Face Frames: Re-face Versus Replace

Here's an interesting thread about the advantages of replacing just a cabinet face frame, instead of refacing the cabinet or replacing it altogether. June 11, 2014

(WOODWEB Member):
We do some cabinet refacing, and I happened to read through some of the older posts and saw where someone was just knocking off the old frame and hanging a new one. I'm not sure I can see it, but love the idea of walking in, mounting a new frame with hinge clips, nice finished edges, etc. It just seems there are too many pitfalls. Anyone using this method?

Forum Responses
(Cabinet and Millwork Installation Forum)
From contributor J:
I did a small kitchen that way and it turned out great. Sizing and hanging the doors was easier, as I had the new face frame to work off. However, I spent several hours measuring to make sure my new face frame would work with their carcasses. A mistake there would be costly. Also, the carcasses were pretty stout and held together for the most part when I took the old face frame off. That helped. Time wise it might have been quicker to just tear out the kitchen and replace with factory cabs.

From the original questioner:
Thanks. How hard was it to remove the old frames and what was your procedure for mounting the new frame? I was thinking if you pocket screwed them on, you would have to remove everything from cabinets with PSA. We never remove but a few items. I guess you could Liquid Nail and use a few pins through the face. I don't know that I would be comfortable with that, though. I just love the idea of doing more in the shop and less on site, and done right they get a superior project.

From contributor J:
As I recall the old face frames came off without a fight as they were just attached with a few finish nails. I attached the new with Liquid Nails and a few 15 ga nails through the face. Covered holes with blended wax. No issues in 5+ years now.

From contributor K:
We do this. We also reface the traditional way. It comes down to the box... If it is at least 1/2" thick on the sides, we will do it this way. If it is 3/8" or under or if the backs are 1/4", we do not. The end result will make the cabinet thicker, but we've found that 1/4" backs or less than 1/2" sides to do not hold up well to the refabrication of the cabinet on-site. The backs are more apt to simply pop off, as the glue has weakened over time, and the staples are not cutting it anymore. We use this as an option for customers who cannot afford our regular custom cabinets.

The reason this is important is we can also redo the interior and the undersides. We finish off the undersides with molding. You can make adjustable shelves where there once was fixed, etc. With the frame off, it is an easy upsell, and more importantly, easy to do. It also allows you to pocket hole the frame on with glue and dado for a solid end product. If you are not doing the interior, put the pocket holes on the outside (going to be covered by the new end and underside panels anyway).

You could also do as contributor J does and dado, glue and pin nail it if it is overlay doors, as you will never see it behind the door, but not if it is inset, as it needs to be as square as possible and those nail holes, even with fillers, will be visible.

The key to this is making the least amount of frames as possible. If you have two boxes next to one another that were originally stock boxes, you can give it a custom look instead by making one frame. Make the dadoes in your frame to accept the box 1/16" - 1/8" wider than you need for flexibility (don't worry, you will never see any gaps).

Once the frames are off, we put space stabilizers (shims) between the cabinets that are recessed to allow for the new frame.

One thing to keep in mind is corners - the cabinets are staying and they will be out of square, so in a U-shaped kitchen, you are going to want to install the underside of the U first and then the sides.

New drawers, pull-outs, corner units, tops, cutlery dividers, spice racks, cutting board holders, etc. are all great upsells, as you already saved them thousands over ripping out and replacing. Great way to get some of it back while bringing them a new custom kitchen with all the bells and whistles.

Wife is ecstatic, husband is happy because it cost less, and you make thousands for a few days work. Win-win all the way round.

From the original questioner:
Thanks guys. Everyone still says it's crazy but I'm gonna try it. I think the cost of a full frame will be offset by time savings and quality will be a net gain. What did you do to the interior with when you did the 1/4" melamine? Have you done a lot of them this way? Actually wondering about just making a 1/2" drawer cab less frame to slide into the old drawer carcass, just to do more in shop and less in the field.

How has the re-facing portion of your business been for 2011?

From contributor K:
"I think the cost of a full frame will be offset by time savings and quality will be a net gain."
Not on the first one, but by the third, yes.

"What did you do the interior with when you did the 1/4" melamine?"
Whatever the customer wants. We tend to do wood interiors with wood exteriors, and melamine with painted or laminate exteriors.

The great thing about doing this is that you can easily convert/upsell a standard cab into a drawer base or add pull-outs.

We try to avoid refacing, as the full remodels are more profitable, but you gotta do what you gotta do, and this helps us retain customers who can't afford our regular product while at the same time gives us schedule-fillers.

From contributor B:
Once many years ago I put new face frames over existing frames. It's been so long I don't remember all the details but I do recall the customer was happy with the outcome. I believe I sized the units for the new frames to be stepped in about 1/8" from the old. If this will work, you could then paint the exposed 3/4" edges of the old frames behind the doors a dark brown or black so they fade out of view.