Building new face frames for vintage cabs?

artemis78January 2, 2009


Wondered if any experienced woodworkers might be able to offer their insight on our current dilemma. We're attempting a kitchen facelift, and one of our challenges is that our beautiful 75-year-old built-in-place cabinets aren't deep enough to accommodate modern appliances (most notably a dishwasher). We're exploring various ways in which we might be able to adapt the original cabinets since if we gut them and replace them, we're not in a position to buy anything near their quality. I'm wondering whether it's possible to build a new face frame and either pull off the old and attach the new (it's somewhat loose already, but I'm not sure what it will do to the cabinet to actually pull it off) or, alternatively, attach a new face frame to the old one to pick up the extra inch or two that we'll need. (We would defer to a qualified cabinetmaker or finish carpenter to do the work itself, but I want to see whether what I'm proposing is even realistic before I start asking around.)

At the same time, we're contemplating getting new drawer boxes and doors for the cabinets. (The old boxes are pretty much done; doors could stick it out, but are designed for 3/8" partial offset hinges, and we've had trouble finding these. So did the old owner, apparently, and replaced several with awkwardly sized alternatives, which in several place required cutting chunks out of the cabinet face frames so the hinges would clear.)

Is it possible to do new face frames and doors/drawers all at once so that everything will be square, and then attach them to the existing boxes? The cabinets are 1939 built-in-place wood cabinets. They are not original to the house (house is c. 1915 and you can see the beadboard walls behind the cabs) so we don't think they're structural.

Would this plan work? If not, do we have many/any other options that might allow us to work with the existing cabinetry?



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My head hurts.

About half the cabinet value is in the face frame, door and drawer fronts. The other half is in the carcase. So what is the beautiful old quality that you're trying to keep?

Certainly, you can do a refacing and replace the doors and drawer fronts. Typically, the face frames are simply veneered over. Since it sounds like the original 1939 were site-built, the face frames are attached with whatever method the cabinetmaker was familiar with.

If you only need a couple more inches depth of the base cabinets, why not remove and replace the countertop, remove the bases from the wall, add a 2x4 behind them, and simply move out an inch and a half? No one will ever know that the boxes don't go all the way to the wall and you will gain the extra to insert a dishwasher, flush fit a stove, etc.

A cabinet shop should be able to make drawer boxes of whatever quality you want, from stapled together particleboard to dovetailed maple.

I'd suggest you get the book below from your library or bookstore and read it first.

Of course, I may still not understand what you are trying to accomplish.

Here is a link that might be useful: refacing kitchen cabinets

    Bookmark   January 2, 2009 at 6:39PM
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Thanks---I should clarify, the beauty (at least for us, having looked at lots of homes with Home Depot cabinets!) is in the construction of the boxes, which is rock solid. We don't mind the doors, but they are very 1940s while the rest of the house is Arts & Crafts, so we'd love to bring the kitchen back to that look and feel. The drawer boxes are failing, but if they can be easily repaired, they're fine as is in terms of the "look." (They're pretty simple construction---just plywood and nails---so nothing that necessarily needs preserving or not.) They are currently painted and will probably continue to be, so no need for veneers, etc., if we replace the doors.

Thanks---moving the cabinets in particular could be a good option, if that turns out to be feasible.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2009 at 6:50PM
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If the cabinets are built in place, it will probably be almost impossible to move them out without destroying them.

As to your plan, anything is possible. The question should be whether it's worth pursuing, and this seems unlikely. Attaching an additional layer of face-frame to the existing frame is a bad idea; you'd have to remove the old and build new. Like Bob, I am skeptical that your existing 'boxes' are so wonderful. They're too shallow, fitted with motley, mismatched hinges, and the drawers are shot. Building a face frame one inch thicker than usual means building it with lumber that's one inch thicker than typical. Thicker lumber is more expensive and, in many areas, much harder to obtain. Joining the pieces together will be trickier, and may have to be done on-site. There will be a lot of very careful measuring for the drawers, which will have to be custom-built; installing them will be a finicky process. On top of all that, you're concerned about the price. I suspect you'll find it difficult to locate a carpenter willing to do it at all, because it's slow, fussy, risky work and not very lucrative. If you succeed in finding someone, you may find the cost/benefit ratio rather high. But, hey, there's no harm in asking a few craftsmen to look at it.

If your plan doesn't pan out, you might look at local cabinet shops as an alternative to Lowes/HD.

    Bookmark   January 3, 2009 at 7:02AM
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I second jon1270's sentiments... old built-ins don't usually have much in the way of structure, other than their attachment to the walls. So removing them to move them a bit would probably be hard/expensive. Plus, your outside ends (if any) would then be gappy, so that would have to be dealt with.

If it comes to it, the hinges below might allow you to keep your not-so-beloved doors.

Here is a link that might be useful: 3/8 offset hinges

    Bookmark   January 6, 2009 at 5:17PM
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