Craftsman Bungalow Restoration #25: Face Frames for Beginners

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Blog entry by gizmodyne posted 01-05-2010 07:42 PM 10174 reads 1 time favorited 7 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 24: Corner Cabinets Part 2: It all starts with rough lumber. Sigh.... Part 25 of Craftsman Bungalow Restoration series Part 26: Making Solid Cabinet Panels and Preparing Ply Parts »

Chicken or Egg?

Face frame cabinets are traditional in old houses like mine.

A shot of my dining room.

I have received some questions about why I started with the face frame rather than the cabinet boxes. Which is kind of a chicken or egg, pins or tails first type of question. If you do the math right it doesn’t matter as one should fit the other. Or build one to fit the space and build the other to match it (my actual method).

For me cabinet building is interactive. I have the liberty of doing either, but like to see the face frames to help me visualize.I draw out the plan, but it is hard to tell how it will look in the kitchen. Kristin wanted a shorter cabinet because she is not as tall as me and the last cabinets are a bit tall for her. So I built one frame, and she declared it too short after seeing it in the kitchen. No problem: Mill up new stock and make another frame to the desired height. Note to future self: I recommend starting with the larger frame first and then working your way down.

Joinery Options

On the original cabinets in these old bungalows, the face frame parts are simply nailed to the cabinet boxes and not joined to one another. They are still operational after 100 years. The method I employ is to make the frame with pocket screws and nail it the boxes. It is semi-traditional, semi-modern. The nail holes don’t bother me at all.

My logic:

My Dewalt biscuit joiner won’t accommodate tiny face frame biscuits. I contemplated Domino-ing the frame together, but a loose tenon system requires a clamp job. True tenons are just too much time and effort for such a simple project. Dowels are pretty basic, but I never bought a dowel jig.

Pocket Screws
You can’t beat pocket screws for ease of frame construction.

I start by laying the surfaced parts out according to my plan layout.
I mark an up arrow on all the parts for alignment purposes.

I have one of the earlier Kreg jigs that I screwed to a plywood base. The jig has three holes at different spacings depending on the width of the stock. I have an old corded drill that I keep the Kreg bit permanently chucked into.

It takes about 10 seconds to drill the two holes.

The 1” stock is a bit unsteady in the jig so I place a wider piece of stock next to it to keep it square to the jig.

I cut all 12 joints in a few minutes.

I then flip the entire frame end for end so that I can begin joining the parts. You have to work with the screw side up visible which is slightly confusing unless you look at the entire assembly.

The Kreg face clamp aligns the faces of the parts flush. I like to hang two corners of the project off a table or table saw. It helps to have someone steady the larger piece or to clamp it. Or just keep fighting it like a “real man”. I am using my thumb here to check the alignment of the two parts.

I try not to measure at all when putting these things together. The area for the top drawers measures 5” so I cut a 5” spacer block to set the distance of the parts. This is far superior to measuring. I needed a 12” space for the bottom drawer so I used my 12” level. It is a no-brainer approach which is the best approach for no-brain guys like me.

From there on it is just assembly line with the drill and screws.
I did get a few cracks due to over driving the screws into dry stock but they won’t be visible after glue up. I am not using glue yet. I will assemble with glue after building the boxes and making sure everything fits. It is a royal pain to do so when the project is glued.

Here is a shot of happy guy with a finished face frame (Framed face in face frame).

...and one more frame

I still have not learned my lesson about leaning the frame up against rolling tools. These frames are not very sturdy until attached so I will hide them in the office.

Next time I start the boxes.

Comments and questions always welcomed.

-- -John "Do I have to keep typing a smiley? Just assume it's a joke."

7 comments so far

View lumberdustjohn's profile


1263 posts in 3432 days

#1 posted 01-05-2010 08:43 PM

Yours frames look great. Have fun!

I use pocket hole screws for most of my pieces.
I also attach the face frames and tops with Pocket hole screws.
Nice sturdy joint.

-- Safety first because someone needs you.

View Dennisgrosen's profile


10880 posts in 3380 days

#2 posted 01-05-2010 09:41 PM

I´m still far a way from to do this but your dinning room looks great

Dennis a newbee

View mnguy's profile


216 posts in 3663 days

#3 posted 01-05-2010 09:51 PM

Excellent idea to start with the face frames to better gauge scale, height, etc. I used some cardboard mockups a couple of times doing my kitchen cabinets so my wife and I could see and agree on dimensions. Nice documentation of your thoughts and process.

I used pocket screws for all my face frames and glued and clamped them to the carcasses. Like John, I used them to attach the frames where I couldn’t get clamps or cauls to work well. I was going to use biscuits ala Norm, but couldn’t see the need for cabinets that screwed in place.

View Beginningwoodworker's profile


13345 posts in 3938 days

#4 posted 01-05-2010 10:00 PM

Nice looking face frames.

View SteveMI's profile


1130 posts in 3559 days

#5 posted 01-05-2010 10:07 PM

I picked up a few good points, thanks.

Does everybody use their TS for the large flat assembly table? Thought I was in the small minority.


View Jimi_C's profile


507 posts in 3500 days

#6 posted 01-06-2010 04:21 AM

Every book I’ve read says to do the face frames first, and that’s what I do. I’m not sure if it matters, because you’re right – if you’ve measured everything correctly and have your tools setup accurately, it shouldn’t matter.

Next time though, I’m painting/finishing the face frames first before attaching them to the carcasses…

-- The difference between being defeated and admitting defeat is what makes all the difference in the world - Upton Sinclair, "The Jungle"

View CaptainSkully's profile


1607 posts in 3823 days

#7 posted 01-06-2010 06:26 PM

Awesome crib! I glue my face frames. Once it cures, the screws are just backup. Norm says that pocket screws are the clamps.

-- You can't control the wind, but you can trim your sails

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