Making Cathedral Doors

11115 5F00 lead Making Cathedral Doors

Making Cathedral Doors

A time-tested recipe for making beautiful cathedral raised-panel doors.

By George Vondriska

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Cathedral raised-panel doors are beautiful, but they can be intimidating
to make. After many years of teaching
students how to make these doors, I’ve got
a trick or two up my sleeve to simplify the
process and remove some of the fear factor.
Here’s a tried-and-true recipe to help you
safely and successfully make beautiful doors.

There are a few specialized tools you must have to make cathedral doors. Start with a suitable router table. It should be equipped with a 2-hp or higher variable-speed router that accepts 1/2-in.-shank router bits. You’ll also
need a set of door-making router bits, a cathedral template
set, and a bandsaw or jigsaw for cutting the curves.
The bits and templates are a big part of what makes this
technique airtight. The good news is the router bits are
not specific to cathedral-top doors; they can be used to
make any frame-and-panel door.

You’ll need a two-piece matched rail-and-stile set to
make the frame. It’s easier to get good results with a twopiece
set than with a one-piece reversible bit. With a twopiece
set, you feed all the pieces face down. Reversible
bits use one arbor with removable cutters. Some parts
are machined face up, others face down. This often
results in poor alignment between rails and stiles. Plus,
it’s a hassle to have to change cutters on the arbor. Bits
with a 1/2-in. shank will produce less chatter and a
smoother cut than those with 1/4-in. shank.


Make the frame

First, cut all the frame pieces (see “Sizing a Door,”
page 10). For a good-looking, stable door, make the
frame from straight-grained wood.

Mark the back of all the frame pieces. They get
machined with their good faces down, so you should be
looking at the mark on the back for all the cuts.

2. Set the fence even with the face of the ball bearing.
A straightedge makes quick work of this job.

Click any image to view a larger version.

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5. Rout the rail ends. Remember, the back of the board is
face up for all cuts. To ensure a uniform cut, keep consistent
downward pressure on the sled at all times.

cathedral door 5F00 5 Making Cathedral Doors

7. Flush-trim the rail with a template guide and a flush-trim
bit. Use double-faced tape to adhere the pattern to the
rail. The fence is replaced with a bit cover and starter pin
assembly (see Recommended Gear, page 8).

cathedral door 5F00 7 Making Cathedral Doors

8. Set the height of the long-grain cutter by aligning the
groove cutter with the tongue on the end of a machined rail.
The top of the cutter should be even with the top of the tongue.

cathedral door 5F00 8 Making Cathedral Doors

12. Machine the long-grain edges of every frame piece,
including the straight portions of the arched rail. Make
sure the piece is face down. You should be able to see the
mark on the back of the piece when you’re machining it.

cathedral door 5F00 12 Making Cathedral Doors

14. Complete the long-grain cut by pivoting off the starter
pin and riding the router-bit bearing through the entire
length of the arched rail. Use push blocks to keep consistent
downward pressure on the rail throughout the cut.

cathedral door 5F00 14 Making Cathedral Doors

Make the panel

Rip the panel to width (see “Sizing a Door,” page 10),
but don’t cut it to length until after you’ve flush-trimmed
the arch on top, just in case you have a problem with
the flush-trimming step. Mark the back of the panel to
remind you to keep it face down on the router table.

19. Make the first pass on the panel with the face of the fence
set even with the large bearing. The first cut is made on
the panel’s bottom edge. Rotate the panel counterclockwise and
make the second cut on the long-grain edge. Keep the panel
moving in one continuous motion to prevent burning. Cuts 3 and
4 will require different setups.

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20. Set up to cut the panel arch (Cut 3) by removing the fence
and clamping the bit cover and starting pin in place. Turn
on the router and position the arch against the starting pin without
contacting the bit.

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Assembling the door

Sand all the pieces and prefinish the panel before putting the door together.
Be careful when sanding the long-grain profile on the
stiles. If you sand too much, the stiles won’t mate with
the rails the way they should.

Have everything you need ready before applying the
first drop of glue. Glue dries fast, and you don’t want
the glue to start setting up while you’re running around
the shop looking for a clamp.

23. Glue in sequence from 1 to 5. Start with a stile and
the top rail. Add the panel, then the bottom rail, and
capture it all with the last stile. Keep the edge of the rail dead
even with the end of the stile.

cathedral door 5F00 23 Making Cathedral Doors

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker November 2004, issue #111.

AW04NOV 5F00 Cover Making Cathedral Doors

November 2004, issue #111

Purchase this back issue.


Purchase the complete version of this technique story from


 Making Cathedral Doors

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