Woodworking 101: Face Frame versus Frameless Cabinets

Consumer knowledge is a must when shopping automotive, computers, cell phones, etc., so why not when shopping for cabinetry? We can all agree that knowledge is power. So today, we are going to give you some knowledge about Face Frame versus Frameless cabinets. By the way, this is also the first area you should explore when shopping for cabinetry.

Strength and Durability Comparison

C&L Design Specialists has been designing and lobbying for full face frame cabinetry for years. And one of the the reasons is durability.

Face Frame versus Frameless CabinetsBy looking at the picture, you can see that, in frameless construction, the hardware is attached directly to the inside of the cabinet box. These boxes are made of particle board with melamine or plywood veneer.  The door and drawer front hardware is simply attached to the inside of the box.  It is not uncommon for screws to become loose after a few years and detach from the particle board.

In face frame construction, solid wood is used to ‘frame’ around the cabinet opening. Hinges and glides are then attached to the solid wood frame. Screws will not be working their way out of solid wood like they will in particle board.  In the event of a mild earthquake, frameless cabinet doors are likely to shift out of place, whereas doors on face frame cabinetry should not be affected.  

Lastly, cabinets reinforced with a frame will prevent ‘racking’ (an industry term for what happens when a box is hung on an uneven wall).  If the floor is sloping or the wall seems to bow or dip, frameless cabinets lack the strength to remain upright and the box will skew on the wall.  What all this ultimately means is that a Face Frame product corresponds directly to prolonged life of the cabinetry.

What Others Are Saying

You will find many articles online regarding Face Frame versus Frameless Cabinets. We recently saw an article on a well known home improvement advisor website stating, “A frameless cabinet is sturdier than a face framed counterpart”.  Wow.  Really?  It doesn’t take an engineering degree to understand that a framed box is sturdier than one with no frame.  An article on Angie’s List describes frameless like this, “If a person holds a cardboard carton upright with the open end toward the person, it’s easy to collapse the carton diagonally because there isn’t any bracing around the front rim.”  Enough said.

Door Mounting Options

  • FULL OVERLAY:  Frameless cabinets are known for their contemporary or Euro look, and feature what is called ‘full overlay’ doors.  This is where the doors cover the cabinet case completely.  The edge banding (an absolute must for a frameless box and typically made of plastic and applied to the exposed particle board) is not visible in full overlay design.  Face Frame cabinetry can offer this look, too.
  • PARTIAL OVERLAY:  This door style is also known as ‘Traditional’ overlay.  The doors are mounted such that part of the frame is exposed. The exposed section of frame is called the ‘reveal’.
  • LIPPED:  From the front, this door style looks like partial overlay.  Once you open the door, you can see that a groove (known as rabbet) has been cut all the way around.  This allows the door to fit snuggly into the cabinet opening.
  • INSET:  Here the doors are literally set inside of the opening.  This is a costly option since the doors have to be milled with meticulous precision in order to look and hang correctly.

In summary, frameless cabinets ONLY offer the Full Overlay option. Face Frame cabinet construction allows you to choose between ALL of the available options – Full Overlay, Partial Overlay, Lipped, or Inset.

Size Options

When designing with a company that offers only frameless construction, you are limited to the sizes that are offered.  This is especially true for the width of each cabinet. The reason is because these cabinet boxes are all pre-fab and mass produced.  So, if your space is slightly larger (or smaller) than the pre-fab boxes, the installers will use what is known as a ‘filler’ to make up for any gaps.

While designing with a Face Frame builder, you are never limited where size is concerned.  The cabinets will be built to fit the space, and not vice versa. This is truly custom work.

Materials Options

The majority of frameless cabinet companies are, once again, going to limit you to what they have to offer.  Their boxes are likely to be imported and door faces will typically come from one of their vendors.  It’s their job to get you to elect one of their available options. That is what they are calling custom. Remember, any time a company or cabinetmaker outsources their components, they lose control over the quality of those pieces.

On the other hand, a cabinet maker who is building face frame will design with you from scratch and build from the ground up. Now, that’s real custom.

Price Point

So now you know the major differences between frameless and face frame. Moreover, you appreciate the quality and flexibility of framed cabinets, but may sense that custom cabinets are out of your budget. Surprisingly, this is not always the case.  Although bids will vary from company to company, we have seen some frameless bids actually quote higher!

What everyone needs to understand is that frameless was developed in Europe and one of the benefits to sellers is that mass produced boxes translate to higher profits.  Face frame cabinetry will typically price out higher, but the quote will be for a longer lasting product that allows for unlimited design possibilities.  Now you have to ask yourself, would you rather overpay for a Honda or pay a fair price for a BMW?

Thank you for making it to the end of our C&L classroom moment…I rest my keyboard!

C&L Design Specialists, Inc …the Face Frame lobbyist for the people!  

**Designing, Building, and Installing for Southern California Homeowners and Businesses**

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