Face Frame Efficiency

Avoiding bottlenecks in face frame construction. September 20, 2004

We have changed just about all of the processes in our shop over the last year except for face frame construction. We are still using the old biscuits, but now we are bottle-necking.

What is the fastest method for constructing face frames? I am prepared to spend the money for the equipment, I just don't want to have to spend it twice.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
We use pocket screws. I used dowels for years, but the first time I made one with pocket screws, I was done with dowels.

Pocket screws are way fast. Machines for boring the hole start at around $750. Some people use a clamping table when running in the screws. They cost quite a bit more but are not necessary. We just use 'C' clamp Vise Grips with a foot on it to clamp down to the edge of the assembly table.

I learned using pocket screws. At some point I tried everything else and came back to pocket screws and glue.

Here is an interesting bit of information. Just last week I removed all cabinets in a kitchen that was installed in 1954 when the house was built. The original owners, still living there, told me the contractors' carpenters built the cabinets on site. These cabinets were structurally perfect. Every face frame and box joint was perfect - almost seamless. There were some long runs and I looked for a way to separate them to make removal easier. I found that every face frame joint was a glued butt joint! No mechanical fasteners of any kind. The face frames were attached to the plywood boxes only with glue. Beating with a hammer on the joints only broke the wood near the joint - the glued joints never separated. Amazing!

Pocket screws and a good FF assembly table. Without a good FF table, assembly took us almost four hours per house. With a table it takes about an hour. Manual clamps will work, but you said you were prepared to spend money on a good system, so to really avoid a bottleneck in FFs, you should definitely look into a good table and drill tub.

From the original questioner:
Which pocket hole system is considered the best and most efficient? Should I purchase the table? I have a fabricator/machine designer that can build one if I need to. Also, are the tables air actuated?

We use a corrugated nail to fasten frames together. It is very fast and strong. We use an E-Z Fasten 1/2" wide X 1/2" corrugated nail. We can put together a full kitchen set of about 30 frames in about 2 hours. Just set yourself a flat working table and you'll be ready to go.

We use the Hoffman Dovetail system. I have the pneumatic setup. Not sure how big of a difference a manual system would be, but ours is very fast, accurate and pretty much dummy-proof. We did purchase the pencil point size laser from Hoffman... seemed expensive but I've not seen any other with such a small laser point.

The tables and boring machine are both dependent upon air.

You might want to check this out as well.

Face Frame Joinery Techniques

I have the Ritter FF assembly setup and highly recommend it. I have the single spindle drill tub. The Ritter assembly table is great, although it has a large footprint - about 14' wide x 5'deep x 8' high.

The nice thing about pocket screws is no clamp time and no face frames loaded with clamps scattered all over the shop. We do not use the side clamps often to assemble FFs, but they are nice to have. We occasionally glue up large slabs on the table with the edge clamps and use the overarm clamps for down pressure to get the planks flush. The overarm with down pressure clamps are the key. The outlet for an air powered driver is nice. It keeps the driver right where you are working - we made a screw box that rides with the overarm so the screws are always right there.

Ritter's stuff is built like a tank and well thought out. Never had any problems with the setup since 1997. The two ends of the assembly table are adjustable to re-square. The only issues we have ever had have been related to glue build up on the table, which was our fault. We are still finding new applications for pocket screws. When you have the setup, you will find many uses other than face frames. We drill our case parts on the drill tub and use pocket screws to attach the FFs to the cases. If you go this route, make sure you include assembly and placement as part of the purchase. The table weighs about 2500 lbs. and requires a forklift or chain fall to assemble. I have moved this setup into three shops as I grew and it makes our panel saw or 24" planer seem simple to move!