Positioning Drawer Fronts in Frameless Cab Construction

Lining up and attaching drawer fronts can be a finicky production bottleneck. Here are half a dozen different ways cabinetmakers handle it. April 20, 2008

Mounting drawer fronts has got to be one of the least efficient things we do. For the following description, I'm referring to frameless construction, and I use Cabinet Vision manufacturing for shop drawings

I like using Blum tandembox and Metabox because it's very easy to determine where the fixing bracket holes should be. Lately, though, we have been doing a lot of dovetail boxes with Blum undermount slides. I don't align slides with 32mm holes because it doesn't conform well with the variety of arrangements we end up using. So I pick the slide mounting hole locations from the cabinet editor and make a notation in the comment field so it will show up on the assembly sheet. We use a Blum jig to bore pilot holes in the case sides to mount the slides.

Things get a little squirrelly after that. Basically end up boring an oversized hole in the sub-front and using a washer head screw to fix the front close to home, make final adjustments in the field, and then lock it in place with more screws. Making that "close to home" determination usually winds up being some combination of eyeballing, spring clamps, 3mm edgebanding spacers, etc.

Any comments, condemnations, or gems of wisdom would be greatly appreciated.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor B:
Why don't you precision drill a hole through your drawer box sub front referenced from the bottom and the side of the drawer box? The relationship between that and the bottom of your drawer guides should tell you where the holes should be in the drawer front. Set up a spare Blum machine and drill for adjusters. In my case, I drill 32mm in for the sub front and half the height. The drawer front is 75mm in and I have a chart for the height.

From contributor V:
Hafele has some drawer front adjustment cams/brackets. I think they are 20mm. Just drill 20mm hole in the back of the drawer front and a through hole in the box for a bolt. It allows you to get close and then make a final adjustment and tighten the bolt. I don't remember the adjustment range, but they worked well for us when we did closet systems with drawers.

I usually end up putting on recessed panel drawer fronts so they are too thin for these. For face frame cabs, I drill my hardware holes in the fronts and position the fronts where they need to go and drive a couple of screws from the front into the box. Once satisfied, I drive four screws from the inside out. Not the best method, I'm sure, but it works. I'm open to better alternatives too.

From contributor G:
We've tried the Blum 20mm drive-in "plugs," but they just did not work for us. We've tried doublesided tape, too. No go. The best thing for us might be the next way, something we just heard of (here, I think). Hot melt glue. With spacers taped to the drawer edge where required, a couple well-placed dabs of hot melt, and push and hold. If okay then, pull the drawer out and screw through from the inside, drawing screws up tight to squish the glue. If the squish-out leaves too big a gap, just pop the drawer front off, scrape the hot melt off, and re-screw through those holes you just did.

From contributor P:
Yep, I've been through the deal with the 20mm drawer front adjuster - same problem. We use a lot of 5 piece fronts and there isn't enough meat for those adjusters to fit in. It did lead me to one of the methods I have used successfully, though. With those drawer front adjusters, you can use a pointed insert placed in the hole where the adjuster goes. With the inserts in place, you push the drawer front against the sub-front and thusly mark the location of the screws. I adapted that method: instead of drilling the big holes for the adjusters in the back of the drawer front, I would drill little pilot holes and then insert a little length of a 6d nail that I had nipped off (pointy end out) and use that to press against the drawer box.

From contributor U:
I do frameless cabinets. I attach the fronts in the shop, but with just two screws instead of four. The last two will be inserted after the cabinets are installed. My standards are 1/4" reveal (that's 1/2" overlay for a 3/4" top of the cabinet) at the top of the top drawer front in a bank and 1/4" between drawer fronts. (I know the Euro standard is about 1/8" between drawer fronts, but I allow 1/4" for a little fudge room.)

I use two jigs to take the guesswork out of locating the front. (Drawers are installed in the cabinet when I attach the fronts.) I screw a 3/4" piece of melamine or particleboard with a 1/4" thick piece of MDF on the leading edge. This 1/4" piece hangs over the front of the top of the cabinet. This assures that the front will leave a 1/4" reveal at the top.

I make my fronts 1/4" less than the total width of the cabinet, so there is a 1/8" reveal on each side. To take the guesswork out of that, I do the same thing I did for the 1/4" reveal at the top, except this is a piece of particleboard with a 1/8" thick piece attached, which hangs over the side.

I attach the top drawer front first. Double-sided tape, and then use the top and the side overhang jigs for placement. I pull the drawer out, clamp it, and then add screws. The second and third drawers (or fourth) in a bank of drawers, I simply use a 1/4" MDF spacer for the top, and that same 1/8" overhang for the right side. This system works for me.

From contributor J:
I start at the bottom, line it up, and use spring clamps to hold in place. Then shoot a couple brads from behind, pull out and screw it in. Add a spacer to the top and work my way up. It's pretty quick and painless. Holes in drawer box are oversized to allow for adjustment. You can still adjust with the 2 brads. Try one.

From contributor W:
This post was listed on the Business Forum here. Standardization and setup reduction is the title...

"I've had the opportunity to work for a very large cabinet factory, pushing out 200+ face frame cabinets every day. The way they did it is ironically the same way I did it in a much smaller 4 person shop. Figure out a common distance from the drawer bottom to the drawer front bottom that can be used on every cabinet you will make. Since this is now a constant, make a jig that will have the following process. Jig sets on workbench (I cleat the front of mine like a bench hook), drawer front is put in, face down, and a corner (left, bottom) is registered on jig. Drawer goes on top, registered in left bottom, and screwed in place. Next! It's really simple once you handle the engineering. Then anyone can do it, while someone else is handling the hardware and cab assembly, for example. There was one difference between my small shop setup and the big factory. Mine was a jig that hung on the wall. They had two people with two designated work cells. I'm talking about overhead storage for pneumatic screw guns (coiled hoses, of course!), bins underneath for exactly what they needed, no extra movements whatsoever, etc. It was impressive."

From contributor S:
If you know what handles are going to be used, you can drill the fronts for handles on the work bench and then position the front on the cabinet and temporarily screw through the front into the drawer box and then open the drawer and finish the job.

From contributor B:
We use a jig that is set up to allow the 2mm reveal on the side. Cabinet Vision will give you a report as to what the distance should be from the drawer bottom to the bottom of the face (works most of the time). Most are the same each time. We have spacers cut to whatever mm. Put the drawer face in the jig, then the spacer and the drawer, and shoot two pins. The drawer front can be adjusted with a soft mallet. We usually then just wrap them up and make the final adjustment after the cabinets are set. Then screw them down. Sounds complicated, but is very fast, and it allows us to make sure all the lines are even after they are set before making them secure.

From contributor I:
This is always the biggest bog down in my shop too. Here's how I do it. I drill the holes for the knobs or pulls in the drawer front on the bench first, then put the drawer front on the cabinet and drill through the front into the drawer box. I then take a 1/4" drill bit and make the holes bigger in the drawer box. Next I mount the front starting at the bottom about a 1/16" up with the knobs or pulls and tighten. I then stick cabinet door bumpers as spacers on the top of the front and continue on with the rest of the fronts. When I take the cabinets on-site, I can do final adjustment because of the bigger hole in the drawer box, then I screw 'em.