Finished Outside But Not Inside

How to handle things when specs call for finished face frames but unfinished interiors. February 8, 2005

What do you do when you aren't going to finish the interior of a cabinet? I assume you finish the face frame first, stain and clear coat, then glue to cabinet. How do you clamp it without ruining the finish? I might be missing something... fill me in, please.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor M:
I mask the inside with a little hand masking machine. It applies the painter's tape to a roll of 12" paper, which is then hand applied to the inside perimeter of the cabinet. Not as difficult as it may seem. I can paper the insides of a set of kitchen cabinets in about one half hour to forty five minutes. I believe the cabinets should be totally built before finishing or problems could develop later having to deal with scratches and finish inconsistencies.

From contributor A:
We use pre-finished plywood for our interiors and the face frames are finished off of the cabinet and then attached with pocket screws.

Finished ends are doubled, the cabinet box itself and then whatever species the face frame is, an end panel is pocket screwed to the face frame and finished right along with it. When complete, the whole unit is slid over the box and attached with pocket screws and the finished ends are screwed right through the side, from the inside of course.

From contributor B:
With melamine interiors, I finish the frame and panels separately, then attach ff using pocket screws. Panels are attached with contact and pin nails driven through shelf pin holes.

I know a shop that uses welder's masking. Paper is about 8" wide with about 2" of adhesive. Says if he's careful, it's reusable. I've never tried it, though.

From contributor I:
Contributor B, you're saying that you notch the melamine for the pocket screws? How do you fasten a centre divider panel to the face frame?

From contributor C:
I use a shop-built table with carpet on it and an integrated case clamp. It looks similar to a plate press, but it is made out of wood. Finished or not, doesn't matter.

From contributor R:
Do you have a picture of that clamp? I used to use pocket screws to attach the FF to box, and that pulled the FF flat to box. I am now using a Senclamp gun, which is super fast, but when I have a FF that has a good bow in it, I have to clamp it with a bar clamp, which slows things down a bit. I have been thinking about a press that I could use to press box to FF before shooting with the Senclamp…

From contributor C:
Contributor R, sorry, no digital camera. I designed it for the same reason you mention. Basically it's four posts with two cross pieces that come down (cam action, pneumatics on the next one) and puts pressure on the back of the box (which is up) and flattens out the face frame. Leaves the sides (all four) open to attach the face frame. Keep in mind I use dadoed face frames. I don't know how well it would work on a butt-attached face frame.

From contributor B:
With melamine, I don't use center stiles. Cabinets are modular. With plywood, if there's a center stile, the shelves are fixed so I pocket screw from the bottom of the shelf and cover with a fast cap.

That clamp contributor C uses sounds like a dandy thing, though.

From contributor P:
Contributor R, you're using the Senclamp now, huh? I recall the thread a few months back when you were wondering if it would speed things up. I told you it was faster than pocket screws. Not that pocket screws aren't stronger, but as you were wondering then, there has to be a faster way to attach face frames. But as you have discovered, they can not draw a bowed piece tight against the box. Since you don't have a case clamp like contributor C (neither do I), you could (biting my lip here) face nail the frame in that area (gasp!). I know the purists are cringing just at the thought of this, but hey, a little famowood, a little sanding, who would know?

From contributor J:
Now my curiosity has gotten the best of me… What exactly is a Senclamp and how does it work?

From contributor R:
I love the Senclamp. A friend came up and helped me knock out a set a couple months back. At one time, this friend had an 8 man shop running in Nashville. The Senclamp blew his mind. I still dado the FF and pocket screw them, shoot the Senclamp on the inside of box before the back is applied. I can even put the short Senclamps in the gun and shoot the FF's, I just have to flip them over and shoot the other side of the joint, (famowood them). I may start using the Senclamp to build 100% of my FF's. It's so fast - just hold them with your thumb and bam, bam, do all corners, flip over, do it again, and you're done. I just haven't figured out a way to Senclamp the FF joints and then dado them. If I Senclamp the box to FF, it needs to be dadoed, but I can just Senclamp the FF, then skip the dado and face nail them on. That cross hair type press would be good.

From contributor G:
Last shop I was at didn't bother asking the finisher (me) how to build the boxes, they just gave them to me and told me to finish the face frames, wood tape or whatever. I narrowed down the fan and flow control of my gun and sprayed them at an outward angle upwind. Takes a steady hand, but any overspray that does happen to get inside will wipe off melamine with thinner.

The guy who replaced me doesn't even worry about that - just shoots the edges and who cares if there's lacquer inside the box. Not him, but he was faster than me.

From contributor P:
Contributor R, if I'm following you correctly, you're assembling the ff and then dadoing? Is there any reason why you couldn't dado the parts first and then assemble? Going back awhile in time, I seem to remember that we dadoed all our ff parts, stiles and rails, before assembly. And we did assemble the entire ff with Senclamps (this was before the days of pocket screws). We only used them on the back side of ff and occasionally on the inside corners, never on the face side. We also back cut the ends of our rails by about 1 degree to be sure the front joint was tight.

Contributor J, a Senclamp is a nail gun made by Senco that shoots a small wedge-shaped fastener. Same function as a corrugated fastener, but can be used on flat joints as well as inside or outside corners. Many "factory" cabinets use them, as contributor R does, to fasten the ff to box. Now that I think back, we used a corrugated fastener gun to assemble ff of softer woods (poplar, pine, etc,) since the Senclamp didn't hold as well in these woods.

From contributor R:
Contributor P, yes, you're correct. On modular cabinets, I assemble my FF, then dado them. I do remember you telling me that you all used to bevel the rails a little to prevent the face side from gapping. I just hate to mess with adjusting the RAS for the bevel and the modular ones are the only ones I would Senclamp the FF. Maybe just don't dado the modular one, but the Senclamp on FF to box is the best I've ever seen for speed, looks, and strength. The press mentioned above would be icing on the cake.