Face Frame Cabinets


1. Building Kitchen Cabinets

Face Frame Cabinets
Frameless Cabinet Joinery
8 Tips for Building with Face Frames
Building Cabinets with Pocket-Hole Joinery
Iron-On Edge Banding
Tips for Edging

2. Making Doors and Drawers

Frame and Panel Door
Slot and Spline Paneled Door
Divided-Light Doors
Making Cathedral Doors
Making Curved Doors
Flush-Fit Cabinet Doors
Making Lipped Drawers with a Dovetail Jig.

3. Hinges and Hardware

How to Hang Inset Doors
Buying Euro Hinges
European Hinges
Router-Made Drawer and Door Pulls
Tips for Installing Shelf Supports
Drawer Slides
10 Easy Ways to Add Roll-Outs
Under-Cabinet Lighting

4. Laminate and Countertops

Working with Plastic Laminate
Working with Melamine
Perfect Butt Joints in Laminate
Tips for Applying Tee Molding
Wood Edging on Laminated Tops

5. Installing Cabinets

Install Cabinetry and Shelving Like a Pro
Precision 3-Wall Scribes
Solo Cabinet Hanging
Fitting a Frameless Cabinet into a Corner
Retrofit Vertical Dividers
Universal Slide Jig

6. Cabinetmaking Projects

Simple Kitchen Upgrades
Weekend Kitchen Projects
3 More Kitchen Storage Projects
Sycamore Pantry
Custom-Made Crown Molding
Appliance Garage
Kitchen Stool

Building Kitchen Cabinets

Kitchen cabinets are high on the wish list for many woodworkers. Whether they’re replacing worn-out cabinets or changing their kitchen layout, woodworkers often view kitchen cabinets as furniture projects that highlight their woodworking skills through the use of fine materials and precise joinery. Whatever the reason, if you need new kitchen cabinets, the information in the following section will provide you with plenty of easy-to-follow instructions for building your own cabinets. You’ll also pick up tips for simplifying cabinet assembly and techniques for applying both flexible and solid edge banding to make plywood look like solid wood. There’s also lots of useful information on building both traditional cabinets with face frames and contemporary frameless cabinets, also known as Euro-style cabinets. Kitchen cabinet sizes are pretty standard, but even when they’re not, the basic approach is the same. In fact, you can apply your knowledge of kitchen cabinets to lots of other projects, including bath cabinets, office cabinets, and even cabinets for your shop.

Face Frame Cabinets


If you can make dadoes, rabbets, and face frames, you can make almost any cabinet. Master this foundation of skills and you’ll be ready to launch into complex variations of the simple cabinet shown in this story. Here’s how:

Face-frame cabinets are little more than plywood boxes covered by a solid-wood frame. The frame adds strength and rigidity to the box, while covering the ugly plywood edges. In this story I’ll take you through the building of a typical freestanding wall cabinet. The concepts and techniques can also be used for kitchen cabinets, bathroom vanities, and bookcases. There’s plenty of room for mistakes, and I’ve made them all over the years. To stay in business, and provide my students with shortcuts to success, I’ve developed systems for avoiding these kindling-producing errors.

The heart of my system includes avoiding rulers and tape measures whenever possible. Learn to transfer measurements and you’ll ensure accurate results. There are lots of ways to build a face-frame cabinet, but here I use a tablesaw, jointer, planer, and screw pocket jig. I think you’ll agree, it’s a simple system.

Choose Your Material

Cabinet carcases, (Fig. A, page 12), are commonly made from sheet stock like plywood or medium- density fiberboard (MDF). I use plywood almost exclusively because: Kt Plywood weighs half as much as MDF. For a one-man show like mine, ease of handling, in both building and installing cabinets, is importaht. ki When machined, plywood throws less fine dust in the air than MDF. Plywood corners and edges don’t ding as easily as MDF, so it’s more forgiving when I’m handling it. Home centers generally carry plywood and MDF with oak or birch veneers. More specialized hardwood suppliers sell sheet stock in almost every species of wood.

Now, let’s build a cabinet.

Getting Started

The outside edges of sheet stock are called factory edges. Between the lumberyard and your shop, they get pretty beat up. Here’s a dandy way to make sure those ugly edges don’t make it into your project:

1. Rough cut parts 1-in. larger (in both directions) than your finished parts, using a circular saw or jigsaw.

2. Mark the best face of each piece.

3. Run the factory edge against the rip fence for a first cut, making the piece 1/2-in. larger than its finished size. This is your reference edge. Label all reference edges so you can keep track of them.

4. Run the reference edge against the fence, and cut the piece to final size, removing the factory edge in the process.


All sheet stock varies in thickness. When possible, cut all the bottoms for multiOle cabinets from the same sheet. That way when the dado is right for one piece, it’s right for all of them.

Crosscut the pieces to length using a tablesaw sled. It’s easier to handle large pieces on a sled than on a miter gauge, and your cuts will be more accurate.

Caution! The blade guard must be removed for all of these dado blade cuts. Be careful.

Dado the case sides to receive the cabinet bottom. Be certain the dado head is set up correctly for your sheet stock. The shelf should slip into the dado with no more than hand pressure, and the parts should stick together when you try to separate them.

Setting up the dadoes can be fussy, and may require dado shims (thin material that allows you to change the width of the head a few thousandths of an inch). Take the time to get it right. The correct depth for dadoes and rabbets is one-half the thickness of whatever they’re being cut into. 3/4-in. plywood gets a 3/8-in. dado.


■ Cut all material with the good face up. Any tearout will be on the bottom, which is the inside of the cabinet.

■ For sheet stock, use a 60- to 80-tooth, alternate-top bevel blade for a high-quality edge right off the saw. Don’t edge joint plywood or MDF. The glue in these materials is hard on jointer knives.

■ Organize your cutting so all same-sized parts are cut together. It’s hard to get your rip fence back in exactly the same spot twice.

Caution! The blade guard must be removed for all of these dado blade cuts. Be careful.

Position the rip fence for rabbeting. It’s almost impossible to get every rabbet perfect, so I intentionally make them 1/32-in. too deep. (Too deep is better than too shallow?) With the saw unplugged, position the fence by using a cabinet top as a gauge. Feel for a fingernail catch where the dado head projects past the face of the top.

Cut the rabbets on the top ends of the case sides using a push block to hold the material down.

Make a test cut in scrap material to check the fence position. There should be a thin leaf of material on the edge of the rabbet. Slice this off with a sharp chisel.

This will leave “rabbet ears” that can be trimmed off after the cabinet is assembled.

Rabbet the back edges of the case sides, top and bottom to receive the back. Use the procedure shown in Photo 4 to make the rabbets slightly deeper than the back requires. Don’t disassemble the dado head for this thinner material, just bury part of the head in the sacrificial fence.

Making a Sacrificial Fence

A sacrificial fence on the tablesaw prevents you from nicking your rip fence on setups (like for rabbets) that require the fence to be very close to the blade. It’s an easily made, must-have tablesaw jig.

You can make a sacrificial fence from any scrap you have, as long as it’s flat. (The one shown here is an offcut from my cabinet project.) Here’s how to make one:

1. Machine a piece of flat scrap wood to the height and width of your rip fence.

2. Put a 3/4-in.-wide dado head on the saw. Set the head below the surface of the table.
3. Position the rip fence at the right edge of the blade opening in the insert so when you raise the dado head, it won’t hit the rip fence.

4. Mark the height you want the scallop to be on the sacrificial fence. I make the scallop 1/16-in. higher than the rabbet I’ll be cutting.

5. Clamp the sacrificial fence to the rip fence.

6. Turn on the tablesaw, and raise the dada head until you hit the mark on the fence.

Caution! The blade guard must be removed for this cut. Be sure to clamp your sacrificial fence firmly. Be careful.

Cut a scallop into the sacrificial fence by raising the spinning dado head to the correct height. If you cut too high, the scallop will be too deep, and the parts you’re machining can get caught in it.

Set the fence for ripping the cabinet bottom to its final width. Cutting off the rabbet allows the cabinet back to run full length to the bottom of the case sides. On a wall full of cabinets, I rabbet only one bottom, use it as a gauge, and rip all the bottoms to that dimension.

Drill 1/4-in. holes for an adjustable shelf using a simple jig. Just predrill a hardwood scrap with 1/4-in. holes every 3 in. Mark the bottom end of the jig and line up that end with the dado. Clamp the jig in place, and drill. Two things will give you cleanly drilled holes: a brad-point drill bit (see inset photo), and a slow feed rate as the bit enters the material. A stop collar on the bit prevents unsightly ventilation holes on the outside of the cabinet.

Assemble the Case

Assemble the case, keeping the front edges flush. Clamp pads protect the wood surface. Old plastic honey bottles make great glue bottles—just keep them out of the reach of children. Use just enough glue in the joint to cover the surface; it’s just like applying paint.

Check the cabinet for square by measuring from corner to corner. The two dimensions must be the same. If they’re not, squeeze the long diagonal by hand, to make it match the short diagonal.

Make the Face Frame

To fit the face frame, throw away your ruler and mark the pieces directly from the case.

Rip the face frame pieces to width with a jointed edge against the fence. Make them 1/16-in. wider than the finished size so the sawn edge can be cleaned up. Use a push stick for these narrow pieces. My rule of thumb for keeping both thumbs is to use a push stick on rips less than 3-in. wide.

Plane the face frame parts to width. Gang planing is an excellent way to make sure all the parts are uniform. Plane the parts until they line up with the bottom of the case sides and the top of the case bottom.

Transfer the stile length directly from the cabinet sides. Make the face frame slightly longer than the cabinet. The rabbet-ear overhang provides the perfect allowance, creating a frame overhang on the top of the case. The excess will be trimmed off after the face frame has been glued on.

Cut the stiles to length using the tablesaw sled. Cutting both stiles at the same time ensures they’ll be the same length.

Transfer the rail length from the cabinet, again building an overhang into the frame. This time use the thickness of a quarter to create the overhang. Start with the two stiles flush with the case side. Butt the squarely cut reference end of a rail to the stiles. Hold a quarter against the case side, and mark the rail flush with the face of the quarter. Cut the rails to length in the crosscut sled.

Use screw pockets to join the rails to the stiles. Face frames can be joined by dowels, mortises and tenons, mini-biscuits or simple, fast, effective screw pockets. Mark the rail faces and be sure the holes get drilled only in the backs of the rails. Incorrectly flipping parts around has put some rails in my scrap pile.

Assemble the face frame in a simple jig. The toggle clamp holds the pieces down firmly. Use a screw designed for screw-pocket joinery (see photo, at left). They don’t require predrilling of the stiles, and their wide, flat heads make them less likely than conventional wood screws to split the rail ends.

Trim the rabbet ears using a flush- trim router bit (photo below). This guarantees the case sides are even with the top.

Glue Frame to Carcase

Tap a brad into each corner of the case front and snip off the heads. The sharp spur left behind prevents the face frame from slipping and sliding around while you’re gluing it on.

Glue and clamp the face frame to the carcase. The frame should be flush with the case bottom, have equal overhangs on the left and right, and an overhang on the top. Use clamp pads, and be careful not to crush the rabbet on the back of the case.

Trim to Fit

Trim the face frame flush with the case using a flush-trim router bit.

Shelves and Doors

Rip 1/4-in. edging for the plywood shelves using this jig. It lets you leave the guard in place, and safely push the material past the blade. Just set the fence to 10-1/4 in., and allow the foot to carry the material through the saw.

Building an overhang into the frame and flush trimming to fit after glue-up guarantees a perfect match between the frame and case.


Its a temptation to cut the face frame exactly the same size as the case. Unfortunately, this often leads to disaster. When you glue the face frame on, it often slips sideways a bit, so you can end up with the unfortunate and unfixable result shown above. The solution is to build the face frame slightly oversize, as we show in Photos 13 and 15.

Hang the door on the cabinet using the hinges of your choice.


Sometimes with big cabinets, or if you don’t have enough clamps, there may be gaps between the frame and the case. Want a cool fix? Try a flush-trim bit with a V cutter. Line up the point of the V with the seam, flush trim the frame, and the V groove left behind disguises any gaps.

Extraordinary Flexibility

The techniques in this story can easily be adapted to make many other projects besides classic kitchen cabinets. Here are three examples:

Rolling Shop Cabinet

Make the cabinet out of shop-grade birch plywood, the face frame from birch, and the doors from birch plywood. Locking casters make it mobile.


Add another top, cut curves in the sides and the face-frame rails, and put thicker, wider edging on the shelves. A beading router bit decorated the edge of the face frame.

Bathroom Cabinet

Add some storage in your bathroom with a shallow, wall-hung cabinet. A second plywood top, edged in solid wood with a molding below it, gives the cabinet a more finished look.

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