Frame and Panel Door

Frame and Panel Door

Great results in 10 simple steps.

By Tim Johnson

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Name a cabinet’s parts, and you’re sure to include doors—one of woodworking’s elemental structures. Cabinet doors come in every shape and form and they can be made a hundred different ways. This story features a popular form and a foolproof method: Using a router table equipped with stile and rail cutters to create a frame and panel door.

The door

A frame and panel structure creates a stable solid-wood door (see Door Structure, at right). Vertical stiles and horizontal rails form a rigid frame with minimal seasonal movement. The panel floats inside the frame, housed in grooves, so its seasonal movement is hidden, especially if the panel is stained and finished before it’s installed.

Usually, the stiles and rails are the same width, but making the bottom rail 1/4-in. to 1/2-in. wider subtly balances the door. Doors look best when the stiles and rails are made from straight-grained stock. This provides an orderly appearance and focuses attention on the panel. Using straight-grained stock also minimizes the door frame’s seasonal movement. Panels look best when they’re thoughtfully constructed, either to show striking figure or cohesive grain pattens.


The cutters

Stile and rail cutters create a decorative version of the tongue and groove joint (Fig. A, page 3). They’re available as a single reversible bit or in dedicated sets. Reversible bits usually cost less; dedicated sets are more convenient to use. Dedicated sets include separate bits for the end grain and the edge grain (Fig. B, page 3). All cuts are made with the face of the workpiece against the table. Reversible bits have to be disassembled and reassembled between cutting operations. Also, some cuts are made with the workpiece face-side-up; others are made face-side-down. This story shows how to make doors using a dedicated set of stile and rail cutters.


Prepare your stock

For inset doors, plan to make your door the same dimensions as the door opening (for lipped and overlay doors, add the lip/overlay widths). Consider the overlapping joints when you calculate the door’s width (Figure C, page 3). Determining the door’s length is easy: Just cut the stiles to the length of the door opening. Door panels are housed on all four sides in the frame’s groove, so include the overlaps when you calculate both the panel’s width and height.

Include extra test pieces when you rip your stile and rail stock (Photo 1). Once the pieces are cut to length and width, mark their back sides. Use these marks to correctly orient the pieces for routing.


Make the end grain cuts first

Begin by routing the rails’ end grain. (To remember to rout the rails before the stiles, think of the alphabet: “R” comes before “S.”)

Install the rail bit and make a test cut. (Photos 2 through 4). On the test piece, check the profile’s top lip and bottom rabbet. For appearance and strength, the lip should measure at least 1/16-in. and the rabbet should measure at least 3/16-in. For maximum support, don’t cut into the jig’s backboard during your test cuts. Wait until the bit is set at the correct height.

After you’ve completed the end grain cuts on the rails, install the stile cutter and rout the inside edges of both the stiles and rails (Photos 5 through 7).

Click any image to view a larger version.

Door structure

A typical cabinet door consists of vertical stiles and horizontal rails that surround a panel. The panel is housed in grooves cut in the stiles and rails. The panel can be flat, as shown here, or have a raised center, with the edges tapered to fit in the grooves. Raised panels are enormously popular, but it’s hard to top the understated elegance of a flat panel with pleasing grain or figure.

Fig. B: The Cutters

The rail bit is used to make end grain cuts on the rails. It creates a tongue with a profile and a rabbet.

The stile bit is used to make edge grain cuts on both the stiles and rails. It creates a mirror- image groove and profile.

4. Make a test cut to check your set up. Adjust the bit’s height and the fence, if necessary. Then rout the ends of all the rails—your marks on the back faces show when the rails are oriented correctly, front face down.

6. Cut a test piece, using featherboards to hold it in position and a push stick to move it through.

8. Create 1/4-in.-thick tongues all around the panel to fit the grooves in the stiles and rails.

9. Glue the door together one joint at a time. As you go, make sure the outside edges of each joint are flush. First assemble one corner (1). Next, install the panel (2). You should never glue in a solid wood panel, because of seasonal movement, but it’s okay to glue in a plywood panel. Position the remaining rail (3) and then install the remaining stile (4).

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker March 2008, issue #134.

March 2008, issue #134

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