Shop Projects – Part 2-Face Frame Layout - Popular Woodworking Magazine
 In Shop Blog, Shop Projects, Woodworking Blogs

New stands for our benchtop power tools are on my “to do” list, but I’m still waiting for the 2×4 material to come to equilibrium with our shop environment. In the meantime, I’m forging ahead on another project, a cabinet that will go below the windows where my current bench is.  
My style of working is to have the workbench accessible from all sides rather than up against a wall. I like to have a secondary horizontal surface behind me as I stand at the bench to put tools and parts on. The cabinet under this surface will be about 8′ wide with banks of drawers on each end, and four doors below drawers in the center.
While the tool stands I’m planning will be simple, I’m getting a bit carried away with this cabinet. It will be four plywood boxes on the inside, but the outside will have cherry panels on the ends, and a cherry beaded face frame with inset doors and drawer fronts. It will look like a typical built-in cabinet from the early 1900s, similar to pieces in my book “Shop Drawings for Craftsman Interiors.”

I haven’t built any casework in a while, and I guess I’m missing the process. I’ll document my progress in the blog, and I’ll be sharing some of my methods for working accurately and quickly.
I like the look of beaded face frames, but I think the method of applying the beads on the insides of the frames after they are put together isn’t the best way to do it. It saves some layout work, but it ends up being a lot of cutting and fitting. I also don’t think it looks as good as milling the bead as an integral part of the stiles and rails. The layout work is tricky, but I have two secret weapons , cheap clamps and a Starret 6″ adjustable square. In the first picture, I have the long top and bottom rails clamped together, so I can lay them both out at the same time.

One of the little-known uses of the adjustable square is to use it as a gauge for making repeated measurements. This is the location of one of the intermediate stiles in the face frame. I have the square’s blade set to the actual width of the stile. My first line is obtained by measuring, and I’m using the square to gauge the distance for my second line.

Setting the distance is incredibly easy. Here I’m setting the blade to the exact width of the bottom rail, so I can lay out the end stiles of the face frame. With the blade loose, I set the head of the square on the rail, drop the blade to make contact with the surface below, and tighten the knob. I’m holding the rail upright with two clamps , one attached to the rail and the other attached  to the first clamp and my work surface.

I then hold the stock of the square against the end of my stiles and mark them with the pencil against the end of the blade. The beauty of this is that in a matter of seconds, I have made an extremely precise measurement, and transferred it to a new location. The best part is I didn’t need to use a ruler or tape measure or deal with any numbers.  

After marking the location of the top rail, and the vertical space of the drawer opening, I need to mark the location of the bottom of the rail that runs below the top row of drawers. Instead of measuring, I hold a piece of my rail stock against the pencil line, and mark the opposite side. When I cut my joints I’ll stay between the lines, and I’ll get a good fit. I didn’t need to look for a tape measure (or my glasses to be able to see it) and I didn’t have to deal with any pesky fractions.

The intermediate stiles will share locations for drawer rails with the outer stiles. I can mark them all at once, as I did with the long top and bottom rails. Because of the beads, the top and bottom of these stiles are offset from the edge of the rails by the width of the bead. Once again I just slide the blade of the square where I want it to get the distance from the edge of the board to the edge of the bead.  

I mark this on the end of the stiles, then use that mark to line up the intermediate stiles with the outer stiles and clamp them together in a stack. In the photo below, the outer stiles are on the bottom, and the intermediate stiles are on top. You can see the offset to the right of the clamp.

Now that I have all the stiles connected with clamps, in the same orientation and location they will be in in the finished face frame, I mark the locations for the remaining cross rails. There are a lot of parts to the face frame, and if I want to keep the openings square and the joints tight, a good layout is critical. By ganging parts together, and using the adjustable square as a gauge, I can be confident that it will all fit together , even if the width of my parts varies from what I planned. It also took far less time than if I had measured every location individually.
Next time, I’ll be cutting the joints to miter the beads and hold the corners together.
 , Bob Lang 

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  • John Mercer

    Your article on using the cobination square is very good practical advice. One of the first tools i reach for when doing any casework layout is my combination square. One thing i hadnt considered was using the square for repeated marks thanks for the advice that is given to fellow woodworkers

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