Frameless or Framed Cabinets: Which is Better?

There are typically two general ways to build a cabinet (that I know of, at least), and they are either framed or frameless.  There’s no way around it.  It either has a frame, or it doesn’t. It’s a very simple concept.

About 85% of all cabinets made in the US are framed, while in Europe, Asia and other parts of the world, frameless cabinets dominate the market.  This is because these countries designed a different way to build cabinets in the mid 1900’s after WWII.  The first frameless cabinet was made in Germany and titled the 32 Millimeter System.  Both cabinets have specific advantages, which why we decided to integrate both into our kitchen design.

The Advantages of Framed Cabinets

Framed vs Frameless Cabinets

Framed cabinets use a 3/4″ wood frame that is typically dado-ed into all side of the cabinet box.  A “dado” is generally a 3/8″ or 3/4″ slot or trench that’s been plowed into the face or edge of a cabinet piece.  Think of it like Lincoln Logs; you know how each piece has two indents near each end so you can stack them and they’ll lock together?  That’s essentially what a dado does for cabinet parts.  You make a groove for the piece to fit in and glue it all together so it’s one solid piece.

The dado-ed face frame gives the cabinet stability, but also has an overhang on the inside edge of the cabinet, usually around 3/4″.  This can make it difficult to install hardware, such as installing drawer slides, because a spacer would have to be used on the side of the cabinet to make sure the drawer doesn’t hit the box when you pull it out.

Before this is done, the cabinet is typically nailed and screwed together. 1 and 5/8″ screws are used to assemble the sides, back, top, and bottom.  The back is typically solid and 3/4″ thick for added stability.  After this has been done, the face frame can be screwed on from the inside of the cabinet.

The Advantages of Frameless Cabinets

Framed vs Frameless Cabinets

Frameless cabinets, often referred to as 32 Millimeter System, Full-Access, and European Cabinets, are typically made out of melamine and have a 1mm to 3mm edge band that serves as the.  These cabinets are lighter in weight while still maintaining durability.

The most common way to assemble frameless cabinets is by constructing bore-ing them and using wooden dowels and glue for assembly.  The construction bore drills 32 mm diameter holes in the edges of face for each cabinet side, then drills those same holes in the ends of each top and bottom piece.  After this has been completed, glue is squirted into each hole and then wooden dowels are pounded in.  Some shops do this by hand, while others have an automated dowel inserter.

The cabinet parts can now be put together and clamped.  In most instances, a slot is dated in the back of the cabinet for a 1/4″ thick back to slide in, which is supported by a stretcher on the top and bottom.  Although the back of the cabinet is only 1/4″ thick, the doweling method gives the cabinets extra strength through the wooden dowels swelling as they dry in the bore-ed slots.

Along with extra strength, frameless cabinets have several advantages:

  • More space than framed cabinets due to the 10-15% gain in space.
  • All of the doors are full overlay doors and the gaps and spacing between them are all the same and can be easily adjusted.
  • The sides on frameless cabinets are “flushed finished”, something that usually costs a little extra with framed cabinets.

Great Lakes Kitchen and Bath Cabinets:  Framed and Frameless

We have decided to utilize the benefits of framed and frameless cabinets at Great Lakes Kitchen and Bath.  We do this by creating a cabinet that is designed like a frameless cabinet on the inside, but still has a face-frame on the outside.  We have eliminated the 3/4″ over hang so that all of the drawer hardware can come to the edges and you won’t lose any space.

We also use a 3/4″ back on all of our cabinets to ensure that they are as stable and sturdy as possible.  Instead of the doweling method, we screw all of our cabinets together.  This, combined with our solid backed framed structure creates an extremely solid cabinet that you can have confidence in.