The Complete Guide to Constructing Face Frame Cabinets

Face frame cabinets are a popular choice for kitchens, bathrooms, and other storage spaces in the home. As the name implies, these cabinets feature a decorative “face frame” attached to the front edges of the cabinet box. The face frame conceals the corners of the cabinet and provides an attractive finished look when the doors are opened.

Constructing face frame cabinets involves building a sturdy cabinet box, cutting and assembling a face frame from quality lumber, joining the face frame to the cabinet precisely, hanging doors, adding hardware, and applying finishes. With careful planning and execution, you can create durable, high-quality cabinets with a custom look.

Face Frame Basics

The face frame itself consists of horizontal rails along the top and bottom, and vertical stiles along the sides. These components frame the cabinet opening where doors, drawers, or shelves are installed. Common woods for face frames are poplar, maple, oak, and cherry.

Face frame cabinets contrast with more modern frameless cabinet designs, where the cabinet box fronts are left exposed. The face frame conceals the cabinet edges for a more seamless, integrated look. They also allow for inset cabinet doors, unlike frameless cabinets which utilize overlay doors.

For adequate strength, face frames are commonly 3/4″ thick lumber, though thicker or thinner dimensions can also be used. Wider cabinets may require thicker face frame material to prevent sagging and warping over time.

Alternative Materials

While 3/4″ poplar is a popular choice, face frames could also be constructed from other woods like oak or maple for a more traditional appearance. Hardwood plywood and MDF are additional options which provide an ultra-smooth surface for finishing. However, solid wood offers the most durability for the long term.

Building the Face Frame

Accurately cutting face frame pieces is the critical first step. Crosscut the rails and stiles to precise lengths based on your cabinet opening dimensions. Ensure pieces are square for proper joinery and alignment. Sand parts smooth in preparation for assembly.

Joinery Options

Pocket screw joinery is commonly used to construct face frames. This involves drilling angled pocket holes to insert special screws that draw the joints tightly together. Apply wood glue at all joints as well for added strength.

face frames for cabinets

Other suitable joinery options include dowels or floating tenons to align pieces, and biscuits to aid alignment. For a more traditional look, mortise and tenon joints can be used to connect the rails and stiles. Take care to create tight-fitting M&T joints for maximum stability.

Gluing and Clamping

Once joints are prepared, dry fit the frame together first before final glue up. Apply water-resistant wood glue to all joint surfaces and assemble the frame. Use bar clamps to apply even pressure along the joints while the glue dries.

Keep the frame flat on a work surface while clamping to prevent twisting. Wipe away any excess glue squeeze-out immediately using a damp cloth. Allow the glue to fully cure per manufacturer instructions, often 24 hours.

Ensuring Frame is Square

With the face frame glue-up complete, confirm it is perfectly square before attaching to the cabinet. Measure the frame diagonally in both directions – the measurements should be equal if square. Make any necessary adjustments while the clamps are still in place if it’s slightly out of square.

Attaching the Face Frame

The face frame must be attached to the cabinet box precisely. Ensure the front edges of the cabinet are clean and straight. Position the frame centered on the cabinet front using bar clamps. The frame should overhang the cabinet sides equally.

Gluing and Clamping

As when assembling the frame, apply wood glue to all joining surfaces. Use clamps to fully secure the frame while glue dries. Cauls – thick wooden boards – can help evenly distribute clamping pressure.


In addition to glue, use pocket screws or finish nails through the cabinet sides into the frame for a permanent bond. Stagger the fasteners roughly every 8″, setting them into the cabinet sides to conceal.

Predrill holes to prevent splitting, and set nails/screws flush. Some carpenters also add decorative trim head screws going through the face frame into the cabinet sides for added strength.

Keeping Face Frame Aligned

It’s critical to align the face frame properly to ensure doors and drawers operate smoothly. Check for any gaps between frame and cabinet using a flashlight. Shim as needed before clamping for an optimum final bond.

Hanging Doors on Face Frames

With the cabinet complete, doors can be installed. First confirm the door dimensions precisely fit the face frame opening. Account for any clearance gaps needed around doors.

Concealed vs. Exposed Hinges

Concealed or “Euro” style hinges with adjustable cams are commonly used on face frames. They allow the doors to fully close while keeping hinge hardware hidden.

Exposed hinges like butterfly hinges can also work. Install them securely into the door edge and the face frame using included screws.

Hanging Process

Attach hinges to cabinet doors first, keeping them aligned and level. Then mount hinge plates to the face frame. Adjust cam settings so doors align flush and have proper clearance.

Follow manufacturer instructions so door weight is properly supported. Test operation and make any adjustments to ensure smooth opening and closing.

Adding Drawers to Face Frame Cabinets

Including drawers in lower cabinets maximizes storage space. Side mount slides attach to the cabinet’s side walls so drawer boxes can slide smoothly. Allow adequate clearance space for functionality.

Drawer Slide Types

Side mount drawer slides include: full extension for complete access, over-travel for expansive reach, and soft-close mechanisms for gentle closing. Consider likely contents when selecting slides.

For cabinets over 36″ wide, undermount slides attach to the bottom cabinet panel, preventing sagging while offering full access.

Installation Steps

Follow manufacturer instructions for proper slide alignment. Precisely measure and attach drawer slide components to ensure smooth motion. Fully test operation before permanently attaching drawer boxes.

Finishing Options

The face frame offers a focal point for applying finishes. Consider desired look, use, and maintenance when choosing appropriate paints, stains or clear coats.


Penetrating stains allow the wood’s natural grain to show through while providing protection. Multiple coats may be needed for desired color depth. Topcoat with a protective polyurethane.


Primers formulated for wood ensure proper adhesion for painted finishes. Apply at least two coats of cabinet-grade enamel paint for a smooth, hardwearing finish. Lightly sand between coats.

Clear Coats

Clear finishes like polyurethane or lacquer provide protection while highlighting the wood’s look. Brush application works well for face frame areas. Apply at least three coats for a durable finish.

Matching Cabinet Box

Use the same paint, stain or clear coat technique on both the face frame and cabinet box for a cohesive, uniform appearance.

Pros and Cons of Face Frames

There are several benefits face frame cabinets provide, along with a few potential drawbacks to consider:


  • Added structural strength and rigidity
  • Easier to keep cabinets square and aligned
  • Concealed cabinet edges and hardware
  • Provide mounting points for hinges and pulls
  • Enable full overlay doors for seamless look


  • Reduce usable interior cabinet space slightly
  • Can obstruct storage for wider/deeper items
  • More difficult to install slide-out trays
  • Drawer function lessens in wide cabinets

Alternatives to Face Frames

For a more modern, Euro-style look, frameless cabinets can be constructed instead. The sides, top and bottom of the cabinet box serve as the finished front.

Overlay cabinet doors mount directly to the cabinet box edges. Hinges and gaps are exposed providing a sleek, contemporary style.

Without a face frame, frameless cabinets offer slightly more useable space inside. However, they depend on cabinet sides and edges for structural support and aligning doors.

With careful planning and execution, constructing face frame cabinets can provide handsome, durable storage for any room. Understand the steps involved for precise assembly and alignment resulting in years of reliable function.

Consider your design style, storage needs and skill level. With some practice creating quality face frames, you can gain confidence to tackle more advanced cabinetry projects in your own home.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *