Base Cabinet Face Frame Drawer?

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Forum topic by clin posted 02-20-2016 09:40 PM 579 views 0 times favorited 6 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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486 posts in 418 days

02-20-2016 09:40 PM

I’m getting ready to build some base cabinets for the workshop. These will be built similar to kitchen cabinets with a finished height of 36”. I’m using 3/4” plywood for the cases. Some of them will have 4 drawers in them.

I was planning on a face frame that would also frame every drawer. But in analyzing this, I see that it will waste about 20% of the vertical storage space in the drawers using typical 1 1/2” face frames.

I’ve seen some designs where the the top, bottom, and sides are framed, but there is nothing between the drawers. Not even a spreader on edge.

I have two concerns about this. One, clearly having middle frame rails will strengthen the case and help to prevent the sides form bowing out or in. But, just because it makes it stronger, doesn’t mean it wasn’t strong enough without them. Clearly a very tall cabinet needs something, but these are 36” tall and actually just 30” between the top and bottom rails.

In this case. 2 of these drawer cabinets will share at least one side with another cabinet. Though one will be isolated and not get support from any other cabinet.

The second issue, is that without some framing between drawers, there’s a more direct path for shop dust to get into the drawers. Probably not a big deal, but thought I’d get some opinions on this too.


-- Clin

6 replies so far

View JBrow's profile


750 posts in 342 days

#1 posted 02-21-2016 03:16 PM


Bowing of the sides:

I suspect the ¾” x 36” plywood is strong enough to carry drawer load without detectable bowing.

Load on the ¾” solid panel sides resulting from fully loaded heavy drawers is a progressive load, not load at 36” high. The bottom drawer will be supported about 5” from the floor. The second drawer would be supported about 12” from the floor, the third drawer about 19” from the floor, and the top drawer supported about 27” from the floor – assuming drawer boxes are all the same size and a toe kick. Since the load is distributed vertically at different distances from the floor and the end panel carries only half the drawer load, I doubt the plywood would bow, even if the top on the cabinet also carries weight.

Before going to the effort and expense of reinforcing the load carrying panels, getting a better sense of the load that will be carried by a panel could be helpful. This can be done by gathering up the heaviest stuff that will set in a drawer and weigh it with the bathroom scales. The cabinet end panel supporting the drawer will only carry ½ of this weight. If you are like me, you will find that you are overestimating the weight that will be carried.

You could even carry this one step further. Figure the total weight all the drawers will carry. Put a clamp or two on the end panel of plywood with a bath room scales between the clamp pad and the plywood panel. Then apply clamping pressure until the bath room scale reads ½ the total weight to be carried by the drawers. Now measure the deflection in the panel with a straight edge and ruler at the center of the panel. This is the worst case deflection, which would be less once built, because of the progressive vertical load on the panel.

But if the rough analysis is not sufficient to convince you that the sides will not bow or the bath room scale test causes worry, the sides could be vertically reinforced without having to introduce drawer dividing rails. This could be done either inside the cabinet where reinforcing efforts would remain unseen, or outside as a decorative frame. Strips of ¾” plywood could be ripped and glued to the side of the end panel of the cabinet, from top to bottom – the wider the strips, the greater the reinforcement. Ultimately, simply doubling up the panel would be the ultimate in reinforcement.

Horizontal reinforcement could also be considered, but you would lose about ¾” in height between drawers where horizontal reinforcement is applied. Build a rectangular frame with plywood or wood. The frame pieces should be as wide as will fit inside the drawer cavity without interfering with the drawer box. Using half lap joints at the corners, reinforced with screws or dowels, would keep the frame in a single plane. Attach the ends of the frames to the end panel and center divide with glue and screws in the space between drawers. The frame would have the same effect as a face frame with center drawer divides, just thinner and unseen. Also, only one or two frames would be needed to reinforce the sides.

If the load in drawers on each side of a center divide is roughly the same, the forces are balanced and there should be no bowing of the center panel. If shelving is on one side of a center divide and the load is not balanced, the center divide should be treated as an end panel for load.

Keeping dust at bay:

The only effort I can think of for keeping dust out of the drawers is with weather stripping. Since the drawers will have no drawer dividing rails, the weather stripping cannot be tightly sealed, otherwise it will eventually pull away because the drawers are being opened and closed. If it were me, I would try to keep the tolerances between the drawer fronts and the side frame as close as possible. Also the drawer fronts could overlay the frame at the sides, offering a little more protection from dust.

And try to remember to keep the drawers closed when making dust. Try as I might, I often forget to close doors and drawers in my shop.

View Nubsnstubs's profile


811 posts in 1152 days

#2 posted 02-21-2016 03:33 PM

Build your cabinet with just the stiles and top and bottom rails for the face frame. Build your carcass with 3/4” ply. Put a back on it, and with the strength from the face frame, it won’t bow unless you park your vehicle on it.

The comment above is a good analysis, but not really necessary. At the most you’ll have maybe 500 pounds of stuff in 5 drawers. Most guides are rated only for 100 pounds each. .... Jerry (in Tucson)

-- Jerry (in Tucson)

View clin's profile


486 posts in 418 days

#3 posted 02-21-2016 04:39 PM

So JBrow, what type of engineer are you?

That’s the kind of response I’d be inclined to give. All good points, and I agree with all of them. But since cabinets are not new tech, I’m looking for advice from the experienced, rather then undertaking my own experiments.

My own guesstimate is that it is more than fine.

I think Jerry’s comments sum it up.

At the moment I’m prepared to move forward without any drawer rails in the face frame or spreaders between drawers.

I figure, if a problem ever develops, I can put in horizontal spreaders between drawers. Assuming 3/4” spreaders, I just have to make sure there is more than this space between the top of one drawer box and the bottom of the one above, which there will be.

I don’t know exactly what will end up in any drawer, I’m not storing bricks and dumbbells, so I think it is unlikely the drawers would be loaded to the max drawer slide capacity of 100 lbs. Though I still plan to use 1/2” ply for the bottoms. The widest drawer is 24”, so these aren’t really wide. One will be a file drawer, that, if full, would be the heaviest. But is also will be on the bottom and will not contribute to bowing.

-- Clin

View MadMark's profile


970 posts in 875 days

#4 posted 02-21-2016 05:35 PM

Put a back on it to keep the sides from bowing …


-- Madmark -

View AlaskaGuy's profile


2397 posts in 1732 days

#5 posted 02-21-2016 07:06 PM

I’ve been building cabinet for years and years with out any mid rails or mid styles. Not problem at all.

All my cabinet boxes are made from 3/4 per-finished plywood including the cabinet back.

Go for it. They’ll be fine without the mid rails.

Putting in he cab back.

-- Alaskan's for Global warming!

View clin's profile


486 posts in 418 days

#6 posted 02-21-2016 10:36 PM

Thanks one and all. All the comments are helpful and I really appreciate the guys with specific experience. I’m going ahead without any mid-rails.

-- Clin

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