Cabinetry Barre VT
Frameless Cabinet Joinery
By Dave Munkittrick
I’ve always liked the clean, modern look of cabinets built without face frames. My early attempts involved building plywood boxes first and applying hardwood edging later. But cutting, fitting, gluing and clamping each edging piece was frustratingly slow --- and that was nothing compared to leveling the edging flush with the plywood. A task that was especially aggravating on the inside corners.
I had almost given up making this style of cabinet when I learned a new technique that streamlines construction. It allows you to put the edging on before assembly. Flushing up the edging on a flat panel is no problem. I can even pre-finish the cabinet parts before gluing them together. I get perfect looking butt joints and an almost invisible line where the edging joins the plywood (see photo below).
Here’s how it works:
1. Cut all your cabinet parts to size. Leave one shelf about 1/2-in. long to use later for test cuts.
2. Cut all the rabbets and dadoes (Photo 1). Because this technique requires consistent dado depth I prefer to use a router and a jig rather than a tablesaw. For more on the jig we used.
3. Glue the hardwood edges to the side panels and shelves by sandwiching a single piece of hardwood between two panels (Photo 2). The hardwood piece is twice as thick as the finish thickness of the edging plus an extra 1/8-in. for the saw kerf. For example, for a 3/16-in. thick hardwood edge use a 1/2-in. thick piece of hardwood. I like the looks of a thin edge and it still offers plenty of protection for the plywood edge.
4. Rip the glued-together panels (Photo 3). The hardwood edge creates stopped dados and rabbets on the cabinet sides.
5. Flush up the edging with the panels. I start with a block plane (Photo 4) and finish with a light sanding. Using a power sander is asking for a sand-through on the veneer.
6. Trim the edging to length with a handsaw.
7. Use the extra long shelf to set your jointer for notching the plywood (Photo 5). It’ll take some trial and error to get the depth of cut just right. The extra length on the shelf allows you to trim and retest the joints’ fit.
8. Test the shelf’s fit by sliding it forward in the rabbet (Photo 6). If the notched edge butts into the back of the side’s edging, the cut needs to be made deeper. If the notch slides over the side’s edging and leaves a gap, the jointer needs to be set for a shallower cut.
9. Once you get the right fit, go ahead and notch all the shelves.
10. Dry fit the cabinet to check for any problem areas. An open joint is almost always the result of a high spot in a dado.
11. Do any finish sanding on the edges while the cabinet is clamped together. It’s too easy to ruin the fit if you sand the edging when the cabinet is apart.
12. Disassemble the cabinet and finish sand the flat panels taking care not to round ...