Finishing Before Assembling ó Tips and Tricks

      Cabinetmakers who assemble cabinets after finishing discuss their methods. July 31, 2009

I recently tried assembling a TV cabinet after finishing was completed. Overall, I like the process, and the elimination of runs and sags is worth its weight in gold. However, I have two new problems with this method and wanted to consult. First, I am getting some glue squeeze-out when clamping the frame to the carcass. I wipe with a wet rag, but there is still a bit of residue that ends up blurring or flattening the sheen. Also, clamping a finished frame onto the carcass scares me. The thought of scratches makes me want to cry. So, I know I can buy a product that softens and removes dried yellow glue, and I guess a bit of sticky backed felt stuck to my clamps could eliminate scratches but I wanted to see what you folks did for this.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor G:
I only finish the insides. I know of these pitfalls and choose not to finish the outside of the cabinets because of it.

From contributor C:
We use construction adhesive, and not too much. The frames are dadoed for the sides, floors, partitions and tops. The parts have to be right.

From contributor J:
You need to use an old toothbrush and plenty of clean water. Itís probably gluey water drying and causing the dulling of the sheen. After your water cleanup is complete, you can use a spray window cleaner and you're done. I like to use clamp pads made from scrap ply with leather or cork glued to them. Inspect them often to make sure nothing is stuck on that could dent the fresh finish.

From contributor M:
No offense, but learn to finish. Your final fit and finish will be compromised by post assembly no matter how careful you are.

From the original questioner:
The window cleaner will it only work if the glue is still wet. Can I use it to remove the dried glue residue? Also, yes it is gluey water drying that is hazing the sides.

From contributor G:
If it is just glue haze you should be able to wipe it off using successively clean rags. Each time you wipe use a fresh rag slightly damp. Just like you were grouting and cleaning the haze.

From contributor R:
An old trick I learned as a apprentice many years ago might work for you as well. Buy some drinking straws, (one's with larger openings) just use the straw to clean up the glue between the joints, the excess glue will go into the end of the straw, cut of the end when it is filled and continue.

From the original questioner:
That is a good trick. I have used it before

From contributor B:
Pre-finish the interiors. It saves a lot of time when you can buy prefinished maple plywood. It is much more durable than anything you can spray from your local dealer and will save you time and money in the long run. Pre-finishing exteriors like faceframes doesn't make any sense to me when so many things can dinged up in the assembly process and pre-finishing face frames doesn't save any time to me when masking takes about 2 minutes per box sometimes more sometimes less.

From contributor L:
We fully assemble except backs before spraying the finish. That way the overspray can exit the case and you can see what you are doing. When they are dry then put the backs in. Itís a different problem if the back shows on the outside. As for getting runs, you need to practice until it's not an issue. If you have problems with glue showing up after staining use the Titebond that shows up with UV light or get neater about your gluing practices.

From the original questioner:
Contributor B, what are your masking procedures?

From contributor B:
With pre-finished maple/birch interiors tape off all the face frame openings with 1"-1.5" tape. Run the first layer of tape perfect up to the inside or back of the faceframe where the plywood meets the solidwood face frame. Then get some masking sheet paper (usually comes in 12" plus rolls but really all sizes and apply tape the edge and run it around the inside). Lastly crown it inward and apply another layer in the center up and down, you will find a technique that works for you. After awhile you get good and you can train your guys to do it how you want too - shouldn't take more than a few minutes per opening. With prefinished maple interiors and stained/primed/painted face frames itís the best way to go. You simply cannot spray your cabinet parts with lacquer cheaper than what it costs to buy the prefinished plywood. I'm a strong advocate of using it. Not to mention it's very hard to spray interiors of boxes, even experienced finishers will admit this. It's not that is hard to do, itís just hard to do really well - especially on tight openings. Labor is expensive, materials are not. Buy good materials and save on labor.

From the original questioner:
Thanks contributor B. Do you skin your finished sides with a separate finished side panel?

From contributor B:
If you're referring to the outside returned panel that is mitered or butt joint and glued on no. I would prepare the entire cabinet and then spray either primer/stain lacquer. If itís not a cope and stick returned panel and just a flat finished return MDF usually works well and again same thing. The pre-finishing is exclusive to interior parts that are behind doors/drawers. If it's exposed either through shelving or glass doors itís usually a finished interior to match the exterior. I really don't advise pre-finishing the entire cabinet before assembly unless you're doing lower end work where touch ups aren't needed. I just don't see any time saved from finishing frames first before assembly. Then you have to baby them the entire build.

From contributor M:
I put skins on the sides and they cover up the pocket hole screws. I still think finishing first and assembly second works great. Just figuring out the steps is important. I use pre-finished birch and I get several compliments on the interior of the cabinet where it was a low grade of my finishing. Pre-finish and use screws. Figure out a good process for you and you will improve in time and quality. By the way, I saw the straw trick on this old house this past weekend.

From contributor R:
I like either pre-finishing the interiors without the backs or using prefinished ply, depending on customer's choice of material. I build face frame, so the schedule varies if there's a stain involved or just a clearcoat, but like some of your other responses, I prefer to spray the exteriors last to avoid clamp marks or other damage from assembly.

Masking the interiors goes a lot easier with a paint masking tool that holds the tape and paper, and applies the tape as you pull the paper off. Any good paint store will sell them, and while they seem expensive they make the work go very fast. For deep cabinets, the cardboard that comes with Lazy Susanís and other large hardware is an easy and re-usable masking material.

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