How would you approach this?

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Forum topic by Bulkhead posted 01-26-2016 07:50 PM 873 views 0 times favorited 6 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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23 posts in 1733 days

01-26-2016 07:50 PM

I have a large, complex set of built-ins that I am constructing and need advice about how to deal with the face frames. I have assembled and hung quite a few cabinets in their final position. Many of the cabinets have been finished in white, while others that will have doors installed, have been prefinished clear (used prefinished ply for box construction). I was pretty careful with painting the cabinets. After milling the material, I primed and painted before final assembly. I am happy with the finish I achieved using an HVLP sprayer.

Because the layout is complex, I cannot pre-assemble face frames and attach. Each rail and stile will be attached individually. I am planning to use biscuits for alignment as well as adhesive caulk and 18ga. nails.


Faceframes (on right side):

I am wondering if I should prime and paint the face frame components before installing, or if I should install them first and then sand, prime and paint.

My concern is related to final appearance and a desire to avoid dreaded brush marks on the face frames. I don’t want to ponder the work required to tape off everything to spray the faces once installed!

The advantage to painting after installation is that I can be precise in the fitting of all pieces and I can ensure better finish at each joint.

The advantage to finishing before installation is that I just touch up but I am concerned with the joints being visible.

What would you guys do?


6 replies so far

View RogerM's profile


799 posts in 2598 days

#1 posted 01-26-2016 08:56 PM

Now I know why I build the face frames first. See

-- Roger M, Aiken, SC

View JBrow's profile


1366 posts in 1119 days

#2 posted 01-26-2016 09:02 PM


Perhaps you could fit, install and paint the face frame in place without the tedium of masking each cabinet. To avoid masking each cabinet separately, apply masking paper or 3 mil clear polyethylene to the edges of the cabinets completely covering the cabinets (i.e. from top to bottom, side to side) before installing the face frame. Then install the face frame over the masking paper or polyethylene. After painted, use a razor knife from inside the cabinets to remove the masking the paper or polyethylene.

The only other alternative to those you mentioned is a hidden fastener system of some kind.

View Bulkhead's profile


23 posts in 1733 days

#3 posted 01-27-2016 04:48 AM

I’ve been mulling this over for some time and when my wife asked me how the pros would do it, I guessed that the face frames would be installed and then a paint crew would come in and prep and paint the face frames.

Given that, I am now leaning toward rough cutting all the pieces then priming them and then trimming to fit and install them. I will probably mask off the back sides where they will meet the cabinets to ensure a good adhesive bond.

Then, patch and fill joints and nail heads as needed and paint with a brush.

Is this a good approach or if I should follow a different one?

View JBrow's profile


1366 posts in 1119 days

#4 posted 01-27-2016 05:09 AM


The approach you just described; fit, paint, install, patch and touch up is the approach I use when installing moulding. It works. However, I find that I have to fill nail holes at least twice with wood filler, otherwise a slight depression can be seen after it is painted. Perhaps the wood filler shrinks as it dries.

However, you will have areas on the face frame with brush strokes, which you hoped to avoid. You have a good sized window shining racking light across the front of the cabinets, which could highlight the brush painted areas.

However, if you brushed the paint on the entire face frame, the touch up areas would be easier to blend.

View Bulkhead's profile


23 posts in 1733 days

#5 posted 02-03-2016 05:32 AM

Thanks for the replies so far! JBrow, that is an approach I hadn’t thought of, but I don’t want there to be any plastic remaining. I fear that even if I cut closely, it would still reveal a gap or be visible.

So, I have finished “rough fitted” all the “rails” and “stiles” on the left side of my hung cabinets to create the large face-frame. No finish applied yet. I will take all the pieces down, sand, prime and paint, then will install.

The problem I am trying to resolve is how to address each of the joints. Either because the wall the cabinets are hung on has imperfections, or due to my own imprecise work, I have joints that do not perfectly match. Most of the problems are with the faces at different depths such that a rail may be recessed a bit relative to a stile. The reality is that there are differences at most joints. I need to figure out how to “fill” them after I have already applied the finish to most of the material and then touchup at each joint. I was thinking of getting a small gravity feed HVLP sprayer to avoid brush strokes and just use cardboard shields when spraying each joint.

If I want a uniform, flat appearance, and I have already applied a finish, how should I go about adding material to smoothly move from one plane to another before finishing? I was considering using joint compound over a roughed up finish. Would wood filler be better?

The face frames will obviously be very prominent, so I would like to do as good a job as possible. Thanks for suggestions.

View JBrow's profile


1366 posts in 1119 days

#6 posted 02-04-2016 03:40 PM


Pre-assembling the face frame as a unit is perhaps the best way to get the joints flush. Since finish is already applied, the only way to do this is with pocket screws. Biscuits or dowels could also be use, but these require glue and sanding or scrapping to flush up the joints.

Alternatively, if you can be very precise, dowels could be used for joint alignment at you assemble the face frame in place – Also difficult to do in this case.

I avoid drywall joint compound as wood filler/patch. It cracks because the wood moves and the joint compound does not have the elasticity needed. I skim coated a piece of plywood some years ago to achieve a smooth surface which I then painted. The surface produced hairline cracks over a short time.

I use Elmer’s Wood filler to fill in nail holes. It requires several applications with sanding between applications. I have found that it performs very well. I am not sure how well it will perform when used to feather your joints, but it will work much better than joint compound.

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