What's the first step when building kitchen cabinets?
I'm planning to build new cabinets for my kitchen, and a buddy said I should make the face frames first and then the carcases. That seems backwards to me. Is there an advantage to this method?
—Tom Casey, Columbia, South Carolina
Although it may sound counterintuitive, Tom, there's a good argument for making face frames first. When multiple cabinets have to line up next to each other in a row, small errors of even 1⁄32 " multiply quickly across that span. To eliminate these errors, first make the frame for each cabinet to exact width. Then mill grooves on the back side to accept rabbeted cabinet sides, allowing the face frames to overhang the case sides by 1⁄16 ". (The wider the overhang, the more "wasted" space you'll have between cabinets.)
For cabinets that mount against an adjacent wall, increase the face-frame overhang that contacts that wall by 1⁄2 " or so (or as much as needed to prevent gaps). This provides room to scribe that stile to match the wall's contour and cut it to fit, avoiding any gaps.
With the face frames done, dry-fit the sides in place and use the exact distance between them to determine the width of the carcase top (if it needs one), bottom, and back for that specific cabinet; each cabinet could be slightly different. Not only does this reduce measuring errors, but it also eliminates any discrepancies caused by nominal-thickness plywood.