Need help with kitchen cabinet carcass layout

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Forum topic by ak6143 posted 01-15-2011 08:26 PM 5557 views 0 times favorited 8 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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12 posts in 2653 days

01-15-2011 08:26 PM

I am planning on building some kitchen cabinets out of MDF and using Dado/Screw construction on the box with pocket hole joinery for the face frame. what Im having trouble finding are any good layout suggestions for the location of the dados on the sides and specifically how to do the back. In my mind Im thinking of running dados at the top and bottom of each side that maybe sit in 1/4 in from top and bottom so that the sides, top and bottom are all the same depth and flush. If I do that, then it seems I would have to run a rabbet on all 4 sides of the back but it seems a lot of folks somehow just run rabbets on the rear of the side pieces which is why Im having trouble picturing how it all fits together. Anyone have any good suggestions for me?

Thank you

8 replies so far

View miles125's profile


2180 posts in 3967 days

#1 posted 01-15-2011 08:33 PM

I normaly make finished ends a 1/4” wider than all othe carcass members, making them them the only member requiring a rabbet. Make sense?

-- "The way to make a small fortune in woodworking- start with a large one"

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12 posts in 2653 days

#2 posted 01-16-2011 06:02 PM

Sorry, Im not 100% sure what youre referring to by “finished ends”. Ive mostly stuck to tables and benches up to this point so this is my first attempt at cabinets.

View RetiredCoastie's profile


999 posts in 3145 days

#3 posted 01-16-2011 06:30 PM

There are several free plans on the web that show the joinery. Here is one site that offers free plans which could help you in designing your cabinets: cabinets

I would go with Plywood instead of MDF especially for upper cabinets. MDF is very heavy. Check out this site for MDF joinery techniques:

-- Proud Supporter of Homes For Our Troops

View Loren's profile


10241 posts in 3610 days

#4 posted 01-16-2011 06:44 PM

There’s no good information on it online, but the DonMar-Wiesing method
uses dados effectively. It’s an older method of assembly that some guys
used to bang out low-cost, lightweight cabinets for apartments in
New York City. The cabinets used 1/2” ply for the sides. The face frame
too was made of plywood, which seems weird to us, but these guys
were probably doing paint-grade work and the ply was more consistent
in thickness and they could eliminate jointing solid wood straight as
a production step.

Anyway, the method involves making a face frame with dados and rabbets
in the back and building the carcase (maybe on site, not sure) registed to
the back of the frame.

Compared to the cheap “stick built” cabinets common at the time, the
DonMar-Wiesing cabinets would have been higher quality and fit together
nicely at installation time.

For awhile Garrrett Wade sold a kit to help woodworkers learn this method –
along with some jigs to speed assembly using it. It’s a good concept,
entirely predicated on using a table saw with 1/2” wide dado set for all

Paul Levine wrote a book on cabinetmaking that has a lot of insights and uses
grooving methods for strength and alignment. It was written before all
the wiz-bang tools we have today came out, and arguably better for it.

View captbbrooks's profile


174 posts in 2653 days

#5 posted 01-16-2011 07:09 PM

When i build cabinets at work (that’s what i do for a living)I don’t like to use MDF for the boxes its heavy and if it gets wet it will expand and be gross along with the edge splitting if your not careful when you screw it or nail.We use shop grad birch ply wood its a little more money but it will give you a better cabinet box in the long run.I know some people wont like this but i don’t use dadoes on my boxes i use screws and glue and the backs i just screw on with glue as well.Now you can do dadoes its more work and it will make a better cabinet.I would not put a full piece of plywood for the top of your cabinet you can use some scrap pieces one in the front and one in the back a bout 3” or 4” wide and just screw the back in to it.The back doesn’t have to go all the way to the bottom of the sides it just needs to go by the lower shelve.I hope this doesn’t con fuse you if you send me a E mail i will send you a

-- Brian Brooks, Maine

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2 posts in 2941 days

#6 posted 01-16-2011 07:26 PM

good links!

View ak6143's profile


12 posts in 2653 days

#7 posted 01-19-2011 07:23 PM

Thanks for the helpful info. I did use MDF on a practice base cabinet (because it was cheap to practice with) this weekend just to keep in my garage. It turned out pretty good in general although I was terribly un-impressed with its strength and integrity once I started running screws and fitting the pieces. The dados were spot on but when I started fitting them, it didnt take anything to have the sides start splitting out which was very frustrating. All in all they went together pretty good however it affirmed my decision not to use MDF for my final project. This was my first experience with the material and for all the kudos it gets for ease of cut, shaping etc, I cant imagine what I would use it for in the future other than maybe cabinet door panels.

View dbray45's profile


3320 posts in 2738 days

#8 posted 01-19-2011 07:35 PM

MDF has no structural integrity. If you put any wieght on it, it will sag. Screws will not hold well either, they tear out easily. I might suggest that you look into the formadihyde free maple birch and plywood at the home store – made in North Carolina I believe. This is what I used, takes poly really well, I put 4 coats, and you will be proud of the results.

Use iron on edge banding or make face frames of poplar. Poplar takes paint really nice as well.

Do not throw the MDF away, it makes really nice jigs and as you stated, makes good prototypes to make sure you have dimensions right.

I used 3/4” for the sides and bottoms, 1/2” for the backs.

-- David in Damascus, MD

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