Inset Cabinet Door Fitting and Tolerances

      Here's a discussion about the process and quality control measures cabinetmakers employ when fitting inset cabinet doors. October 27, 2011

I have my first inset cabinet door job coming up. Can anyone give me some insight as to the pitfalls I may be facing? Also, if you have a 12í base cab with 1 ĹĒ face frame what size should the door be made? Is there a common gap that should be maintained all around the door and drawer faces?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor G:
I use a 5/64" gap. How I usually do it is I make the FF, and then I use pocket screw joinery. I make the door about 1/32-1/16" oversize in both directions. I use 5/64" shims to do the sizing. I use the edge sander to size the door. I reduce the door size with the sander and check the fit. I repeat this until the shims slip in snug. I have three of the 5/64" shims so I can do pairs of doors. If you are using Euro hinges you will need a 1/2 overlay hinge with the FF adapter plate. Inset is my standard cabinet. I find it easier to do instead of an overlay.

From contributor K:
Insets can be a challenge. If you use concealed hinges, you'll need to watch the space behind the left and right stiles to have room for the adapter plates as they mount from behind.

From contributor A:
Make sure that the frames are square and the frames are straight. Use a piece of ply or a framing square to check them. I basically do it in the same manner as Contributor G described.

The opening is usually a little bit out of square. Try not to taper the stiles. You want the hinges on a factory edge perfect. Taper only the top and/or bottom of the door to fit the opening. This is ideally done on an edge sander. If you do not have a sander it is easier to taper the stiles on a jointer and leave the top and bottom alone.

From contributor Y:
Ensure that your face frames and doors are built square from the start. That will make your job so much easier. I usually leave a 3/32" reveal around my doors. I make them 1/4" larger than needed and then I crosscut and rip to final size - 1/8 off each side/end. To get my 3/32 reveal I just take the opening less 3/16 or for a double I take the total opening less 9/32 and divide by two.

To arrive at my door size for parts I take the final door width and deduct the width of my stiles and add 3/4 of an inch (allowing for the 3/8" tenons on the ends of the rail). For the panels, I deduct the width of the stiles and add 3/8 which gives me a good fit for the spaceballs. Also, if you use the concealed hinges just allow for the proper backing plate. Most times itís easier to flush the box to the opening rather than the outside. Especially when you go to install your drawer slides.

From contributor G:
Square, square, square! Check, double check, and triple check. I allow 1/32" out of square and I am really not happy unless it is within 1/64" or less. It will make your life much less complicated.

From contributor F:
In addition to what the others have covered the biggest pitfall I would warn against is under bidding the job. Inset doors take up a lot more time than other cabinetry, so make sure you bid so youíre not working for free.

From contributor G:
That's funny Contributor F. I mostly do inset and find doing an overlay takes more time because of the uncertainty I have when I am building them. Putting on the profile on the outside of the door and the subsequent sanding and finishing of the profile seems to burn up a lot more time than fitting the doors into the opening in my book.

From contributor A:
I have a similar uncertainty. I think itís true in most things in life. You and I are of the inset mindset, because we do it every day. When I have to do an overlay project, I spend what seems like a lot of time checking and rechecking that the reveals on the frames are all the same, and switching hinges in order to achieve a look often complicates the whole process. In my mind the inset is easier. I can fit a door faster than running the thing through the shaper to edge it, and then sanding it by hand. I think many people are scared of inset, simply because they haven't done it. I'm scared of melamine breaking my back, foot, or both.

From contributor G:
I agree. Once you get the precision part down, then the insets are pretty easy. I haven't used melamine in a while, thank goodness. Itís nasty stuff.

From contributor Y:
I agree with you guys. Inset doors are the first style I learned when I first started building cabinets and I always just go that route. Whenever someone requests overlay I get all messed up and they seem to take me forever to get done.

From contributor Z:
It is also helpful to make sure the boxes are level and plumb before you mount the faceframes. If you mount a square frame to an out of level box it can get tweaked during installation. If everything is plumb and level in your shop before you fit the doors you can use the door gaps as a guide for level and plumb during installation. Flush inset is a mindset. A lot of people are intimidated by mortised butt hinges but that's just bread and butter work for us. High precision work is much easier because the parts fit better.

From the original questioner:
I just did a test one to a perfectly square door, and my FF was out a little, maybe 1/16. What is the best way to correct for this? New ff, or make the door fit?

From contributor G:
1/16" is out too much. I accept a 32nd but really look for less than 1/64 out of square. If the door is perfect, make a new FF. If this is the real deal you can probably tweak the cabinet on site and adjust it so the door fits square. An extra half turn on a screw can pull the cabinet to square.

From contributor W:
Make sure you are using straight flat lumber. Straight flat lumber with square cuts will result in a square FF most of the time. Like Contributor G said a 32nd is tolerable but perfect is much better. Even off a 64th I would still make the door fit perfect.

Put your shims of desired thickness on the bottom rail and set your door on them. Get the bottom and the hinge side shimmed first and then work on the opposite side next. Always do the top last. I do this pretty quick because the next step I put the hinges right on the door and mount the door. I use inset barrel hinges and they are not precise so I fit it with the hinges on and when Iím done I finish sand.

From contributor Z:
If it is paint grade we shoot for a 2.5 mm gap (about 3/32). You have to leave room for the paint build up. On a stain grade project we will strive for 2mm. The 1/32 finish is less than a millimeter. Your doors can expand and contract three times that amount with seasonal changes in humidity. You want to give the customer something they can actually appreciate and afford.

From the original questioner:
So is a 1/8 gap too much for inset painted doors?

From contributor G:
Yes. I find 3/32 too much.

From contributor Z:
To contributor G: How do you avoid expansion and contraction? Do the houses you work in all have humidity control?

From contributor G:
Summertime building I set things up to 5/64" and winter the widths are setup to 3/32". I have had no call backs since I moved away from poplar doors. I finish everything myself. I make sure the panel end grain is sealed before I assemble the doors. Now I work in digital to 5 thousandths of an inch.

From contributor W:
I agree with Contributor G. I do a 5/64th with an eased edge makes for nice distinct lines. I have had no problems. The bottom of a drawer might go up to 3/32nd sometimes if I know it will have a lot of weight in it.

From the original questioner:
This is just a test door for a client but would lead to more work. I figure once I get it down the spacing should not be a problem. To correct my problem I shimmed the door out 1/8 on three sides and then marked 1/8 to nothing on the top edge of the door, then I used my track saw to shave off what I needed to. It seemed to work as I can tell and I think I have a good eye.

From contributor Z:
To the original questioner: Setting a generally unobtainable standard is kind of like picking out an engagement ring for your wife. You're going to have to improve on it eventually so pick something you can work with later.

From contributor G:
It has nothing to do with the client and more to do with the guy building the cabinets. When you are looking around at the margin of the door you can see 1/64" differences because you are able to compare the other margins within the same door. This is the reason we do not use a ruler to measure the door, we use shims to feel for the space in the margins.

From contributor G:
If you have to take off 1/8" to make it work it is too far out of square. You need to work on getting your equipment to produce small pieces that are accurately square. It takes time, but once you get it set up correctly it doesn't need much adjustment after that.

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