What Is The Difference between Face Frame cabinets and Frameless Style Cabinets?

Face frame cabinetmaking has been a popular construction style in North America for years. The cabinet box, often made with plywood or plywood veneers, had a hardwood front frame applied on the North American cabinet. The frameless European style is a simple box without a wood face frame. Many shops use a combination of both methods by attaching a wood face frame to a European style cabinet box to retain the “North American” appearance.

Face Frame Style Kitchen
Frameless Style Kitchen
Frameless Kitchen

As you can see, there are very subtle differences between the face frame style kitchen on the left and frameless style kitchen on the right.

So what’s the difference and which style do should you build?

It’s all a matter of preference and the look you want to achieve. Here are some points regarding each style…

  • Frameless cabinets do not have a lot of space between the doors from cabinet to cabinet. Face frame cabinets expose more wood and the look is more North American traditional.
  • Cost wise – it’s a little less expensive and quicker to build frameless cabinets.
  • Quality – both styles are of equal quality if built correctly.
  • Frameless cabinets can be “wood” styled with veneer edge tape and wood doors installed. The difference is the lack of distance between doors from cabinet to cabinet between the face frame and frameless style.
  • Both cabinet systems in “Build Your Own Kitchen Cabinets” (face frame) and “Building Frameless Kitchen Cabinets” can be made with any sheet material (melamine or veneer) and both use European hidden hinges, drawer glides, and cabinet legs.
  • Any style of cabinet including uppers, base units, pantry, tall, microwave, and corner cabinets are fully detailed in both books and can be built using either system.
  • Face frame and frameless cabinet styles can be used for kitchen, bathroom, utility, laundry, or workshops and, can be mixed. For example, you could use a face frame style cabinet for your kitchen and frameless cabinets in the bathroom.

Building a Finger or Box Joint Jig

Here’s a step-by-step quick and easy way to build a Finger or Box Joint Jig.

Step 1

Attach a long 1 by 2 extension on your table saw miter fence. It will be used to support the finger joint indexing panel.


 Step 2

Clamp an indexing panel, which is about 8″ high and 24″ long, to the extension board on your miter fence. This tall indexing panel will help support large boards as they are pushed through the dado blade. Once secured, cut through the indexing panel. I am setting up, and testing this jig, with a 1/2″ wide dado blade.

indexing panel

Step 3

Cut a wood indexing pin, which equals the cut width, and glue it in the notch on the panel.

wood indexing pin

Step 4

Use a loose indexing pin, which also is the same width as the notch, to set the fixed indexing pin 1/2″ away from the dado blade. Clamp the indexing board securely to the miter fence extension.

loose indexing pin

Step 5

Cut the two boards to be joined together. The rear board is held tight to the fixed indexing pin and the front board is set away from the fixed pin using the loose spacer block as a guide. Remove the loose index pin and make the first cut.

rear board notch

Step 6

The second cut is made with the rear board notch over the index pin and the front board tight to the pin. Make the remaining cuts by moving the notches over the pin until all fingers and slots have been formed.

If the test joint is loose, move the indexing panel so the fixed pin is slightly farther away from the blade. If the fingers are too wide for the notches, move the fixed indexing pin towards the blade. Be careful moving the index board because it doesn’t take very much pin movement toward or away from the blade to dramatically change the finger and slot width.


Finger 6