manager had an insane method of spraying/finishing cabinets that was very counterproductive to making a profit (thanks to all in the Finishing Forum).

Now I've observed something else that may be a bit off (to say the least) and I need the informed opinions of all you other cabinetmakers before delving into it.

This is how we assemble cabinets, laminate or veneer:
Cut the pieces (on a table saw), assemble cabinets, screw cabinets together, belt sand edges to make flat (I guess), spray edges with contact (being very careful not to overspray), apply edge banding (whether laminate or veneer), trim edging, file edging and then finish edging if veneer (after assembly).

I get the feeling that most people out there apply edging prior to assembly, which would dramatically reduce our production process. I was told by my production manager that this was not possible because we are not using a CNC machine, which cuts perfectly square edges. Is this true? Anyone else out there using a table saw and edging prior to assembly?

May I also add the really insane part - we have a 30K Brandt edge bander which could apply the edging in seconds. Right now we only use it for door edges (laminate or veneer work) and white melamine shelving edges.

I think we've been going at it all wrong. I'm an architect, and until finding this website, I have been at the mercy of my production manager in terms of how cabinets are built.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor B:
You can cut the parts square on the table saw and run them through the edgebander. You just have to make sure the blade is square to the table. You don't have to have a CNC to cut the parts square. I haven't been using a table saw for cutting parts for quite a while, but certainly have in the past. The Brandt is a fine machine. Cut and edgeband the parts and finish the edges (if it's veneer) and then assemble the cabinet is how I have been doing it for the past 24 years. It's a lot faster than what it sounds like you are doing.

From contributor K:
Assembly is always last in my shop. Everything else is done before, even hardware more often than not.

From contributor S:
We cut everything on an Altendorf saw - we don't have a CNC. With a good sawyer all the parts are square. We edgeband everything before it is assembled with a Brandt edgebander. It has been a while since we did a laminate job, but the last time we did we cut laminate strips and ran them through the edgebander. It works really well and saves a ton of time.

From contributor Z:
Your first order of business is to fire your production manager. If the production manager doesn't have the common sense to use your $30K edgebander for its intended purpose (putting edgebanding on), he does not belong in a cabinet shop.

I strongly suggest you consider joining the Cabinet Makers Association (CMA). The CMA is a professional organization where cabinetmakers and woodworkers from both the residential and commercial markets get together and share their hard earned knowledge and experience to help one another. The CMA does not believe we are competition. The CMA believes that working together is the best way to improve our own individual companies as well as the industry as a whole.

"Anyone else out there using a table saw and edging prior to assembly?"
Yes, most likely everyone else who doesn't use a CNC to cut parts.

Your production manager has been costing your company a lot of money using his production methods. Right now you should be able to cut your parts on the table saw, edgeband with the Brandt, linebore your 32mm system holes, mount drawer slides and hinge plates in system holes and assemble. This method should dramatically increase your production efficiency.

From contributor J:
I would suggest going over your entire system of production to see what other backwards logic is in place. You may need to do a serious re-boot on your whole operation.

From contributor N:
10 years ago, very few cabinet shops had CNC machines, and they still managed to build kitchens, even without edgebanders. It is much better to build all the parts and then assemble. Have you ever watched the whole process that you are using now from start to finish? You should, then build just one unit the proper way, and there should be no argument from your foreman.

From contributor I:
A production manager should be the one finding ways to streamline production and get the product out faster and with less cost. Having an edgebander and not using it to band edges is not too intelligent. If you are talking about European style cabinets and doing the edges by hand, that is really nuts. I do as little laminating or veneering by hand as possible. I can not do it as fast as the edgebander or as well. I have never had edgebanding come off on a job that was done on the edgebander. In the old days when we were putting on edging with contact cement, the edges would occasionally come loose. Another reason to edgeband before assembly.

From the original questioner:
Thank you. This website is definitely becoming a huge resource for me.

I just finished up a very contentious meeting with my production manager (who by the way is my business partner and cousin, so imagine the emotions involved with that - this is why I have to use this site to do my homework before I go at it). He was adamant that it's impossible to cut squarely on a table saw and that cabinets will not align properly without belt sanding.

He said that most of you are probably using a panel saw, which adds the square factor to the pieces.

To anyone out there using a table saw, when you install, are the faces and bottoms all square or are there variations (not that anyone would see this once the doors go on)?

This is so very vital to me. If we can change our production methods we could increase production by 50%, which would really help the bottom line.

Flat out - can you achieve square "enough" edges on a humanly fed table saw so as to edgeband prior to assembly? (Sorry to sound like a broken record.)

If yes, please let me know the equipment and method you are using, as well as a photo of installed cabinets without doors. If someone can provide this I would be willing to fly them down to Nassau and do a demonstration for our team.

From contributor U:
If you have a good saw, the cuts will be square.

From contributor J:
I'm so close to getting my vertical panel saw... So close, but still cutting everything with a pair of Unisaws. Old, beat up, and somewhat abused Unisaws, the newest of which is from the early seventies. Yup, they cut square edges on the panels. If you have someone who's any good with machinery and you have a decent cabinet saw, then they can set up your saws to cut square.

Of course you could always pick up a new or even used vertical panel saw if you feel the need. Much quicker than using a table saw, which will cut your fabrication time down even more. Will also help in getting the rest of the parts square. Something I use an aftermarket slide attachment for now.

From contributor D:
For the first 5 years I cut everything on a PM 66 with a Biesemeyer 52 inch fence and an outfeed table and side table. Everything was always square and the correct size. When the machine is set up square, it will cut square, always.

Since then I have gone from TS to slider to beam saw to NBM. Always upgrading to get more speed to meet deadlines and increase sales. Yes! By all means, edgeband anything and everything you can feed through your machine before doing any assembly. Edgebanders are awesome time saving/money saving machines, when fully utilized.

From contributor A:
I am at the bottom of the equipment list compared to all the others - I use a Delta contractors saw with a Jessem slider attachment. Everything is powered by me. I will put the squareness of what I cut against the rest of the super machinery in the other shops. I can not compare the time factors, as I am way slower than they are, but squareness on a tablesaw is positively doable. Unless your saw is really bad, it should take no more than 30 minutes to get it virtually perfect.

From contributor V:
So, is the production manager saying that the doors that you edgeband aren't cut square? I'm assuming you cut those on the tablesaw. If you can do doors, you can do cabinet parts.

From contributor F:
Should probably be clarified here that when folks say you can cut square parts on a table saw, most are probably talking about a sliding table type saw. If you have no sliding table on your table saw, butting sheet goods to the fence and sawing will only duplicate the squareness/out of squareness of the factory edges on the sheet stock. If the factory edges are not square to themselves, then you need an accurate sliding table or a shop built sled at minimum to cut square parts from those sheets.

It sounds like you and you cousin are both learning. A word of advice... learn to use and adjust a framing square. If you had that tool and knowledge, you needn't ask anyone if a given machine is making square parts or cuts - you can see for yourself. Search the archives for truing a square. If you can't find it, let me know and I will repost the info. A good 6" machinist's square is also a must for setting a saw blade square to the saw table (the saw gauges cannot be trusted), and also checking the squareness of edges, etc.

From contributor L:
Any decent table saw can cut square edges that are fine for banding. A good blade, machinist's square - done. As for square panels, you really need some sort of panel saw - sheet stock is rarely truly square. If you are banding laminate edges, you should use a primer on the back of the laminate first - PVC/ABS banding comes pre-primed.

From contributor E:
I have an Excalibur sliding table mounted to a Delta Unisaw. I rip the sheet goods to the proper width and then use the sliding table to cut pieces to length. I have no trouble getting edges square and panels square. If you have someone who can run a belt sander on the edge of a panel and get it truer than a table saw, well, I hope he wasn't the production manager you just fired!

From contributor R:
Why don't you just buy a panel saw? You have a 30k edgebander already. If you square one end of your sheet stock and always index your cuts from that end, you can cut square stock on a table saw consistently (assuming it's tuned properly). You could square one end with a skill saw and straight edge faster than what you are doing now.

From contributor N:
The plain and simple truth is yes, you can get square edges on a table saw. Even without a shop full of fancy machines, cabinetmakers since the dawn of time have managed to build cabinets without having to use a crude tool like a belt sander to true up edges. We don't even have one of those in our shop. A sliding table is a big asset - in fact, huge - if you don't have a panel saw. If you want to simplify things a little, then you can make an infeed table and an outfeed so it is easier to handle full sheets. Throwing money at a problem doesn't always make it go away. You still have to have the right people in place to implement new systems.

From the original questioner:
Here's a shot of our current table saw setup. If an inexpensive adjustment could be made, I would love to explore that at present. Panel saw and CNC is definitely where we would like to head, but we are not prepared to invest the funds. Any suggestions would be welcomed.

Click here for higher quality, full size image

From contributor F:
Until you can budget for sliding saws, etc, you need to get a handle on the basics. Even with the toys, you need the basics like squares. The only adjustment that can be made to that setup in your photo is "fence parallel to blade" and "blade square to table surface."

That has little to do with square parts in terms of the perimeter of the parts.

Problem: factory edges (long edges) of sheet material are often not square. Simply indexing those edges to the saw fence to cut parts will only duplicate the error in them.
Solution: With your current setup, you need to build a sled.

Problem: How do you know if your sled is properly adjusted to cut square?
Solution: Learn how to true up a framing square so it can be trusted to tell the truth. On the other hand... if you are only concerned with the squareness of the edge to face of your parts for your edgebander, the best tool is a small machinist's square.

With the saw turned off, set the machinist square on the saw's table right next to the fully raised blade. Slide the square up to the blade (saw is off!) and spin the blade by hand if necessary to clear the saw teeth. Focus your vision on the light shining between the edge of the square and the blade. Adjust the angle of the sawblade until there is no light between the two. Why? Because the angle scale on your table saw in inaccurate and only tells you roughly what the angle setting is.

Fancy tools have not replaced the need to use squares or the need to know when those squares are adjusted for truth.

From contributor A:
Does a Unisaw have the same setscrew adjustment as my contractors? 2 1/8 sets in the table right aft of the blade? One for square and the other for 45?

From contributor F:
To be honest, I quit fiddling with those set screws years ago. Seemed to me that depending on how much pressure is applied to the crank, the angle would change slightly for 90 degrees or 45 degrees, so now I use the stops to get in the general area and use a square on the top for 90 and other methods for trying angular settings.

From contributor L:
Be sure you use the square to reference to the table surface and not the throat plate. When I had a Unisaw I finally made a decent throat plate out of 3/8" aluminum. The Unisaw also has a design flaw that keeps it from coming back to square because sawdust gets trapped in the front trunion casting. Easy enough to clear the sawdust each time you try to come back to 90, but if they had decent designers you wouldn't have to.

From contributor F:
Yeah, good point. I use Powermatic left tilting saws so my square goes to the left where the blade is close to the throat hole edge. Probably opposite on the Delta if it tilts right hand. The sawdust and also the deflection made me give up on the set screw stops... I just use a machinist's square and good protractor to set the blade angles.

From contributor A:
What works great is that Wixey Digital critter. I bought one for squats and giggles and the damn thing is right on. I use a Woodpecker 6" precision triangle as a setup gauge ( +- .001 ).

From contributor O:
It is true that with a standard cabinet saw (like your Unisaw), if the factory edge is not perfectly square, the fence will only give you a parallel cut to the factory edge. That said, I still would put the accuracy of that method against your current belt sanding method any day. I have been building cabinets this way for a long time and simply do a quick check of the factory sheet before I cut, and if it is off, I will square up with a Festool circular saw and guide fence before I cut on the table saw. This rarely has to be done though. My parts are square, usually perfect, and never beyond 1/64 of an inch. So although sliding table saws, CNCs, and panel saws are more repeatable, accurate and the way to go if you have the space, money and workflow, it is possible and easy to produce square parts with your saw and much more accurate, efficient, and repeatable than your current method.

From contributor F:
I want to point out that I don't think the questioner ever said he was using a belt sander on the edges of each individual part as a means of getting the edge square to the face. What he seems to be asking is if parts can be cut accurately enough so that the face edges don't need to be sanded flush at the corners after assembly and also perhaps between two boxes that are screwed together.

From contributor O:
Yes, parts can be cut accurately enough that a belt sand is not needed at the joints to make parts flush; and it is also possible to cut parts accurately enough that they can be edge banded preassembly as well. Keeping in mind that with a cabinet saw, the accuracy is largely dependent on the operator.

From contributor M:
1- Fire your cousin.
2- Wrap cord around handle of belt sander and make it a paperweight.
3- Use edgebander.

"...but currently we are not prepared to invest the funds."

You cannot afford not to own one for the style cabinets you make. I just looked at your site. Till you get one you can still edgeband parts that are cut on your table saw. If you can't cut square enough parts to edgeband (which is100% beyond me), how are you boring your system holes? If you tell me you are not doing system holes or cannot afford a line bore, I am going to reach through the screen and bonk you on the head with a wiffle ball bat.

You can pick up a cheap panel saw and boring machine and have it paid for in a couple weeks based on your current, outrageously time wasting system. Truly nuts to do it that way. Completely absurd considering you actually have an edgebander.

From the original questioner:
Do you think we can benefit from a vertical panel saw? I found it at a reasonable price and I'm thinking this is a much better way to cut square parts as opposed to our current methods.

From contributor T:
I am probably the most primitively tooled, profitable, True 32 (frameless) shop. Our panels are within .2mm of square every time as a minimum. Any equipment you use will have to be maintained and checked for accuracy, even a CNC. If you don't have someone capable of it, find someone yesterday. You may want to invest in Bob Buckley's book "Flow Manufacturing" to further stimulate and guide your thinking.

From contributor G:
We use "just" a table saw to cut our cabinet parts, then edgeband them, then assemble them, all without any of the problems you mention having. We rip the sheets a little wider than net size, then re-rip to net size to get rid of the factory edges. We cross cut with a "sled" or "cradle" on the table saw (see photo) which has been built to cut perfectly square. Cross cut a little long, rotate the part, then use the fence or a stop on the cradle to cut to net length.

You can check for square easily without any sophisticated tools. To check the blade-to-table square, rip a piece 2" or so thick that is uniform thickness across it. Then turn the piece over and turn it around, so that the rip you made is away from the fence with the bottom side up. Move the fence over and rip the piece again. If the cut is not square, it will be obvious in the resulting piece that falls away. The amount of bevel will be half the difference in the width of the piece when measured at top and bottom. Difficult to describe, but it is very accurate.

To check the cradle for square, rip a piece of plywood as wide as the cradle will hold, then cross cut it. Turn the piece over, then cut off 1/4" or so. Any difference in the width of the off-fall will be double the amount it is out of square. Simple, quick, accurate. When the cabinets are to be stained or finished, we also finish the edgebands when possible before assembling the boxes. This can speed up the process as well.

Click here for higher quality, full size image

From contributor I:
This is an older model saw. I have never used this model but it looks somewhat primitive to newer saws. I would recommend a Striebig Compact, a few years old. The Holz-her 1255 looks interesting. I have a Striebig Compact 1999 model, bought used from a small one man shop. It is in better condition than a newer one down the block at a larger shop with multiple employees. Theirs is kind of beat up from misuse. The set up on these saws is critical. I paid a tech to set mine up and it was money well spent as I did not have a clue what was involved. It has been 2 years and it still cuts true. Bottom line is I think you've got to spend a little more money to get what you want.

From contributor Y:
I'm a German architect/furniture and products designer, and have more than 30 years experience in designing and producing frameless cabinets in Europe and America.

It is hard to cut accurate, square and chip free, especially if you don't have a good saw. It is common in the industry that plus/minus 1/16" is considered good enough. In frameless cabinets you need better than that. To test the squareness, cut 2 boards, put them face to face, and feel the edges. You have to be able to hide the imperfections. All parts have to be edgebanded before assembly.

Another problem is handling. Depending on the volume of production, a good table saw may not be good enough. The vertical saw is not the way to go. Maybe an inexpensive CNC is a better way to solve your production's problem. There are many aspects to consider to streamline your production. There is no generic answer that fits all situations.

From the original questioner:
Thank you to all the WOODWEB family for so much incredibly valuable advice!

It's been about a week now with our new system of using the table saw to cut and edgebander to band prior to assembly. We are building cabinets at least 3 times faster than before. It's amazing how fast it can be done.

We stack the parts after edging in order to stain all in one shot... It's great. There's definitely a sense of rejuvenation in the air amongst the staff also.

Are you guys filing after parts come out of the edgebander? Is this necessary, or is our setting off? How do you avoid a gap when a horizontal and vertical piece come together at the joint if you file or break the edges before assembly?

Is there such a thing as an "inexpensive CNC"? We are definitely going to head in the CNC direction soon now that we may actually make some profit...

From contributor U:
There is no such thing as an "inexpensive CNC." That said, there are some incredible buys out there on mainstream CNCs. I just saw a Busellato Jet 3006 sell for 39K - what a steal. I paid over 100K for mine. So, if you want a CNC, now is the time. I wouldn't mess around with in-between saws and drilling machinery - go straight to CNC and never look back. In the end it will cost you less money. You just have to have the moxie to do it.

From contributor Y:
What I meant by inexpensive is an older model point to point that has five or more drills 32mm apart. Like used Masterwood Speedy 305 - you can buy it for under $20,000. It could rout the panel square, clean edges and groove in under 3 minutes. It can also drill (horizontal) construction drill. At the same time you reduce your handling time. Again, I don't know how many cabinets you produce every month. Otherwise a newer (simple) CNC you can buy for $50,000. But you have to add $20,000 for software. Speedy 315 comes with a simple program that works. To make cabinets, you don't have to buy a machining center that can do anything.

From contributor L:
Before you jump into CNC, there are several bases that should be covered. Have someone on staff that is good with CAD. Have an operator that is careful and smart. Plan your layout so you can get the best flow possible. Material handling counts a lot. Properly set up, you can get almost double use out of your operator. Besides the cost of the machine: setup and training costs, very good dust collection, plenty of dry compressed air, 10 tool holders at about $400 each, assorted tooling $1K, MDF spoil boards, CAD/CAM software, fast computer preferably with dual monitors, networked to CNC and the learning curve time. There are some great buys right now on late model CNCs. When we upgraded from an Andy to the Komo, I sold my Andi to a smaller shop. His comments after getting setup were, “the office had to get things ready for the shop quicker because the shop was turning out work a lot faster.”

Panels coming off the bander should be ready to assemble, no filing needed. As for the banding joints showing the ease, so what? Either let it be, or set the horizontal panels back the thickness of the banding.