Finished end panels

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How to install pre-finished end panels. April 3, 2002

When you have an exposed end panel, do you generally apply a pre-finished end panel after installation? Isn't it impossible to get a perfectly flush, tight fit?

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You don't state which type of cabinetry you are doing. We do faceless frame cabinetry, and we almost always apply an end panel. You really don't want it flush with the edge of your cabinet - let it hang out over the front edge by 3/8 or so to give it a nice reveal. This also helps protect the doors from impacts.

I prefer finished ends as part of the cabinet, but it depends on the style of boxes you make. We nail our backs on, so only have to rabbet the ends for the back to make it work well. It also helps when fitting to walls to have only 1/4" or so of end thickness to scribe. We make all custom cabinets for a lot of different clients with different requirements, so I like to keep details consistent in the shop so nobody has to ask what the detail is. Plant-on finished ends work for some and not for others. It just depends on the type of work you are doing.

Typically as an installer, you don't have a lot of options. If it's on the plans and delivered that way, that's how you install it without question. Architects and designers don't like to be second guessed. The exception would be if you are working for a smaller custom shop almost exclusively and have developed a good working relationship.

Here are some sketches of three ways to handle finished end panels. These are examples of what I was given by the cabinetmaker. I've included my comments on each method with the sketch. These methods were used for finished ends for both uppers and base cabinets, and for full length refrigerator end panels as well.

The high-end method I worked with below involved attaching a second full thickness 3/4 inch end panel to the cabinet side. This required that the face frame extend beyond the cabinet side at least an inch (the 1/4 inch reveal is important). This allowed us to use a raised panel on the end of the cabinet, a very classy detail. The scribe panel rails need to be laid out carefully - the side to be scribed had a wider stile (typically 1 to 2 inches), so the stile would be balanced in width after the scribe cut was made.

The next method (image below) was based around an extended cabinet side. The rabbet for the 1/4" ply back is extended 1/2", and is scribed to the wall. This worked okay, but the two downsides are when walls are over 1/2" out of plumb (it happens, and there's not enough material to make the scribe cut), and the end panel is veneer, not a raised panel - okay for most kitchens, but not the first class look that a raised panel gives (of course this is a moot point if the cabinets are not raised paneled).

The third method below is to use a 1/4" scribe panel. This works, but I found that sometimes, the face frame reveal was just barely large enough to accommodate the scribe panel, and didn't look quite right (no reveal). Since most of my installs are high end, I haven't done a lot of these, but they seem quick to install.