Fast, Easy Face Frames
Drill Press Mortising Fence

Trim out a cabinet the classic way using pocket-screw joints.


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Face frames provide attachment points for door hinge and latch hardware, while hiding the front edges of the cabinet box. They can also help correct minor plywood bowing and give you a means of fitting one cabinet against its neighbor. You can use a variety of joinery options for making face frames, including dowels, mortise-and-tenons or even small biscuits, but none of these alternatives are as fast as pocket screws. With a simple jig, like the one that comes in the E·Z Pocket Hole Jig Kit from General Tools, making a pocket-screw joint is simple: Drill a pair of stopped holes and drive two self-tapping screws to lock the joint. Here's how to dress up your next cabinet project with a pocket screwed face frame.

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Step 1: Joint and plane stock for your face frame parts so the stiles and rails will be flat and square. Face frame components are typically between 1 1/2 and 2 in. wide. Rip the rails and stiles to the width you desire, and leave the workpieces overly long so you can cut them to exact length as you build the frame. The outermost stiles should run the full height of your cabinet, with the top and bottom rails fitting in between them. Any intermediate stiles, such as for the door divider we'll show here, should fit between the top and bottom rails.

Step 2: Measure the height of your cabinet carcass, and crosscut the outer stiles to length. An easy way to find the exact length of the top and bottom rails is to set the stiles together and so they're lined up with the outside face of the cabinet side. Use a long rule to measure from the stiles over to the opposite edge of the cabinet (see Photo 1). Add 1/4 in. to this measurement; the extra length will make your face frame overhang the edges of the cabinet by 1/8 in. to give you a little "wiggle" room when installing it and, if necessary, scribing it to an adjacent cabinet. Cut the top and bottom rails to length.

Step 3: On a large worksurface, set the rails and stiles face down and into position. Measure for any intermediate divider stiles or other rails. Cut those pieces to length as well. Dry-fit the entire face frame together, and label both parts of each joint with letters or hash marks so you can keep their orientation clear. It's also helpful to mark an arrow on each joint to show which piece will receive the screw pockets and which direction to drive the screws (see Photo 2). The easiest joints to drill are those with screws driven through the ends of one joint part and into the edges of the mating part. On the face frame shown here, we'll drill the ends of the rails and door divider.

Step 4: Making a pocket-hole joint involves boring a pair of steeply pitched holes into one workpiece with a special stepped drill bit. Set the drilling depth by tightening a stop collar on the bit (see Photo 3). The instructions that come with your pocket-hole jig will explain where to tighten this collar, based on the style of the jig. General Tool's version also recommends fastening the jig to a scrap base so you can clamp it to your worksurface.

Step 5: Drill pairs of pocket holes into the marked faces of the parts you identified in Step 3 (see Photo 4). To keep the drill bit from clogging, drill each hole in a couple of plunging passes, pulling it back out of the jig holes to clear the chips.

Step 6: Assemble the face frame parts by driving self-tapping face frame screws down into the screw pockets and across the joints (see Photo 5). There's no need to drill pilot holes in the mating parts first. Be sure to use plenty of clamps to hold each joint securely together: the screws sometimes push the workpieces apart as they tap their holes. A locking face-frame clamp (silver in photo) is particularly useful for this job. Note: You can reinforce pocket-screw joints with glue as well, although this isn't mandatory.

Step 7: Plane, scrape or sand the back face of your assembled face frame to flatten any minor mismatching at the joint seams. If you're planning to use typical mortised butt hinges, now is a good time to cut the mortises in the stiles. You should also decide how you'll fasten the face frame to your cabinet. You can use glue alone or in conjunction with dowels or biscuits to make the connection invisible. Pin nails or 18-brads also work nicely, if you don't mind puttying over the nail heads and seeing those tiny spots on the finished cabinet. Set the face frame on the cabinet and adjust it for an even overhang on the stile edges. Use plenty of clamps to secure it in place. As you tighten the clamps, you can push or pull the carcass top, bottom and sides a little bit to adjust for any minor bowing that may be present. Drive the fasteners (see Photo 6).

Step 8: Since the cabinet shown here will be stand-alone, we're choosing to trim off the stile overhangs for a flush fit. A router and piloted flush-trim bit make this process quick and easy (see Photo 7).

There you have it: a traditional cabinet detail made with the convenience of modern jig joinery.

Make sure you've checked out our other Jig-Based Joinery Techniques: