Framed vs. Frameless Cabinets: What's The Difference?

October 26, 2021

When choosing or building cabinets, there are two types of construction methods to consider: face frame or frameless.

The difference has to do with the way the box is built. But is one better than the other? Each style has its own unique advantages and disadvantages. And can effect several aspects of your project like the materials you use, the type of cabinet door you pick, and the overall style of the space.

So to really find out if one is better than the other, we put together a comprehensive guide comparing the two cabinet styles. It's a cabinet face-off. Let's get into it.

What are face frame cabinets?

As the name suggests, face frame cabinets are cabinets with a face frame.

The 1-½ inch frame covers the front of the cabinet box and is comprised of rails and stiles, often resembling a picture frame.

source: Fred the Oyster, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

The point of this frame is to support the box and cabinet structure. It adds durability and strength, but in some cases, this can mean the cabinets themselves are made from thinner materials.

source: Fred the Oyster, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Referred to as a more traditional style, face frame cabinets are the American way to build cabinets. The doors are connected to the box using hinges that are installed on the frame.

Framed inset cabinets

With framed cabinets, you have three different cabinet door overlay styles to select from:

  • A full overlay, meaning the doors cover the reveal completely.
  • A standard overlay (or partial-overlay) which shows a reveal.
  • And an inset door, which fits entirely inside the reveal.

Advantages of face frame cabinets

Strong. Framed cabinets are the sturdier of the two because the cabinet doors are secure to the frame.

More versatile. As mentioned above, you have three style options with framed cabinets: inset, standard, and full overlay cabinet doors. This allows you to really create a customized look for your cabinets.

Affordable. Framed cabinets are usually less expensive than frameless cabinetry.

Ease of installation. Since face frame cabinets are more common in America, most installers know how to install.

Disadvantages of face frame cabinets

Less space. There is slightly less storage space on face frame cabinets when compared to frameless cabinets. For example, drawers have 1-½ inch less interior space because of the frame overhang.

Less accessibility. There is less access to the interior because of the center stile and frame overhang.

Face frame is always visible. Even with full overlay cabinet doors, the face frame will be visible so you need to keep that in mind when visioning your kitchen project.

What are frameless cabinets?

Frameless cabinets, on the other hand, do not have an additional frame. The cabinet door attaches directly to the side wall of the cabinet with hinges installed on the box.

source: Fred the Oyster, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

In other words, when the cabinet doors are closed, there is no reveal around the door. And the cabinet ends are automatically flush.

Frameless cabinets originated in Europe and are often referred to as European style cabinets. They offer a minimal, simplistic, more contemporary look and are often paired with slab or shaker doors to help compliment the cleaner design.

Frameless cabinets

They're extremely common in commercial construction, like hospitals and schools.

Since the doors can only be mounted to the sides of the box, only full-overlay doors can be used. But frameless cabinets do offer more accessibility and extra storage space because there's no center stiles between two cabinet doors.

So if you're working with a smaller kitchen, frameless cabinets are probably your best bet.

Frameless cabinet

With no frame to offer extra support, frameless cabinets rely on thicker box materials for strength and stability. It needs thicker sides to support the weight of the items inside.

Advantages of frameless cabinetry

Bigger drawers. There's no face frame overhang, which means wider and deeper drawer boxes with frameless cabinetry.

More storage. There are no center stiles coming down the middle of large cabinets, offering more storage space. Plus, roll out trays and other accessories can be the full width of the cabinet.

source: Tomwsulcer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Shelves are easily adjustable since you don't have to work around the face frame.

Sleek. Frameless cabinetry provides a sleek and simple aesthetic that works with many design themes.

More material options. With face frame cabinets, you can really only use hardwood. But with frameless, you have a lot more options including veneer core plywood, particle board, and other composite materials.

Easier to build. To build frameless cabinets, you don't need any hardwood. It's all sheet materials. Plus building the face frame is a whole step you don't have to do.

Disadvantages of frameless cabinets

Fewer styles. Because they're not as popular as face frame cabinets, there are usually less styles, sizes, and modifications available to choose from.

More upfront material cost. Because frameless cabinetry can't rely on a face frame for support and added strength, they usually need to be made out of ¾" thick material, which comes with a higher price tag.

Difficult to install in older homes. If you're installing frameless cabinets in older homes, you may run across uneven walls or floors. Because those walls aren't perfect and construction isn't square, your frameless cabinets won't fit properly and might be more difficult to install.

Not suitable for wider cabinets. Because there's no frame, there's less horizontal strength. In many cases this doesn't matter, but in a wider cabinet it's something to be aware of.

So which one's better?

There are a lot of variables to consider on whether to go with frameless or face frame cabinets. Things like: your design style, the space it's going in, and the cabinet door style you want. And if you're just starting out, it's best to figure out what style cabinets you want to do so you know what equipment to invest in.

But in terms of material, ease of installation, and construction of the cabinets, we put together a cheat sheet to help you compare the two:

At the end of the day, it all comes down to personal preference. There's really not a wrong choice here.

Designing a kitchen or cabinet project? Read more about cabinet construction and design here:

 

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