More About Dadoing Face Frames

      Additional back-and-forth on a well-trodden path the whys and hows of dadoing cabinet face frames. March 5, 2007

Do most people who dado their face frames to their cabinets dado both the stiles and rails? If only the stiles, would that not mean that you would have to inset the tops, bottoms, shelves the same amount as the dado depth? If both are dadoed, wouldn't that mean that your bottom rail would create a lip at the cabinet's deck? Also, the overall depth of the cabinet would have to increase by the depth of the dado (i.e. a 24" cabinet would have to be 24 1/8" if the face frame is applied with a 1/8" dado).

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor F:
I think you can trust your own reasoning on these questions. Your math is correct. If the cabinet bottom is in a 1/8" deep dado and now measures 24", it surely measured 24 1/8" before glue-up. Your instincts were also a bull's-eye about if only vertical face frame parts were dadoed in, then the undadoed parts would need to have a smaller dimension and be offset as an assembly.

The way I see it, it's a matter of personal preference on whether to dado or not. That is, an undadoed face frame that has been glued on while in intimate contact with the front edge of the carcass is plenty strong and is very sound construction. A dado would add more glue surface area, but I don't think people dado for the reason of extra glue surface. I think most who dado do it for ease of assembly. That is as a fudge factor on cabinets that do not have the edge of the stile flush with surface of the finished end panel, etc.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the response. The reason I thought I might like to dado the face frames was to achieve an even 1/4" scribe on the stiles easily and because I thought I would save time with the dado and pocket screws over clamps and nails. Also no nail holes. The other thing I thought was that I would be less likely to have glue squeeze out on stain grade cabinets. I'm trying to get a method of doing casework. I have started my own business after working for others who glued and nailed face frames.

From contributor B:
I utilize a 1/4" dado when installing both the rail and the stile. I rout out a 1/4" x 3/4" notch on both sides of the top and bottom of the cabinet to allow for the full thickness of the stile. I prefer this method in that it makes for a strong and quick method of applying the face frame to the box. I allow a 3/16 scribe on the stiles and also maintain a 3/16" lip between the rails and the top and bottom so that I can use the same stock for both the rail and stile.

A good fitting dado comes close to eliminating clamping. If I have a loose fitting dado or slightly bowed rail or stile, I will clamp it and install a couple brad from the inside at a 45 degree angle.

Another advantage of the dado is that it eliminates the possibility of any light coming through any slight gap left between the box and a face frame that is fastened either by nail or pocket screw.

From contributor F:
I don't think that a stile scribe necessarily needs to be perfectly even. After all, if you thought you would need a full 1/4" scribe, you would have overhung the stile by 1/2" or more. 1/32" out of parallel would not be detrimental in this case and getting closer to parallel than that without a dado is not that difficult or time consuming.

If you are going to use pocket screws I don't see why doing the extra work of dados would be necessary. The pocket screws would serve as clamps and that would eliminate nail holes by itself.

I would be more interested in the time difference between gluing and clamping or gluing and pocket screwing. If they were equal times, I would just glue and clamp and then I wouldn't have the cosmetic defect of the pocket screws and pocket holes themselves. As far as the problem of squeezed out glue, I would say that it is true that dado construction can surely reduce or even eliminate glue squeeze out, so again it comes down to a question of whether it is faster to dado and reduce or eliminate glue squeeze out, or learn the correct sized bead of glue to use on non-dadoed work and certainly have to clean up some glue with a straight blade screwdriver protected by a damp cleanup cloth for the inside corners.

From contributor F:
Contributor B, I must confess that I have little clue as to what you mean in your first paragraph. You speak of a quarter inch dado. A dado has at least two dimensions.

From contributor G:
I dado the stiles only with 1/8 x 3/4 dadoes. The lower cabinet sides are cut to 23 3/8 deep; bottoms are 23 1/4. Upper sides are 11 3/8 deep top and bottoms are 11 1/4. I use adjustable shelves on all cabs. Face frames are assembled, finished, then placed face down on assembly table and box parts are glued and pocket screwed to face frame.

From contributor B:
I use a dado on the face frames a 1/4" deep by the thickness of the material I use for the box. Usually, I use 1/2" oak or birch plywood. The sides and the top and bottom for a 12" upper are cut to 11 1/2". The 1/4" notches on the ends of the top and bottom pieces of the box are to allow for the 3/4" thick portion of the stile. On a 3/4" by 1 1/2" face frame stile, you have a 1/4" for the scribe, a 1/2" for the width of the dado, and 3/4" remaining. The 1/4" by 3/4" notch on the ends of the plywood top and bottom is to allow for that remaining 3/4".

From contributor R:
Don't over-think this. I build my face frame that I dado everywhere the box touches the face frame shelves, tops, bottoms, ends. I dado them all, and of course add the dado depth to the box material width. All this stuff is like reinventing the wheel. Dadoes take time, then save time in assembly, then you have to be closer on your box measurements than on non-dadoed. It's six in one hand and a half dozen in other hand.

From contributor J:
I've done it several ways. I think the best is to dado only the stiles of your face frame and your cabinet sides. Use a nailer under the bottom shelf that is dadoed in. I use 1/2" material for non-exposed ends and cut a 1/2" dado in all stiles set in 1/4". When you have an exposed edge, use 3/4" and cut a rabbet on the front edge to go into the 1/2" groove. My reasoning behind the dadoing is assembly time and simplicity. I'm one man and it really makes things easier. Everything lines up nicely in the groove with no movement while you're attaching it.

By the way, gluing and stapling into a groove is much faster that pocket screwing. The dado is faster to cut as well after all setup is complete. On top of all of this, you have a nice selling point and no nail holes.

From the original questioner:
Thanks to everyone for the assistance. I was of course talking about a 3/4" wide dado. I thought that when I was talking about 1/8" dado it implied that I was talking about the depth. Don't know how anyone could use 1/8" wide dadoes to attach face frames.

From contributor R:
Mine are 1/8'' deep on 1/2'' materials - I just need enough to keep the Senclamp from knocking them in or out depending which side I am shooting the Senclamp, but I have seen an improvement in wood glues in the past 20 or so years. The plywood is just glued together. We don't go around shooting brads through it to hold it together. I have never seen it delaminate when it was glued and pressed correctly, so on 3/4'', I see no reason not to build up to a 16 ft long cabinet, glue it and clamp it, go to the house, next morning pull the clamps. I always use a lot of glue and have to wipe off excess with a wet rag. Need for speed - go lightweight 1/2'' and Senclamps or staples or nails, but if really a custom cabinet, build it as large as you can, remembering the doorways and path you must follow to get it in place.

From contributor K:
I suppose it's out of favor for whatever reason nowadays, but I just put a few biscuits around. It's worked quite well for me for a number of years and it's certainly quick. It gives you a nice reference point when mocking up, and if you do mess up, it's an easy fix.

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