Trying Out Face-Frame Cabinetry

and discuss what exactly he will have to learn if he does take it. April 9, 2008

I'm set up to do frameless where everything fabricates and assembles flawlessly. I've been introduced to a new client who wants to do his new home in face frame. I am anticipating getting this work.

However, previous FF work has been very frustrating due to:
Hinging inset doors
Installing stops and magnetic catches
Setting undermount drawer slides
Mounting FF to boxes
Machining of FF material

Frameless works for me because I just follow its rules. I don't know the rules for FF to make it flow. I can build 4 frameless to each FF cabinet. At that rate, I'll bid myself out of this job. How do you FF guys work out the restraints I see in this cabinet style? And what are your standards to keep the flow?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor G:
I am in the same boat as you. I cannot wait to hear the responses. I plan to do all boxes that have drawers with the inside edges of face frame stiles flush to carcass inside faces, and have the CNC prep the holes for slides. The Blum Tandem slides with inset drawerhead clips give full adjustment so you can tune the drawerhead to the FF opening, in-out and side-side and up-down.

If the pricing can stand it, your fronts can be purchased, face frames, doors, drawer fronts all matched and sized, and finished as well if you like. I have observed some quite good inset door stuff in showrooms where no-mortise hinges were used. If the client can go with "invisible" hinges, then the flush side detail is perfect for the Blum full cranked 18mm hinge, with full 3-way adjustment. I feel that a FF cab job is a lot more work than a straight frameless job, but many disagree. In my opinion, the naysayers still building FF-only work will say it is easy and fast, but only because they have never built any other way, and because their shops are set up to do all the FF steps.

From contributor C:
Maybe try to sign the job, then outsource it out to a FF shop.

From contributor D:
We do frameless as well as inset beaded face frame. I feel we do inset face frame about as well as anybody, having worked out many of the engineering issues you talk about. I would say that the 4 to 1 ratio you mentioned is pretty accurate. If that prices you out of the job, then so be it. Our inset face frame cabinets are approximately double that of frameless.

From contributor M:
I do just as contributor G does with the base cabinets. Set the face frame flush with the sides of the box so you don't have to block out the cabinet for your drawer slides. As long as you know where your dividers are going to go for the drawers, drill your mounting holes for your drawers before you put the face frame on. In that sense it's no different than you're doing now.

As for hinges on a base cabinet with the sides flush to the face frame just use a 9mm mounting plate and a half cranked hinge for inset work. For uppers I use the inset mounting plate that attaches to the back of the face frame and have had good results. Blum makes an installation jig for it that makes it easier to mount. Put them on before attaching the back. Your biggest challenge will be in building your face frame. I have a horizontal boring machine that I use to dowel mine together. Many use a Kreg jig and pocket screw them together. That's the most economical way to go. As for attaching the face frame to the box, just glue it, clamp it on for 10 minutes, and move on to the next one. 10 minutes is enough time for the glue to set as long as you don't stress it and let it finish curing. As for face frame stock, I take it you don't have the ability to machine your own. Find a good shop that can run some for you. Flat, straight, and all the same thickness. You should be all set and good to go. If it is beaded inset work you're going to do, charge more, as it's going to take you a lot longer.

From the original questioner:
Okay, this is starting to come into focus. Now, suppose I use the Blum or Grass Euro hinge for inset doors and I'm using my line bore. What are the hole start and stop points in the cabinet sides, so I can drill and set the door hinges into the doors equally in from each edge? Still working in increments of 32 less 3mm, right? Can I still drill balanced side panels?

From contributor M:
At this point you have to throw out the rules. I can only speak for myself, but I'm not working with balanced panels. I don't use system holes for mounting anything. For example, for inset doors they are sized 5 mm less than the opening, 2.5 per side, so if you have a door that you've bored 76mm from the bottom edge you'll need to place your mounting plate 78.5 from the bottom of your face frame and then work from there. If you're using Blum Tandems, you'll want to set the mounting hole 38 mm back rather than 37 mm and use Blums mounting clips for inset drawers that gives you an adjustment out to flush things up. You can't go back in without moving the slide back. I've made fixtures to do this stuff for me. There is no doubt this is a lot more labor intensive than what you are used to and you'll have to adjust to doing a few things differently.

From contributor F:
If you are not comfortable with doing face frame cabinets, then stick with what you know. Sometimes it is the wrong thing to do work that you do not like or are not set up to do. You can help this customer by designing and making the drawings for the elevations, then checking out the face frame shops in your area to find someone that can do a very good job for your customer. They can use your drawings which will save your customer time and money. You will make some money from the project and make a happy customer.

From the original questioner:
I couldn't live with myself if I sent a customer to another shop or he found out the job was done by another when I sold me and my work. Most hurdles in life may just require a Rosetta Stone to understand them. That's what I'm looking for here. The tricks to make this come together and put the money in my pocket, which we should all be doing. The builder who introduced me to this client would never come to me again... he'll go to the other shop! This client would send his friends to this other shop! What does this gain for me and my future? I will make a presentation and expound the merits of frameless. But if he wants the FF, then I'm your man.

From contributor R:
I'm a face frame guy. (Too old and set in my ways to change, maybe.) I think you are right about keeping the work in your shop. Your first set of face frame cabinets will be slow. If you charge the customer for your learning time, you will be too expensive. If you want more face frame work, charge what you think a face frame shop in your area (I'm sure other shops do exist) would charge and bite the bullet on the learning time. If you don't want any more face frame work, tell the customer all the good stuff about frameless, smile and wait. Likely, you will get the job as frameless. Or, send him to me and I will send frameless customers to you. Deal?

From contributor W:
You should stick with what you know and pass on the frame job. It will take you 4 times as long to do and you won't get 2 times the money to do it. This scenario will lose money for you. You won't see it but it is there. The loss is called opportunity cost. You will be so involved in the details of this job that you won't even realize what happened. The easiest way I can explain it is this. With all things being equal and assuming that you have steady work coming in... You take 4 frameless jobs that take 1 week each or you take 1 FF inset job that takes 4 weeks to finish.

Let's say the revenue from the frameless jobs are $20000 each ($80000 total).
The revenue for the FF job is $40000 total.
The material cost on the frameless is $6000 each ($24000 total).
The material cost on the FF job is $10000 total.

The outcome is clear. In the same amount of time you would make $56000 minus labor and overhead on the frameless vs. $30000 minus labor and overhead on the ff inset job. The loss is hard to see because you still might make a profit on the frame job. What you have lost is the opportunity to make an extra $26000 in the same time period by choosing to do the FF inset job.

I build frameless cabinets in my shop and I started out building frame cabinets. We will no longer build frame cabinets because of the numbers above. One option for you, which has worked well for me, is to become a dealer for a cabinet company that makes cabinets that you do not. We have several lines that we sell. Some are stock (pre-made ready to use), some are semi-custom (made to order with stock sizes and colors) and some are fully custom. Now, if we need beaded face frame cabinets, we simply place the order and they are delivered to our shop exactly as we designed them.

From contributor J:
I say build it and learn from it. When you did your first few frameless kitchens, I'm sure they didn't go smoothly without any problems. It's like that with everything - you either learn and expand your talents, or you stagnate and just build the same thing day in and day out.

For my shop a FF kitchen with inset doors is roughly 2-1/2 the cost of frameless, and I'm far from being the most expensive guy in my area. It takes a lot longer to build, but I personally enjoy the work and each job I do goes a little quicker.

As far as using pre-drilled locations for your hinges, I'm not sure if you'll be able to make that work. It really depends on how custom you go. As an example, in my last kitchen there were no vertical seams in any straight run. If I had 6' of cabinetry it was a 6' long FF with dividers in the box. This means you won't always have a flush cabinet wall to mount hingers/slides to. I used Euro hinges and FF clips where needed and Blumotion slides and spacer blocks where needed and just made it work. Of course if you just build as individual boxes you may be able to work it out, but then by making all the sides flush, you're losing about 2" of storage per box. All depends on what your client wants and how you want to build them.

Anyway, good luck whatever you decide to do, just don't get too hung up on developing a system when you're not really planning on doing more than this one kitchen.

From contributor Y:
When I started doing cabinets, I learned FF so it is just in a day's work for me. Don't let people talk you out of doing this job for your customer. It's just a cabinet. But I don't agree with someone else building the face frame and you building the boxes. Where is the challenge in that? It's not that hard to do. Keep the ends square for good tight joints. Use dowels, or pocket screws will work just fine. After you get the FF built, dry fit it before you glue it to the cabinet. This way it's all your work.

From contributor N:
Excellent responses from everyone, but I am surprised. How many faceless frames did you build before you built your first one of those? You are a woodworker. Explore this new realm for you, price it a little higher, and explain why it costs more to your client. How will you ever learn to expand your skills if you don't try this? Most of the cabinets we do are face frame, and they can be a colossal pain in the rear. But they look so damned good when we are done and so many other guys are afraid to try them.

From contributor O:
I build both types, and there's nothing special about either construction method. They both have their good points and bad. Why not just build your boxes the way you always have? Just cut them 3/4" short to allow for the face frame. Instead of edgebanding, just slap on a face frame. Still not sure? Go head to the local Home Depot. They've got tons hanging on the wall. Check out how they lay out the cabinet design to accommodate face frame construction.