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8 Tips for Building with Face Frames

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Face frames are a hallmark of traditional cabinetry, adding rigidity and strength to cabinet boxes.

 

by Brad Holden

 

 

 

 

Face frames provide a solid-wood surface for attaching hinges and a built-in scribing edge when fit to a finished wall. There are probably as many ways to make face-frame cabinets as there are woodworkers. Here are eight of my favorite tips for building cabinets with face frames. 

 

 

 

 

 

Plane Face-Frame Parts Together

 

You’ll have many face-frame parts that are the same width. Running them through the planer in a group is quicker than running each piece individually. Hold the pieces together as you feed them, so they stay square to the table. After planing, cut them to their finished lengths. 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

Use Pocket Screws for Fast Assembly

 

Pocket-hole joinery is hands-down the fastest way to assemble face frames. Because the holes are on the face frame’s back side, they don’t show on the finished cabinet. The clamping jig shown here, attached to flat work surface, keeps the parts flush as you drive the screws.

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Small Brads Keep Frames from Sliding

 

Glued face frames can slide out of alignment when you apply clamp pressure. If you don’t have access to a pocket-hole jig or biscuit joiner, space brad nails every 8 to 10 in. and clip off their heads so that about 1/8 in. remains exposed. Apply glue, align the frame and clamp it in place. 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

Use A V-Groove Router Bit

 

The V-groove router bit simultaneously trims the face frames flush and adds a decorative reveal. Start with the face frame about 1/16 in. wider than the case. Line up the V-groove’s point on the bit with the joint line where the face frame meets the cabinet and trim the face frame flush. The V-groove visually minimizes the glue line. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Use Biscuits to Align Face Frames

 

For precise alignment, particularly on long sides, use biscuits. You can use them along the whole frame or just the critical edges. This even works with sides on which you want the face frame to overhang the case. Adjust the depth of the biscuit joiner’s fence to accommodate the overhang. 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

Use Pocket Screws to Attach the Face Frame

 

Simply glue and clamp the frame in position and drive in the screws. The screws hold the frame in position while the glue dries, so you can remove the clamps immediately and continue working on the cabinet without waiting. Locate pocket holes where they’ll be least seen, such as inside drawer openings, on the outside of unfinished ends or on the inside of finished ends.

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

Overhang the Stile on Finished Ends

 

This adds a decorative touch and eliminates the step of trimming the face frame flush. I round the face frame’s back corner slightly before attaching it to the cabinet. It’s easier than doing it after attachment and it gives the face frame a smoother feel and look.

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

Rabbet the Scribe Edge

 

It’s rare to find a wall that is perfectly straight, so overhang the stile on the wall side and trim it to fit. Rabbeting the stile’s back edge makes scribing easier because you have less material to remove. I like to make the rabbet about 1/2 in. deep, leaving the scribe lip about 1/4 in. thick. Then I use a block plane or belt sander to trim the edge.

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

Use a V-Groove Router Bit

 

The V-groove router bit simultaneously trims the face frames flush and adds a decorative reveal. Start with the face frame about 1/16 in. wider than the case. Line up the V-groove’s point on the bit with the joint line where the face frame meets the cabinet and trim the face frame flush. The V-groove visually minimizes the glue line. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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