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Thread: Inset drawer and door gap and any other advice?

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
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    Inset drawer and door gap and any other advice?

    I am making plans for a case with a face frame that will have some inset drawers and an inset cabinet door.

    This is the first time I have attempted this.

    The face will be made out of pine as will the drawers and the door.

    The drawer fronts and door will be 14+ 1/2" wide minus what I need for the gap. Right now I am planning on a gap of 1/16" for each side

    I was going to use the same gap for the top and bottom.

    is this about right and any other advice would be appreciated.

  2. #2
    I built my kitchen with inset doors and drawers. I used a bunch of those formica samples that you can get from the hardware store as spacers. It's probably about a sixteenth. I also used those no-mortise hinges as the spacer on the hinge side.
    Jon Endres, PE

  3. #3
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    Nov 2008
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    Hi Keith,
    The age old "how big of gap" question was probably first asked when the very first wood box was invented. It's not a really an easy question and I am still asking it each time I build a set of cabinets. Factors such as wood stability, size of doors/drawers , quality of hinges/slides and your climate all play a role.

    If you are making a heirloom piece of furniture with stable wood in an area with consistent humidity, I'd consider 1/32 gaps.

    Most of my work has used about .047 gaps (2/3's of a 1/16). Thats with quality dry wood like cherry in a dry climate.

    Lately I've grown my gaps to 1/16 on some jobs. Most customers don't really notice how tiny the gaps are--what they REALLY notice is when a door rubs or if the gaps are not consistent or even.

    Normally I build doors/drawers at actual size of opening and then final fit after the faceframe is mounted. Make sure the cabinet is not racked and on flat surface on it's back. A built up spacer block is used inside the cabinet to hold the doors and drawers even with the face frame. (if you are clever with it's size, one or two spacers can be used for the entire job). I mainly use a horizontal belt sander to tune the doors to final fit, but table saw, router and guide, jointer or pocket knife whatever you have can also be employed for final sizing. Shims cut to the perfect size of your gap are then used to test final fit.

    When you install the kitchen, I'd suggest leaving a fuzz bigger gap on the bottom. Blum tandems and hinges especially can settle a hair with use and weight. Never in the history of cabinetry has a door moved UP on it's hinges....

    Good luck and have fun. Inset style is attractive and timeless, and worth the effort.

    -Steve
    Last edited by Steve Griffin; 01-05-2010 at 10:48 PM.

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Griffin View Post
    Hi Keith,
    The age old "how big of gap" question was probably first asked when the very first wood box was invented. It's not a really an easy question and I am still asking it each time I build a set of cabinets. Factors such as wood stability, size of doors/drawers , quality of hinges/slides and your climate all play a role.

    If you are making a heirloom piece of furniture with stable wood in an area with consistent humidity, I'd consider 1/32 gaps.

    Most of my work has used about .047 gaps (2/3's of a 1/16). Thats with quality dry wood like cherry in a dry climate.

    Lately I've grown my gaps to 1/16 on some jobs. Most customers don't really notice how tiny the gaps are--what they REALLY notice is when a door rubs or if the gaps are not consistent or even.

    Normally I build doors/drawers at actual size of opening and then final fit after the faceframe is mounted. Make sure the cabinet is not racked and on flat surface on it's back. A built up spacer block is used inside the cabinet to hold the doors and drawers even with the face frame. (if you are clever with it's size, one or two spacers can be used for the entire job). I mainly use a horizontal belt sander to tune the doors to final fit, but table saw, router and guide, jointer or pocket knife whatever you have can also be employed for final sizing. Shims cut to the perfect size of your gap are then used to test final fit.

    When you install the kitchen, I'd suggest leaving a fuzz bigger gap on the bottom. Blum tandems and hinges especially can settle a hair with use and weight. Never in the history of cabinetry has a door moved UP on it's hinges....

    Good luck and have fun. Inset style is attractive and timeless, and worth the effort.

    -Steve
    With built in cabinets, I like to do 3/32 or so and slightly bevel the door leading edge so it swings out nicely. Houses settle and rack things out of square. Hinges wear at the pins. Drawers get racked and overloaded. Edges get painted. Stuff happens. To me, gap consistency is far more important than gap size, and having things work 20 years from now is a good thing.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
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    Northwestern Connecticut
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    Hey Keith,

    Her in CT we use nickels as shims to set the gap on inset doors and drawers. They are readily available, they are about .045" which works for this part of the country, and there are usually at least two in my pocket! I like to leave the doors the actual size of the opening and shave to fit with a combination jointer, edge sander and panel saw. This lets me overcome a bit of out of square should things not go perfectly during carcass construction. Check your hinges also to see what the maximum and minimum gaps they can provide are. As other have said a consistent gap and a well functioning door are preferable to a microscopic gap on doors that won't open and rub off the finish.

    We build an integral door stop into the bottom horizontal partition during construction. You can create a 1 1/2" X 1 1/4" edge band, rabbit one edge of this 3/4"X 1", and glue it to the front edge of the partition. You then build your FF so that the bottom rail lands 3/8" below the top face of the bottom partition. and viola, built in positive stop. This size of glued on edge gives you support for the bottom rail of the FF, a place to glue it to, and a solid stop so the doors can't over travel. Same idea for uppers but reversed.

    For applied drawer fronts we use these odd little plastic buttons that get place in holes drilled into the backs of the drawer fronts. They have a metal washer that articulates and allows you to adjust and quickly fine tune the fit of inset drawer faces. I think they come from CSH? It is a kit that involves a special drill bit, pointed spacers that show you just where to drill the holes in the drawers for attachment screws, and the adjustment buttons. Might not be worth it for just one cabinet, in which case I use double stick tape, washer head screws and slightly over sized drill holes to accomplish the same thing. Inset drawers with integral faces are a bit more challenging to hang.

  6. #6
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    Ok. Thanks for the help so far.

    Reading some of the posts I realized I am going to have to do an applied drawer front. I was going to make it part of the drawer box construction but I would never get it aligned.

    Question: how do you calculate the placement of the drawer slides so the drawer front ends up being flush with the face frame when the drawer is closed?

    And It also got me thinking about the hinges for the door. This case is going to have a top on it and the door is going to be about 36" tall. In the past all my cabinet cases have been open on top and I could easily use that opening to mark where the hinges would go. Now with a sealed top and such a tall door I won't be able to mark the hinge placement from the inside

    Question: How do I calculate the hinge placement for the door?

    I know I have more questions that just havn't come up yet. Thanks for all the help.

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Griffin View Post
    When you install the kitchen, I'd suggest leaving a fuzz bigger gap on the bottom. Blum tandems and hinges especially can settle a hair with use and weight. Never in the history of cabinetry has a door moved UP on it's hinges....
    Very good point.
    Jon Endres, PE

  8. #8
    Keith - I would use the 3/32nd gap - I would also look at using either Blum or Salice Europeon hinges. You lose the effect of pin hinge showing on the face of the cabinet - however, if you leave the back off until you fit the door you can work from the backside to fit the hardware and the hinges are totally adjustable. You can get really nice gaps this way without fighting fixes hardware. To set the drawer guide depth we use a piece of drawer front material and set the guide to that. There is a little more to it than that. It is a little hard to explain on the forum. If you want to private message me your phone number I would be happy to explain it more fully.

    The old joke - The boss told the carpenter to use a dime to fit the door. The boss came back and there were big gaps around the door. The boss said I thought I told you to use a dime. The carpenter said "I didn't have a dime, I used two nickles.
    Thanks John
    Don't take life too seriously. No one gets out alive anyway!

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jul 2006
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    Quote Originally Posted by keith ouellette View Post
    Question: how do you calculate the placement of the drawer slides so the drawer front ends up being flush with the face frame when the drawer is closed?
    I also prefer the inset door and drawer design. I use the traditional (extruded) butt hinges. They do take a good bit of getting used to and time to install, but I find the final look worth it. I just can't get used to seeing those big bulky euro hinges that take up so much space inside the cabinet. The butt hinges are not cheap; about $25 a pair. The extruded ones seem to me to be the preferred way to manufacturer them (based on what I've read from the "experts" and my own experience.). They have less slop in the hinge plates and pins.

    Rather than installing the drawer face flush with the face frames, I like to purposely set the drawer faces back a tad from the face frame plane. It does at least two things: 1] tends to conceal any small gap inaccuracies, and 2] creates a nice shadow line that accentuates the drawers.

  10. #10
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    3/32 Is the magic number and industry standard for higher end stuff. 1/8" is too big and 1/16" is too tight. I put a few degrees back bevel on the hinge side to combat hinge bind and a slight bevel on the swing side if double doors to help the bind there too. I prefer to make shims per the job but its good to keep brass/metal precision shims around that you could pick up from mcmaster carr or somewhere similar.

    Keep in mind whatever you are taking off will be noticeable so be sure to add a 1/16" or so to the stiles and rails to compensate before machining the parts/gluing up (doors and drawers not faceframe).

  11. #11
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    This can actually be more complicated than you might think at first! If you truly want to do some math, you need to calculate the seasonal wood movement expectations and size your gaps according to the current season for inset doors. There was an article awhile back in one of the magazines around this topic...I don't recall which publication or it's date, unfortunately.

    I just wimp out and typically do 1/16", but have actually gotten in trouble with this on solid drawer fronts, resulting in the need to take a block plane to them later on so that they could be fully closed without engaging the face frames after they expanded across the grain.
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