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Building Kitchen Cabinets In Place - Continued

Reverse Toespace

Taking the cabinet face straight to the floor gives the kitchen a distinctive look, but you can't eliminate the toespace without making it difficult to stand at the counter. One solution is to project the upper drawers and dead-panels instead, effectively giving the same ergonomic benefit. We overhung the faces at the sinks and stove, recessing the lower doors by about 21/2 inches (Figure 5). To help compensate for the slight awkwardness of the recessed doors, I built pull-out shelves on full-extension slides and installed a slide-out dishtowel rack under the sink.

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Figure 5. In place of a toespace, the dead-panel and upper drawer fronts stand proud of the doors below by 21/2 inches. Lower access is improved by the installation of pull-out shelves and a slide-out towel rack.Inset doors and drawers are distinguishing characteristics of this style of cabinet, but they're time consuming to install if you want nice, even reveals and flush surfaces. A secondary beaded strip lining the finished opening looks nice and helps conceal small deviations, but you can't get away with much. To make drawer installation and alignment as effortless as possible, I construct the drawer boxes and make a support frame of equal height surrounding each drawer (Figure 6). I use my framing square to gauge the positioning of the full-extension steel-roller-bearing Accuride (Santa Fe Springs, Calif.; 562/903-0200, http://www.accuride.com) drawer slides I prefer. The 2-inch-wide blade determines placement on the frame, and the 11/2-inch-wide tongue determines placement on the drawer sides. The resulting 1/2-inch offset gives plenty of clearance at the top of the drawer for the slight upward movement required by a self-closing slide. I can simply lower the drawer and frame assembly into the topless cabinets and adjust its location to true the drawer front in the opening, which means I never have to climb inside the cabinet to install or adjust the hardware.

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Figure 6. A support frame simplifies hardware installation and drawer alignment. The author premounts the slides on drawer and frame, then aligns and screws the subassembly into place before the countertops are installed.

Face alignments. I install the drawer faces after the boxes are installed. Wood shims hold an even margin around the face while I shoot a couple of brads to fix the position (see top photo) before opening the drawer and permanently securing the face from inside with four screws.

I make traditional frame-and-panel doors with the help of a few router bit profiles and a router table. (Incidentally, I make all of the crown moldings, sticking, and custom profiles I work with right on site, with nothing more than the router table and a portable surface planer.) The door stiles and rails are tenoned and pinned with 1/4-inch maple dowels. I use 3/4-inch MDF for the panels, which float in the frames. The stable MDF ensures that the door will remain flat -- critical for an inset-style door. Even though I take pains to make the openings in the face frame plumb and square, the doors are trickier to fit than the drawers. Before the countertop is installed, it's pretty easy to reach inside and support the door while shimming the reveals. If necessary, I can plane a door edge to fine-tune the margins. For consistency, I mark the hinge locations with a site-fabricated jig before cutting the mortises in the door and frame with a freehand router. An off-center screw can throw the hinge -- and therefore the door adjustment -- out of whack, but a vix bit, made for predrilling hinge screw holes, makes screw centering automatic.

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Figure 7. The author prefers to install all finish hardware prior to painting, to determine the best appearance and eliminate the need to patch holes in the finish.

Painting. Before I turn my work over to the painters, I fill all the holes with wood dough, finish-sand the surfaces, and install all the finish hardware (Figure 7). That gives us one more chance to reposition a pull for better appearance, if need be, while still leaving time to repair the holes before the finish goes on.

Ron Girard is a freelance carpenter and cabinetmaker from Hyannis, Mass.