How to Build Face Frames – Photo by Steding Interiors & Joinery
Face frames are one of the easiest parts of a cabinet that there is to build. However, there are a few important things to consider when planning your cabinet layout. So today, I thought that I would share with you this quick tutorial on how to build face frames – with the intention of pointing out those very important considerations.
How to Build Face Frames….
As you can see, the construction of a face frame is pretty simple. Basically it is just what it says – a frame. If you can use the most basic of tools, you can learn how to build face frames. I personally like to use pocket screws and glue to make my own face frames.
Begin by determining what size you need your frame to be. (They can sit flush with the inside, outside, or both. I prefer to have either a 1/8″ or 1/4″ overhang).
This is a face frame that I just built for my laundry room refacing. It will go over the old cabinet and a stack that I added to extend the cabinetry higher. FYI – this is important consideration number 1. Notice how the top and center of the face frame is significantly wider than the sides. I did this so that the top of the frame will have extra room to add crown molding. The center of the face frame needs to handle two doors. So, it also is wider.
The stiles on these frames are 1 1/2″ wide and the rails are 3″ on the top and bottom. The center rail is 4″ wide. (Consideration – determine if the top and/or bottom of the face frames need to have a wider width). If you are uncertain, it may help you to know that most face frames have a wider top and bottom.
Once you determine your size and layout, use pocket hole screws and wood glue to create the frame, making sure to check for square.
This is an up close view of the pocket hole screws, complete with old pencil mark. If you are unfamiliar with how these work, be sure to check out this article on Kreg pocket hole jigs.
This is the face frame in place. You can see how I added a smaller stacked cabinet to the old one. These cabinets extend a bit higher than the face frame because of a center cabinet that I decided to add and a special frame with crown that will be going across the front. Please pardon the mess, this project is still on-going.
You will notice that on these cabinets the face frame is uniform on all sides, so there is no room for mounting molding – had they not been under a soffit. These are builder’s grade cabinets. When you go with custom or semi custom cabinets, you get more attention to detail. (or you can just DIY your own cabinets and not worry about it) :-)
Another consideration is how you want to attach your face frames. This is an image of me removing the old face frames in my laundry room. As you can see, the face frame has a dado groove on the back of the stiles. This is a common feature on standard cabinets. It serves a couple of purposes. 1. It allows the face frame to wrap around the edges of the cabinet. This is good if there are any minor flaws that need to be hidden. 2. It provides a nice surface for glue, which is how these are mostly attached. I sometimes do this and sometimes I don’t. My biggest dislike of this style is that you must recess the shelves back by the same distance as the grooves.
Usually, I prefer to attach the face frames to the cabinet with pocket hole screws. I do this because I want to be able to remove the frames later, in the event that I decide to refinish them again. Glue-ups are strong, but can hinder removing the face frames in the future.
I also sometimes just use glue and brad nails (if i am painting in place) or glue and pin nails (if I have pre-finished the frames prior to hanging them). Any of these options are equally fine.
Consideration 3 – Determine how the doors will hang. There are several types of cabinets styles, which I talk about here. You should know exactly what type of hang your cabinet doors will have before constructing your frames. If they will be inset, you may want uniform frames. If they will have an overhang, you need to build the frames accordingly. (i.e a 1″ overlay hinge means that the door will cover 1″ of the frame edge. So, if you are wanting a full overlay, you should build your face frames to have just a little over 1″ stiles, such as 1 1/4″).
Finally, consider the width of your stiles beyond how the door will hang. Just as you may have special requirements for the rails (i.e crown molding) you will also likely have special requirements for some of the stiles. On my first cabinet build (a lifetime ago), I got all caught up in cutting and screwing them together. When I went to attach them, I realized that my nice 1 1/4″ face frames looked beautiful but would not work in the corners. I had failed to take into consideration that one cabinet frame would sit on top of the other. Without extra width on those stiles, my doors couldn’t open.
So, learn from my mistake. Face frames typically need to be wider where the cabinet will meet with a wall or another cabinet. This is why all the standard cabinets come with 2″ face frames and doors that only have a 1/2″ overhang. They don’t know where or how the cabinet will be placed. So, they just build all of them to work in any situation.
For the frame edge that will meet a wall, I would suggest adding at least 1/2″ to the width. On frames that meet at a corner, add 1″ to the stile that will sit behind the other’s frame. For the frame edge on top add about 1/2″ to allow the door to swing clear. (exact width varies depending on door structure).
I hope this provided some insight into how to build face frames. For instructions on how to build the cabinet boxes, check out this article. Also, don’t forget to read up on how to build shaker doors.