Face Frame Dadoing

      A frameless pro gets advice on fitting face frames to cabinets for the first time. January 19, 2011

I have, up to this point, built only frameless cabinetry, but I have signed on to do a framed kitchen and have a question about the frames.

I plan to outsource doors, drawers and frames, and since the boxes will be cut on the CNC, I want a way to precisely align them with the frames. The problem is I cannot cut a mortise in the back of the frames with a shaper or table saw because they are pre-assembled.

Does anyone have suggestions for the best way to cut a mortise (3/8" and I will cut a slightly undersized tenon in the box on the CNC?) so that it accurately references the boxes?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor S:
Stand your cab up on a bench and glue and clamp face frame on without the back on the cab. In 10 minutes, take the clamps off and put your back on. I have 4 benches, so I do 4-6 cabs at a time. Unclamp and do a 150 grit sand job, fit and hang doors, then 220 finish sand, then paint.

From contributor K:
I don't understand why cutting dadoes in the back of the face frames is an issue with a table saw. I used to do it all the time after the frames were put together. I let the CNC cut them now. Face down on the bed. Clamping and registration is interesting, but it can be mastered.

From contributor J:
I think the questioner is thinking about dadoes all around the frame, which is why it cannot be done on a table saw.

However you can have your box sides cut a little deeper and just dado the two face frame verticals. This will give you a quick and easy way to get the face frame lined up side to side.

From contributor M:
Even if your grooves run through the edge or the face frames, it will be concealed on all but the exposed ends. If you use a router table, all you need to do is mark the fence and stop before you reach the edge.

From contributor O:
We pin our face frame with 23 gauge pins and then clamp them like contributor S does. If you start at the bottom shelf and finished end and work your way across and up, it should align okay. On our bases we turn the face back up and top down and mark our partitions and wall ends. The uppers shouldn't be an issue in that respect if you put tops in them. You could also try using biscuits if you are concerned about strength.

From the original questioner:
Actually I think I am going to purchase a Senclamp. They are expensive, especially for just one job, but the additional heads are inexpensive and lend themselves to tasks beyond face frames. The groove would allow me to put outward pressure with the Senclamp while fastening.

While on the subject, let me say that face frame cabinets are a pain if you aren't set up for them. The job is inset, so I have been studying Blum inset hardware, the drawer-head adjusters, and what appears to be on par with grooves in the face frame with regard to its pain in the butt factor, which is an integrated panel rather than an applied panel. Almost every face frame cabinet has an integrated panel on the end, but I never paid attention to how they are done.

I am thinking this: fasten the frame for the applied panel to the frame at the face of the cabinet, but recess it by 1/16". Then sand the front face frame back to the face of the side (integrated) face frame, and finish as a unit? Of course, the side face frame would have to be undersized by 3/4" so that the perceived frame widths would be equal.

From contributor P:
Don't over think it. As contributor J said, make your sides of the carcass stick out 3/16" to 1/4" beyond the top and bottom. Whether you use a router or table saw with dado blade, set up the reveal and run the face frames through on each side. Simple and straightforward. You can be done with a batch of cabinets in 15 minutes. You don't have to adjust it, it will align easily, add some glue around the edge of the carcass, and whether you use pocket-holes and screws, clamps, or pin-nails as the holding device, you are set.

If you are not used to face frames, do a quick search here on attaching face frames, and you'll find lots and lots of methods for doing just that.

From contributor B:
Spend $100 on a decent Kreg pocket hole jig. Drill pocket holes on the outside of the cabinet sides, tops, bottoms. Align frame and screw it on. No clamps needed, glue optional. Cover exposed ends with a panel, or put the pocket holes on the inside of the cabinets in between your shelf pin holes. Keep it simple. I assemble the entire cabinet with pocket holes and screws. This is just one method.

From contributor C:
Unless the material you are using for boxes looks like a banana, you really do not need to register the boxes to the frames at all. I make my box interiors 1/16 larger than the face frame opening, which allows the use of normal frameless hd and techniques to make an inset cabinet.

Throw your boxes on a set of horses or some such, with backs on (unless you are making a very complex stacked box assembly), and clamp the face frame on parallel to the box edges. If all your parts are square, then all will be good on install.

For side frames (finished ends) I just clamp them to the face frame after the glue has dried (attaching frame to box) and fasten the back edge with a few pocket screws (from the cab back).

No biscuits, Senclamps, dowels, dados, etc. required. Just glue, clamp, and go.

Incidentally, I set the side frames flush or recessed .5 mm if they wave a bit, and then sand flush. Makes a straight, clean corner.

I had at one time tried pocket screws, and found it was too time consuming, and just glue held very well, and no misalignment from pocket screws.

From contributor S:
I second all of what contributor C said. To even pocket screw, you would need to clamp. The straighter your lumber, the better. Make sure any mid stile or mid rail that will not be attached to the cab is absolutely straight or your gaps will look like poop. I always pick door lumber and mid stiles and rails first so they're perfect.

From the original questioner:
Fortunately I won't be picking boards for stiles and rails because I am outsourcing the face frames and doors. Thanks for all the advice, everyone.

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