How to Build Face Frames for Cabinets

Building face frames for cabinets is a fundamental aspect of custom cabinetry that serves both functional and aesthetic purposes. A well-constructed face frame enhances the structural integrity of a cabinet, ensuring its durability and longevity.

How to Build Face Frames for Cabinets

It also provides a framework for mounting doors and drawers, contributing to the overall appearance and finish of the cabinetry. The process of how to build face frames for cabinets requires careful planning, accurate measurements, and selecting suitable materials to achieve a professional-looking result.

Choosing the right wood and joinery techniques is crucial for creating a frame that looks good and can withstand the rigors of everyday use. This guide aims to equip DIY enthusiasts and woodworking beginners with the knowledge and skills necessary for successfully building their own cabinet face frames, emphasizing the importance of each step in achieving a finished product that combines beauty with functionality.

Understanding Face Frames

A. Function: 

Face frames are not merely decorative elements but critical in enhancing the cabinet’s stability and durability. By attaching to the front of the cabinet box, they provide structural support that helps prevent the box from warping or distorting over time. Beyond their functional benefits, face frames host cabinet doors and drawer fronts, ensuring a seamless and polished appearance. This integration of functionality and aesthetics allows for a customized finish that can harmonize with any interior design style.

B. Types of Face Frames: 

  1. Full Face Frame: This type covers the front of the cabinet box, offering a traditional and cohesive look favored in many homes. It provides ample support for doors and drawers, maximizing the cabinet’s functionality. 
  2. Partial Face Frame: This design covers only part of the cabinet’s front, exposing some areas of the cabinet sides. It’s often chosen for its modern appearance and can be a suitable option for cabinets that will be integrated into a larger unit or those seeking a minimalist design.
This Design Covers Only Part of the Cabinet

C. Materials: 

Selecting the right material for your face frame is paramount, as it affects both the appearance and durability of the cabinet. Common choices include:

  • Plywood: Known for its strength and resistance to warping, making it a reliable option for many cabinet projects.
  • Solid Wood: Offers unmatched beauty and can be stained or painted to match any decor. However, it may require more maintenance and can be susceptible to changes in humidity.
  • MDF (Medium-Density Fiberboard): A cost-effective option that provides a smooth finish for painting but lacks the structural strength of plywood or solid wood.

Designing Your Face Frames

Designing the face frames for your cabinets involves a thoughtful blend of aesthetic consideration and practical planning. When undertaking this crucial step, it’s essential to align the face frame design closely with your cabinets’ overall style and dimensions. This harmonization ensures a cohesive appearance and functionality across your cabinetry.

A. Matching your cabinets: 

The design process starts with comprehensively evaluating your cabinets’ size and design style. Whether your cabinetry leans towards the traditional or embraces a more modern aesthetic, your face frames should reflect and complement these characteristics. This congruence is vital not only for visual appeal but also for maintaining uniformity in cabinet dimensions.

Starts With Comprehensively Evaluating

B. Choosing the style: 

The next step is to select a style for your face frames that resonates with your cabinet design. Options might range from a simple square edge for a sleek and modern look to more intricate profiles such as raised panels or ogee edges, which lend a more classical or detailed appearance.

This choice significantly impacts the overall feel of the cabinetry, making it important to consider the broader design context of your space.

C. Creating a cut list: 

Finally, armed with your design decisions, compile a detailed cut list of all the pieces required for your face frames. This list should include lengths, widths, and thicknesses of each piece, tailored to fit the specific dimensions of your cabinet boxes. Creating this cut list not only streamlines the construction process but also helps in estimating material requirements and costs, ensuring a smooth build from start to finish.

Gathering Tools and Materials

Before starting the construction of your face frames, gathering all the necessary tools and materials is essential to ensure a smooth and efficient build process. Here’s a comprehensive list to guide you:

A. Safety Gear: 

Safety should always be your top priority. Ensure you have the following protective gear before you begin:

  • Safety Glasses to protect your eyes from dust and debris.
  • Dust Mask to avoid inhaling sawdust, especially important when working in a confined space or with materials that can produce harmful dust.
  • Hearing Protection is crucial if you’re using power tools, which can generate high noise levels damaging to your hearing over time.
Using Power Tools

B. Power Tools: 

The right power tools can make your work more accurate and less time-consuming. Consider having:

  • Circular Saw for making straight cuts across your wood pieces.
  • Miter Saw (optional) if your design includes angles or beveled edges.
  • Router (optional) for creating decorative edges or recesses in the frame pieces.
  • Drill for making holes for screws or dowels.

C. Hand Tools: 

Even in a workshop well-equipped with power tools, certain hand tools are indispensable:

  • Tape Measure for accurate measurement of materials.
  • Level and square to ensure your frames are perfectly horizontal and perpendicular.
  • Pencil for marking cut lines and drill points.
  • Sandpaper for smoothing down rough edges and surfaces after cutting.

D. Materials: 

  • Wood of your chosen type and thickness, as determined from your cut list. This could be plywood, solid wood, or MDF, depending on your preference and the specifics of your project.
  • Wood glue is used to assemble the frame pieces securely.
  • Pocket hole jig (optional) for creating hidden joints easily.
  • Screws or nails suited to your chosen joinery method and the material of your face frames.
Wood Glue is Used to Assemble the Frame

Compiling these tools and materials beforehand can greatly facilitate a seamless workflow, allowing you to focus on the craftsmanship of your cabinetry without unnecessary interruptions.

Choosing Your Joinery Method

Selecting the right joinery method for your face frames is crucial for your cabinetry’s aesthetic and structural integrity. Whether you prefer traditional techniques that have stood the test of time or lean towards modern methods for their simplicity and efficiency, your choice should align with your skill level and the tools available to you.

A. Traditional Methods: 

  • Dowels: This method uses small wooden pins (dowels) to join pieces together, offering strong and concealed joints that enhance the cabinet’s appearance and durability. However, it requires precise drilling, making it a bit challenging for beginners.
  • Mortise and Tenon: Known for its strength and classic appeal, this age-old technique involves inserting a tenon (a projecting piece of wood) into a mortise (a slot or hole) in the joining piece. While highly reliable, it demands advanced woodworking skills and precise measurements.
Uses Small Wooden Pins

B. Modern Methods: 

  • Pocket Holes: A fast and easy method using a special jig and screws to create angled holes for hidden joinery. This method is popular among DIYers for its simplicity and strong, reliable joints.
  • Wood Glue and Biscuits: Glue provides the primary strength in this method, while wooden biscuits (small, flat, oval-shaped pieces) inserted into matching slots in both pieces help with alignment and joint stability. This method combines ease of use with a clean look, making it suitable for various projects.

How to Build Face Frames for Cabinets: Cutting the Pieces

Cutting the wood accurately according to your design is a critical step in creating your custom face frames. Following a systematic approach will ensure precision and prevent waste of materials. Here’s how to proceed:

A. Transferring Measurements: 

Begin by carefully transferring the measurements from your cut list onto the wood you chose for your project. Use a straight edge alongside your tape measure to ensure straight, accurate lines. A carpenter’s pencil is recommended for marking since its lead is strong enough to mark on rough surfaces without breaking easily. This step requires meticulous attention to detail, as accurate markings are foundational to precise cuts.

B. Cutting Accurately: 

With all measurements transferred and clearly marked, it’s time to begin cutting. For straight cuts, a circular saw is typically the most efficient tool. Ensure the blade is sharp and the saw’s guide is set correctly to achieve clean cuts.

For angled cuts or those requiring beveled edges, a miter saw will be your tool of choice, allowing precise angular cuts with ease. When your design includes profiles or intricate curves, a router can be used to achieve these decorative edges after the initial straight cuts are made.

Always maintain a firm grip on your tools and workpiece, keeping your fingers well away from the blade. Follow all safety instructions for each tool, using push sticks or guides as necessary to protect your hands.

 Miter Saw Will Be Your Tool of Choice

C. Double-checking Measurements: 

After each cut, it’s crucial to double-check the measurements of the cut pieces against your original cut list. This step ensures that all pieces match the intended dimensions before you proceed to assembly. Any discrepancies found at this stage are easier to correct than once the assembly process has begun.

This careful verification minimizes the risk of errors during assembly, saving time and materials.

Cutting the pieces to the required dimensions is rewarding, laying a strong foundation for assembling your face frames. Although it may seem time-consuming, taking your time during this phase ensures the quality and accuracy of your cabinetry, leading to a finished product that you can be proud of.

How to Build Face Frames for Cabinets: Preparing the Joints

Preparing the joints with precision and care is essential for your custom face frames’ structural integrity and appearance. Each joinery method has its specific process detailed below:

A. Dowel Joints: 

For dowel joints, select the appropriate size drill bit for your dowels. Drill the holes in both pieces you’re joining using a dowel jig to ensure exact alignment.

Apply a moderate amount of wood glue inside each hole and on the dowels themselves before inserting them. It’s crucial to ensure that the dowel fits snugly and that both pieces align precisely as intended. Wipe away any excess glue to maintain a clean join.

B. Mortise and Tenon Joints: 

Creating a mortise and tenon joint involves more intricate work. Start by marking the dimensions of the mortise on one piece of wood and carefully chiseling out the wood to create the rectangular hole.

Creating a Mortise and Tenon

Then, shape the tenon on the corresponding piece, ensuring it fits tightly into the mortise. Test the fit before applying glue, and make any necessary adjustments. Once satisfied, apply wood glue to both the mortise and the tenon, fit them together, and apply pressure until the glue sets, ensuring a strong, enduring joint.

C. Pocket Hole Joinery: 

Pocket hole joinery requires a pocket hole jig to drill angled holes into one of the joining pieces. After drilling, apply wood glue on the joining edge and align the pieces as planned.

Drive specialized pocket hole screws through the holes and into the other piece to pull the joint tightly together. The screws are self-tapping and designed to create a firm, invisible joint that’s both easy to execute and robust.

D. Wood Glue and Biscuit Joinery:  

For this method, start by cutting slots in the joining edges of both pieces using a biscuit joiner. Apply wood glue along the edge and inside the slots, then insert the wooden biscuits into the slots in one piece. Join the pieces together, ensuring the biscuits fit into the slots on the joining piece.

Clamp the pieces firmly to ensure a tight bond. The glue-swollen biscuits expand within the slots, aligning and strengthening the joint as the glue cures, resulting in a secure and aesthetically pleasing connection.

Preparing the joints with attention to detail and using the appropriate technique for your project will result in strong, durable, and visually appealing face frames.

How to Build Face Frames for Cabinets: Assembling the Face Frame

Assembly is a pivotal stage in creating your custom face frames. Here’s a step-by-step guide to ensure a smooth and precise assembly process:

A. Dry Fitting: 

Before applying any glue, it’s crucial to dry-fit all pieces of your frame together. This preliminary step allows you to check for proper alignment and identify any potential fitment issues that might require adjustments. Dry fitting helps in visualizing the final assembly and ensures that all parts fit together snugly without forcing them.

Dry Fitting Helps in Visualizing the Final Assembly

B. Gluing and Clamping: 

Once you’re satisfied with the dry fit, it’s time to apply wood glue to the joint surfaces. Be generous but precise with the glue application, focusing on the areas of each joint that will come into contact. Different joinery methods may require specific approaches to gluing, so follow the guidelines established in the preparation of your joints.

C. Clamping: 

After gluing, immediately clamp the joined pieces together. Clamps should be applied to ensure even pressure across the joint without warping the wood or causing the glue to squeeze out excessively. The number and placement of clamps will depend on the size of your assembly and the type of joints used. Keeping the clamps in place according to the glue manufacturer’s recommended drying time is essential to ensure a strong bond.

D. Checking for Squareness: 

Throughout the assembly process, and especially after clamping, use a carpenter’s square to check that the frame remains square. Every corner should be checked to confirm that all angles are 90 degrees. Adjustments should be made before the glue sets if any discrepancies are found. Ensuring squareness at this stage is crucial for the face frame’s overall aesthetics and structural integrity.

After the glue has fully dried, remove the clamps and inspect the assembly for any excess glue that can be gently scraped away. Sanding may be necessary at the joints to achieve a smooth, uniform finish.

This final check is an opportunity to ensure that your face frame meets the desired specifications and quality standards.

The careful execution of these assembly steps will result in a well-crafted, sturdy face frame that enhances the beauty and functionality of your cabinetry. With precision and attention to detail during assembly, your custom face frame will testify to your woodworking skills.

Finishing Touches 

The final steps in creating your custom face frame bring the piece to its full aesthetic and functional completion. These steps are critical in ensuring that your frame fits perfectly with your cabinetry and enhances its overall appearance.

A. Removing Clamps and Cleaning Up: 

After allowing sufficient time for the glue to dry completely, the first step is to carefully remove all clamps from your face frame. It’s not uncommon for some glue to have squeezed out during the clamping process. To clean this, gently wipe away any excess glue residue with a damp cloth. Be thorough but gentle to avoid damaging the wood’s surface.

B. Sanding: 

Sanding is perhaps one of the most critical steps in the finishing process. Start with coarser grit sandpaper to remove noticeable imperfections, and gradually work towards finer grits. This step-by-step sanding ensures a smooth, flawless finish that’s ready for painting or staining. Pay special attention to the corners and joints, as these areas often require additional smoothing.

Ready for Painting or Staining

C. Filling Nail or Screw Holes (Optional): 

If your face frame construction involves nails or screws, you might notice holes that can detract from the clean look of your piece. Fill these holes with a matching wood filler and allow it to dry completely. Once dry, smooth the filled areas to achieve a uniform surface that seamlessly blends with the rest of the frame.

D. Painting or Staining (Optional): 

The choice of painting or staining your face frame depends on the final look you aim to achieve. If you choose to paint, apply a primer first and then proceed with your chosen color. For staining, select a stain that complements the wood and your cabinetry.

Apply the stain or paint according to the manufacturer’s instructions, using even strokes to prevent streaks. Allow plenty of drying time between coats, and apply as many coats as needed to achieve the desired finish.

Executing these finishing touches with care and attention to detail will elevate the quality and beauty of your custom face frame. The effort put into these final steps ensures that your cabinetry stands out, showcasing your craftsmanship and the care invested in creating a lasting and functional piece.

Attaching the Face Frame to the Cabinet Box

Attaching the face frame to the cabinet box is the next critical step in finishing your cabinetry project. This process ensures the face frame fits perfectly and provides the structural front support for your cabinet. The following steps are designed to guide you through a successful attachment.

A. Pre-drilling Holes: 

The first step in attaching the face frame is pre-drilling holes in the cabinet box. This is a critical step to prevent the wood from splitting when you insert the screws. Choose a drill bit that is slightly smaller than the diameter of your screws.

Position the face frame on the cabinet box in its final location and mark where the screws will go, ensuring they will be hidden or in less noticeable places. Carefully drill pilot holes at these marks, being careful not to drill all the way through the face frame.

B. Securing the Face Frame: 

You can attach the face frame to the cabinet box with the pilot holes drilled. If you’re using screws, choose ones that are long enough to penetrate the cabinet box but not so long that they poke through the inside. Apply a thin bead of wood glue on the edge of the cabinet box where the face frame will sit to add extra strength to the bond.

Align the face frame carefully with the cabinet box, then begin to secure it using screws or nails, depending on your chosen method. Start from the middle and work your way outwards to ensure the frame remains straight and correctly aligned.

C. Checking for Level and Squareness: 

Before fully tightening all the screws or hammering in all the nails, check that the face frame is both level and square with the cabinet box. Use a level to check the horizontal alignment and a carpenter’s square to verify that all corners are properly angled at 90 degrees.

Adjusting while the face frame is only partially secured is much easier than after everything is fully tightened. Once satisfied that everything is correctly aligned, finish securing the face frame.

Properly executing these steps when attaching the face frame to the cabinet box guarantees a seamless appearance and ensures the durability of your cabinetry. Ensuring that the frame is securely attached and perfectly aligned will enhance the visual appeal of your cabinets and their functionality and longevity, making your woodworking project a testament to your skill and attention to detail.

Completing the Cabinet

With the face frame securely attached, the final steps in completing your cabinet involve installing the cabinet doors, drawers, and hardware. These elements are critical for both the functionality and aesthetics of your cabinetry. Begin by hanging the doors, ensuring they are level and evenly spaced.

Installing the Cabinet Doors

Next, insert the drawers, making adjustments as necessary to guarantee smooth operation. Finally, add your chosen hardware, such as handles or knobs, to enhance the cabinet’s look and ease of use. These additional finishing touches complete the cabinet and showcase the craftsmanship and detailed work put into creating a custom, high-quality piece of furniture.


In conclusion, mastering how to build face frames for cabinets is a valuable skill that elevates the quality and appearance of your cabinetry projects. This comprehensive guide has walked you through each critical step, from selecting materials and tools to attaching the face frame and adding the final finishing touches.

Remember, the beauty and functionality of your cabinets hinge not only on the craftsmanship of the face frame but also on the precision and care taken in each step of the process.

By following these detailed instructions, you’re well on your way to creating custom, durable, and visually appealing cabinets that reflect your woodworking expertise and attention to detail. Whether for a personal project or a professional undertaking, the skills and techniques outlined here will ensure your cabinetry stands out for its superior quality and craftsmanship.

Photo of author

Adrian Green

Adrian is a woodworking hobbyist and has loved Woodworking since he was 10 years old. Back then in childhood, his father used to have a furniture shop. He used to help his dad and learned a lot from him about how to fix woodworking furniture, basic carpentry knowledge and also about how to work hard and take care of business. He enjoys woodworking as a hobby. He loves the feeling of creating something with his own hands, and the satisfaction that comes from seeing his finished products used by others.

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