Upper Cabinet Construction

      Humorous but insightful thread on cabinet joinery. June 16, 2010

I have to build a few upper cabinets where the customer wants flush sides, bottom and top. They are both going to be 40" wide x 42" tall x 12 1/4" deep (two compartments, three doors). Any suggestions on attaching the face frame to the main box and keeping the strength all around without utilizing the typical dado joints, etc? I want to stay away from nailing the face frame on the front side. So that leaves me with biscuits or pocket screws? I should be able to still use a dado for the back nailing cleats, but the customer wants cherry wainscoting also. Would you use anything outside of standard wood glue?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor K:
You can either attach a 1/4" panel to flush out the face frame or use veneer.

From contributor S:
I would pocket hole the face frame from the outside, then cover the pocket holes with 1/4", making the sides flush.

From contributor P:
I usually use biscuits and glue for this. No pocket holes to hide, and no extra ply to buy and cut. Plenty strong. If you don't believe it, try it with a small piece of ply and face frame. Clamp and let the glue dry overnight, then try to bust it apart. Those who skin with 1/4 ply, how do you attach it?

From contributor D:
For a frame to carcass joint, the biscuits aren't really providing any extra strength. Alignment, sure; strength... not really.

From contributor J:
I agree, just glue it and clamp it. I leave the stiles a little over in width and then just flush it up with a block plane or sander.
From contributor P:
You forget that biscuits expand from the moisture in the glue and provide a pretty strong mechanical bond. Enough in some instances to telegraph through the surface of the plywood. And you're right about the alignment - another good reason to use them.

From contributor S:
The only thing I don't like about biscuits is the time it takes to clamp up and leave to dry. Still a good system.

From contributor Z:
You can still use a dado if you are using 3/4" sides. Just cut a rabbet out of the sides, and a slot in your face frame.

From contributor F:
Another vote to just glue and clamp. I have never understood the alignment issue. I can see and feel when things are flush. Tighten clamps slowly and alternately and parts stay put. Besides that, there is enough slop in a biscuit that I would still have to use tactile alignment while clamping.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the responses. I also forgot to mention that the customer wants raised panel sides. Or at least one side that will be exposed. So now I'm dealing with hardwood to hardwood. I can't utilize the veneer option. What are everyone's thoughts on dowels? I know it's old school, but it seems like it would provide more vertical strength?

From contributor B:
I think dowels are not a good option. Biscuits take less time and you don't have to be nearly as accurate lining them up. I really like biscuits for this application. I use them any time I have an exposed side and pocket screw the other side.

From contributor F:
"So now I'm dealing with hardwood to hardwood."

Do you realize that butcher block is made by gluing hardwood long grain to hardwood long grain, wide raised panels are made by gluing hardwood long grain to hardwood long grain, etc?

Hardwood to hardwood (long grain) is the ultimate joint strength situation. Putting glue between two long grain surfaces and keeping those surfaces in intimate contact while the glue hardens results in a joint of unparalleled strength without the need of any "added strength."

That aside, if you also glue and clamp hardwood long grain to the edge of melamine, plywood or even MDF and let it cure a few days, bust it off with a hammer and you will see the strength firsthand.

From contributor E:
I just finished a similar project (a butlery) where the sides were flush with the face frame. It was a painted unit, so I attached the face frame with pocket screws from the outside leaving the frame edge about 1/16" to 1/8" proud of the side. I filled the pocket holes with the wood plugs provided by the manufacturer, then I used a good smoothing plane to bring the frame and the plugs flush with the sides. They're invisible after painting. If you're using exposed wood, you could use the pocket screws from the inside with a short right angle driver that allows you inside the carcass. You could add glue for strength if you want, but I don't find I need it.

From contributor F:
"You could add glue for strength if you want, but I don't find I need it."

Let me get this straight - it is faster and better to pocket screw a dry long grain paint grade face frame joint from the inside then it is to simply glue and nail?

From the original questioner:
Thanks again for the responses and the pep talk. For many years I had worked with restoring antique furniture. During that period, I lost a lot of confidence in glue joints. I'm sure that contributed to re-gluing a lot of old dirty joints, etc.

From contributor N:
Glue and clamp with some squeeze out and go. I agree with contributor F - the wood will shatter into splinters before the glue lets go.

From contributor J:
If I had an exposed raised panel end meeting the face frame, I'd miter it. It will look much better. Still a strong long grain joint. All those joints you repaired... I bet most of them were dowel joints, weren't they? There is not much good glue surface in a solid wood doweled joint.

From contributor N:
In this situation I mitre and glue the joint. Tape the two pieces edge to edge, then fold together, then so the pieces won't shift, I use a corrugated nailer from the inside and shoot them into the corner. I still don't know why everyone in this business is so impressed by the pocket screw.

From contributor C:
Just glue it with Titebond 2 and move on. I have projects 25 years old that are in great shape to this day with the face frames just glued on. Raised panel sides should not be an issue; just glue it the same way as a ply panel. Maybe make the panel 1/2" wider and plow a rabbet on the face frame and now you've got extra glue area and less end grain from the face frame.

There are a lot of answers, but in the time it takes for the glue to comfortably dry money can be made elsewhere and not at the pocket machine. Some of the answers are great, but this is about time and money, so look between the lines and get to making money. If you are at all hesitant, glue up a sample as others suggest and let us know what breaks first.

From contributor F:
That is the paradox here. Gluing and clamping is actually the premium way to build, not the quick and dirty "let's make a bunch of money" way. Nails can serve as clamps, especially on painted work that can be filled and not seen. A finished end should always be clamped like any highly visible joint. And mitered joints at the finished are premium.

From contributor P:
Pocket screws have their pros and cons. I like them because they're self-clamping. I guess Senclamps are too (hence the name). True? I've never tried them. I assume they can't be used with butt joinery?

From contributor D:
I always miter, glue, biscuit, dowel, dado, dovetail, pocket screw, nail, and clamp all my joints.

From contributor N:
Yes, Senclamps and corrugated nails are self-clamping. They do work on butt joints, however in order for a good joint to be made this way, you must first clamp the joint together, fire your nails into the joint, then release the clamp, otherwise you will get too much joint shift from the impact of the nail. If you use a tongue and groove or dado, you can eliminate a lot of clamping.

From contributor P:
What, no mortise and tenon? Amateur!

From contributor U:
You forgot finger-jointing.

From contributor I:
Another vote for biscuit (for alignment) and glue the face frame with mitre already cut. Then glue the end panel long to long on the mitre. Fair it in and away we go.

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