Gluing Up Face-Frame to End-Panel Miters

Cabinetmakers discuss a fussy assembly technique: joining a face-frame to an end panel. October 2, 2007

We have a dedicated shaper and powerfeeder for mitering face frames and end panels. This system is set up to index from the "A-face" zero point so that variations in thickness aren't of any consequence.

What I am curious about is how the rest of you (who miter ends) go about joining one fabrication to another. Historically, we have used clear packing tape to make a hinge between the two elements and clamped them with a variety of guess or by golly methods, depending on whether or not it was paint grade or stain grade.

So my question is: After the miters have been produced, how do you bring the parts together and keep them together until the glue seizes?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor L:
Use a reversible mitre lock set. Two shapers and power feeders with a dedicated saw make it fast. Flat table or PTP would make it faster. Gotta find the right cutter, though. Couple of pins in the right place and you're done.

From contributor J:
I've always used the clear tape hinge method myself, with a couple brads shot in for paint grade. I use the same tape for the clamping part, as it exerts more than enough pressure on the joint. Always willing to learn a new way, though.

From contributor F:

I can't stand any sort of gaps, so I always use cauls and clamps. Over the years I have devised some workable cauls that make the clamping of the mitered parts go fairly smooth and gapless.

I don't think there is anyway around putting some sort of mechanical pressure on a joint like this if you want it tight. I tend to use splines or biscuits to keep the parts in alignment while clamping.

I use a table saw setup with power feed to bevel the parts. The setup that has the blade buried in a subfence is the one I like to use because one fence setting bevels parts of and width as long as part thickness remains the same.

I typically use digital calipers to plane the face frame solid stock to the same thickness as the plywood or other finished end material. I think microwave glue curing would be interesting and helpful when joints are many and clamps are few.

From contributor I:
Peck miter clamps. No nails, no holes.

From contributor O:
I cut the triangular drops from cutting the bevel into 1"-2" pieces. Hotmelt the pieces across the seam from each other about 6" oc. Then sort of lace up the whole thing with little c clamps. Doesn't take very long and it closes the seam up very well while allowing for adjustment. When the glue dries, sprits alcohol on the hot melt and the pieces should pry off relatively easily. I use really cheap hot melt from Wal-Mart and it comes away without a whole lot of effort.

From contributor Y:
We don't do face frames but do keep two shapers set up to run lock miters. You only have to clamp from one direction with the lock miter and it is self-locating. We make parts for a small furniture maker, qtr white oak run on the molder with lock miter tooling that we made on the profile grinder. It makes a hollow leg with all faces qtr. All you do to change the size of the leg is run the side head out while watching the digital readouts; can be done while machine is running.

From contributor R:
I use a Freeborn lock miter set up on one dedicated shaper. I also use this setup for any 3/4 inch finished end to finished back, post, columns, etc!

From contributor X:
I prefer a lock miter joint. Clamp in one direction makes easy and fast assembly. Durable joint.

From contributor N:
To the original questioner: We do it like you except I don't use the clear packing tape. I actually like blue tape, as it has a nice elasticity that seems to help with alignment, and provides some available tension if you're trying to get some pressure on the joint. If the miters are cut well, and the tape and glue are applied properly, the joint turns out perfectly with basically a 100% success rate. I think I've had one botched glue-up in the past 5 years.

I remember when I first tried this method and was amazed at the quality of the finished result. Using clamps and cauls and pins just seem to introduce unnecessary pressure that you then have to fight as the glue is setting. Additional joining (such as lock rabbets, biscuits, nails, etc) is usually unnecessary with the amount of long-grain gluing surface available. We use this method for gluing together mitered veneered panels, and have always had sparkling results. As I mentioned, the key is having accurately machined joints, which, if you're using a shaper, should be no problem at all.

From contributor P:
I like lock miters for solid wood using the freeborn setup. For panels I like the packing tape method. The elasticity of the packing tape allows you to put a lot of pressure on the joint and make the points meet very exactly.

From the original questioner:
The reason I asked this question was to help sort out a sequence we have occurring in our shop. Given that our system for joining miters together has depended so far on personal preference, when we do it has also been a function of who is doing the job.

In most cases the face frames have been applied to the carcass first and the end panels applied to the face frames second. This sequence has required that we have our boxes all assembled and ganged together before any of the subsequent processes can even get started. Since we typically also don't fit doors until the face frames are on the boxes, we can't get started fitting doors till late in the production cycle. No wonder it takes so long to ship a cabinet.

The processes themselves aren't so inefficient, it's the policy that is the constraint. My goal is to be able to do more of the processes simultaneously. I want to minimize the number of operations that are dependent on preceding operations.

I would like to assemble along this path:
1) build the face frame
2) fit the (inset) doors to the face frame

3) join the end panels to the face frame

At the same time these processes are taking place, I would like to build and gang boxes. As face frames are being mounted to boxes, drawer boxes would launch. As each drawer box is completed, it would go directly into its respective cabinet. The batch size for any family of product would correlate to how big the parcel was when we carried it onto the truck.

I'm thinking back to that story of how Lazy Boy furniture brought the time it took to build and ship a chair from 5 days to 4 hours. I'm sure they cut some fat within each process, but I suspect it had more to do with doing more processes at the same time. What I would like is to be able to sell, design, engineer and build one cabinet every hour.