I am about to build my first kitchen cabinets. Have read a lot about it.
1) But one question: When do you apply the finish? The reason I ask, is that
in some of the books they show the cabinets installed without finish, so
they must be finished in place. Also, do you finish th face frames off the
Odd that the books I've read seem to have left out this fndamental, no doubt
simple, step. They assume I'm not an idiot, I guess.
2) Also, I've seen a lot about prefinished plywood. That sounds great, but
how does it effect glue-up? I meant to glue up and scew the butt joints,
which would be easy with unfinished wood. If I use pre-finished, won't that
keep the glue from bonding?
3) Do any of you use screws (and pocket holes where needed) without glue?
Not a hard and fast rule for everyone, but I always finish custom made
kitchen cabinet casework after installation of the countertops and
The doors and drawer fronts are always finished separately, generally
somewhere onsite, prior to mounting on the finished cabinet casework. The
latter components can be done at anytime, and moved to safekeeping, as they
make up the most visible part of a complete kitchen, and are generally
installed at the very last.
IME, well made cabinets (and there are plenty that don't fall within that
category) with pre-finished material generally rely on dadoes and grooves,
with glue, for joinery. That said, there are plenty of exceptions that use
screwed butt joints, but not in any of the houses I build.
I almost always use pocket hole screws as the joinery on the face frames of
kitchen cabinets, but NOT on the sides, "floors" and backs (cabinet floors
and cabinet tops a generally the same dimension and are usually referred to
generically as "floors" on your cutlist).
If the cabinet sides, floor and top are housed/fastened to the face frame in
grooves and dadoes with glue, it is not absolutely necessary to glue the
face frame components, IME.
I've done it both ways and not noticed a difference in integrity as the
fastening of the face frame to the cabinet casework with glue, and in some
cases finish nails along with the glue, almost always ends in a structural
integrity that far exceeds either component by itself.
a couple of the pages on my website show some recent kitchen cabinet
installations, almost step by step. Might want to take a gander.
I've built one set of kitchen cabinets, and I finished them prior to
installation. But then, I sprayed a conversion varnish, so that was pretty
much necessary. If I was brushing on a finish, I think I'd still want to do
it prior to installation. I finished the cabinet after everything
(including the face frames) was assembled.
Where do you have plywood butt joints? There weren't any in my cabinets
that I can remember. I don't have an opinion on prefinished plywood, other
than it would be very useful. I don't know where I'd find a retail supplier
around here, though.
For the cabient sides, I rabbet the plywood edge to fit a groove in the face
frame. I typically used pocket screws and glue to assemble the cabinet
sides, more as a substitute for clamps than to add strength. There's plenty
of gluing surface there. However, I omitted the screws on a finished side
that would be visible. I also use pocket screws for the face frames. All
of those get glue.
I'd say a lot depends on whether this is new construction or renovation.
With new construction finishing after installing is perfectly acceptable and
probably the best step as a lot of construction people are in the house and
dents and dings ot he finish can happen. If you are replacing old cabinets
in an older house, I's say finish the cabineta befor installation. It will
be easier and probably a cleaner job in a home that is being lived in.
Finish the face frames after attaching to the cabinet and with the doors
A lot of books are written by those that have never done what they are
teaching. Most all steps of the cabinet building process become pretty
simple with practice so no step is really too simple to leave out. Leaving
out any step in a How-To book seems to be a sign of an inexperienced writer
and or cabinet maker.
Glue along cut lines should hold as sell as non finished plywood.
I use glue with pocket holes screw construction and typically on kitchen and
or bathroom cabinets only use pocket hole screws to assemble face frames.
I paint or varnish cabinets in the shop, 'cause the masking off,
cleaning up, and worrying about spills on the nice kitchen flooring
seems like a lot of work to me. I can hang a finished cabinet with out
dinging the finish, at least not ding it much. My finishing schedule is
three coats, sand between coats. Cleaning up the sanding dust, three
times, seems like a little much. I assemble the cabinets all the way,
face frames and all before finishing. I don't see any gain from keeping
the them separate or finishing them separately. The time consuming part
of finishing is cleaning the brushes. What's the point of doing the
cabinets and face frames separately? Sounds like you have to clean the
brushes twice as many times.
Glue doesn't do much for straight butt joints, they rely upon fasteners
for their strength. So, for butt joints you don't have to worry about
whether or not the glue sticks well to prefinished plywood, the glue
doesn't contribute enough to butt joint strength to be worth worrying
I use glue on joints of any kind on the "more is better" principle.
On the other hand, if getting glue onto the joint is a problem for some
reason, it doesn't bother me to rely upon the fasteners exclusively for
For solid wood, glue alone is plenty strong for long-grain to long-grain
joints. Plywood is at least 40% long grain on any given edge, so glue
is generally fine there as well.
Particleboard and MDF have no grain, so glue is fine for butt joints.
For melamine, you either need a special melamine glue or else cut
through the skin so that you're gluing to the inner layer.
Of course biscuits work well for all the above.
The main advantage of mechanical fasteners is that they are faster than
Screws for plywood. Plywood edges are 1/2 end grain, which
glues poorly. Faces are only as strong as the glue used to
laminate the veneer. Screws, OTOH, bite into strong grain
no matter which direction you put them. They're faster, too.
You can use hidden cleats above the top shelf and below the
bottom shelf for extra strength. A bit of crown and base
trim will cover the fasteners.
Overhead cabinets that bolt into walls and ceiling or bulkheads
can take their strength from the house's framing.
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