Whether to Install Drawer Fronts and Doors on Site or in the Shop

Some cabinetmakers like to add doors and drawer fronts on site, but others do that work in the shop. Here's a look at the reasons for both ways of working. August 30, 2011

I have been contemplating pre-drilling drawer fronts/drawer boxes for easier installation. It seems better to install doors/drawer fronts on the job site after all the potential to damage the work is gone. I can't seem to get farther than drilling the fronts or boxes centered and having a set pattern for the other. All the cabinet units are standardized anyway. What is best?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor J:
That would depend on what kind of fronts you use. There are benefits of doing final assembly in the shop. One thing, less labor in the field. When things are put together in the shop, any mishaps are caught before cabinet reaches the field. Imagine you are just about to complete an install on a Friday afternoon and all of a sudden, you realize a drawer front was made an inch too small! It happens. Final assembly in the shop sets up the installers for an easy install.

From the original questioner:
That's the truth about realizing and correcting those mistakes. My mistakes went to almost zero with good software! A cutlist that was accurate. There are other issues to consider. One is the dust and accumulation on the hardware, especially full extension drawer slides. The potential to damage while moving with the fronts installed could be overcome with a good trailer system or just moving blankets.

From contributor K:
We have, for quite a while now, taken cabinets out without the doors and drawer fronts installed. It goes out with drawer boxes and hinge plates installed. I got tired of fixing finishes after the other trades got done slamming their tool belts and whatever else it is they do when no one is looking. Our solution is double stick tape. The kind that comes in rolls from office supply stores. Put some small squares at each corner, align front, push to stick, and then screw from inside. It takes us about two hours to hang everything after the danger has passed.

From contributor M:
I like to assemble everything in the shop. I also have an accurate and complete software/engineering solution, but I make mistakes and my employees make even more. It is a lot easier for us to ship the assemblies complete. In my experience the doors are as likely to get damaged if they are individually packed and wrapped as if they are mounted on the assemblies.

I go back and forth between pre-drilling on the part level and pre-drilling after the drawers are finished. Pre-drilling on the part level means that we drill the holes in the drawer sub fronts before the box is assembled and the corresponding hole is drilled in the fronts separately. This is all done on manual boring machines. It is very fast, taking only seconds. The problem with this is that there is some tricky math involved and it depends on the reveal/overlay and bottom lip/drawer slide model. I was only recently able to standardize my bottom lip measurement regardless of the drawer's position in the cabinet (bottom, middle or top). If you make 32mm cabinets you know what I mean. But it still varies by the brand of slide. Then the offset value for the holes from the side of the drawer front/subfront still depends on the drawer side thickness, cabinet side thickness, and reveal. But these numbers rarely change in my cabinets.

Unfortunately pre-drilling on the part level has proven to be a pain. So we are back to using jigs and spacer blocks to align the drawer front to the assembled drawer box. This is a lot simpler for the employees and does not require me to check the settings for every batch. All they need to know is the bottom lip value.

I think on-site carpentry is a thing to be avoided whenever possible. And the fit of the doors and drawers is the second most important factor in the client's eyes (finish is the first), so I want to personally see the finished assemblies before they leave the shop whenever possible. I only find mistakes once in a while, but if I find one mistake in every three jobs I am sure I come out ahead by not having to send a cabinet back to the shop and delaying the installation.

From contributor D:
It's easy when all boxes, faces and mounting holes are sized and spaced in equal increments, e.g. 32mm. The result is that all drawers have the same drawer box to face reveal. The faces all get drilled the same distance as the sub-faces plus that constant.

From contributor A:
"We have, for quite a while now, taken cabinets out without the doors and drawer fronts installed. It goes out with drawer boxes and hinge plates installed."

We have done this for years. Initially, we install all the boxes, end panels and trim. In fact, we don't even make the drawer boxes until we are ready to go back when all the other trades are out. The big difference is, we build frameless cabinets. The choice of drawer does not matter. We use the Grass Zargen, Grass Nova and Blumotion, in that order of frequency. The drawers go out pre-assembled, with the fronts on, then they simply slide in. We send the doors in reusable plywood boxes we made for this purpose. They are positioned vertically with pieces of cardboard in between them. We used to press the hinges but now we use "easy fit" - the kind you turn the two screws on the hinge to secure.

We obviously do our own installations. I might do it differently if someone else was. It would drive me crazy to have my employees remove the doors for installation, or to install cabinets with the doors on (as the Lean people would rightly point out, there is no value added). One of these days... I mean, I will start the Lean journey. If I could only find the little 5 "s" pocket guide I recently bought...

From contributor M:
I think I will reconsider sending out cabinets fully assembled. This is an interesting topic. I can see the time saved to install the casework without any doors mounted.