People ask me all the time, “What’s the difference between face frame cabinets and frameless cabinets?” (also known as “full-access” cabinets).
Well the short answer is exactly what the name implies, face frame cabinets typically have a wood frame in the front that is glued to the cabinet box. The strength of box is supported by the face frame and usually the hinges and drawer guides are mounted to the face frame.
Frameless cabinets, also known as “full-access” cabinets have no face frame attached to the front of the box. The strength of the box is supported by a minimum 1/2″ thick back that is dado-ed and glued into the sides, top, and bottom of the box. The front of the box is “edge-banded” with real wood or PVC (plastic) edge-banding. The hinges and drawer guides are mounted directly to the sides of the box using the 32 mm system holes, which also support the adjustable shelf clips.
In my opinion, there are some features of the face frame method that are outdated. First of all, the face frame can block access to what’s inside your cabinet and actually take away from valuable drawer space. The face frame takes material/labor costs to make. Why not take the cost of that material/labor and apply it to a better location? You could upgrade the style of the doors or choose soft-close drawer guides and soft-close hinges (which do cut down on wear + tear of your cabinets). Also, the face frame method usually does not use the 32 mm system. (I will talk about the benefits of the 32 mm system later).
There are a few instances where a face frame cabinet is useful. A “slide -in linen” cabinet would be a suitable situation for a face frame cabinet.
The Advantages of Frameless Cabinets
The advantages of the “full-access” or frameless cabinet are, you are able to utilize the maximum available space in your kitchen. By eliminating the obstruction of the face frame, you gain valuable space in the width of your cabinet openings and the height of the available drawer space is increased as well. All of these benefits are achieved using the same amount of floor space as face frame cabinets while using less lumber to complete the job, reducing your “footprint” on the Earth! These advantages alone make frameless cabinets a better value. I can still make face frame cabinets for you if you’d like, but you’ll get more bang for your buck with full-access, frameless cabinets and the price is comparable. You will need to figure on putting hardware in the budget. Hardware is a necessary expenditure for frameless cabinets because there is 1/8″ clearance between doors and drawers.
Below is an example of a face frame cabinet and a full-access, frameless cabinet that are the same overall size.
Can you guess which one has more interior space?
The full-access door opening on the right is 22.8% larger than the face frame door opening on the left and the overall size of the cabinets are the same.
The full-access drawer on the right has a 51.8% larger interior space than the face frame drawer on the left and the overall width, height, and depth of the cabinets are the same.
On the left is a face frame style cabinet. On the right is a frameless, full-access cabinet.
Frameless construction means you’ll never have another spatula stuck in a drawer again.