Accurate Placement of Finished End Panels

      Cabinetmakers describe tips and tricks for keeping end panels properly registered while fastening with pocket screws. June 8, 2008

I made the change to prefinished plywood for interiors, and prefinish my face frames. I use pocketholes to attach the face frames to the box. My frustration is trying to make the face frame reveal exactly the same as the applied end while driving the screws. I also seem to be having trouble making the part dimensions come out perfectly so that the applied end panel isn't sticking out too far, or not far enough. Does anyone else have this problem, and if so how do you deal with it?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor A:
We dado the back of our face frames to receive the sides. This gives the side a "ledge" to butt up against as the angled pocket screw tries to shift it. We only dado 1/8" deep so there is enough thickness remaining so the pocket screw does not come through the face frame. The dado also lines parts up making assembly faster.

From contributor B:
You can also take all of your cabinet part measurements from the dadoes on your face frame. Since you already know where everything is going to be, you can make up formulas for cutting all your parts as soon as the frames are dadoed.

From contributor C:
Contributors A and B do exactly what I do. Also, when I'm putting a finished plywood end panel on, I put it on the frame before I assemble the rest of the box. I pocket hole the back of the panel and carefully "play the break" as I tighten the screws. I have a Kreg machine and with that angle on the pocket hole, the screw pulls the panel to the outside a little. After a couple of tries you'll get the hang of it. It comes out perfect 99% of the time for us. If you can't get the alignment right on the first attempt, all you have to do is change the location of the pocket holes and do it again. Then I assemble the rest of the box.

I assume that you're putting a finished plywood panel over a prefinished cabinet end. That's what I do. I dado my case sides into my frames. If the location won't be obvious, I pocket hole the case side on the inside (prefinished side) and screw it to the frame. If the location will show, I put the case side into the dado as I normally would but screw through the case into the finished panel. I try to place the screws where they won't be noticeable.

If you have raised panel ends, try gluing and screwing them to the frames before you finish but just like I described above with the plywood. That way you can sand the end perfectly flush. You have to be careful handling the frames and panels in the spray room but this looks really good when done this way.

From contributor D:
I am dadoing but no longer pocket screw the face frame to box, but I have had the same problem. I just glue and clamp face frame to box, after glue dried I would stick the pocket screws in. I think regardless of the method you use to attach the face frame to the box, you always get a better job by clamping the box and the face frame together tight with bar clamps. They just are flatter and straighter. Years ago it took just a few nails and glue to a 3/4'' plywood box attached to a non-dadoed face frame with glue alone to hold it and they are still holding up great after 50 years. Just try and rip one off when tearing out an old set of cabinets. Some may have a few 8d trim nails into the plywood, and we all know a nail into the edge of plywood or end of a piece of plywood holds about like a screw in sheet rock. I have skipped the glue on an end as you are talking about. Clamp it hard enough that the screw can't shift it over, and also a lower degree pocket hole will help.

This is off topic but someone above reminded me of it and I think its worth me concurring with him. I pocket hole my face frame together, then I dado the face frame after I have assembled them. I only pre-dado bulk heads that I can't otherwise reach. I know it seems crazy, but it works for me, and as JT said measuring off the dados is great. I can measure all the box parts that way, much faster than I can enter them on a keyboard and print a cut list. I dado the sides, tops, bottoms, and sometimes the bulk heads. In a real long cabinet I dado 1/8th'' or less then just a little glue in the dado, bar clamp it tight and flat and shoot a few senclamps in it. The senclamps hold it great. I then remove the bar clamps. Dados do make it easier for a one man shop to keep everything strait, but they do take a small amount of your time and a lot of glue and some 8d trim nails. Just hand nail the faceframe to the box, set the nails and fill the holes. Some readers are thinking that they would never face nail a face frame. I don't have to nail them on now but it was the norm not so long ago.

From contributor E:
I recently switched to prefinished ply myself and just ran into scenario. I use a tongue and groove for my case parts and face frames so I put a groove on my frames prior to assembly. For this particular kitchen I ordered the doors and end panels a little late so I prefinished the frames and then put the end panels on unfinished. I put the tongue on the end panel and it fits into the frame and is pocket screwed from the inside of the cabinet. I then run a v-groove trim bit on the seam and round over the edge. Now I have to spray the cabinets with end panels again. I also used the prefinished ply on the inside of the end panels with shelf pin holes. Sometimes, since I make the end panels a structural part of the cabinet and not an applied end panel, I will just put the shelf pins on the end panel. I think I like this better and can process the end panel just as I would with the sheet goods (dados, rabbets and so forth) with no extra math for the inside side. I don't think I will go back to unfinished unless it is paint grade of course. What is everyones take on using prefinished for cabinet interiors with glass doors and different stain on doors and frames? Are you staining the interiors for these cabinets only?

From contributor F:
I have a question since there are enough of you using prefinished here. Boxes are prefinished - how do you deal with finishing the face frames? How do you keep the overspray out of the box? What about finished ends that have to be stained?

From contributor C:

To contributor F: I finish the frames detached from the boxes. If the frame will have a finished plywood end, I finish the plywood end separately and then pocket screw it to the frame before I assemble the rest of the box. If the frame will have a finished raised panel end, I glue and screw the panel to the frame, sand it flush and finish it as one unit. Then I assemble the box to finished frame and panel. This works great for us.

From contributor B:
Most everything is finished separately. Once in a while I will tape off the face frame to spray the end if I need to router something after the finished end is attached, but the frames are always finished separately.

From contributor G:
Another option that I've used in the past is to build the boxes of prefinished ply. Prefinish the face frames and apply. When the time comes to deal with the end panel you can use green fine line tape on the corner of the cabinet to mask the edge of the face frame. Wrap the whole front with paper so nothing gets on the inside. I just had to do this for a huge pantry. It would have been a real pain to mask the interior. The 3M green fine line tape is used for striping or where a color changes. It is super thin.

From contributor A:
All of our end panels (raised panel or unfinished) are set in 1/4" from the outside of the face frame. This makes prefinished assembly very quick and easy. We add a simple prefinished narrow 1/4" thick spacer horizontally for crown on uppers to make up for the 1/4" "ear" on the face frame. If the customer does not want to pay for raised panel ends we contact cement prefinished full 1/4" thick MDF core of the species to the prefinshed birch ply cabinet side. This way we do not have to try to get the cabinet side to line up with the edge of the face frame which is time consuming. The face frames are built to very close tolerances so we can make a cutlist for all parts, face frames, plywood, doors, drawers, everything. We can start cutting for any part of the job and know the parts will fit without measuring the completed face frames or any other part of the job. Eliminating small steps in the job and cutting predictable accurate parts really speeds the process up.

From contributor D:
I sometimes do as contributor A and sometimes I just skip the 1/4'' horizontal crown furring strip. Then I just notch the face frame with a wood chisel where the bottom of crown beds out. On cheap or paint grade installs I may not let the bottom of crown bed to the end of the cabinet, but just bed it at the face frame and fill the crack on bottom of crown with calking. If stain grade, I just butt 1/4'' skin to 1/4'' face frame lip, and the crown slaps up fine. On RP ends I always hold cabinet box end back 3/4'' full from end of face frame then butt RP stile up to back side of face frame.

To contributor A: How do you put RP end on without holding box side back the thickness of RP? When I've screwed up I have notched the RP's stile to accept the 1/4'' face frame but can't imagine doing it that way on purpose. Do you just butt your raised panel up to the 1/4'' lip of the face frame?

From contributor A:
Our RP ends are a direct replacement of the normal plywood end. You see the backside of the RP end from the inside of the cabinet. The shelf holes are bored into the stiles of the RP end. There is a 1/4" face frame lip with the ply or RP end.

From contributor D:
To contributor A: Where do you get your strength from when substituting RP end for sheet goods?

From contributor A:
To contributor D: I'm not sure that I understand your question. A RP end is more than strong enough for a cabinet end.

From contributor D:
To contributor A: What I'm referring to is when a 36'' wide wall cabinet has 2 finished ends and no plywood ends or bulkheads in it. The only thing preventing it from collapsing is the glue on the stile and rail joints on the finished ends.

From contributor B:
I think I'm a little puzzled like contributor A. A raised panel end will hold the weight of just about anything you want to put on it. The glue joint has nothing to do with it. All of the weight is transferred to the floor through the stiles. I would venture to say it would take a few thousand pounds to make one fail. It's all compression on long grain. Have you ever tried to break a toothpick by pushing straight down on it?

From contributor A:
To contributor D: I understand now. As contributor B stated, a well constructed joint is very strong. An unusually deep wall cabinet may be cause for concern. One trick is to make wider rails to increase the glue area for a stronger joint. I would not be worried about it on a standard 12" deep cabinet with rails at least 2" wide. We make ours 2-1/4" wide.

From contributor D:
To contributor B: Now I'm a little worried about you. It's the end panel of a wall cabinet that makes it work at all, and a 7 ft wall cab without bulkheads needs a solid plywood end or it is going to sag a week after you load it down with canned foods or dishes. But I do agree most small cabs will be fine just on that 2-1/4'' glue joint.

From contributor B:
What is going to sag? I just don't get what you're talking about. Are you telling me that an 84" tall pantry cabinet with a raised panel end will cause the rails to sag on that raised panel if there is no plywood behind the panel? A properly designed panel end will support the weight of shelving items. All of the weight is transferred through the stiles as I mentioned before. I have several cabinets in place that have been there for many years with an integral raised panel end. There is no sagging whatsoever. Applied ends to me look like just that - applied ends. An integral panel blends into the cabinet creating a furniture look. Have you experimented with this and actually seen the sag or are you just presuming? I also could be way off base with understanding where you're coming from. I hope so.

From contributor H:
One thing that makes stronger doors and face frames is using 13/16" or better rails and styles. Most people use 3/4". I use 7/8" for my cabinets. This gives more glue strength on doors and face frames.

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