Recessed Scribes for Frameless Cabinet Installation

Advice on accurate scribing for scribe strips against walls, when the strips are set back slightly from the cabinet face. February 11, 2010

Over the years we've done a fair amount of high-end contemporary work where the scribe is recessed relative to the face of the cabinet (or relative to the doors on a European-style cabinet). Usually the way we handle it is we build the cabinet with a cleat on the side, to be used as a backing for the scribe. The scribes are usually 1/4", supplied loose. After the cabinet is installed, the scribe is held in place, marked, cut, and then pushed back in to place against the cleat and attached with glue and maybe a micro pin or two.

I'm looking for better methods, or ways to improve our results with this type of scribe detail. One problem with this method is that it's tricky to hold the scribe in place accurately to mark it. Another is, it's tricky working with such tiny scribes; sometimes we're even dealing with 1/4" or 1/2" reveals, making the scribes really tiny and tricky to work with. Any thoughts?

Forum Responses
(Cabinet and Millwork Installation Forum)
From contributor Y:
I have a couple of thoughts. Concerning a scribe for the frameless I would make a wider piece for the scribe. Scribe the piece and then clamp it between two pieces of wood to rip in the table saw for the side that will butt into the cabinet. If you have a cabinet with a face frame and want to achieve a recessed scribe make your face frame to the width necessary to accommodate the scribe and then rabbet it to create the recess. Leave one stile loose so that you can do a final fit into the opening. Also a real sharp block plane is a big help!

From the original questioner:
Cool idea about cutting the scribe and then ripping! I hadn't thought of that, maybe that's workable with a jig or two. Maybe a few different lengths, each with a few quick clamps on there. It might not be as practical with solid wood scribes as it would be with plywood scribes, from a material usage standpoint. I'm thinking maybe 3" wide scribe blanks?

You're right about face frame. We've done that before and it's worked out pretty well. Although in an upcoming project, we have cabinets that get 1/2" recessed scribes on three sides, which would mean building a cabinet with 1/4th of a face frame, with 3/4ths of it in loose scribe pieces. It kind of negates some of the structural advantages of a face frame, and the joints between face frame members won't be as tight as if it was pre-fabricated that way.

From contributor Y:

Actually, I had a job that was just as you are describing. We left one stile off but we put pocket holes in the rails where we could get a screw in there. At that point we scribed the top and one side (bottoms ran flush with the wall and the baseboard ran over them) once they were set we marked the top and bottom rails with plumb marks held the loose stile on those marks and scribed it in. Worked like a charm, albeit a very time consuming charm. Also, the block plane made a big difference. We would jigsaw within a 1/16" of the scribe line and then walk it in with the block plane. The belt sander was way too aggressive for such a fine scribe and was no faster than the plane.

As far as the blanks are concerned you could even get away with one or two inch wide pieces. Whatever is practical. What I would do is make a plywood sled, attach a stop the length of it that is about 1/16 thinner than the stock you are scribing. Then have another strip of wood that goes over that but overlaps onto your scribe with some self stick sandpaper to keep the scribe from slipping. Two or three wingnuts to tighten it down and you should be able to run them pretty quickly. Scribe edge in towards the stop. Just put a mark on both ends and line that up with the edge of the sled.

I have a similar set up in my shop that I use to straightline short (less than 8') pieces of stock before taking them to the jointer. Saves a lot of time when you have a board that has a big bend in it. Also works great as a taper jig as you donít need to figure your angles. Again just put a pencil mark on each end where you want the taper to start and end and run it.

From contributor T:
The shops I know of that use recessed scribes ship the cabinet with scribe attached. Level the base, put the cabinet on the base, slide to the wall, mark, lay on back and cut scribe. Itís hard to get much easier than that! Wall cabinet, attach a cleat to the wall, slide the cabinet over, etc.

From the original questioner:
To contributor T: so in that condition, if the cabinet is captured by walls on both sides, one side is still left loose, yes?

From contributor T:
In an unusual narrow situation like that a sacrificial scribe would probably need to be cut first, then transferred to the permanent scribe. Or leave one end loose and struggle for a couple of minutes. Even if you sometimes run into unusual situations, the 'usual' way of scribing should be the easy way. Don't make them all harder because sometimes you need to make one harder - know what I mean?

From contributor F:
We use scribes like you refer to, but make them 1" wide to allow for walls that are out of plumb (all walls in this part of the country). A 1" space at top can be 5/8" at the bottom, even less on tall cabinets. We use a 1/2" thick scribe holder piece on the cabinet that is shaped to hold the scribe in place. We set all cabinets in place, and then fit the scribe strips using Euroscriber clamps and a Quickscribe to fit them. I always hated fitting those little pieces, nicked my fingers a few times working with those little sticks. This is much easier and more safe.

From contributor U:
For frameless, we do 1 1/2" fillers normally. The filler is 2" wide (3/4" thick) from the shop. You place the filler on the front of the case, aligning the inside edge of the filler to the inside edge of the case. Then scribe the wall with a compass set at 3/4". Rip it freehand on the table saw. Tap it into place and fasten with a few finish nails or screws under the hinges. Hope that makes sense.