Rails and Stiles: Which One Goes “Outside”?

Q: I have a question about cabinet face frames. What is the proper way to construct/assemble them? Does the rail go inside the stile or does the stile go inside the rail? I have done them both ways, usually because I forget the proper way. Structurally they are the same, aren’t they? – Ron Bohland

Tim Inman: Typically, the stiles (the vertical parts of the frame) run the entire length. The rails (the horizontal pieces of the frame) run into the stiles.  I agree with you, Ron, that structurally, both constructions probably offer about the same strength. In my opinion, though, it is really a matter of design choice and tradition. Unless you have a really good reason to go against the grain of hundreds of years of tradition, your work will not look “right” unless the stiles continue through the entire vertical dimension.

Chris Marshall: The convention for face frames — you could almost call it a rule — is to run the outermost stiles the full length of the frame, then butt the ends of the top and bottom rails against the stiles. The ends of any intermediate stiles butt against the rails. This convention, I believe, has more to do with aesthetics — hiding end grain from where it would be most visible (side to side) — than strength. Same goes with door-building: stiles should cover the ends of rails. Once the parts are cut, plan your assembly carefully. If there are a number of intermediate stiles and rails, glue up the innermost pieces first, and work your way outward.

Rob Johnstone: In truth, I don’t know why there would be a structural difference. Esthetically, I have always — without exception, run the rails between the stiles.

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