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Attaching the Face Frame

This wardrobe/armoire is only the second time I’ve used nails to attach a frame to a carcase. Interestingly, the other time was also a wardrobe. For years I have resorted to either biscuits or dowels or just glue. I hate biscuits (noisy machine .. yuk!) and dowels are finicky.

So the issues are, who else nails on frames and what spacing for the nails?

I used both nails and glue in attaching the frames for the doors. The nails are 8” apart over a frame of 42”.

Tools of the trade ..

I use a Japanese hammer, which has a flat and a domed end. The flat side is for hammering to the edge of the surface of the wood, and then the domed end is use to tap it gently to the surface without marring the surrounding wood.

The frame was partly pre-drilled for the nails, mainly to prevent splitting and also to ensure that they went where I wanted them to go!

The nails are the thinnest I felt I could use, approximately 1/32” diameter and 1 ¼” long. The frame is a little under ¾” thick.

Frankly, I am not sure if the nails are doing anything structural, or whether it is the glue that holds it all together.

A sequence of nailing (self explanatory)..

The nail holes are filed with wax. I mixed up a colour that matched the darker figure.

How well does the wax disguise the holes? Here is a sequence of views …

At this stage of the build: frames-and-doors and base attached .. total height is 51" ... still to do is the drawer, handles and top.

Here are a few comments from WoodCentral Handtool Forum:

Ron Bauman: Perfectly Respectable. As a former restorer I ran across many pieces of furniture constructed with nails. There is also a sneaky way of hiding them: using a narrow chisel, you pry up a sliver of wood without breaking it free and nail under the curl. Then you glue the curl back in place and viola! no trace. It works best in wood with a busy grain such as the one shown in your pics.

Warren: Using Nails. Derek, our traditional work has either tapered pins or nails and also no glue. Sometimes the frame is removed for restoration work. On old work you would see much bigger nails than you use, cut nails that are more like 1 3/4 inches long and more stout. I don't think the nails you have offer much strength. On old work we see both visible nail heads and nails that are sunk and filled.

Today's kitchen cabinet makers tend to glue the face frames on with no nails. They are junked when the get old. I know guys who have made replacements for cabinets they themselves had made just twenty years earlier.

Stephen Shepherd: Next time .. just use cut nails, they look great and hold much better than those new fancy French wire nails. I use an awl for the holes, so as not to remove any wood, then line the nails up with the wedge with the grain, hold them with pincers to keep them from twisting and drive them home. Tip the head of the nail away from you at a slight angle before striking.

I also dip them in the grease cup first to give them a lube of 75% beeswax and 25% tallow. Also by not drilling away the wood it will swell back up around the nail making it nearly invisible, if you use the fine cut headless brads.

Regards from Perth


December 2009