Frameless Cabinets: Sticking to the System

How important is the 32mm module to frameless cabinetry? And is there a place for solid wood components in frameless?March 27, 2012

I recently purchased a CNC and have use of an edgebander, and it was a joy to make my first euro box. I wanted to throw out the jointer and planer.

1. Does it still make sense to stay in the 32 increment system given that the CNC can put holes anywhere it wants and Cabinetvision can work out all the rest?

2. There is still hardwood processing even in a Euro job, as well as scribes, valances, and other millwork to dress out the euro boxes. Is there an efficient or alternative to this (without going ultra modern looking)?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor D:
My answers: No and no. I expect there are many who will answer with a profound yes to the first question. I however, have somehow managed to run my shop on CNC equipment since about 1994 without the use of the 32mm system or converting to the metric system. Amazing, I know.

Contemporary frameless certainly has a place in high end cabinetry, we do tons of it. But there will never be an alternative to hardwood components when it comes to making traditionally styled frameless cabinets. In fact, I have three equally sized and distinctly different tooled shops within my shop - casework (CNC), woodwork (traditional equipment), and finish.

From contributor M:
I second what Contributor D says. I do frameless and the only place where I use 32mm setup is for the spacing of shelf peg holes. As far as using solid lumber, I use it for covering end panels and wall scribe strips at wall ends of cabinet runs (veneer), crown moldings at the top of upper cabinets, and a solid wood "apron" board above the upper cabinet doors on which the crown molding is attached. It allows the crown molding to "wander" with the unevenness of the ceiling (not needed if cabinets don't go all the way to the ceiling, and cabinet doors (obviously).

From contributor U:
One of the great things about the CNC is that you do not need to stay on system and still build cabinets just as fast. My stock programs are set up to use any height or depth and still work within the hardware, dowel and shelf spacing. That being said our CNC went down recently and we had to build manually, what a pain. I was glad that we still usually build in 32mm increments it was much easier to get the cabinets out the door since we had stayed on system. We are almost totally frameless but we still use a fair amount of solid wood when needed. I would say we use more MDF to shape for paint or faux finish though if it is not just a square edge project.

From contributor W:
The spindle machine is set up for 32 mm increments and we never changed it, the software on the CNC sets the holes at 32mm increments so I never changed that either. I do not use 32mm for hardware setting.

From contributor Y:
I don't know that there is an absolute, defined "32mm system." The closest I've seen was defined maybe 20 years ago in a Blum publication. It was based on the technology of the time. The 32mm system has evolved with changes in equipment, computers, and hardware. A better term now would probably be "frameless construction." The only alternative to solid wood parts is out sourcing. Unless your shop has a molder you will likely do some out sourcing.

From contributor L:
To contributor L: The 32mm system component of any cabinetmaking system (framed or frameless) is anything (components, holes, etc.) consistently sized and/or located in 32mm increments. While you could size and/or locate everything in 32mm increments (your "absolute" 32mm system), few folks go that far.

To use the 32mm system to index hardware and faces there are two basic requirements: System rows (or mounting holes) some increment of 32mm apart. Front row (or holes) 37mm from the front (37 plus face thickness for inset). All faces some multiple of 32mm (- reveal) tall with their top and bottom edges (plus reveal) centering on or between system holes.

The Pearls is not a 32mm system because their "B" rule is a hack that breaks the second requirement and results in (among other things) unbalanced hinge cup boring. Blum's Process 32 also has a couple of hacks.

To the original questioner: An incremental system is efficient because it's consistent, straight forward, and inherently parametric. While you may not need the consistency of an incremental system to be efficient when using CNC/software, there is an abundance of 32mm increment hardware and machinery that you may want to use. I'd stick to 32mm increments unless you have a good reason not to.

How much hardwood processing you do is up to you. Edgebanded sheet stock can replace flat stock, it seldom makes sense to do profiled stock in house (e.g. top mounted crown), and you can outsource doors.

From contributor Y:
The system laid out in the Blum publication of long ago was designed to simplify the cabinet making by eliminating lefts and rights for both the case sides and the doors. Drawers were modular to the line bore spacing. Sizes were typical of the European cabinet and varied slightly from the US standard. The boring pattern worked well on the T machines of the time. Things have changed so sticking to the rather ridged system of old is no longer necessary to be productive. It is still a good idea to maintain a systems approach. It will save time and reduce errors. You have a lot more choices today because of software and CNC machines.

From contributor L:
You may be thinking of Hettich's System 32 (over 40 years old according to them) which has both unhanded case sides and doors. Blum's The Pearls had handed faces (broken) and their Process 32 has handed case sides.

The point I was trying to make is that the 32mm system is really just the systematic usage of 32mm increments in a cabinetmaking system. KISS 2, Proulx, True 32 and Process 32 are examples of full-overlay systems that use the 32mm system to a limited extent. The System 32 panel design will only work in a half-overlay or railed-inset 32mm system. The Pearls is not a 32mm system because the use of 32mm increments is not consistent and systematic.

From contributor Y:
Contributor L - you are probably right about it having been the Hettich System. We started out using their hardware. That ended when their distributor failed to maintain the inventor they had guaranteed us when we went with Hettich, not only that but the importer didn't have any stock left either and wasn't going to get any for several weeks. We've used both Grass and Blum ever since.

From contributor S:
Some good info here, as for the 32mm system it basically comes down to how much you want to use the system. It is as simple as ordering a pizza, you can have cheese, or you can work your way up to loaded or anywhere in between. It also doesnít matter what you own for equipment. I know guys who use all aspects of the system by outsourcing different components. The only place the 32mm system is important to me is where it is used for hardware. I like to predrill all my hinge holes, etc.

From contributor Y:
In our shop we have one primary operator and one backup for everything he lists. There is an operatorís manual at each machine, complete with some extra notes and photos. Some people are just not trainable on computerized equipment! I know it is offensive to people that consider cabinet making a fine craft but my business is operated like an assembly line. New hires start at the least technical level and are moved up as they show a willingness and capability to learn. There is a lot more to running a computerized machine than pushing the green button. Keeping a high level of proficiency requires near continuous actual operation. The backup operator needs to spend at least a day a week rotated into that position.