Gilles' Outlet

April 13, 2007

Cabinetry 101: Carcass

Filed under: Woodworking — Gilles @ 11:35 pm

The carcass of a cabinet is machined and assembled.


Skill Level: 2-3 (Basic – Intermediate)

Time Taken: About Two Hours

There are two main techniques to build cabinets: Face Frame and Frameless (also called "European"):

      • Face Framed: the sides, top and bottom of the cabinet are assembled together to form the "carcass". The front facing part of the carcass is covered by a strip of solid wood called the "Face Frame". The frace frame gives strength to the assembly and offers a place to attach door hinges. Face frame cabinets are considered "traditional" in North America. They are a little more labor intensive to produce that frameless cabinets.
      •  Frameless: the sides, top and bottom of the cabinet are assembled together ("carcass"). Doors are specifically designed to attach to the carcass directly and conceal the visible ends of the carcass. This style of cabinetry is  very popular in Europe. A frameless cabinet can be built with less material and less hand labor than face framed cabinets but calls for precise cuts and therefore expensive equipment.

I already did frameless cabinets when I was in Europe a long time ago so I decided to learn techniques involved in bulding face framed cabinets.

Left: I cut the parts to length out of a sheet of 1/2 birch plywood, routed two rabets (top and back) and a dado (drawer divider). I used a straight 1/2” bit.

Actually, plywood is not guaranteed to have an uniform thickness – 1/2” is an average. This means that my 1/2” wide dadoes / rabbets will most likely be slightly too large for the 1/2” plywood board they will receive. There are router bits specifically designed to rout dadoes in plywood and produce a more snug fit. I do not own such a bit so I used a 1/2” straight bit.

Right: I used a piece of scrap plywood to push the workpiece and to act as a sacrificial backer piece. A backer piece greatly reduces the splintering at the end of the work piece.

Experienced carpenters may find it a little odd to use 1/2” plywood for the sides, drawer divider and back of the carcass. Usually, sides and drawer dividers are made out of 3/4” plywood while the back is made out of 1/4 plywood.

When I designed the carcass, I knew the cabinet would be used as a base for a router table. A router table does not take as much abuse as a workbench so I decided for 1/2” plywood and made the back a structural piece of the cabinet.

Left: the left side of the carcass. The drawer divider dado is easily visible and the right of the picture. The dado for the bottom can be seen at the left of the picture.

The rabbet at the far right of the board will receive the top while the rabbet at the bottom will receive the back.

Right: the right side of the carcass. Dadoes and rabets were machined to be the mere image of the right side. 

Left: I used a cordless drill to drill a few equally spaced holes from within the dadoes. It is easier to aim the drill when the carcass is not assembled.


Right: On the other side of the board, I coutnersunk the holes.

Left: I applied yellow wood glue on all rabbets and dadoes. I sat the carcass on its back and assembled sides, drawer divider and top.


Right: I measured both diagonals to ensure the carcass was square and made the necessary adjustments.

Left: I used a pneumatic brad nailer to secure the top with 1” brad nails. I drove approximatively 4 nails on each side.


Right: Using a cordless impact driver, I drove 1” drywall screws into the previously drilled and countersunk holes. This secured the bottom and drawer dividers to the sides.

I used a wet rag to remove excess glue which oozed outside of the joints.

It was not necessary to clamp the pieces as the glue dried because fasteners maintained the pieces in tight contact.

A coutnersunk screw. The screw head is flush with the side. I used approximately 4 screws per side and per board.

It is also possible to use a table saw to cut dadoes and rabbets. In fact this is the preferred way for many cabinet makers.

Tools Used:

  • Circular Saw
  • Cordless Impact Driver
  • Cordless Drill
  • Pneumatic Brad Nailer
  • Router
  • Straight Bit 1/2”
  • Countersinking drill bit
  • Router Table (optional)
  • Basic Carpentry Tools

Materials Used:

  • Birch Plywood 1/2”
  • Wood Glue
  • Drywall Screws 1”
  • Brad Nails 1”


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