Efficient Face-Frame Shop Process

Thoughts on making face-frame beaded inset-door cabinets efficiently, relying mainly on a CNC router. October 27, 2008

Having just made the move from technical furniture (commercial) to an architectural millwork shop (residential), as a design/drafter, I'm learning just how tough it is to keep the time spent on a job under control. The cabinets we build are all beaded face frame, inset doors, and we make our own doors.

I'm looking for any area to increase efficiency, and reduce mistakes. These two factors seem to really eat into the profit margin. Does anyone have any recommendations for books or personal experiences in this area (specific to custom cabinetry)?

I know my request is a bit broad in scope, but sometimes I feel like I'm wrestling a grizzly bear, and I feel a simple yell for help might suffice until I know exactly how to phrase it.

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor W:
First reaction: you probably aren't charging enough, and you should probably be buying your doors. That is a very difficult product. Why is all your production this product, unless you have the specialized equipment or process that gives you a market advantage?

From contributor D:
I have to agree on outsourcing the doors. Unless you’re set up for doors and can whip them out fast outsourcing is the way to go. The same goes with the drawers. Figure out the time you spend on the doors and drawers and compare to buying them.

From contributor K:

If you don't have it already, I think a CAD program for designing and creating cutlists is a must. It helped me eliminate all the math errors I would make when calculating door parts etc.

From contributor L:
We build the same cabinet style, and also build our own doors. We team up and double check our measurements against each other so we can find any mistakes before it’s too late. Experience is the best tool to increase your door production rate.

From contributor J:
I build 99% bead frame, inset doors, mortise and tenon, blind dado, mortise hinge and we produce all of the parts. It is getting very hard to offer this type of product when the residential market is becoming so commoditized.

We are still able to make these products and make a profit because we have killer software and use some interesting techniques. Everything is detailed carefully in the design process. We actually use our CNC machine to make all of the bead frame parts, we do all of the operations to the frame parts on the router, yes the haunches, mortise, hinge mortise, drill the holes for the hinge mortise, and cut the bead profile. This way we do not have to wait for the mill guy to run the bead material, and we can begin production right away.

We have a morso machine for making the haunches but this does not get used very much anymore. I can now make a part that would take nearly an hour manually in about five minutes. This is only part of the process; we cut all of the hinge mortises into the door stiles before we assemble the door stiles. We assemble all of the frames and do all of the finishing before we mount the frame to the box. We use a tenon from the box to the frame and with a viscus glue after all finishing. In fact if we are not using prefinished ply for the boxes we will spray the entire sheet before we cut it up. This saves so much time and hassle trying to keep track of the pieces.

Another thing that I find critical is using a 1/2" ply back panel. Inset doors are tough on the installer. Our boxes are extra stout, this helps when installing and cuts down on site adjustments. We are super careful when making our doors so that we don’t have to fit the doors, they just fit.

When we start a project like this the first thing we will make is the frames and then the doors, and last the boxes and drawers. This way we have less clutter in the shop. I have seen so many cabinet makers who make the boxes and then the frames and then they order the doors and wait. At any rate this type of cabinet is a pain and many wont venture here, but this is how we manage with bead cabinets.