Face frame versus frameless

      December 28, 2002

Question
I am new to the cabinet making arena, although I have been woodworking forever. I am stumped on frameless versus face frame construction. Can someone explain the differences between the two?

Forum Responses
From contributor D:
A frameless cabinet is one that replaces the 3/4" thick solid wood face frame (on face frame cabinets) with edge banding. Or, put another way, when you build your box, instead of putting solid wood face frames on, put on edge tape/banding or thin wood strips no wider than the panels are thick.



From contributor C:
With frameless, there are more up-front costs for equipment to do it properly and efficiently. Face frame can be done with less equipment and less costly equipment, but the labor is more expensive.

We started out in face frame and made the switch a number of years ago and wouldn't go back to face frame for anything. We do traditional styles as well as modern, but it is all done frameless. The only difference to most customers is that the doors are closer together and there is more useable space inside. Hardware is more stable because it is fastened directly to the side of the cabinet, rather than to just the frame and the back. You will find arguments on both sides of the fence and you must determine what works for you.



From contributor B:
I tell customers that the main difference between frame and frameless (from their point of view) is that in frame construction, the strength of the box is in the frame, and in frameless construction, the strength is in the box itself. This is very much an over-simplification, but I am usually talking to non-woodworking people.


From contributor T:
We build a lot of face frame cabinets. About half of these jobs have the doors hung with butt hinges. We have developed some pretty good systems for building the frames and hanging the doors.

One of the things I prefer about face frame cabinets is that on installation day, your alignment issues are much more succinct. Instead of having to line up a dozen door and drawer faces in an acceptable grid, you only have to make each one look good within its framed context. Bead and quirk face frames are especially forgiving. Here you can juxtapose a square corner to a round bead. About half of these jobs also have some distressing or glazing. It's hard to screw something up like this when you get so many chances to mask a problem.



From contributor C:
Not discussed so far is the fact that frameless generally helps you to create a "system" in how you build your cabinets. While it is true that everything must be cut more accurately, and the installation may take a little longer in the beginning, it will be as fast or faster once you have overcome the learning curve, and your time in building cabinets will be shortened dramatically. We build strictly custom and it has shortened our lead times and helped us over the years to develop a system that anyone in the shop can follow. We standardize everything we can and we have been able to reduce our scrap to almost nothing. By doing everything in this format we are also able to stain and spray all our parts before assembly, which allows us to get a much better finish as everything is sprayed flat.


From the original questioner:
I still don't get it. This is what I think you are saying: It seems that hardware and doors are mounted directly to the side edges of the box. In other words, the doors and drawers mount so that the only reveal around them is a finished edge of the side panels of the box. If I am correct, then what do you do with the stiles between the drawer and lower door, or between multiple drawers? Are they then end-butt mounted against the inside of the box side panels?


With frameless, you don't need a crosspiece between the lower door and the drawer (or between multiple drawers). The drawer runners are also attached directly to the side of the cabinet. Some people do run cross members in these places, but it is not necessary.

With frameless, you build a box. There is a column of system holes (5mm in diameter, at 32mm on center) at the front of each side cabinet and a column of system holes near the back of the side panels. Then you can add doors or drawers using these system holes. The exact same box can be used for one big door, one door and a drawer, or all drawers. The box is built exactly the same. This is the beauty of full-access cabinetry.



From contributor J:
Let's make it simple. One has a face frame; one does not.


From contributor B:
Maybe the best thing for you to do is look at the cabinets in a Home Depot. They most surely have both frame and frameless cabinets on display. While there are many little variations that a cabinetmaker can make, essentially all frameless cabinets are built the same way and all frame cabinets are built the same way.


You just received a world of good information. Frameless is exactly that; no frame mounted in front of the cabinets. The principle attribute is that the full product can be built with fewer pieces and less hand labor. Often material costs are a push, but there are far fewer pieces to engage (for example, every piece used in a frame is pretty well eliminated). Frame cabinets are what would pass in the US for traditional. Laminated commercial case work has been made for more than 50 years in what is basically a frameless style. What has forced a change in thought is the highly innovative hardware, for hinges and drawers, initially from Europe, that features high levels of adjustability and easy mounting and installing systems.

One of the writers in this thread rightly said that to do frameless well requires a commitment to machines, whereas frame cabinets can be and are successfully built with far less expensive machines, but considerably more hands-on (most expensive) labor. I know very few companies who have made a commitment in the direction of frameless who ever looked back, and most lean toward it in a mix of frame and frameless if they have made the machine investment. I have written a lot of articles on the subject - search the archives on this site for "Elvrum". In addition you could look up the True32 site for a method that certainly works.

Jon Elvrum, forum technical advisor



From contributor U:
I build face frames, but know full well the advantages of frameless systems. Around here, a frameless cabinet bucks the system and just won't fly well. At least for now, the "in thing" here is to have no pulls on the doors and fronts. Can't do that with frameless. I've been told several times "I don't care how the Europeans do it!" Well, I do, so I sort of integrate the two styles. I use system holes, too, using 1/4" MDF templates for drawer and door mounting. My face frames are 1 1/2" wide and flush with the box interior. This gives me a 7/8" reveal on the outside. My finished ends are 13/16", so this works out great. Finished bottoms are put on after install, so all the reveal gaps are covered.

Face frames almost double the material and labor costs, though. I am slowly making the transition by selling frameless to those that I know are using pulls. A couple of sample cabinets of each type could help selling frameless, too. I really believe that once the public sees that a frameless cabinet gives them more flexibility with no added cost, it will begin to take. Here, the folks are stuck on "traditional". But they aren't stupid, so I think frameless will fly, someday. I won't stop my face frame production, though. The change has to be made slowly and very carefully. If handled right, the changeover could very well mean a much more successful operation. The big obstacle for me is buying an edgebander that costs more than all my other machines combined.

I'm in business to make money, but want the customer happy, too. I'm sold on frameless, but my reputation can't be risked by bucking the mindset here, at least not right off.



From contributor G:
Unless you're building beaded inset, a face frame is a design flaw.


From contributor I:
Contributor G, can you explain "design flaws" in more detail?

Once a frameless kitchen gets past basic boxes in a mundane kitchen, many design obstacles are resolved by installation of some form of face frame, a "design-flaw" in esoteric lingo.

Let's make it simple - take either crown moulding or under-cabinet lighting. Why do both of these fairly typical items require some form of finished framing to properly install in most frameless kitchens?

For the record, I've been involved in frameless for some time, and by no means am I bashing frameless cabinetry. It's just not the holy grail that some people seem to believe.



From contributor D:
Contributor U, I have experienced the same problem with my customers. The term "European" gets me the same remarks, or if not spoken, I sure get the feeling that they could care less what the folks across the big pond make and use.

I'm in the Southeast, and these folks tend to be very traditional and proud of their southern heritage, which I find strong on opinion and particularly reluctant to change, relative to many other geographical areas of the country. I feel qualified to make this observation since I have had the opportunity to live all over these great United States in the 32 years of my adult life.

The term "frameless" appears to many that they are getting less, or a weaker cabinet because of the thin banding used to replace the thick solid wood frame. One of the greatest obstacles is trying to sell PB core melamine, which I definitely prefer as a box material, especially since I have been building frameless cabinets and have learned how to machine this product to remove any and all of what I considered to be the substrate's weaknesses. The unequalled durability (and beauty, in my opinion) of melamine, coupled with the fact that it requires no finishing, makes it a bonus for myself, and my customers.

Having them believe that is problematic. I simply have a couple of sample panels handy, one plywood pre-finished with a conversion varnish and one of PB core melamine. Both clear-coated and edge-banded all around. I ask them to scrape across each panel with the back side of the point of my trusty pocket knife and they get to witness how the melamine surface doesn’t scratch nearly as easily as the clear-coated veneer. They pick up the panels and they like the increased weight of the PB melamine also. Remember that the edges of both are banded so as not to cloud their judgment with the sight of the PB (or the veneer core, for that matter). I make it a point to use a “less than attractive” figure pattern on my veneer sample, since that is what they can expect (arbitrary and unselected shop grade veneer) if I were to use real veneer as a box interior in solid door fronted cabinets.

I generally use white melamine for budget-minded customers, or utility type cabinets, or for those that just prefer a white interior. Hard rock maple melamine is used for most of my kitchen and bath cabinets, at a higher price. I still will use veneer core ply (at an even higher price), but I believe it is an inferior product to melamine for general cabinet construction, both to me as a builder and to the customer. If the box construction is engineered to remove the likelihood of breakage during manufacturing and shipment, and so long as the cabinets are installed so as not to allow the typical problems associated to water infiltration to the PB substrate, PB core products will last as long as any veneer core plywood and the finish will certainly remain consistently beautiful, long beyond the finish applied to a wood surface, given the same amount of abuse to each, in the course of typical kitchen and bath cabinetry use.

The most effective way to sell these cabinets here is to have a showroom or at least a decent sample run of each, of the same general design (same door and end panel material, similar moldings, and the same finish) and let the customers see and feel the differences. I, as many do, call my frameless line of cabinets "full access" to overcome the simple but powerful description that often turns off my (shall we say, less than progressive) customer base.

Building them cheaper… Well, I thought so, until I considered the cost of the Euro leg levelers and the wall cabinet suspension blocks that I find indispensable for assisting the installation of the more difficult to install frameless boxes. And the edge banding does cost something, too. I use more (some specialized) moldings for my frameless jobs that I wouldn’t necessarily use with framed cabinets. As mentioned, the machinery that is required to produce frameless cabinets productively will have to figure into your overhead and that certainly adds to the cost of producing each and every frameless cabinet.

Using peg board as a template might work for the occasional small job, but as you expand your frameless work you will undoubtedly want to add a line boring machine, which will tremendously increase your production level. I use a system that produces accurate 5mm system holes (provided the panels are square) but I still have to punch them one at a time. I can’t keep doing that and still compete with those that are using the proper equipment. Same goes for my Powermatic 66 saw and Excalibur sliding fence. It’s reasonably accurate (the way I do it), but it’s still much slower and less accurate than what a decent slider or vertical saw will produce. Yes, we all can produce frameless cabinets, but without the proper (read: expensive) equipment to do it productively, we stifle our potential for profit and growth.



From contributor G:
Contributor I, the differences, though, are significant. Doors are always equally spaced; no rail ever divides two doors on the same opening. Even a face framer will agree that that sucks. And while crown and light rail obviously dress up any mundane box, the simplicity of attaching them (or columns, panels, pilasters, brackets, corbels, valances, etc.) to a frameless cabinet makes it a better system.

Contributor U, there are no less than half a dozen ways to eliminate handles or pulls on a frameless cabinet. Like I said, face frame has its place: beaded inset.

Beyond that, frameless cabinetry and the 32mm system offer more flexibility in design and installation. This is not my opinion - it is a fact. We build very high-end kitchens and built-in wall units (more of the latter), VC ply and hardwood only, granite or solid surface tops, no melamine or laminate ever. Even our beaded inset incorporates 32mm hardware and construction techniques.

To the original questioner: If you are new to the cabinetmaking arena, and hope to have a profitable future in it, jump headfirst into frameless cabinetry. Read "True 32", do some homework and you will understand that it is the present and future of this trade.



Contributor I, crown moulding and under cabinet light rail... "Why do both of these fairly typical items require some form of finished framing to properly install in most frameless kitchens?" They don't require any finished framing. Look at the Hafele catalog and get acquainted with how to do it without any framing.


From contributor I:
Eliminating the center stile of a double door cabinet is easily accomplished with face frame construction, and is by no means unique to frameless construction. For the sake of this discussion, frameless and the 32mm system are easily separated. Each can stand alone in the benefit department. As for the simplicity of attaching frameless crown or light rail, these are the types of statements that lead people down the path to the "holy grail" of cannibalizing their frame cabinet business. It simply is not as easy as flipping through the pages of either a catalog or website to find the magical "better system".

Crown attached to the top rail of the walls, with lighting concealed behind the recess of the lower rail, attached directly to the bottom of the wall cabinet.

Frameless requires some type of frame stock to be mounted on top of the wall cabinets in order to attach the typical crown. Or a more expensive crown with an integral frame member machined into the crown is required.

There is no "built-in" light rail for frameless, as is the case with face frame cabinetry. An add-on light rail is required. This isn't to say that face frame installations do not utilize an add-on light rail, it's just not always required, nor does it have to be nearly as large in face frame installations.

Again, I'm not beating up on frameless cabinetry. I've been a proponent for longer than I care to remember. I am merely pointing out the need for caution in making any switch in methods, and the absurdity of absolute truths substantiated with blanket condemnations like "design flaws".



This sounds like my litany, from many columns and articles written over 30+ years. The core message is: It's not right, it's not wrong... it's what's right for you! All of the applications of frameless and/or frame come down to the cabinet company's owner's decisions. When he or she has decided on a course, the subsequent action follows from this original choice. Until you decide to do frameless and/or frame, or not... you will continue to do what you do and you'll likely suspect that the other way won't work. As many contributions to this thread maintain, both systems work, and some amalgam of the two systems also works. What machines you have, what customers and market you sell in, what design influence you have with customers, how you sell your work - all these issues directly influence how you will succeed in adjusting your corporate capability. None happens in a vacuum - each influences the other. Listen and fear nothing but one's own stubbornness - that will take any of us down.

Jon Elvrum, forum technical advisor



From contributor X:
Contributor D, I can appreciate what you are saying. I still wonder if someone who was a proponent of frameless wholeheartedly would not be able to easily sell them to any area of the country by simply having a showroom and adopting a positive approach, calling the cabinetry "full-access" and avoiding the subject as much as possible and simply letting their work speak for itself.

It's not necessarily that one is better than the other; it's more that we all make a choice as to which of these vastly different methods fits our personality/manufacturing goals/life goals/etc. I have a frameless shop but am sitting in my office now typing this post, surrounded by about 30' of the most beautifully done face frame cabs I have ever seen! Truth is, the workmanship is better than some of the things I have done!



From contributor U:
The term "full-access cabinetry" is a good, non-offensive title for frameless. I'll use it!

I use maple melamine too, almost exclusively. White once in a while, and veneer ply even less. I've been using an MDF core and don't bother to band the top edges. But I've come across a good price on PBC maple melamine that I will band. I use Fastedge, and yes, it's expensive ($150 for 250'). But it's quick, easy, and the only bander I have is a $15 Black & Decker iron. No trouble selling melamine here, especially the attractive maple.

I was talking to a builder today and he prefers frames because he thinks the frame adds appeal. Several have that opinion. As for me, I think they both look great. To get that look in frameless (fluted pieces, for example) you toss out the term "full access", though since those pieces are more or less fillers, don't you? Nonetheless, I've seen some great looking cabinets in frame and full access. I was once advised not to turn from doing frames if that is where my reputation and strengths are. Dabble with frameless, maybe in a utility cabinet line, and see what happens.



From contributor C:
I'll add a thought on the marketing of these cabinets. Many people have the idea that frameless has to be a melamine box with laminate doors, etc. We don't talk to our customers about "frameless". We are in the Midwest and about half the cabinetmakers in this area are Mennonite and Amish and they are about as traditional as you can get, yet we sell nothing but frameless cabinetry. We talk to the customers about door styles (we do frame and raised panels just like everyone else) and other than the fact that the doors are spaced closer together, most customers do not know the difference unless you point it out. We do let them know about the construction and give them drawings and pictures of the final look. Somehow the problem of face frame vs. frameless just has never come up as an issue in the last 15 years. We as cabinetmakers, I believe, because we are so committed to what we do, often go far beyond what the customer cares or needs to know in explaining our product. I have cabinets in people's houses that have been there for 15 years and they still don't know the difference between the style of theirs and the next door neighbor's.

In the end, it is a system and a tool for building a cabinet. If you understand it well, it just makes sense. Years ago, when we didn't know anything about frameless and could not find anyone who did, we had Jon Elvrum come in and do a seminar with several of the area cabinetmakers. That got it started in this area and many of the local cabinetmakers have taken it much farther than I have. Learn all you can about both directions and then make the choice that's right for you.



From contributor L:
I have done face frame cabinets for most of my cabinetmaking career. I have no set preference or desire to limit my customer's preference. It comes down to what the customer will prefer, not what we prefer. We spend a lot of sweat and time building these cabinets, but they are not installed in our houses. The customer will have to live with them. If we limit our work to frameless, then how can we meet the design specs for jobs that this would not fit (for example, historic restorations)? My advice is to learn both systems and use them to your full potential.


From contributor A:
Have you strictly frameless guys been paying attention to what's going on in the furniture industry? Any commodity-type product is vulnerable to offshore competition, and I would imagine modular frameless cabinetry would be especially so. In my view, the future of the American cabinet shop is in high-end custom - quality workmanship and materials coupled with attention to customer service on a personal level. I would definitely examine the future of the market for particleboard and tape cabinets before I made the financial plunge.


From contributor X:
Contributor A, I personally wouldn't worry, as Home Depot is full of KD, RTA, and fully built frameless cabs for much less than my cabs and it hasn't been a problem for us at all. The reason, in my opinion, is exactly what you said - personal service and ability to customize any situation, which we can easily do in frameless as well as you can in face frame. I am in the process of closing a high-end, completely custom series of cabs for a high price. They couldn't even come to within 5% of what they want by going to box stores.


From contributor T:
I think contributor A has made a brilliant observation. Getting good at what the Chinese can do better is not the best long-term business strategy. Most of what you buy in Home Depot was built in China. My Butfering widebelt sander was assembled in China. It's not going to be long before decision makers conclude it is just as easy to bring in a container of cabinets from China as it is from Pennsylvania.

The first place you will see this is in large institutional projects. The next place you will see it is when the guys that used to do that work come into *your* market.

Last year, China had one car for every fifty people. If you wanted to get a set of blueprints to an inner province six years ago, it was on horseback. They didn't exactly have UPS or Bucky's Messenger Service. Today they have the internet and the will to become the best capitalists that capitalism has ever seen.

The machinery guys would have you believe you can only compete if your technology is current. If that is your only market advantage, it will only last until someone else improves on the technology. The future for American cabinetmakers is high-quality work and high-quality service. High-quality work will only be an admission ticket to the job. The success part will come when the customer evaluates their experience with you.



From contributor K:
Makes you wonder what these brilliant "working smart" business types are going to do when they run out of third-world countries to accommodate their cheapskate proclivities. Glad I won't be around to take part in the fun.


From contributor I:
Research the statistics on how quickly China became the largest exporter of furniture to the United States - zero to dominance in a very short period.

Think back a few years and remember what the major box manufacturers produced - limited lines with a few finishes. They didn't get into Shaker or glazing, for instance, because they hoped it would sell. The big boys got in because Shaker and glazing caught fire with the custom shops, then grew to get the attention of the semi-custom manufacturers, finally followed by mass appeal. Looked at a Merrilat Catalog lately?

By the way, if the big box stores ever learn to sell better designs, they'll be a real force to be reckoned with in the higher style arena as well. The factories are now putting representatives into the stores on select days, and eventually that strategy will pay off.



From contributor O:
Contributor A, I think you are drawing a distinction that is not relevant, in that you equate the fact that frameless cabinetry is modular with being a commodity item. I suppose the bigger (potentially heated) debate comes in the fact that many of the taped particleboard cabinetry manufacturers (as you call us) are already manufacturing what you refer to as high-end, custom, quality workmanship and materials products, and we suffer no loss of customer service on a personal level.

In my opinion, the distinction you are attempting to draw is not there. This is not a frame versus frameless issue at all; it is a mass-production versus build-to-order (job shop) issue. Although your modular correlation at first blush would appear to make the distinction possible, it really has no relevance towards the quality of workmanship or the quality of the materials. Mass-produced products can only be mass-produced if a single item can be used in many locations or in many differing settings. Although my company builds frameless cabinetry exclusively, it is built to order, and built to fit only one home (although many of the components could theoretically be used in another location, the chances of that being the case based on door style, finish, and configuration are not really any better than your typical face frame cabinet).

We do primarily high-end residential cabinetry, and although that term has been debated several times on this and other forums, we manufacture frameless cabinetry for multi-million dollar homes. Last year we completed the cabinetry in the largest residence in Tennessee (32,000 square feet). This was a seven million dollar home, and regardless of what some might attempt to call it, I call that “high end”. In my market, I am not at all worried about the imported cabinetry from low labor countries, but I can absolutely guarantee you that many of the “high-end” face frame manufacturers are wondering why we are getting so many of their jobs. Maybe the question should be posed to all the frame guys out there: are you paying attention to what is going on with the stapled and screwed, taped particleboard manufacturers in your area? They may be your toughest competitors in the next few years, no matter what clever name you try to hang on them.

PS: Just a little illustration of our stapled and screwed, taped particleboard cabinetry.




That is a beautiful kitchen! Those of us involved in 32 for as long as I know that the beauty we all revere comes from the wood that is visible. The 32mm system attacks head-on mainly how we set out to achieve that brilliant look.

China is a major issue - stroll through any Target, K-mart, Wal-Mart or Sears. They are currently entering our market virtually unimpeded and the long term view is that, without a national response, they will some day win. We as a country appear to have no stomach for this struggle, and the present administration - like their predecessors - are more interested in selling what we make there (in China) than in seeing what damage to US manufacturing has been done by the trade policies of the last 20+ years.

The advantage we still retain is that residential cabinetry is still pretty much *local* business, and still difficult to serve with a menu of customization options from far away. The place they have a chance at first is high-volume activity. The good news for the American cabinet making company is that there are not lots of large contract constructions going on anywhere in the US. If there were, we would suffer greatly, because when the prevailing wage is $6-10 per day, and the machine capability is comparable to what we have, the rules of economy slam us in the gut with a pervasive perception we cannot compete. The reason why our industry is not yet beset with problems is, in my view, in keeping the customer convinced that they have some design control, while leading them through a pre-developed process of choices that suit the actual builder of the boxes. Reward those who choose to select from the seller's system and penalize by pricing the few customers who ask a manufacturer to step way outside his comfort box.

Because the cache of custom permeates the market expectation, it still remains difficult for a foreign based manufacturer to mount an effective effort to compete. Because all of you work differently, it is hard for the off-shore manufacturer to enter the market, which does not mean he won't show up in markets that are receptive to their effort. As they become entrenched, they will expand outward, and one day they will put up essentially assembly operations onshore and in a generation be perceived as US companies, at which time they can amalgamate their operations and, for all intents and purposes, be perceived to be US companies.

Look, for example, at the number of Japanese and German companies now manufacturing for domestic sale here in the US. Now look for an example of a Chinese company investing in a domestic plant to deliver goods made for this market built in an indigenous factory. I believe you'll look for a long time. The engagement in Chinese manufacture being solicited by generations of politicians and corporate managers has proved to be a huge net sum loss. The Carolina furniture industry, thanks almost entirely to offshore manufacturers - mostly Chinese - have seen 4 million feet of factory space abandoned in the last three years, coupled with direct Chinese sale into long established retail chains, effectively cutting out US companies from the process.

Friends, it is serious stuff - we need to manufacture here in the USA. What manufacturing sector will be left if there is a major war in the future? Everyone agrees that America's ability to manufacture was a pivotal issue in WWII and Korea. The smallest number of people in the industrial age are now employed here in manufacturing based jobs. Think about that as you make purchases in the market place. We will all be accountable for the choices we make.

Jon Elvrum, forum technical advisor



From contributor N:
Short lead times and custom cabinetry with the cabinetmaker dealing directly with the homeowner or builder will win out over imported cabinetry in the custom mid range to upper range, frame or frameless. We could see some real losses in the lower end stuff, as price is the biggest concern.

Those of us who build face frame cabinets use staple and screw construction, in most cases. We don't grind as much, but we spend the rest of the day sanding (and sanding is getting old fast).



Contributor O, not only is it a nice job, it's a designed-for-profit design!

I noticed the use of bumping in and out and up and down, which not only adds to the design, but adds to the cost in finished end charges, while at the same time makes the job a little easier to align door-gap-wise (no 20 foot flush run to line up) and further allows us to use only mouldings in 8' lengths, so we don't have to scarf joint mouldings.

I mention this because the only product we do see in that picture is Conestogas, but that's the beauty of frameless - the design is entirely up to us and how we master their catalog.

They do sell a knock down face frame line, but one thing I've always disliked about face frame when combining cabinets is where one seam inevitably butts another, it is open in plain daylight for the world to see, unlike frameless, where it's hidden somewhat between a door gap. It also draws your eye to an uneven reveal based on the standard opening reveals where the seamed stiles will have two possible different colored solid woods with a large seam running right down the middle.

If I were going to draw out a face frame job to get the same look, I'd opt to construct with dados using a CNC router and make cabinetry runs with a single face and the use of partitions. I build 80% frameless too, but have CNC to accomplish this in face frame, so if the cabinet snobs want to step up to the plate, they're not doing a whole lot more than using component boxes themselves unless they're making face frame in the method I've described, bumping cabinetry up and down and in and out on runs of more than 8'. The final product is what the customer sees and they do not care what way or what machines we've used to create it. I added this comment to show that if the system of long runs and combined cabinetry were to be used, there would be a greater difference and something to argue about.

As it sits now, based on the reason behind 32mm construction without dowels in the first place, hardware location. The greatest difference is that a face frame box has a face and the hardware attaches to that and its back, while a frameless box uses edgeband and has its hardware attach to the sides.



From contributor Z:
We did a few stores for a large mid-western furniture chain last year. One of my guys was interested in a dining room set that was being set up in the showroom as we were installing our cabinets. The manager of the store said the oak table and chairs retailed for $650. Seemed very inexpensive for the amount of materials involved. Then the manager laughed and said that they paid $75 for it from China. Wow, even with slave labor, that's cheap.


From contributor J:
Contributor O, I think the cabinets look great and should rate as high end in anyone's book, but upon doing the math, it is interesting that this home was built for about $220.00 per foot. Out here in the N.W. that amount per foot is an average spec. home, with many executive homes running many times that per foot.


From contributor P:
Contributor O, nice work, but I truly believe that any so-called high-end kitchen would be a mix of at least frame (bookcases, mantles, etc.) and frameless construction (cases with doors) surrounded with pilasters or such as ends. By the way, what is the definition of a high-end kitchen? 10K, 25K, 50K, 75K, 100K, 150K?


Jon, great rant! I agree 100% with 75% of what you said.

We build everything - paneled rooms, furniture, short run custom mouldings, and even frameless (gasp!) cabinets. The technology your company, among others, develops and markets is fascinating (witness the lights out European factories), but how do you address the needs of the non-cookie-cutter cabinetmaker? Are we doomed generalists, ill-fated romantics? Does the machinery marketer have any toys for us? Maybe a grumpy robot floor sweeper or a prima donna sander?

P.S. My beef with particleboard and hot melt tape is when it is used inappropriately in high moisture applications, like bathrooms and kitchens. I've seen a lot of ugly three-year-old melamine in my time.



From contributor G:
We are building an exterior bar for a client in an ocean front home. We will be using marine grade ply, mahogany hardwood edges and doors as well as some stainless cabinetry. While we won't be using any veneer edge banding, we will be using 100% frameless construction. Why? Because it's better!


From contributor J:
Contributor G, I prefer to build frameless and do so more often than not, but to say that frameless is better is a shallow statement. As a small custom shop, I choose to build whatever look and style the architect or client chooses. While frameless may be easier for me to construct, I love the look and the feel of accomplishment that labor-intensive flush inset face frame cabinets affords.


From contributor M:
Contributor N, "We don't grind as much, but we spend the rest of the day sanding (and sanding is getting old fast)."

What do you mean when you say "grind"? I've heard this before and can't for the life of me figure out why some people think that we staple-and-screwers have to grind down the screws. It just ain't so, Bro!

There are some cheap melamine products out there, but if the better products are used, there should be no water damage problems in 3, 4, 5 or 15 years. I've had this stuff sitting around with standing water inside (Zargen drawer box) with no water damage whatsoever. The quality of the product makes the difference.

We do use both frameless and framed construction in our cabinetry. Mostly, we do frameless, but on bookcasing and other types of open cabinetry, we typically apply frames.



From contributor N:
The "grinding" refers to a method used by a rather successful frameless cabinetmaker who sands his screw heads down flat to the surface of an unfinished box end (via the video). It's not a negative in my book.


From contributor M:
What celebrated cabinetmaker would "sand" down screw heads? I have seen a video where the burrs created by driving staples and screws were sanded down to make sure that the panels stay flat, but not to grind down the screw heads. Maybe I'm watching a different video and/or frameless cabinetmaker?


From contributor J:
Why, when building frameless, would one use frames for bookcases and open cabinets? Is it that they are trying to make it look like framed cabinets?


I built face frame for 25 years, but a few years back switched pretty much to frameless. If a box gets fronts, there's no face frame. If it's an open box (no fronts), it gets a face frame. I do that only because to me it looks better. I'm probably feeding my ego more than my wallet with that stance, though. From what I've read here, it seems a good deal of the face frame fanatics are more motivated by ego than bucks. Personally, I'm in this business to make money. Getting rid of face frames gets more bucks in my wallet easier.


From contributor P:
I'm about a 50-50 mix. The real trick on frameless is to design and create that built-in look, and it can be done. But what I see a lot out there are slapped-on doors as end panels, etc., with very little detail. The Home Depot look! Need a hood - a few doors on a box will do, and throw on a corbel or two. Maybe it’s an ego thing or just pride. Also, in the last 10 years, I don't ever recall seeing frameless cabinetry in a multi-million dollar home. Maybe in the closets! Today, million dollar homes are no big deal. We build face frames with inset doors - I don’t know why anyone would use overlay doors on a face frame. Overlay doors belong on frameless cabinetry. There is a place for both and each has its own market. But to say one way is better then the other is nonsense. It’s taste and budget.


From contributor K:
Recall the aggravation of trying to hinge doors to frameless boxes before European hinges were available? At the time, that seemed like a good reason to build cabinets with face frames.

Frameless cases are perfect for cabinets with high utility - lots of drawers, things that pull out, lift up, etc. Most of the "active" hardware is easy to install in a frameless case. They're easy to clean, too.



From contributor X:
Very good point. The frameless cabs are certainly much easier to attach things to, such as drawers, r/o's, garbage trays, tilt outs, pull-out shelves, etc. I speak from 30+ years face frame experience before I switched.

As a frameless shop, I wonder why you frameless guys put a face frame on open bookcases? I don't and have only had one customer in three years say anything - I put a 1/2" mullion over the crack between cabs. I'm sure it's just personal taste and habit?



From contributor M:
It's basically personal tastes for me - I like the frames on open cabinetry.

Several years back, I used to think the Euro style cabinetry was always commercial in appearance. I was really shocked to see what could actually be accomplished with a few applied mouldings and some nice looking doors.

Here's a photo showing a bookcase end cap on an island from one of our past jobs.




From the original questioner:
I guess I'll buy some books and find out what you folks are talking about. I did go to Home Depot to see the difference. I was not impressed. I thought I was looking at $39.95 furniture from K-Mart, with all the veneer, cabinets falling off the wall from split and cracked particleboard, etc. I'm sure the frameless I saw there is not what you folks build or are talking about. Anyone have suggestions of titles I might look for?


From contributor D:
Whether you choose to build framed or frameless or a combination of the two, there is no single book source that I know that will provide you with the many and varied details of which I believe you are asking. If you do understand the basics, however, you should be able to design a full, no-frills kitchen and expand your design and construction skills as you gain experience. This and other cabinet and woodworking forums are most helpful, especially if you will take the time to search and read the archives. This forum (for example) contains a great wealth of archived information in the section called the Knowledge Base. As you live and learn, continue to post specific questions about areas of the business you don't understand and you will often get honest and candid responses from more experienced contributors, as you are undoubtedly finding out with this thread.


From contributor X:
Search archives on "frameless" and you will probably find info on books, etc.

I remember when I asked exactly the same questions as you some three years ago. The journey since then has been the most exciting, rewarding and, yes, expensive, business journey of my life - what a roller-coaster! Worth every minute! Give yourself plenty of time in gathering your info and fasten your seat belt - you're in for a ride if you go for it.

There are a lot of very knowledgeable guys on this forum and others who have a wealth of info available on both frameless and face frame. We don't all always agree, but most of our discussions have been civil and respectful.



From contributor P:
A different twist to frameless cabinetry. Look Ma - no moldings under cabinets, but where is the halogen light coming from?




From contributor D:
Very nice. Of course, you have a recess between the framed panels and the bottoms of the uppers. I believe this to be an example of high-end cabinetry, without question. Rather than discuss the price of the home or cost of cabinetry, the use of materials and skilled workmanship that is apparent in the details of the above cabinetry sets them apart from the ordinary. They are understated in their complexity, yet impressively simple and elegant when viewed in their entirety, made so by careful and thoughtful design, dedicated craftsmen, skilled finishers, and expert installation.


From the original questioner:
Typically, do you purchase your melamine pre-laminated or do you laminate it to stock yourself, based upon the job? Either way, can you direct me to a good wholesaler in the northern NE area?


From contributor P:
The lights you see in the photo are in the valance cabinets over the sink. All the under-counter lights are built in to the bottom of all the upper cabinets. No moldings.


From contributor Z:
Here's another example of "cheap" frameless cabinets. I think the only thing that makes cabinets "high end" is the quality of workmanship. Even laminate cabinets can be high end.




From contributor J:
There is nothing like granite and high-end appliances to top off a nice job. I have seen a few appliance bills for jobs that I have worked on lately and upon seeing them I realize that it is time to adjust my prices.


Contributor Z, your "cheap" frameless cabinetry has been in use in Europe for over 30 years. Where is the quality of workmanship in laminated cabinets? I would say that the design is high-end, not the laminate.


From contributor Z:
Designs go out of style pretty quickly. But well-crafted out-of-style designs still look good. Badly made current designs look bad as soon as they are made. I thought frameless cabinets started in Europe after WWII. That makes them a lot older than 30 years. The first place I saw them was in Germany in the 70's, and that was the last time I wanted to make face frames. I still do, because some customers want them, but my opinion is that the flexibility and ease of construction of frameless make them the way to go.


From contributor L:
I use thermofused melamine on the jobs I do that need it. Do not buy the type sold at the local building supplies. Check your local yellow pages for a plywood dealer or a good hardwood lumber dealer (note: I did not say lumber yard). You can also use cabinet grade plywood, veneered particleboard (usually on sale here in Texas). Check with your local cabinetmakers for their preferences.


From contributor P:
This AV cabinet was installed in a cape style home. It would have been a real challenge to use frameless construction.




From the original questioner:
Contributor P, nice job! I agree with you. However, you don't have to sell me on face frame, as that is all I have ever done on entertainment systems and the like. I would, however, like to learn the frameless method as a viable option to expand into kitchens. It appears that it is faster and cheaper (materials) and another option to consider. I am in the dark, as all I’ve ever worked with is solid woods for furniture, millwork and the like (with exceptions of rear panels). I would like to possibly dabble in this frameless, banded melamine concept. It appears that I will have to read, read, read.


From contributor B:
My advice would be to get some sales reps to give you a tutorial. Start with a hardware company (either Grass or Blum), then machinery, possibly a door and accessories supplier (like Conestoga) and then a panel supplier. They will be motivated to get you up and running on a 32mm system. Be prepared to lease (or buy) many, many thousands of dollars worth of equipment.

Also, if you haven't read the book "True32" yet, you should take a look at it.



From the original questioner:
I just took the tour of the True32 web site. I see what you mean by many, many thousands of dollars. I will sell my house and live in my shop!


From contributor J:
You don't have to go into the poor house to build frameless. All you need is a Unisaw with a good blade, a belt sander and time. I got started here with $10,000.00 in tools way too many years ago (mid 70's).




From contributor N:
On another forum, a cabinetmaker from Australia points out that face frame cabinetry is a thing of the past, and everyone there now does frameless only. Could this happen here in a decade or so? Face frame cabinetry may just become a high-end niche market product (I'm all for that, myself). Economics may force us all to change, like it or not. I've been doing my own informal survey about this subject for 20 years now, and basically a lot of shops are offering frameless and face frame, and the direction is going to frameless. No one seems to be going from frameless to frame.


From contributor O:
Earlier in this thread, several of you were talking about frameless bookcases versus framed bookcases. I typically add a frame (using pocket screws) to a typical frameless case if the bookcases sit on a wood top. If the bookcase is floor to ceiling, I typically will use frameless cases and add fluted pilasters between the cases, like in the picture below.




From contributor P:
Are the shelf edges solid with a profile? How are you covering the pocket screw slots? Impressed! Have you done any cabinetry with a painted colonial look?


Just wanted to add another example of a frameless set made with the use of a pilaster element that does not incorporate anything that resembles a face frame into the design or manufacturing process.

Applied horizontal and/or decorative elements have long been used in frameless to allow you to accentuate the design. Just because it is not an integral face frame does not make it any less attractive or functional.

For laminate cases, we have integrated a "face frame" that was all sent as modular sections and installed along with the cases in the field for a pharmaceutical office.



From contributor Z:
You can get into frameless pretty inexpensively. A good table saw, iron-on edgebanding, a shelf hole jig, and a 1-3/8 forstner bit in a drill press will get you started. The expensive tools just make it easier and faster, but you can learn the system with the starter tools and move up to the better tools later. I spent 15+ years with table saws before I had enough courage to take a lease on a Streibig panel saw. I am still getting along with a Chesia #3 edgebander, which I think is the smallest hot glue machine available.

Here are a couple of tips to get you started: For the frameless system to work, everything has to be square. *Square.* This is why panel saws are ideal. Boards seldom come from the factory square, so before cutting to size, you have to square at least one corner, so the parts you cut (on a table saw) come out square. A t-square jig and a router will make that operation reasonably quick.

Tip #2: Melamine panels tend to chip on one side on a table saw, but this only matters on shelves. You will only see the inside of the boxes when installed, so put the chip-free side on the inside. Shelves are a pain. There seem to be a lot of methods for cleaning up the cut, but none match a panel saw with scoring. I used to use an ATB blade, and feed very slowly, or cut 1/16 big and clean up on a shaper or use a router.

These methods are not efficient, but they are effective, without a large dollar outlay for tools. You can familiarize yourself with 32mm construction methods that way, and as you "get" the system, invest in more productive tools.

Tip #3: Tools are the key to efficiency. After you learn the basics of the system, you will see why. Then you can invest in the tools and make profits.

Maybe some others can give more tips. I am certainly not an expert on frameless. I got most of my information to start from a Blum pamphlet, and made up a lot of things along the way. So I'm sure I do plenty of things in ways that could be done better or more efficiently.

We still rabbet our box sides to accept the bottom and top, which is not generally the method of choice among frameless. But it helps during assembly, gives us a gluing surface, and makes putting the boxes together square easier. A lot of people butt the top and bottom into the sides, and use dowels or screws. I think just about any method you are comfortable with works.



From contributor T:
The idea of a router fixture for squaring one corner is a great one. You might consider hooking up the pump from a vacuum bag system to act as a pod for holding down your material while you rout it to square.


From contributor K:
I'd like to see more pictures of kitchens on the order of the one contributor Z has posted. That's a beautiful kitchen. High style, but looks like it was intended for preparing food. I sure get tired of having to build kitchens that look more related to the den/library/study. All those crevices, mouldings, etc. Seems like a nice laminate dental office would be a more suitable model for kitchens. Trouble is, in my area, laminate kitchens are rare - three that I can recall doing in almost 30 years. I just saw one of them recently that's 12 years old and it looks good as new.


From contributor O:
Contributor P, you asked: "Are the shelf edges solid with a profile?"
The shelf edges are solid wood moldings (diagram below).

"How are you covering the pocket screw slots?"
I don't need to - all the pocket holes are on the outside face of the end panels, and are either facing the wall or another cabinet. Keep in mind that I only use pocket holes on the units that I add a face frame to - the units pictured have no face frames.

"Have you done any cabinetry with a painted colonial look?"
Many times, but I don't have any photos. Just imagine the library units pictured earlier, painted.



From the original questioner:
Contributor Z, thanks. I learned 20 years ago to buy the best tool one can afford, even if one can't afford it. It is cheaper in the long run. I can remember making baby furniture (cribs, changing tables, day beds, etc.) with nothing but hand power tools. I am a bit of a perfectionist (as most woodworkers are) and I would turn out far superior products than one could buy in any chain, but it took forever. Cheap tools usually mean an inferior product unless one spends much extra time.

The info I’ve received here since I posted my question has been excellent! I have downloaded from multiple sites, ordered multiple catalogs, ordered a few books and read about every thread on this site. I feel like I actually know what you folks are talking about now compared to just two weeks ago.

Since I can not afford a 20K machine to start, I have been looking at options for banding. Has anyone used an Edgeco Hand Held, Manual Hot Air Edge Bander Model AG-98 for pre-glued PVC, polyester, melamine, and wood veneer of up to 2" wide (50 mm)?



From contributor X:
We all started with hand applying our banding with varying degrees of success. I have heard some say the Freud tabletop hot air bander is okay. I tried the Virutex and didn't like it, but someone bought it from me and probably does fine. I don't like to fiddle with tools and that tool takes a fair degree of fiddling. I'm not familiar with the one you write about.

Just be aware that the pre-glued banding is not as permanent a bond as the glue pot machines (or glue cartridge such as Holzer). Having said that, I operated for years with hand applied banding with iron before I got my machine. It depends on your gross and throughput (how much product you get out the door). If your production is small, you can get along with hand banding for a while.

When you are ready for a machine you can find great used machines for usually around 1/2 the price. Just be aware that there is a lot of junk out there. I had a friend spend $3000 on a piece of complete junk. When you are ready I'm sure all of us here can guide you down the right path to a good machine.

I will say if you are serious about frameless and want to increase your business, don't hesitate to take the plunge and spend some money on new (preferably) or good used machines - assuming your business plan makes sense, of course.



From contributor P:
Contributor O, for some reason I was thinking that you used pocket screws to attach the pre-finished pilasters. Thanks for the molding profile. Is it cosmetic or structural? How are you attaching molding to the shelf? Are you using plywood for the shelves?

To the original questioner: Tools are only one issue. The other issue is square footage. If you can’t set up a flow for manufacturing, you will have a hard time reaching your full manufacturing potential. And you’ll have to work on Fridays while some of us are out playing golf.



From contributor O:
The shelf edge molding is both cosmetic and structural. It certainly looks better than an edge banded shelf, and the 38mm hardwood molding increases the shelf strength and resists sagging. The shelves are made of veneer core plywood, and we glue and pin nail the molding on. We also use this molding on the front edge of wood tops, and use as a base cap mold above and below nailers to hide our screws. All our bookcases have two nailers - one that is 108mm wide behind the back, and another that is 76mm wide in front of the back. We screw the bookcase to the wall by screwing through the back just above or below the front nailer, which takes the screw through the back nailer and into the stud. We then cover all the screw heads with this molding, which can be removed if there is ever a need.


From contributor D:
You may recognize the molding illustrated above as standard base cap molding, the profile being available in most any building supply store, though you may well need to special order it in a species to match your project. But... it is a standard profile that is available from near every molding company out there. I've been using it on fireplace mantles for years - now I have learned two more common uses for it.

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