Gluing Face Frames onto Cabinets

Many cabinetmakers glue and clamp face frames on, with no other fasteners. In this thread, pros discuss options and techniques. October 20, 2005

I know this will bring a scolding, but here goes. I want to glue a doweled face frame to a cabinet built from 1/2" plywood. I don't want to use a Senco gun, pocket screws, etc. I am tired of dealing with nail holes.

If I size the plywood edges with yellow glue, let it dry, lightly sand (to make sure it is level), then put another layer of glue down, and correctly clamp the face frame on the cabinet, will it hold? If nails just hold it till the glue dries, why not just let my clamps do it? I do believe in nails and have always used them on face frames, because I like the mechanical insurance also. I'm not high production, so clamping for 2 hours is not a problem. Anyway, I will be using 1/2" plywood for the boxes and the only thing that concerns me is glue only for the frame.

Forum Responses
(Adhesive Forum)
Apply glue to both faces and I'm comfortable. It's a non-stressed joint and you would be in good company.

I don't understand why you would want to apply a layer of glue, let it dry, then apply a second layer of glue. Doesn't work that way. Glue needs to be absorbed into the wood to properly work. I glue all my face frames on the box and have never had a problem with them. If you are unsure of your glue, find a different type. I've used a commercial grade white glue for years now. Switched after having problems with Titebond.

When in doubt, do a test piece and see what you think. If you use Titebond wood glue and apply it so that you get to a good squeeze out of excess glue, clamp it down appropriately and let dry overnight, then the next day you will have to take a hammer and chisel to remove the face frame and that's without nails. To answer your question, no, you don't really need nails, but they sure come in handy when lining up the face frame over the box and getting everything flush and perfect for the fixed shelves and sides. Don't use two layers of glue, because it won't help. The second layer won't be in contact with the wood and the glue is designed to chemically bond wood together, not old glue.

From the original questioner:
Thanks to all of you that responded. I thought that by sizing the panel edges, it would prevent glue from going into the end grain, but I will take your advice and glue it correctly.

Yes, nails are very nice lining up the frame. But in the past, I found that when I nailed the frame, part of the frame wouldn't lay all the way against the box without clamping it. I hardly ever clamped, but I found since I am gluing and clamping only, I take greater pains to make sure things are right. And when I clamp only, all of the frame touches the cabinet, except of course for the glue holding it together.

I had almost talked myself into getting a Senclamp gun and securing from the inside. I really am open-minded about this, but I hate nail holes.

Why don't you make your cabinet sides 1/4" wider than the top and bottom, then dado the back of the face frame to accept the 1/2" plywood sides? Then glue the sides, top and bottom. This helps with alignment of the face frame and produces a joint with more surface area to glue. If you are making the inside of the face frame flush with the cabinet sides, then make a 1/4" tongue on the outside edge of the sides and reduce the dado in the face frame to 1/4" x 1/4".

While 1/2" of plywood edge glued to a perpendicular face frame is not likely to fail, if it did fail, it would likely fail spectacularly because someone reaching into the cabinet was holding on to the frame or door, slipped, and jerked the face off the cabinet. How about biscuit (plate joining) the face frame to the cabinet sides? I've done it several times on 3/4" sides with good success. Even with the modest amount of material to cut the slot in, it would be better than no mechanical fasteners at all.

I build zero kitchen cabs, but I build lots of entertainment centers and I want to get away from using biscuits. I use 3/4 ply for the casework and hardwood for the face frames. I'll still biscuit the face frames together, but what about glue only for the ff to the casework in an entertainment center application? Would a thicker glue, something to get into the little crevices of the plywood, work better than Titebond? What about the hot glue from 3M? Another glue?

I don't want to clamp for two hours. I'd rather deal with brad holes here and there before taking the time to fully biscuit the front onto the casework. Especially in a paint grade application.

Have you looked into PUR hotmelts? We are switching over to them when at all possible. We use a compressed air gun system for application, but there are several different systems around. The best part is the quick bond time of about two minutes for initial cure. You do get a thicker glue line, so we don't use them for a wood to wood joint that will be clear finished, but for everything else, it's been a real time saver for us.

All my face frames are glued to the case with PL premium polyurethane construction adhesive and I have never a problem with a starved joint like PVAs will cause. Superior bond to the end grain in the ply edge, and great bond on the solid wood. PVAs won't bond end grain and won't fill the micro-voids or gaps due to face frames being out-of-flat.
PL squeeze out is super easy to remove before full cure, too.

I generally glue my face frames to the plywood cases. I use Tite Bond II glue. When I am clamping, I use a 2" wide piece of plywood, standing up on end to distribute the clamping pressure. I will usually let the glue dry for an hour before removing the clamps. I often pick up the cabinets by the face frames so I am sure that the glue can hold quite a bit of weight. I've been doing it for over 15 years and have never had a failure or a call back because of the face frame separating from a cabinet. And as stated, you will need to take a hammer and chisel to it to get it off.

I have been gluing face frames to 3/4" plywood for 33 years with no problems. I will put a coat of yellow glue (no problem with different brands) on the edge (end) of the plywood. Then spread glue on another edge. Come back to the first, then clamp on FF. Then apply the second edge. I do this because some plywoods absorb more glue than others and will need a little more glue. I only put glue on the plywood edge, not on plywood and FF. I will use 3 or 4 clamps for a 30" cabinet and use moderate pressure. Then clean up any squeeze out. I use no nails, biscuits, or pocket screw. I leave the clamps on for 1 to 3 hours and try not to stress the joint for 24 hours. If you have to take apart, the plywood will fail first. I have done 1/2" plywood but you have 50% less material to glue to. For me, 3/4" is not that much more expensive.

If there is the slightest chance a person, especially a child, could injure themselves, use 3/4 ply and/or put a piece of fresh glued 1X1 quarter round in the inside corner, then pin nail it. Yellow pages are full of lawyers!

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor A:
When building cabinets it is best to use 3/4 inch plywood and 1/2 inch plywood for the back panel making it easy to hang on the wall. It's ok to prime the plywood edge with glue because plywood tends to suck up glue.

You will have to apply more glue to the plywood edge before clamping. You should try to keep a wet edge when gluing. If you have trouble keeping a wet edge, try using a glue with a longer open time. Glues that have a strong initial tack need to be clamped in a short period of time. The right amount of glue and proper clamping is generally strong enough to hold a face frame to a cabinet as long as both pieces of wood are square and flat.