Standardizing Cabinet Construction

Thoughts on how to formalize your cabinet-building methods for efficiency and consistent quality. October 13, 2008

I'm looking to standardize how we make cabinets so that when designing a building we don't spend so much time reinventing the wheel. We do mostly Euro style, except when only face frame will do. The only published set of standards I'm aware of is True32, and I'm not wild about leg levelers. Are there others?

Much of what I read about in the Forum is debate about the best way of building. I don't need the best way, but I need one way (and all the variations) that is quick, efficient and can go into high end homes. It should pertain to a lot of different types of cabinets: corner, lazy susan, radiused, bookcase, pantry, broom closet, bench seat, etc. I want a written standard for each type, and templates and jigs that speed up design and fabrication. Has anyone done this for your shop? Do any guides exist?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor A:
I don't think you necessarily need to embrace the leg-leveler part of the True32 system in order to harvest benefits from the rest of their program. You could probably run with what they've got and develop your own best practices for elevating the cabinets off the floor. I think you could also be similarly systematic about face frame construction.

We have developed a set of standard math that works for butt hinges or European. We have one set of rules that works for a sink base or a drawer bank. We build every cabinet the same way. This cuts down on engineering and lends itself to standardization elsewhere in the pipeline.

You are correct that any system is better than no system, even if it is slightly more complicated to administer. It's kind of like giving instructions to someone about how to find my shop. The fastest way is to cut down Shilshole and loop around by the auto dealership but the simplest way is to tell them to go northwest on Market and left on 22nd. We always give them the easy way rather than the quicker way because it minimizes the phone calls from confused navigators.

Here's a tip for developing your system:
Start with the LAST procedure then work towards the beginning.

From contributor B:

You're asking for a lot. Donít expect people to turn over their recipes for success. Don't rush things. Take your time to figure things out for yourself. I am not trying to be rude, but this is the difference between being an owner and an employee. These are things that you have to work through, and when successful, you profit.

Here are some key points as you consider developing your own system:
1) What style do you want to use, frameless or face frames? I know you referenced this in your post, but this the first part of a system or standard. Pick one, and find another shop that you can refer to, and vice versa. You take all the frameless, and let them have the face frames. They should send all the frameless to you. A system works best when you stick to it. It is beautifully simple - by repetition, you gain proficiency and efficiency. This is where you make money. When you can bang out a set of cabinets in less time than others, you are in a better position.

2) What equipment will you use? The requirements for frameless are very different than for face frame. You won't need a face frame table for frameless, so no need to consider it. Will you be drilling holes using a construction boring machine, something automated, or all by hand with templates? If you are drilling with a boring machine, you have to work around the fixed 32mm spacing.

Closely related to this is what construction method will you use? Are you doweling, using confirmats, blind dado, butt-joints and screws? Or just nails or staples? What will you do with your nailers? Will they go in front or behind your backs? What about stretchers - do you put one between each gap, or only where there is a door? How do you handle the base foundation, levelers, ladder, or notch of a toe? Be consistent on this and you can make templates.

3) Next, think about the logical flow of the material. You will probably cut parts to size first, then what - edgeband or drill? If you drill first, then you may not have to move your stops for parts that have different thicknesses of edgebanding, assuming that you are using 3mm and none in the same cabinet. If your first horizontal hole starts at 25mm, do you move your stop back 28mm to accommodate the 3mm, and then back to 25mm for no EB? If you drill first, then you don't have to worry about these.

What about drawers? What kind will you offer? This is your choice here. If you want to offer the undermount blah blah's, you will need a standard with templates for it. If you offer full-extensions, you'll need a standard for it, too. 3/4 epoxy - another standard. For each of these, you will need 5+ combinations for regular height base units. The common ones you will need are:
- drawer over door
- 3 drawer stack with 2 large bottoms
- 4 drawer stack with similar sizes
- 4 drawer stack with varying sizes
- 1 drawer with pullouts
And then you have desk heights, too. So, if you offer 3 styles of drawers, you could have at least 30 different layouts for drawers.

4) You will have decisions about doors, too. What reveal will you use? If frameless, will you have balanced or unbalanced panels? If you have unbalanced panels, how much of a reveal will you use at the top/bottom? Pick a distance from each end to drill for hinges. If you are using a line boring machine, then you have certain distances you must stick to. After this is done, then you will know where to put your baseplates.

5) Once you know what drawer openings you will offer, you can design your drawer sizes. If you are using full-extension drawer guides, make sure your holes in the drawers are a consistent height from the bottom - 25mm for example. Now locate your system holes to line up with the drawer holes. So now, every time you build a drawer, you can mount the detachable metal piece in the same place (and you can have 1 template to use on every drawer, no matter its height - this is standardization and it is how you become more proficient and efficient).

6) Pick a good software program. As you build a library of cabinets (this is one of the things you are asking for), you will see that these things seem to reappear - reveals, location of backs vs nailers, construction methods, etc. As you build a Ďseedí cabinet, you can apply these variables to others. A drawer over door will have many of the same features as a drawer over 2 doors. Many of your bases units will have the same back, deck, and side configurations. You sink units may be different.

There is a story that relates to this situation. There was a newlywed couple who got into their first big fight at Thanksgiving. The husband called his mother, saying that he and his wife were fighting over the way to cook the ham. The husbandís mother had always trimmed the ends off each end before cooking. The wife said it was unnecessary. So the husband asked his mother why they cut the ends off. The mother didnít know, so she called her mother. Her mother said the reason they cut the ends off was because they had a small pan and it wouldnít fit otherwise. In the same way, when designing a system that works for you, it is important to know why you are making a particular choice. I use blind dados to capture the backs. If you donít have a router, it can be very time consuming to do this. You would do better to run dados full length and then cover with edgebanding. There are countless examples like this. When you do the homework, you benefit. That is just the part of the process. You donít just go out and buy a lot of tools and become a cabinet shop. You have to work through these things and make them your own.

The real advantage to designing your own system is understanding the variables and coming up with a system that works for you. If you are doing frameless, consider Blumís Process 32. This is a great place to start. Also do a search on this sight for Ďframeless.í There are many situations discussed here. See these discussions as Ďpros and consí, not the Ďbest way.í The best way is what makes you most efficient. Using confirmats is a good construction method. But if you donít have access to horizontal boring, then it becomes very inefficient for you.

From contributor C:
What is the issue with levelers? As installers, we've a great preference for leg levelers. They really ease the job of base cabs setting, and snapping on the toeboards is quick and painless. We do frameless only, using one of the well-known software packages that integrates to nested base parts cutting, and a lot of our "system standards" were gleaned from T32 and Blum System 32. Carcass assembly is via staples for quick registration, then fixing with #6 Zip-R screws.

From the original questioner:
Thank you for your thoughtful replies. I'll respond in more detail later to the business issue at hand. Regarding leg levelers, our customers didn't like the wobbly toe kicks held on by plastic clips. Also, when the kick goes around a corner, the joint isn't tight or mitered. Customers complained that it looked a little cheap. I concluded that levelers won't work in high-end kitchen unless there is some good way of fastening the toe kicks. I'm open to any suggestions.

From contributor D:
We have used levelers for years in high end kitchens. If you don't like the clips, just nail them to the legs (that's what we do). As for the going around the corners, we use a combination of butting into an applied end that goes to the floor or mitering around the corner, depending on the end panel applications.

From contributor E:
Like clockwork, installers and builders say "no way" to levelers the first time around but want nothing else after that. We use wall ledgers with feet at the front and on exposed ends. The kick is stapled into the socket at the top but we use a dab of construction adhesive at the bottom on the foot pad. There are no holes to putty that way, plus Camars feet are a junk design that fasteners can't get a grip into. I have used clips on occasion where I pinned and glued the mitres. Either way, nothing is wobbly.