Milling Face-Frame Stock

Fastidious cabinetmakers find that S4S stock comes with too many imperfections. Here, pros discuss their methods for machining lumber that's straight, square, flat, and true. January 10, 2006

How are most of you getting your lumber for your face frames? Are you personally milling from 4/4 or buying it milled to 3/4? What do you consider the best option?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor A:
I used to be a rough-lumber-only kind of a guy. Over the years I have ended up with this system. I order half of my rough stock skip planed to 7/8" and straightened one side. I take the lumber off the truck and immediately plane 1/16" off both sides and throw it on the rack. I have found that the waste factor is too high with S4S moulded stock... hence the high cost. The major issue with lumber mills is their planers are usually not great at sending a finish product out the door.

From contributor U:
The S4S lumber I've occasionally gotten from my lumber supplier was never as flat or straight as I could mill myself with a good jointer and planer. That said, you still have to consider how much time you want to spend milling stock that you're just going to nail to melamine or plywood carcasses. Frames for doors are an entirely different matter. I'll always mill my own stock to make sure the stiles and rails are flat and straight.

From contributor F:
As far as I know, S2S material comes in at .8125" (13/16"). Hit or miss, aka skip planed, comes in at .9375" (15/16"). Pure rough comes in at the stated amount of quarters plus. This is in the Pacific Northwest.

From contributor J:
I wish our S2S came in at 13/16". We've only been able to get 25/32" for the past 10 years or so and it kind of ticks me off because my doors end up at 23/32" if I am lucky.

From contributor A:
My lumber distributors will skip plane any dimension you request. I've found the S2S too thin and the 15/16 too thick. My opinion applies only to face frame stock. Door stock is always rough or 15/16".

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the response. I just have to accept that I need to put a day aside for milling every so often - it's that simple. And the 1 edge and 1 face is probably the best way to go.

From contributor B:
I agree with all of the above statements. I just came in from the shop after ripping and jointing some recently purchased 4/4 S2S. I will never again buy this way. The S2S I received was supposed to be 13/16". Well, it wasn't. It also was burned/scorched badly from the suppliers dull planer blades. Snipe was on every single board, so the ends were already way below 3/4". Only buy rough or skip planed lumber and work it down yourself. I went against my best judgment on this last unit of FAS 4/4 S2S when the salesman said I could it get it surfaced to 13/16" for pennies per foot. I was sucked right in. Now the pennies are costing me dollars.

From contributor F:
Just so you know, most furniture makers and fastidious cabinetmakers do it like this.

Starting with 15/16" hit or miss:
#1: Rough rip to something like 3/16" oversized across the grain.
#2: Flatten and straighten one face on the jointer.
#3: Use the planer to transfer that flatness and straightness to the opposite face by running the flat face on the planer bed. Continue planing until net thickness is reached.
#4: Straighten one edge on the jointer.
#5: Rip to finish width plus .040" across the grain, running the straightened edge against the saw fence.
#6: Plane to finished dimension across the grain by ganging three or four boards of equal width together and removing .020" from each edge.
#7: Cross cut parts to finish length.

There are other non-fastidious ways. A lot of cabinet shops I worked in over the years bring in 13/16" thick S2S hardwood. They rip it straight to finished width, do some portable belt sanding of key edges and then crosscut it and build face frames with it. So there you have the two extremes. Use your imagination and you might come up with something in between.

From contributor C:
You've described my rough milling routine to the letter, except ganging parts together for a final pass through the planer. I only feed parts through the planer one at a time. The machine does not like to be rushed, and neither do I. One at a time, please.

From contributor F:
Sorry about your machine. They are ganged to lessen the chance of them tilting out of square as much, if not more than, for the sake of speed.

From contributor C:
Ganging the pieces together does not effect their squareness. The pieces are squared on the jointer on one edge, then that edge sits on the planer table and produces a perfectly parallel and square opposite edge. Even on thin pieces, this works just fine.

From contributor D:
If I didn't know any better, I would think you were spying in on my production! You hit the nail on the head. I also gang 3-4 pieces together when running them through my planer. Of course, my planer doesn't mind - it's a 20" 5HP and it doesn't even flinch when I run that through.

From contributor A:
You might want to try using a really good straight line rip blade or a Forrest Woodworker II in the TS. This step can often eliminate the edge planing step. On some woods it is the preferred method because of the possible tearout that occurs with planing/jointing. On paint grade work my primer/surfacer will actually fill any of the minimal saw marks... no need for sanding.

Also, if you think about the seen visible edges of face frame stock, the majority are only visible on one of the edges. On kitchen cabinets, that would be the bottom rail of the uppers and the finished stile ends (which usually get sanded flush to the end panel). Why not just joint one side and rip the others? Any median stiles/rails will have to be cleaned up, but in most kitchens there aren't too many of them. I use these methods for beaded face frames, which are very fussy concerning part dimensions.

From contributor F:
I know you guys know what I mean about having a stack of boards on the bench that are so flat they stick together with a vacuum seal! Us "gang planers" put an already square edge/edges down on the planer bed, too. My reason (besides speed) for grouping several boards together is because I feel that it is harder for a gang of boards squeezed tightly together to tilt out of vertical than it is for a single board. When I have only one board, I just send it on through by itself.

From contributor R:
How do you put the 1/2 inch dado cut in the face frame - shaper or saw?

From contributor D:
If you are referring to the dado in the back of the face frame that attaches to the carcass, I use a dado blade on my table saw and run a 1/4" deep dado. 1/2" wide for 1/2" sheet goods and 3/4" wide for 3/4" sheet goods.