How To Build Kitchen Cabinets


Category Construction Glossary
Cabinet construction

Cabinet Box cabinets may be either face-frame or frameless in construction. Each option provides features and

How To Build Kitchen Cabinets
Face-frame cabinets
Traditional cabinets are constructed using face frames which typically may consist of narrow strips of hardwood framing
the cabinet box opening. Cabinet Box were traditionally constructed with a separate face frame until the introduction of
modern engineered wood such as particle board and medium density fiberboard along with glues, hinges and fasteners
required to join them. A face frame ensures squareness of the cabinet front. It also increases rigidity and provides a
mounting point for hinges. Face-frames confer an appearance of strength and durability, and face-frame cabinets retain
popularity in the U.S.

An important distinction to be made between modern (manufactured) and traditional custom-built face-frame cabinets
relates to the catalog-selection of cabinet components entailed by mass-production. Original custom face-frame cabinets
accommodated multiple sections in a single box. But stock (or semi-custom) face-frame cabinets are constructed
individually and joined during installation. As a result, modern face-frame cabinets differ in having significantly wider
(double-width) stile materials overall after installation. Two 1½" stiles joined as adjacent cabinets result in, effectively, a
3" stile. Wide stiles can interfere with access to the cabinet interior. When base cabinets were typically shelved, this was
not much of a drawback. But with base cabinets increasingly being fitted with trays and drawers (using modern
hardware), the extra stile width results in significantly less access to the cabinet cavity space. This drawback does not
pertain to custom face-frame cabinets.

How To Build Kitchen Cabinets
Door Mounting
For both face-frame and frameless kitchen cabinets, it is conventional for cabinet doors to overlay the cabinet carcase.
Face-frame cabinets allow for various door mounting options. Traditional overlay doors do not abut, allowing a view of
the face frame when the doors are closed. Full overlay cabinet doors fit closely so that they obscure the face frame when
closed. A third less-conventional option for face-frame cabinets is to inset doors into, and flush with, the face frame.

Since frameless cabinet doors also fully overlay their box, the two types (frameless and full-overlay face-frame cabinets)
have a similar installed appearance (when doors are closed), both may use European cup hinges, and both require
decorative door and drawer pulls (since there is no room for fingers at the door or drawer edge when installed).

Custom face-frame cabinets offer more efficient use of space because double width stiles can be avoided.

How To Build Kitchen Cabinets
Frameless cabinets
Frameless cabinets utilize the box side, top, and bottom panels to serve same functions as do face-frames in traditional
cabinets. In general, frameless cabinets provide significantly better utilization of space than do face-frame cabinets. A
preference for frameless cabinet design developed in 1950s and 1960s Europe following the devastation of World War II.
A burgeoning market for reconstructed housing in Central Europe provided a fertile environment for introducing
improved hinge and cabinet designs. Frameless cabinets rely on update manufacturing methods that permit the
production of modern cabinet hardware (hinges and slides) and engineered wood products (for strength, dimensional
tolerance, and stability). The intent of the frameless design is to achieve a more streamlined appearance but also a more
efficient use of space, a proliferation of well-designed moving components such as drawers, trays, and pull-out cabinets
providing better access to interior components.

Many benefits coming out of frameless cabinets have been applied to face-frame cabinets such as the proliferation of
multiple drawers in base cabinets, the use of full-overlay doors, and the use of cup hinges. Accordingly much of the
hardware used by U.S. cabinet manufacturers is imported from Europe.

How To Build Kitchen Cabinets
Since typical face-frames are 1½" wide and frameless side panels ¾", access to the cabinet interior is 1½" wider for a
typical frameless cabinet as compared to a face-frame cabinet. A 12"-wide cabinet accommodates a 10"-wide drawer in
frameless construction or a 8½"-wide drawer in framed construction. The 1½" difference is most significant for narrower
face-frame cabinets. Hence, the nomenclature "full-access." Custom  face-frame cabinets, which use one 1½" stile to
frame two cabinet openings, can also accommodate wider drawers comparable to frameless cabinets.

Frameless wall-oven cabinetry further saves 3" of wall space as compared to the same wall-oven installed in a
face-frame cabinet: Many, if not most, contemporary ovens  have been designed with the space-utilization advantage of
frameless cabinets installation in mind. The oven is dimensioned, and thermally insulated, to fit within an
industry-standard external width cabinet cavity, less two standard ¾-inch cabinet side-wall thicknesses while providing for
a small space between the oven box and the internal cabinet wall. In ovens, the bezel is sized to fit the full external cavity
width and overlay the cabinet side wall. Such an installation avoids any unused lateral space around the oven. While,
hypothetically, ovens can be installed similarly in face-frame cabinets, such an installation may requires cutting away all
but ¾" of each 1½" face-frame - specifically not recommended by vendors as it may weaken the joint between side-wall
and face-frame - and buttressing face-frame cabinet side walls accordingly.

How To Build Kitchen Cabinets
Wood options
Frameless cabinets, which exhibit a modern appearance in keeping with the design movement of "minimalism," are
typically constructed of particle board, which features a high degree of dimensional stability, adherence to dimensional
standards, absence of warping and uniformity. Accordingly, the so-called European hinge includes a 35-mm-diameter
cup press-fit to a bored recess particularly well-suited to particle board construction. By virtue of the 35-mm "European"
cup design, European hinges avoid reliance on screws as a primary mechanism holding door to hinge.

Plywood and/or solid wood can also be used in frameless cabinet construction, generally at higher cost.

How To Build Kitchen Cabinets
Hinge design features
Those European hinges intended for use with frameless cabinets afford a quick-release mechanism enabling a door to
be removed and replaced without the use of tools. Such hinges typically afford six-way positional adjustment by
screwdriver for door alignment. Some accommodate complex motions, e.g., to avoid interfering with interior cabinet
components while fully overlaying the boxes. Scissors-type articulating hinges support wide-angle non-interfering
adjacent doors.

How To Build Kitchen Cabinets
Inset door face-frame cabinetry
A special, and unconventional, category of framed cabinets is represented by those with inset doors. An inset-mounted
cabinet door is fitted to the frame just as would be an ordinary full-sized room door; such doors fit into a frame when

Inset doors require more precise alignment of the doors to the frames. Further, this alignment must be maintained with
use. Upon opening or closing, inset doors are gently braked by the air cushion trapped between the door and frame.
This desirable feature is one hallmark of high-quality inset door construction.

Frameless or full-overlay face-frame construction can superficially resemble inset construction when doors are designed
to fit closely within a cavity formed by surrounding doors, drawers, and/or an adjacent counter top.

Cabinet doors
Cabinet doors may feature a variety of materials such as wood, metal, or glass. Wood may be solid wood ("breadboard"
construction) or engineered wood, or may be mixed (e.g., engineered wood panel in a solid wood frame).

How To Build Kitchen Cabinets
Frame and panel construction

In the U.S. solid wood frame and panel construction, using either mortise and tenon or cope and stick jointed frames, is
traditional, with maple, cherry, oak, birch, and hickory among the most commonly used species. Mortise-and-tenon
frames, with their greater strength and permanence, are more costly to produce and less commonly used as compared
to cope-and-stick frames.

As an alternative, miter joint frames, which may be identifiable by face-surface relief that follows continuously around the
frame, have become popular. Miter-jointed frames typically employ embedded metal fasteners to secure frames elements
(stiles and rails) cut at a 45° angle.

Captured within frames, panels may be either solid or veneered engineered wood (either particle board or medium
density fiberboard). Laminates, including those designed to resemble hardwood, can typically be identified by a more
rounded appearance associated with the minimum bending radii necessarily entailed by the manufacturing process of
applying laminate to an underlying substrate. By comparison solid surfaces, in particular solid hardwood, can be milled
with more sharply defined corners, edges, or grooves on either a panel or frame.

Panels used in frame-and-panel kitchen cabinet doors may be fashioned either of solid wood or covered by paint,
veneer, or laminate in which case they are fashioned of engineered wood. The panels are typically not fastened with glue
or nails but rather "float" within the frame to accommodate seasonal expansion or contraction of the wood frame.

How To Build Kitchen Cabinets
Solid-door construction
Doors may be fabricated of solid material, either engineered wood (particle board or medium density fiberboard, but not
typically plywood) or solid wood. Engineered wood panels may either be used as slabs or may be shaped to resemble
frame-and-panel construction. In either case, engineered wood panels are generally painted, veneered, or laminated.
Solid wood panels are typically formed of multiple boards of the selected wood species, jointed together using glue and
may either be painted or finished. Solid wood construction offers the possibility of refinishing in case of damage or wear.

Decorative panels
Cabinet doors panels are used decoratively on cabinet sides, where exposed, for a more finished appearance.

How To Build Kitchen Cabinets
Glass door construction options
Doors may have glass windows constructed of muntins and mullions holding glass panels (as in exterior windows). Other
designs either mimic the divided-light look of muntins and mullions with overlays, or may dispense with them altogether.
Cabinets using glass doors sometimes use glass shelves and interior lighting from the top of a cabinet. A glass shelf
allows light to reach throughout a cabinet. For a special display effect, the interior rear of a cabinet may be covered with
a mirrors to further distribute light.

How To Build Kitchen Cabinets
Drawers and trays
A functional design objective for cabinet interiors involves maximization of useful space and utility in the context of the
kitchen work flow. Drawers and trays in lower cabinets permit access from above and avoid uncomfortable or painful

In face-frame construction, a drawer or tray must clear the face-frame stile and is 2" narrower than the available cabinet
interior space. The loss of 2" is particularly noticeable and significant for kitchens including multiple narrow (15" or less)

In frameless construction, drawer boxes may be sized nearly to the interior opening of the cabinet providing better use of
the available space.

However, the same is not true for trays. Even in the case of frameless construction doors and their hinges when open
block a portion of the interior cabinet width. Since trays are mounted behind the door, trays are typically significantly
narrower than drawers. Special hinges are available that can permit trays of similar width as drawers but they have not
come into wide use.

Shelves provide in all cases more storage space than drawers or trays, but are less accessible.

How To Build Kitchen Cabinets
Wall oven cabinets
Stock wall-oven cabinets may be adapted to built-in ovens, coffee-makers, or other appliances by removing portions of
the cabinet and adding trim panels to achieve a flush installation.

Frameless cabinets provide for wall oven front panel widths equal to the cabinet width (see above). In such an installation
the oven front panel occupies a similar profile as a cabinet door. Accordingly, frameless installations for wall-oven make
most efficient use of the available wall space in a kitchen.

This effect is difficult to achieve in typical face-frame cabinet installations, as it requires modification to the face-frame
essentially eliminating the face-frame at the oven cut-out.