Building Upper Cabinets – Part 2

Cabinet Project: The hybrid cabinet system is fully detailed in Danny’s book, “Build Your Own Kitchen Cabinets”. The European or frameless style cabinet is the subject of his book, “Building Frameless Kitchen Cabinets”.

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Building Upper Cabinets – Part 2



Illustrations by Len Churchill

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This article will explore various cabinet styles, and related issues to consider, when building kitchen and bathroom cabinets. Specifically, it will detail enough basic concepts to get you well on your way to building upper cabinets to suit your kitchen or bathroom needs.

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To review, cabinet style choice is between the two major types – face frame and frameless. You’ll often see a blend of European (frameless) and North American (face frame) cabinet construction methods. However, the main difference between the two styles is the use of the face frame.

Today, many cabinet shops have incorporated the best features of the frameless cabinet system into their face frame cabinet. This hybrid style is extremely popular and is more or less considered a standard. Once you understand the frameless system, you’ll see that most “traditional” styled kitchen and bathroom cabinets are a frameless carcase with a wood face frame applied.


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Frameless Upper Cabinets
The European frameless cabinet is modular and commonly ranges in widths from 10" to 36". The frameless system offers flexibility with quality and can be built with any ⅝" or ¾" thick sheet material – we are not restricted to “white” cabinets.

The Europeans perfected the “box” or unitized construction methods to a point where the frameless cabinet, often called the Euro style kitchen, has become a popular option in North America. European design features such as the hidden hinge, adjustable shelves, bottom mounted drawer glides, and adjustable cabinet legs are now an important part of the North American cabinet making industry.

The joints are almost all butt joints, secured with 2" screws, designed specifically for particleboard material. The strength of the butt joint is due in large part to the holding ability of these screws. They are installed in a pre-drilled pilot hole and, because of their design, the screws thread the hole, providing an extremely strong connection. When a panel is exposed, such as an end of run cabinet, biscuit joinery and glue is the preferred method, because it’s completely hidden.

Frameless cabinets do not have a face frame so the edges are covered with tape. There are many edge tapes available that will match any sheet material you wish to use. Melamine and veneer tapes, with heat sensitive glue, are a common item in most woodworking stores.

They are applied with an iron or, if you plan on doing a lot of frameless cabinet work, a hot air edge banding station. The tape is applied to all visible edges on frameless cabinets.

Any cabinet width can be calculated. For example, if a plan calls for an upper cabinet that’s 27 ½" wide by 30" high with two shelves and two doors, that’s all the information you need to create a cut list. For this example I’ll use ¾" thick melamine particleboard as the sheet material used to build the cabinet.

Cabinet width is always the front dimension. A 27 ½" wide upper cabinet requires a bottom and top board that are 11 ¼" deep by 26" wide. The 11 ¼” depth, plus the ¾" thick back, gives us a standard 12" deep upper cabinet carcase. The 26" top and bottom boards, plus the thickness of two sides, equals our required cabinet width.

Side boards, or gables, are the same depth as the top and bottom boards at 11 ¼" and the full height of the finished cabinet at 30". The back board equals the width and height of the finished cabinet or 27 ½" wide by 30" high. The adjustable shelves are the same depth as the top and bottom boards and normally 1/16" shorter in width to permit easy movement in the cabinet.

Door width is found by using the 1" plus formula. The inside cabinet dimension of 26" plus 1" equals one door width. We need two doors so dividing 27" by two means that each door must be 13 ½" wide. Door height on frameless upper cabinets usually equals cabinet heigh, or 30".

Follow the same steps to determine the carcase parts for any special cabinets. The sides, backboard and doors, on special height uppers, such as over the stove or refrigerator, are reduced in size to equal the total cabinet height dimension. The doors, shelves, bottom and top board widths remain unchanged.

A 24" wide cabinet that’s 18" high has the same carcase parts width as a 24" wide cabinet that’s 30" high. The same calculations hold true for tall or extended height cabinets. Keep the building principles in mind and you’ll be able to calculate the part sizes for any cabinet.
 
BUILDING A FRAMELESS UPPER CABINET

Cut The Carcase Parts
Cut the ⅝" or ¾" thick carcase parts to size. Use a table saw to cut the sides, bottom and top, back, and two shelf boards to the proper dimensions. A table saw with a melamine particleboard blade will cut all the pieces cleanly.


Drill Holes For Adjustable Shelves
Drill the holes in each side board for the adjustable shelves, if the cabinet is to be so equipped. During assembly ensure that the top-to-top relationship of each side is maintained, particularly if the holes are started at different distances from the top and bottom of the side.


Apply Edge Tape
Apply edge tape to all edges that will be visible once the cabinet is complete.

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Fasten The Side Boards
Fasten the side boards to the edge of the bottom and top boards making sure the joints are square and flush. Drill a ⅛" countersink pilot hole for the three 2" PB screws at each connection.


For clarification, referencing a 24" wide upper cabinet, you should have a four sided box with inside dimensions of 22 ¾" (the width of the bottom and top carcase boards) by 28 ¾" high (the length of the side minus the thickness of the top and bottom carcase boards when using ⅝" sheet material).

Secure the back board to the carcase, flush with all edges of the box. This will force the cabinet corners into square. Install 2" PB screws at 6" centres around the perimeter of the back. Secure the first corner aligning it square then, proceed to secure the remaining three corners while aligning the box. Finally, install screws between the corners, aligning the sides, bottom, and top boards flush with the edges of the back board.

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Choose The Style of Door
Pick the style of door you would like to install. Door height for upper frameless cabinets with this building system is 30" high. The width of each door is dependent on the size of the carcase. Use the 1” rule, as discussed previously, to calculate door width.


Drill a 35mm diameter hole, 3" on centre from each end of the door, ⅛" away from the door’s edge. Use a hinge-boring bit to drill the hole ½" deep (12.5mm) or as specified by the hinge supplier. Attach a 100 to 120 degree standard opening hinge with two ⅝" screws, using a square to make sure the hinge arm is at 90-degrees to the door’s edge. This is important because the hinge must be properly mounted to function correctly. Once the hinges are secure, attach the hinge plate to each hinge.

Hold the door in its normal open position, with the hinge and plate attached to the door, and place a ⅛" thick spacer between the cabinet’s front edge and back edge of the door. Drive screws through the hinge plate and into the cabinet side to secure the doors.


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Face Frame Upper Cabinets
The standard upper face frame cabinet is the most basic cabinet in this building system. Like the frameless cabinet, it consists of two sides, a top, a bottom, and a back board. Then, to make it a traditional style cabinet, a solid wood face frame is attached to the front of the carcase to complete the assembly. Cabinet sides are cut to a length of 31" and the face frame stiles are cut at 31 ¾".

This is done so the face frame hangs ¾" below the carcase bottom. This feature gives a little flexibility when assembling cabinets and hides the edge of under cabinet finish boards that will be applied.

Remember the relationship of cabinet side length to stile length – the stile is always ¾" longer than the cabinet side. This reference is needed when designing and building non-standard, or reduced height, cabinets.

I use a standard door height of 30 ½", mounted flush with the bottom of the face frame leaving a 1 ¼" gap at the top of the cabinet for installation of edge molding.

Standard upper cabinet doors are mounted using European style hidden hinges. A 35mm diameter hole is drilled in the door and the other end of the hinge is attached to the carcase side. Initially, I was a little intimidated by these hinges. Now, after using them for a while, I feel that they are one of the best advancements in cabinet door hardware. They are strong, fully adjustable in three directions, available in a variety of opening configurations, and virtually maintenance free. They are so dependable that some of the manufacturers guarantee them for life.

Installation, although appearing somewhat complicated, is a very simple process.

There are a number of “principles” to remember when creating a material cut list for your face frame upper cabinets. The top and bottom boards are always 2" narrower than the cabinet exterior on this face frame design. Cabinet width is measured at the widest point on the front of the cabinet. The stiles are each 1" wide, so if the cabinet we want to build is 30" wide, our bottom and top boards are 28" wide. This will make the inside face of each stile flush with the inside face of the cabinet sides and will allow the use of European hinges.

Face frame stiles are ¾" longer than the cabinet sides and the frame rails are the same width as the cabinet bottom and top boards. The back board is equal to the cabinets inside dimension plus the two thicknesses of side boards. For example, on a 30" cabinet, our back board must be 29 ¼" wide.

The standard upper cabinets usually have two shelves installed on adjustable pins. The shelves are cut 1/16" narrower than the bottom boards to make them easier to install and move.

Door width (or one door on narrow cabinets) is determined by adding 1" to the interior width. If it’s only one door, that’s the final width. If two doors are needed, divide the interior width plus 1" formula by two. A 30” cabinet would need two 14 ½" wide doors mounted on European hidden hinges.
 
BUILDING AN UPPER FACE FRAME CABINET

Assemble The Frames

Rip and cross cut the stiles and rails. Assemble each frame using glue and 2" long screws in counterbored pilot holes. If the screw hole will be visible (as in the case of a cabinet at the end of a run) fill the ⅜" counterbore with a wood plug.

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Cut Carcase Parts to Size
Cut the ⅝" or ¾" thick carcase parts to size. Use a table saw to cut the sides, bottom and top, back, and two shelf boards, to the proper dimensions.


Drill Holes For Adjustable Shelves
Drill the holes in each side board for the adjustable shelves, if the cabinet is to be so equipped. During drilling and assembly, ensure that the top-to-top relationship of each side is maintained.


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Fasten The Side Boards
Fasten the side boards to the edges of the bottom and top boards, making sure the joints are square and flush.


For clarification, referencing a 30" upper cabinet, you should have a four sided box with inside dimensions of 28" wide (the width of the bottom and top carcase boards) by 29 ¾" high (the length of the side minus the thickness of the top and bottom carcase boards when using ⅝" sheet material).

Secure the back board to the carcase, flush with all edges of the box.

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Glue Carcase to Face Frame
Apply glue to the four front edges of the carcase and place the outside face frame’s top edge flush with the outside top edge of the carcase. The face frame should fully cover the carcase edges. Secure the top corner of the face frame to the carcase body using 2" finishing nails in a pilot hole slightly smaller than the nail thickness. Drill the pilot hole so that it centres, as much as possible, on the PB edge.


Secure the other top rail so that the top outside of the face frame is flush with the top outside edge of the carcase. Nail the bottom two corners, making sure the face frame is properly aligned on the cabinet carcase. Install the remaining nails at 8" centres, maintaining the alignment. The bottom rail should hang below the cabinet carcase by ¾".

When building with ⅝"thick sheet material, the sides of the face frame should extend ⅜" beyond each side of the carcase, and ¼" for ¾" thick sheet material. As well, the inside edge of the bottom rail will be slightly above the bottom board if using ⅝" sheets and flush with the top face of the bottom board if using ¾" thick sheet material.

If you don’t like face nailing the frames, use biscuits for an invisible joint. Remember though, that the door, in its normal open or closed position, covers the section of the face frame where the nails are located.


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Choose The Style of Door
Pick the style of door you would like to install. Buy them from a supplier or build your own. Drill a 35mm diameter hole, 3" on centre from each end of the door, ⅛" away from the door’s edge. Use a hinge boring bit to drill the hole ½" deep or as specified by the hinge supplier.


Attach The Door
Hold the door in its normal open position, with the hinge and plate attached to the door, and place a ⅛" thick spacer between the face frame stile and back edge of the door. Drive screws through the hinge plate and into the cabinet side to secure the doors.


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Building face frame or frameless styled upper cabinets is a reasonably straight forward process. These cabinets can be used in many areas of your home such as the workshop, bathroom, laundry, storage, or even as extra storage for your home office.

The cabinet building concepts detailed here apply to all types of case construction.

In the next installment, I’ll discuss and explain the building steps for frameless and face frame base cabinet construction. A base, with one of the uppers discussed in this issue, are all you need to update your tired old bathroom cabinets that need replacing.



DANNY PROULX is a woodworking author and teacher.
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www.cabinetmaking.com