Fine-Tuning Inset Drawers

      Advice on getting and keeping a consistent fit for drawer faces in full-inset cabinetry. October 27, 2008

I am getting ready to start a kitchen that requires inset doors. I have done inset doors on small projects like entertainment centers, but not a whole kitchen. I am planning on using the Salice hinges (200 series) with a special backplate for inset doors. I want to stick with a Euro hinge so I have plenty of adjustability. My big concern is the drawers. I have never done an inset drawer. I am thinking of using a KV8400 series slides. My other concern is how far off will the margins be after the cabinets get installed? Does this ever create a problem? I am thinking about using 1/2'' backs on my cabinets to try and keep them as square as possible during the install process (I usually use 1/4'' backs).

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor J:
We just finished a 23-unit kitchen remodel, all inset doors and drawer fronts. Initially size your doors and drawer fronts the same as the cab openings, then fine tune the perimeter gap at the jointer and stroke sander during assembly. (One of Jim Tolpin's books includes a good explanation of this fitting sequence.)

The euro hinges are a good choice since they'll provide some in/out adjustment that you will need after installation. The KV8400s will work fine - just install your false fronts using the 20mm nylon drawer front adjusters (Blum and others make these) - they provide 3/16" adjustment in any direction. If the job calls for 5-piece drawer fronts, use the FastCap "Kolbe Korner" instead; these will also give you the necessary range of adjustment.

The 1/2" backs are also a good idea, as is anything else you can add to minimize racking when the cases are installed. One final tip: mark each door/drawer so that they can be replaced in their original openings once the installation and finishing are done. Even if the job includes several "identical" units, the fitted component parts will likely not interchange. I like to number each case, door and drawer in an inconspicuous place with steel machinist's stamps. This way I can reunite them no matter what cute tricks the install crew, painters, plumbers, etc. might pull!

From contributor T:
Make sure you level and plumb the cabinet boxes before mounting the face frames. You can use the gaps you produce now as a guide for level and plumb when the cabinets are being installed.

From contributor B:
You've had excellent advice from the guys above, so I won't add anything except to strongly agree with 1/2" backs.

From contributor W:
I just visited a jobsite yesterday that we installed one year ago. We used euro hinges and the door adjustment was good. We used KV8400 slides and the drawers looked terrible. Some of the slides had lost their soft close feature. Some would not pull all the way closed. Many of these will have to be replaced. For inset door jobs, I like the Hettich Quadrro. It is ball bearing and fully captured with a lot less side to side movement. It is available with and without soft close from CSH.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the heads up about the kv 8400 soft close. I just bought some to try on a kitchen I am currently working on. Maybe soft close and inset doors are a bad combination. I will just stick to standard full extension slides.

From contributor W:
I have had success with the Hettich soft close for undermounts. For the side mounts I use the self-closing slides (not soft close) from Hardware Resources. I price each accordingly and let the customer choose.

From contributor P:
I do mostly inset cabinetry (and frameless), and I've had good success with the Blum motion undermounts. Full extension. I like seeing the dovetails, not the runners.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor A:
Cabinet doors and drawer fronts that are flush to their face frames and with precise equal reveals are highlights of true craftsmanship. Euro hinges and drawer slides have made this level of precision more readily achievable. A kitchen filled with inset doors set on full mortise butt hinges and meeting the requirement of flush faces with equal reveals is my idea of a challenge. Fortunately most of my clients like the features associated with Euro hardware. I charge a premium for butt hinges and my explanation as to why that is, usually persuades my clients to my point of view. That being said, I am a Blum man through and through. I have been using that hardware for many years and have celebrated the consistent quality and regular upgrades. They work for me and so I no longer experiment with options unless conditions mandate a change.

Favored drawer slides are the Blum Tandems Plus. Blum makes a soft close slide "Blumotion" which clients ooh and ahh about but I am not a big fan of any soft closing hardware whether from Blum, Hafele, or Rev a Shelf. They all seem to not quite do the job of making that final pull into place. The weight capacity of these slides is completely up to the demands in an average kitchen. Double wide pullouts sometime require side mount 200 lbs capacity slides but such a need is rare and a design change can often be offered to make that altogether unnecessary.

As for flushing faces to face frames: I make doors 1/16" less thick than my face frames to allow for a bumper (I add full stops inside the cabs behind the face frames for doors) and keep drawer fronts (on a five piece drawer box) the same thickness as the face frame. The drawer slide sets the stop position for the drawer. Following the setbacks and screwhole locations detailed with the Blum slides instructions results in a drawer face that is flush to the face frame. It needs to be noted here that I build all my cabinetry with cabinet sides and bottoms flush to the edges of the face frames. This makes all hardware mounting so much easier and I think the end result is a much better looking cabinet. If you aren't doing this I would advise trying to keep your face frame overlays in increments equal to some thickness of MDF panels. Rips of MDF of the right thickness can be used as spacers as needed (for example, to establish the location of your bottom slide off the cabinet bottom).
The procedure I follow is:

1. I install all the drawer boxes without their fronts into the face framed cabinet. Check a drawer front thickness sample to make sure that the front will be flush with the face frame, after you set your first drawer. Tweak the setup as needed before you get too committed.

2. The drawer fronts are sized to fit between the face frame verts minus predetermined clearances. Height dimensions are calculated with clearances on paper or full scale layout on plywood. In any event, my fronts are sized before I bring them to the cabinet with all clearances factored in. Not a bad idea when working on a bank of drawers that are not divided by horizontal face frame rails to place all your drawer fronts into the opening bottom to top wedged in with your perfectly machined clearance gauge sticks between all your edges. Now is the time to determine if a little more edge joining is required.

3. I do use Blum drawer cams for the final position adjustment and at this point I bore two cam size holes (I think 25mm x 12mm deep) in the back of the drawer fronts. Don't set the cams yet. Rather, insert a dowel center in each hole.

4. Starting with the bottom drawer in a bank of drawers, place the drawer front (with the dowel centers) in the opening wedged in with your clearance gauges. Give the front a solid rap with your hands placed approx. over the dowel centers. You now have the screwhole location in the front of the drawer box.

5. Set your adjustment cams in the back of the drawer front and bore the screw holes through the drawer box.

6. Attach your drawer front to its box. Equal out your reveals and move up to the next drawer.

That is pretty much it. Tighten up the cam screws. I usually install my drawer pulls through the front and the drawer box as a solid way of securing the position of the drawer fronts. I do this in the shop as I try to keep site work to a minimum. I trust my system and that I will install the cabinets without twisting the cabinets. If you are a little timid or won't have complete control over the install, it is wise to leave drawer pull install until the cabinets are in their final home.

Final adjustments with the cams are a beautiful thing. I too mark my drawer boxes as installed in the shop and though they might be (in a perfect world, are) interchangeable, why mess with success? All this writing might suggest this to be a complicated process but once you get your system established consistent, good results are easily achieved.

Comment from contributor B:
I just finished a kitchen with all inset doors and drawers. On the drawers I first drill a 1/4" (or 3/8") pair of holes in the drawer box front 1 inch in and down from the top corner (one each side). After the drawers are installed in the cabinet, I put a dowel center in each of the holes. Then I line up the drawer front on the drawer, and when I get it where I want it, I press on the drawer front to make marks on the back of the drawer front. Then I drill pilot holes on these marks. Use drawer front screws to install drawer fronts - the 1/4" holes allow for some movement in adjustment. I have no problem using soft close slides from GS slides. They do not use a small tab like the 8400's (tend to break off).

Comment from contributor C:
I usually use Blum undermount slides. The newer version allows in and out adjustment as well as the other direction, which makes a big difference to the stress factor when installing the slides. When attaching the false fronts, I use the following sequence. In a cabinet with multiple drawers, I start at the bottom and work up.

1. Put something heavy in the drawer box. A 5 lb. box of screws, for example, works fine. Since most drawers will have a fair amount of stuff in them, and these slides have some play, weighing down the drawer helps establish the bottom reveal.

2. Having fit the front to the opening, shim it tightly in place to establish a consistent reveal. I find bundles of playing cards to be ideal for this application.

3. Pre-drill 4 holes for 1" screws.

4. Drive screws.

That's it. It's a good idea to check the drawer box first, and be sure nothing funky is going on with it. The more neutral the drawer slide adjustments before you attach the false front, the more useful they'll be when you need to fine tune the fit.

I've used the nylon drawer front adjusters, and while I wouldn't fault anyone for using them, I find that they make the whole process take longer than it has to.

Comment from contributor D:
I agree it's important to pre-load the drawers with some weight in them before attaching the faces. What I do is have the drawer face sized and finished before installation with the correct gap all the way around. I install the drawer box in the cabinet and put some weight in it. Then I put the face with the bottom edge resting on a shim equal to the desired gap. After a quick check to see that all is ok with the gap and that the face is flush with the frame, I pull the face off, put on a couple of dabs of hotmelt glue and press it back into the hole onto the drawer box. Have side shims taped in place so the side to side gap is correct. Then I pull out the drawer, drill screw holes from the inside, pry off the face from the box and remove the hotmelt. Then just screw the face and box together.

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