Should I Joint and Plane My Own Face-Frame Stock?

It's work to get nice flush joints and consistent dimensions on cabinet face frames. Here's a discussion about whether to surface your own stock or buy pre-planed lumber. January 28, 2009

I make face frame cabinets and was just cutting some stock when I started to think about something. My process for face frames is to over-cut by 1/8", then run through jointer both sides to take out the saw marks, basically. I take off 1/16" each pass. Now I plane down all the face frame stock, cut pocket holes, then fasten together.

If I buy my lumber planed down to 13/16", do I need to plane again? I know this has always been a habit for me, but also in the past I would end up with uneven pieces that I would have to sand down because one piece is slightly thicker than the other. I do not have a wide belt sander, but was thinking about buying a small one just for face frames. Would it be wise to use a wide belt sander instead of a planer? I have a Felder jointer/planer combo that I hate to set up, but also I still get marks that run the length of the board and snipe on occasion that I have to sand anyway. Probably just spinning my wheels, right?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor J:
Funny you should mention this topic. I've struggled with it too. If cost is not an issue, buying pre-run face frame stock is the way to go. The stuff that's been run through a moulder. It's pricey, but if your supplier is like ours, it's exactly the right width, consistent in color, and about 90% clear. This is my preferred method but the cost has caused me to start back prepping my own stock... NSM- $1.09 lf, Red Oak - $1 lf, Cherry - $1.50 lf. That's for 2" stock.

I bought a Timesaver SpeedSander about six months ago. I stopped planing my stock (I buy it at 13/16 and straight-lined) and started running the frames through the sander after I screw them together. It works great. When we use the platen, there's only minimal sanding required with the R/O.

We went one step further on the last couple of jobs and before we built the frames, we ran the stock through on edge to clean up the sides. We'd gang four to six sticks together to do this. That worked okay, but there were some very minor issues with the edge being square to the face of the stock. The edge was beautiful and required no sanding. If we could figure out a way to keep things square going through the sander, this would be the way to go.

I'm still working on this one. If you break the code, share it with the rest of us. It's at about this time that all the frameless guys will chime in... right?

From contributor A:
I am a face framer too and prep my own stock. We are having the same issues with no great solution. After thinking about running through the TimeSaver on edge, I think you could build a carrier jig out of a piece of leftover 1/2" ply. Leave it open ended and put a good solid "fence" that would support the face of first piece of stock stacked on edge. Maybe throw in a couple of T-nuts on the opposite side with a bolt and another moving fence to hold them all tight, butcher block style, while they run through the sander. Make two of these, one to run while you are loading/flipping the stock in the other. Just an idea.

On another note, have you tried a power feeder on your tablesaw? That seems to work pretty well for me.

How do you keep the two edges exactly parallel when running through the jointer? Depending on the setup, I have always found it to be difficult not to have a slight taper when running both edges. I would like to know so that I can change what I do.

From contributor L:
If your jointer is set up correctly you can get parallel edges by using the jointer incorrectly. The correct way to joint a board is always have pressure on the outfeed table. If you want a consistent removal of stock, you need to keep heavy pressure on the infeed table. Any curve/bow of the board needs to be forced out by downward pressure, otherwise you will have some sort of a taper or non parallel issues.

From contributor J:
We built a sled, much like you describe, to run the frame stock through the sander. It made very little difference, if any, in keeping the edges square. I think the irregularity actually comes from movement of the sanding head and the oscillation of the belt.

By the way, those sleds work very well for running stock through a planer. With the planer, tear-out is a problem. Back to the sander, the other issue was loading and unloading the sled. It was a pain and took up a lot of time.

If you're getting taper when you joint both edges, it sounds like your knives aren't exactly aligned to your outfeed table. There are a couple of different types of alignment tools that can help you with that.

From contributor N:
As a face framer I rip all my parts on my slider using 13/16 material, edge sand on the old Ritter, pocket hole and assemble the frames, then run them through our wide belt sander. Very little sanding to do once the cabinet is put together. The slowest part is still edge sanding, which takes a lot of skill so as to not sand softer woods like alder out of square. Woods like hickory are too labour intensive with an edge sander, but you've got to sand. A nice moulder would do the trick. I really believe that the idea of spending time on an edge sander is one reason why face framers go frameless. Right now I'm still waiting for my electrician to fix my wide belt sander, so I'm pre-sanding the face frame parts on my very old Rogers stroke sander, assembling the face frames, then using a belt sander to sand the joints flush. Believe it or not, it's almost as fast as using the wide belt for face sanding. Stroke sanders are a great machine that many shops would never consider.

From the original questioner:
I was actually inquiring more about the planing of face frames rather than jointing. I normally joint everything simply to remove saw marks. My question is regarding using S3S lumber for face frames and not planing. I usually do plane all the stock so that it is uniform in size. So now when you pocket screw the rail into a stile, there is not one piece thicker than the other. I will usually cut, joint, plane, pocket, assemble and then RO sand.

From contributor E:
I don't have a widebelt either, yet. I have a 24" drum and all my face frames go through the drum. It's very difficult to get a kitchen's worth of face frames dead flat upon assembly. For me it's easier to assemble them as quickly as I can and run them through the sander for a quick pass.

I still mill all my own stock, though like the others it's something I keep having second thoughts about. My logic for doing it is that I can get flatter and thicker stock by cutting down to shorter lengths before milling. Since I also build my own doors it's important that I get my stock as flat as possible. I don't like the look of 3/4" thick doors, so by milling myself I can keep the thickness around 7/8" for doors and face frames.

Oh, and I personally wouldn't want to count on keeping pieces of stock perfectly parallel by passing both sides over a jointer. Even with a well tuned machine and proper feeding it's asking for trouble. One side through the jointer for a square edge, the other side through the TS for a parallel rip to size.

From contributor J:
Even when I've run everything through the planer to get the stock to uniform thickness, I've never been able to get every joint exactly flat when assembling. Once I got the widebelt, I quit planing and used the widebelt to get things flat. It's a much better process for me. By the way, if you get a widebelt, you'll wonder how you ever lived without it. But of course that's what I said about the pocket hole machine, the line boring machine, the Kremlin rig and the list goes on.

From contributor R:
I run my door and face frame stock through the planer on edge - gang four or so together. Perhaps my drum sander is old, but I seem to have better results with the planer. A quick RO sanding and I am done.

From contributor M:
My process for door stile and rails and face frame stock is... Plane boards to flatten rough faces (1" or so), straight line all stock to width (1/8" oversize). Plane to finish thickness (3/4" for FF, 7/8" for door stock) Then I turn the stock on edge, gang 4+ together and clamp. Run through the planer on edge on each side, moving the clamp from the infeed to the outfeed halfway through. Then they go through the drum sander before assembly. Cut first six inches off and throw away (snipe from planer, and drum sander, and sometimes end cracks in lumber). Still requires some RO sanding on joints.

How do you deal with cross grain scratching by running finished frames and doors through a widebelt? I outsourced doors on a hickory job one time (to a well-known door company), and the cross grain scratching was unacceptable to me. Not to mention 80 grit swirls left on the panels. That's why I build my own doors.

From contributor N:
I have an old 37" wide belt sander (Kuster) - one wacky machine. It does have an air-powered platen which works very well. With 150 grit I don't have a problem sanding out cross grain scratches, even on hickory and maple. Could be if someone is sanding face frames with a coarser grit they could spend all afternoon sanding out cross grain. I don't see it as a problem at all. Except for one thing - if the electrician ever shows up to fix my widebelt, I can go back to sanding face frames through it. I'm getting tired of pre-sanding face frame stock on the stroke sander, then sanding the joints on the face frames with a 3 x 24 hand held sander (which is pretty fast anyway).

From contributor J:
You asked about the cross-grain scratching when we run frames through the sander. What I do is after my final pass (where I've actually lowered the belt), I run the frames through a second time without lowering. That seems to soften the scratching some. Then it's a matter of touching up with the RO at 150 grit. I use a Festool 6" RO sander with the vacuum hooked up and it takes no time at all. This process has reduced my sanding time for frames by at least 75%. Actually, the sander and a line boring machine almost eliminated the need for one of my guys.

From contributor D:
I've been running my face frames through wide belt starting with 120x with platen, 150x and finish up with 180x. On the bench I go over everything with Dynabrade R/O 150x and the 180x cross grain scratches disappear quickly.

If your stock is straight, I would gang 4-6 pieces together on edge and run them through the planer, flip pieces over and run to final size. I know this is a professional woodworking forum and some might laugh, but I've been using a Delta lunchbox planer to do the final passes on face frame stock. I get little or no snipe, glass smooth finish, needing little sanding on edges, and blade changes in minutes.

From contributor U:
We are in the process of changing to an S4S moulder for this sort of task, but up to now, our process is:
SLR 1/8" over width
rough x-cut 1" long
joint face and plane to .850" thick
plane 1/16" off each edge (take time to dial in planer settings to get rid of snipe)
finish trim to length
wide belt to final thickness (we go to 13/16")
scuff edges with sanding sponge.