Machining Face Frame Stock

A cabinetmaker gets advice on improving his process for planing and dimensioning face frame material or whether to buy pre-milled stock instead. October 12, 2007

I want to get some input on an efficient approach to building pocket hole face frames. What is the best way to size parts? I currently use a slider to rip to 1/16" over width and 1" over length, plane to 3/4" with 12" portable planer, gang parts of same thickness and plane on edge to final width, and then crosscut to final length. I do not own a wide belt sander, so all sanding is done after assembly with a RO sander. I know the best method is likely a moulder, but no money for that yet. I will soon have some cash to invest in equipment and am wondering which direction to head. Equipment in shop now: 14' slider, 24" 15hp planer, Scmi shaper, Castle machine, 6" jointer.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor J:
I buy my face frame stock (2") from my lumber supplier. It's usually clear, straight grained, and has been run through a moulder. It costs more, but I figure it's a wash considering the time spent trying to size random width lumber. There's also no waste with regard to sizing. I pay 78 cents per foot for red oak and 99 cents per foot for soft maple. Other species are available but these two are what I use the most. You should ask your lumberyard for a sample if they sell it. By the way, when I make my own face frame stock, I use the same method you're using.

From contributor L:
I always bought my facing stock from our supplier pre-milled. I had face frames done in minutes. I agree it is much faster. But you can't always get all the species in pre-milled.

The method you use now is what we use, but we don't cut much to length. We just rip, plane, and then cut to length at a chop saw station. I invested in a 12" Dewalt off the floor and ordered a Beismeyer stop and fence system. This really speeds things up so the slider is not cross cutting the solid stock, and keeps two employees working constantly.

My advice to anyone is that if you have the work and are busy enough to hire an employee, finance all new equipment acquisitions. Keep the payments low. The words "cash is king" are real important to remember. A machine such as a wide belt makes you money and it pays for itself, as does a good employee.

Always keep in mind where you want to go and how you are going to get there as the business plan. It should include equipment acquisitions, milestones of pay-off, and income generation.

Don't fall into the trap of buying used crap because it is cheap. You'll spend much of your time fixing, tweaking, etc. Good, used or new equipment quickly lightens your load with speed, accuracy and reliability, all things necessary in business.

From contributor E:
I'm pretty much in the same work mode as you when it comes to fabricating face frames. One thing I would like to change is to move crosscutting from the slider to my chop saw. For this I think the Tigerstop may be a good investment. It seems to have been recommended here a couple times in the past. But the two shapers I bought this month are going to put that one off for awhile.

From contributor C:
Yes, I say buy the face frame stock if possible. Contributor J, where are you located? 2" red oak face plate is about 1.15/foot I think here (Charlotte, NC).

From contributor O:
Back in the 80's I could get all my 4/4 lumber gang ripped to my specs. Face frames were fast, plus for some reason the surfacing was mirror smooth. Then I moved to Oregon, where I can't get decent gang ripped material, or decent surfacing. So I rip everything on my large slider, and have found that crosscutting on the slider makes for really square and accurate face frame parts. Once I got used to it I found I like the results. But a decent chop saw like a CTD and a Tigerstop would speed things up considerably. Maybe I'll look into that myself. Just yesterday I was talking to a new shop that swears by their upcut saw and Tigerstop system. That and his Komo really make things happen quickly. Low cost chop saws don't cut all that well, but they do work.

From contributor J:
We're in MS right on the coast, about ten miles east of Biloxi. That's odd that oak would be that high in NC. Appalachian red oak is what we get down here.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for all the responses. One problem I have with my current system is some snipe and chatter marks when I plane to final dimensions. Would it make sense to assemble frames a little over thickness and run them through a wide belt? Also, my sliding table on my Altendorf is a little higher than the solid table, which sometimes makes my edges slightly out of square. I was considering setting up a shaper with a straight insert head and a power feed and running my material between the fence and the cutter to achieve perfectly square edges and accurate widths. Am I thinking right or should I be moving in a different direction?

From contributor M:
Listen to what several people are telling you. Buy the stock cut to width. I pay only 50 cents per foot through the door company that I buy from. Pretty cheap price considering I can't buy it much cheaper than that prior to cutting. They buy in quantity and only pay about $1.69/square foot. This is in MO, though, where prices tend to be a little less, and especially for oak. Maple is considerably higher. Save your time, space, and money and buy it already done for you.

From contributor O:
Your Aldendorf table thing shouldn't be that big a problem. I have a slider and I have the same thing going on, and it's not a problem. Surface all your boards first, then rip so you can cut out the snipe. If you don't have a wide belt, use a hand held belt sander and sand your face frame joints after you assemble the cabinet, then rotary sand them. Buying good face frame stock that has been run through a moulder would be the best solution if you have a lot of work and plenty of orders on the books. I get this "I want maple," then alder, then hickory, then beech, then paint grade stuff, so I can't buy face frame stock since I only need a couple of hundred feet per job (since I order doors, I need less). Nice thing is I can drop in at the hardwood place and buy exactly what I need and not buy junk wood that my hardwood dealer would send me if I ordered it on the phone. If you're small in my neck of the woods, you can not trust any hardwood dealer period! If you're big they will wine and dine you and become your very best friend.

From the original questioner:
I will definitely look into buying face frame material. However, in the past, when I have run the numbers from my suppliers, red oak came to $6.50-$7.50 per bd ft. Select and better oak surfaced three sides cost me $1.85-$2.00. I was thinking I could surely come up with a system to put some of that difference into my pocket, but I do realize I need to analyze my labor costs.

From contributor C:
Also consider that your 13/16 stock is going to have a pretty sizeable waste factor. Whereas the pre-milled face plate is nearly 100% usable.

From contributor J:
To the original questioner: You're about right on your cost per board foot for the pre-milled stock. It's scary! But consider this. It's more than just labor; you burn profit too. I'll bet you could do at least one full cabinet job over the course of a year in the time you spend goofing around with that frame stock.

Over the course of a year we'll probably spend 8 to 10 full man days prepping stock for frames. We'll spend more if you consider all the sanding of the inside edges that we'll have due to planer tear out (or waste from defecting it out). In my shop it's me, my wife, and one helper, and we're not the fastest guys in town. We could turn an average size set of cabinets in that time.

From contributor G:
Cut to length after running through the planer. Longer parts equals fewer parts and fewer ends to snipe. I also vote for the widebelt.

From contributor Y:
Okay, this thread has piqued my curiosity. I don't mean to hijack things, but does anyone else make their chop saw fences? We chop our face frame stock to length using a DeWalt 12" chop saw and a homemade fence. This is not to say the fence is cheap or inaccurate. It is a 10' piece of 3"x3" angle iron bolted to a platform that is flush with the chop saw (which is also bolted to the table). We just stick an adhesive tape to the angle iron and have been using it for 7 years like this. We don't need to calibrate it any more often than any other piece of machinery in the shop and as long as you have a high quality blade in the saw, you get glass smooth cuts. I am just curious if we are the only shop that makes this kind of stuff or if other shops are as stingy as we are?

From contributor R:
Yes. I have made my own fences since before you could get self-stick tapes. Have clamped the stops with c clamps, g clamps, vise grips, you name it. While I've not gone this far, I have a cousin that, as far as I know, is still using an 8" piece of railroad track for a stop! Back in the 70's and early 80's everyone (including other shops) was amazed that I didn't have to use a tape measure to make cuts on any of my saws! I've got one for different widths of miter door stiles and rails that I have yet to find better at any show. Low-tech rules sometimes.

From contributor A:
Well, we invested in a Tigerstop a couple of years ago and also bought the optimizer package. I think the Tiger was about $2,000 something and the optimizer with computer download link was another $2,000 or so, but well worth it.

We use our wide belt to sand oversized stock to finish size, then download cutlists from my PC to the Tigerstop and can cut and label each piece in about 30 seconds. That's fast! And scrap is reduced to about 1 to 2 inches! Then we put the labeled part (labeled with pencil by hand) in a part box on end. The box is about 3 feet by 3 feet. Then off to the assembly table. Leaves no extra pieces. When the box is empty, all frames are made to correct size.