Sanding newly built custom cabinets

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Forum topic by SweetTea posted 09-05-2016 05:02 PM 281 views 1 time favorited 4 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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29 posts in 83 days

09-05-2016 05:02 PM

I am a part time cabinet builder, been building custom cabinets for for around 8 years. Recently I decided to open a small custom cabinet shop that I work in part time to supplement my income from other business ventures. While I am a fine cabinet builder, I don’t have much experience in the sanding and finishing end of things.

I am struggling with getting the face frame sanded evenly. It seems that I am making low spots on the face frames due to uneven sanding. This particular set that I am having problems with is painted white. They look fine in the shop but once mounted on the wall in my customers kitchen, the face frames don’t create a seamless look when the cabinets are butted up next to each other. I finally bought a used Delta 31-250 18”vopen ended drum sander that I am hoping alleviates this problem. Any suggestions on how to not unevenly sand the face frames that won’t fit in the drum sander? I will try and post a pic of these particular cabinets that are causing me issues tomorrow. These were built before I had the drum sander.

4 replies so far

View JBrow's profile


752 posts in 343 days

#1 posted 09-07-2016 03:16 PM


When building a face frame, ensuring the joints are as flush as possible, sanding stiles and rails to final grit before gluing, and flushing up and sanding the joints once the face frame is assembled is my favored approach. I like this approach because I like to sand at a downdraft sanding table and an assembled face frame is difficult to manage. I use the random orbital sander even though a wide drum sander is in the shop. I avoid using the drum sander because it creates cross grain scratching which I find difficult to remove without a lot of additional post-drum sander sanding.

I start the pre-sanding with a grit that removes mill marks in a reasonable time, usually with 120 grit, though sometimes 100 grit is the first grit. Sanding the entire length of the rails and stiles while staying a few inches away from the areas where the rails and stiles join ensures an even surface without spoiling the joint area. After working through the grits to final grit during pre-sanding and gluing the face frame, the un-sanded joint areas of the face frame are flushed up and sanded. Sanding with the initial grit is mostly limited to the area of the joint, with limited feathering into the surrounding already sanded areas. As the grit increases, the feathering extends further out from the joint. At the final grit, feather sanding runs out a good ways from the joint.

I like to mark the workpieces with pencil marks and sand the entire surface until the marks are gone before changing grits. The pencil marks work especially well when sanding the joints flush and feathering into the pre-sanded areas of the rails and stiles. Since I find that more material tends to be removed on the outside edges when sanding corners, a piece of scrap the same thickness as the rails and stiles butted against the outside corner provides greater support for the sander and helps reduce the pillowing effect.

If a defect is found, keeping the sander over the defect a little longer but then progressively sanding out from the defect does a reasonable job of feathering the depression caused by the required over sanding. As the over-sanding of the defect continues, the distance out and away from the defect must also be done to ensure the over sanded defective area is feathered with the surrounding surface.

View GR8HUNTER's profile


1000 posts in 136 days

#2 posted 09-07-2016 03:51 PM

when I worked in a custom cabinet shop we had a light box that you could take a door to and hold it at an angle to see all imperfections hope this helps you out we also only used ROS


View Cooler's profile


219 posts in 266 days

#3 posted 09-07-2016 06:29 PM

Did you check to ensure that all the face frame material is the same thickness before you start. I buy my red oak at the big box stores and the width and thickness can vary to a noticeable amount.

-- This post is a hand-crafted natural product. Slight variations in spelling and grammar should not be viewed as flaws or defects, but rather as an integral characteristic of the creative process.

View Logan Windram's profile

Logan Windram

289 posts in 1885 days

#4 posted 09-07-2016 09:38 PM

Sweet tea, just out of curiosity, why not go Euro style and take the face frame out of the equation?

Anyway, its probably important to know how you are putting your face frames together… if you are planning all your face frame stock together and doweling, domino or pocket screwing them together they should come out pretty flush from the start… if they are not, you could take a hand plane and hit the high boards, then hit the face with a scraper and finally do your final sanding.

You could also consider sanding all part of your frame together, providing a nice big surface to sand, and not roll over edge that looks crappy in the end.

I started with framed cabinet and now only do frameless. The veneering is a snap if you get used to it and overall assembly, sturdiness and IMHO look is superior given today’s desire for more modern look.

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