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How to build and attach face frames to a cabinet – it’s easy!

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February 24, 2023
Zoe Hunt

If you’re making DIY cabinets with face frames, well, you’ll need a face frame. In this post we’ll show you how to build a face frame and how to attach the face frame to a cabinet. 

how to build and attach face frames text overlay on image of nail face frame to cabinet

How to Build a Face Frame 

Face frames are generally built with 1×2 wood. If painting your cabinets, you can opt for pre-primed pine to save time and money on the priming step.

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To build your face frame, here’s what you’ll need: 

  • Measuring tape (bonus points if you have a laser measurer
  • 1×2 wood (amount varies depending on the number of cabinets, their sizes, and if you are adding any dividers, but you can use this free software to generate a cut list and determine how many pieces you need)
  • 1 or 1.25” Kreg screws (we’ll discuss why you might need both in the post)
  • 2″ brad nails
  • Wood glue 
  • Drill 
  • Pocket hole jig 
  • Miter saw 
  • Optional: face frame clamps 

STEP 1: MEASURE FOR YOUR FACE FRAMES 

Measure your cabinet box in 3 places (top, middle, and bottom). Hopefully the cabinet box is square, but if not, you’ll use the largest of the measurements to determine the cuts for your face frame. 

Measure the height of the cabinet (if the toe kick is integrated, do not include it in your measurements) in three places. If there are any discrepancies, take the largest of the measurements. 

We like to use a laser measurer when measuring for things like face frames, doors, and drawers because they give you quick and accurate measurements. When using the laser measurer, I’ll generally measure the inside of the box and then add 1.5” to account for my plywood sides. 

Yes, plywood is generally not exactly ¾” thick, but it’s okay if the face frame is slightly larger than the cabinet. In fact, some people prefer it that way! 

Free download wood sizing cheatsheet

STEP 2: DETERMINE YOUR FACE FRAME MEASUREMENTS 

For both the rails and stiles, you can choose to make your pieces up to 1/2” larger than your cabinet dimensions to allow your face frame to slightly overhang beyond the sides of the cabinet. This is the most economical option and also the easiest for beginner DIYers. 

side view of cabinet where face frame extends past the side of the cabinet

We personally like to make our face frames flush with the sides of the cabinets to make installing the cabinets to one another easier, but this does require more precise measuring and cutting. 

Measurements for the rails (horizontal pieces) = total width of cabinet – 3”

  • Note: you might want to measure the particular 1x2s that you are using for the face frame. Some 1x2s might be 1/16” smaller than the 1.5” wide they are supposed to be. If you are cutting your face frames to exactly fit your cabinet box, this small amount can make a difference. 
  • Note: if you want to go the route of making your face frames larger so they slightly overhang, use total width of cabinet – 2.75″.

Measurements for the stiles (vertical pieces) = total height of cabinet*

*Some people prefer to make their face frames about 1-1.25″ taller than the cabinet to minimize the lip that is created on the bottom of the cabinet. If you would like to go this route, add 1″ to your cabinet height.

lip on bottom of face frame cabinet

In addition to the two rails and two stiles that are required for every cabinet face frame, you might also consider cutting additional rails to act as a divider between doors and drawers. 

If you are building really wide cabinets and would like to add a center divider to ensure your cabinet stays nice and square and does not sag in the middle, the measurement would be 3” smaller than the outside stiles. 

STEP 3: MAKE YOUR CUTS 

Cut your face frames down according to the cut list you created in step 2. 

STEP 4: DRILL POCKET HOLES 

Using the ¾” settings, drill (2) pocket holes into both ends of each of the rails. If you decided to cut any vertical dividers for additional support, you can also drill (2) pocket holes on either end of those. 

Pocket holes are the foundation of most DIY furniture. Become a pocket hole pro in less than an hour in Pocket Holes: Explained.

STEP 5: ASSEMBLE FACE FRAME 

We will use glue and Kreg screws to assemble the face frame. 

If you are using pre-primed pine for your face frames, I would recommend using 1” screws. Yes, it should technically be 1.25” screws, but the pre-primed pine is designed to be ¾” thick after the thick primer coating is applied. Because of this, the wood itself isn’t actually a full ¾” thick. When you try to use 1.25” screws, sometimes it will work just fine, but usually the screw will crack the primer coating. 

If you are using other wood, 1.25” Kreg screws should work fine. If you find that they are cracking the front of the wood during assembly, switch to 1” screws. 

I will not say it at every step, but add a layer of glue to each piece before screwing it in. 

Position a rail so that it is flush with the end of the stile. We like to use these face frame clamps to ensure the boards stay flush when drilling, but normal clamps will also work just fine. Secure the rail to the stiles with your screws. 

Note: if you are using pre-primed pine, one side is generally a lot smoother than the other. Make sure the “pretty” side is facing outward for each piece you attach. 

If you are adding a drawer divider (or multiple), I recommend cutting a scrap piece of wood to act as a spacer. Line the scrap piece of wood up with the end of the stile and then place a rail next to it. Screw it in place. 

scrap wood spacer block lined up with stile to place face frame rails

Once the divider is secure to the first stile, flip it onto the second stile, making sure to use your spacer block again to keep it straight. 

Add the top rail so that it is flush with the top end of the stile. Secure the bottom rail to the second stile. 

Wipe off any excess wood glue. 

assembling cabinet face frame with pocket holes

How to Attach a Face Frame to a Cabinet

Attaching the face frame to a cabinet box is a pretty straightforward process that will require 2” brad nails and wood glue. If you do not have a brad nailer, you can secure the face frame with just wood clamps…assuming you have some good clamps to keep it in place while it dries. 

STEP 1: DRY FIT YOUR FACE FRAME 

Before we nail the face frame in place, dry fit it on your cabinet so you can get an expectation–will it be completely flush? Are these certain areas that you will have to apply pressure to to make it flush?

Once you feel comfortable with where you will place your face frame on the actual cabinet, you can move onto step 2. 

STEP 2: ATTACH YOUR FACE FRAME TO THE CABINET 

Apply a bead of glue to the cabinet front and then position your face frame. Use 2” nails to secure the face frame while the glue dries. We placed a nail approximately every 6-8”.

nailing face frame to cabinet carcass

There you have it! Now you know how to build and attach face frames to cabinet boxes. It’s not as complicated as you might have initially thought! 

For more information about cabinets: 

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  1. Rachel Beeman says:

    Thank you for this detailed post on attached a face frame to cabinets. I’m needing to do this in the future so it was helpful 🙂

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