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Thursday, June 9, 2011

What are the differences between Framed and Frameless Cabinets?

So many clients come into the showroom, while shopping for their kitchen. Often we are asked by those who are researching before their kitchen remodel, "what is the difference between a framed cabinet and a frameless one?".

Here are some basics into the different construction of these boxes

Frame Construction

In frame cabinet construction, component parts make up the sides, back, top and bottom of the cabinet. These parts are then joined together and attached to the face frame, which is the primary support for the cabinet. Doors and drawers are then fit in one of three ways: flush with the frame (called "inset"), partially overlaying the frame (called 1/4 overlap or lip) or completely overlaying the frame,

Frame cabinets are easy to install because they do not have the minimal door clearance tolerances found in the frameless method of cabinet construction, and may offer extended stiled to facilitate scribing on the job site. However, this method of construction has less interior storage space because the interior size of drawers or roll-out accessories is smaller than the overall width of the cabinet.

  • 1-1/4" to 1-1/2" front frames are usually made of hardwood, 1/2" to 3/4"thick. Some cabinet manufacturers offer 1" thick framing. Rails, stile and mullions are doweled as well as glued and stapled for rigidity. Lap joints and screws are also used.
  • End panels typically consist of 1/4" to 3/4" plywood, particleboard or engineered board which is dadoed into the back of the stiles and then glued, stapled or nailed in place. They are secured square in each corner with a plastic, metal or fall-off scrap material gusset.
  • Backs are generally 1/8" hardboard to3/4" plywood or particleboard.
  • Bottoms and tops are 3- or 5-ply plywood or particleboard. They are 1/4" to 1/2" and are dadoed into the sides of the cabinet.
  • Shelves are lumber, plywood or particleboard, 1/2" to 3/4" in specification, with square or rounded front edges. Plywood and particleboard shelves are generally banded with hardwood or with PVC wood-grained edging.

Framed cabinets from Bishop Cabinetry, kitchen designed by Borchert Building

 Frameless Construction

This second major category of case construction is called "frameless". While both types of cabinetry are built in the United States, the majority of cabinetry built in Canada and imported from Europe are frameless. With this method of construction, because of their thickness, these case parts form a box that does not need a front frame for stability or squareness. Doors and drawers cover the entire face of the cabinet.

  • 5/8" tp 3/4" (19mm) particleboard, plywood, or engineered wood sides are connected to the back, top, and bottom with either a mechanical fastening system or a dowel method of construction.
  • Backs are 1/4", 1/2" or 3/4" (5mm, 13mm or 19mm).
  • Tops are both 1/2" or 3/4" (13mm or 19mm)
  • The sides are drilled for adjustable shelf clip holes or dadoed for fixed shelves.
  • The doors are bored for adjustable, fully concealed, self-closing hinges.
  • All exposed edges are generally banded
You will hear these cabinets sometimes referred to as "32 mm" or "System 32" cabinets. The term 32 refers to the basic metric sizing of all these cabinets: all holes, hinge fittings, cabinet joints and mountings are set 32mm apart. This spacing is based on the boring equipment that is used in manufacturing process.

The major advantages of frameless construction are total accessibility to case interior and the clean, simple design statement made by the finished product. Some concerns exist regarding the stability if this type of construction: the tendency for frameless cases to "rack" and the additional planing expertise required to insure proper clearance between these full overlay doors and adjacent cabinets and appliances of the plan. The fit and finish of the cabinets to adjacent walls and the overhead ceiling also requires knowledge about the use of scribe trim molding and fillers.

Bishop Cabinets in Frameless or Full-Access box


  1. Thanks for discussing the difference, It gave us an idea on what kind of cabinet we should install.

    bookshelves ga

    1. Glad that you found the information helpful! What type of cabinet did you decide on installing?

  2. Hi, Sorry for too late reply, its about installing hanging cabinet with glass door.