Face Frame Detail










Drawer rails tenoned into stiles of face frame. Note the curly maple/poplar drawer rails and the stub tenon at the front

 The construction of the upper case begins with making the face frame. The overall finished width of the face frame is 2 ¾” less than the width of the case to allow for a 1 3/8" recess at each side for the quarter columns. This frame has 7/8" x 2" solid maple vertical rails joined to the horizontal drawer dividers with double tenons. The tenon at the rear of the face frame is a through tenon, while the front tenon stops short of the face by about 1/8”. This is because the quarter column will hide the rear tenon but may not cover the front ones. I cut these and all the mortises with a plunge router, followed by a chisel to square up the ends. The drawer rails are made from poplar, with a 1/8” curly maple facing. The three solid maple vertical dividers, forming the upper drawer openings, are through tenoned into the horizontal rails. Above the upper rail, is a piece of secondary wood, which will be later covered by the cornice molding.  Pennsylvania, furniture often has the drawer runners tenoned into the drawer dividers, or in the case of  Philadelphia furniture full dustboards.  I chose to go with the runners being tenoned into the dividers, for two reasons. First, the runners are cantilevered, some distance from the sides, due to the quarter columns, so the tenon will better support the runner, and full dust boards add nothing to a piece but weight and expense. The runner tenons, are formed at the extreme outside edge of the runner, and is 1/2" square and 3/8" deep. Mortises will also have to be cut into the top two drawer dividers, to receive framing to support the 5 less than full width upper drawers. Before assembly route mortises to receive the lock bolts ( you‘ll need to have the drawer fronts made and the locks fitted to do this). I used a router for this, but in keeping with my no machine marks left behind rule, I squared them up by hand and made a series of chisel marks in the bottom to mimic hand chopped mortises. Also before assembly, I hand planed the components, taking care to get the joints flush, as curly maple isn’t as forgiving as some species, in regard to planning direction, making it difficult to plane after glue up. Secondary wood flanking pieces are glued to the rear edge of the vertical stiles. These are 5/8” thick and the width is determined by what your sides plane out to, because the case sides plus this flanking piece need to add up to 1 3/8”. I actually made them a little over sized to allow for planning to a tight fit. I use hide glue for all assembly, because of its proven track record, and ease of repair, for future cabinetmakers.


  The sides are glue up and finished planed. I planed the glued up panels across the grain using a fore plane to get the joint flush, and switched to a scraper plane to remove the cross grain plane marks, before finishing with a smooth plane for the final surfacing on the face. I used only a scrub plane on the inside. Planing sideThe sides are then routed to receive the drawer runners. These dados were cut with a 1” router bit to a depth of 1/8” and then using a side rabbet plane they were enlarged to 1 1/16” ( the thickness of the drawer dividers).  I  added horizontal dovetailed braces at the back of two of the drawer runners. These will prevent the sides from bowing out at the back; the front is restrained by the face frame. The back edges of the sides are rabbeted to receive the back boards, cut this rabbet about 1/16" deeper than the thickness of your back boards.

  The case bottom is a piece of 4/4 poplar half blind dovetailed to the sides. The bottom board stops short of the front by 5/8” to allow the face frame to slip in between the case sides, and is flush with the rabbets at the back. Normally the top would be through dovetailed to the sides, but because it is hinged, a board forming the bottom of the secret compartment is sliding dovetailed to the sides (more on this secret compartment later).

  Sliding dovetails are without a doubt the most frustrating joint to cut. The margin between too loose and too tight is razor thin. I start by routing a dado with a dovetail bit ( you may want to remove the bulk with a straight bit) This dado is at right angles to the back. Then with a straight bit I cut one side of the previously routed dovetail so the rear opening is slightly  ( 1/64-1/32") less than the thickness of the stock going into the joint, and about 1/8” less at the front. This forms a barefaced sliding dovetail. The male piece has a dovetail routed on one face, and is fitted to the case side by using a rabbet plane to carefully form a tapering rabbet on the other face. I suggest that the compartment board be made wider than necessary to allow for some trial and error fitting. The first side is fairly easy to fit, but getting the second side to fit and bottom out at the same place as the first, can be a challenge. My advise is to go slow, as even one plane shaving can make a big difference in the fit. If you over do it and things are too loose, veneer glued to the rabbet will let you start over ( don’t ask me how I know this). After the case is glued together, the plinths for the quarter columns are glued in. Later, after the finish is rubbed out and the columns fitted in place, glue blocks will be added inside to reinforce the case to face frame joint.


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©2007 by Robert L. Millard
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