Cope and Stick

Cope-and-stick joinery produces great-looking frames for cabinet doors, but you need specialized router bits or shaper cutters to do the job the traditional way.

  • Use a basic router bit in a new way to dress up those frame-and-panel doors.

    Cope-and-stick joinery produces great-looking frames for cabinet doors, but you need specialized router bits or shaper cutters to do the job the traditional way. Those items don't come cheap. So we found a low-cost, low-tech alternative, based on a simple dovetail bit.

    First, let's define some terms. "Stick" or "sticking" refers to the molded edge that's cut along the inside edge of the frame; pieces that meet that molding at a right angle must be "coped" to match the profile. Our technique replaces the usual round-over profile with a clean, simple bevel. It produces a subtle effect, not a dramatic one.

    If you have a router, a router table, a dovetail bit, and a slot cutter, you can do it the way we show here. Begin by cutting the stiles to their final length. Lay out the rails by adding 1" to the final inside width of the frame. That measurement will allow for a 12 " stub tenon on both ends of each rail.

  • Bevel the edges

    Install any dovetail bit with a 14 " shank in your router, mounted in a router table. A 12 " shank would rub against the middle of the workpiece and ruin your alignment. (Note: It's helpful to make several auxiliary fences with different-sized openings. For each bit, use a fence with an opening just big enough for that bit.)

    Raise the bit so that it extends to the top surface of the workpiece. Set the fence to allow the bit to slice off just enough material to bevel the top half of the inside edge, as shown in the drawing. Make that cut, then flip the piece over and mill the other half of the same inside edge. Rout all the rails and stiles this way.

  • Cut slots for the panel

    Switch to a 14 " slot cutter in your router. You could use a 14 " straight bit instead, but the slot cutter allows you to work with the pieces lying on their faces instead of balanced on edge. It's safer and more precise that way. Set the slot cutter to extend 12 " from the router fence, as shown in the drawing. Then, run the inside edge of each stile and each rail through the cutter to form a full-length slot.

  • Start forming the tenons

    Mount a dado blade on your tablesaw, and set it to cut a centered tenon 14 " thick on the rails, as shown. Support the workpiece with an auxiliary fence on your miter gauge. Run a test piece through first to make sure it fits snugly into the grooves made in the first step. Cut the tenons 38 " long, just to get some of the waste out of the way. You'll finish cutting them to length on the router table.

  • Finish the tenons

    Go back to the router table and re-install your dovetail bit. Adjust the height of the bit to match the bottom surface of the tenon.

    Now mark 12 " from the end of one tenon to establish the completed length of the tenon. Set the router table fence so that the point of the dovetail bit hits the mark, as shown. Rout the ends of the rails with this setup, finishing the top and bottom shoulder of each tenon.

  • Assemble the frame

    Now the rails and stiles fit together as shown. Make standard panels with 14 " sheet material or solid wood shaped to fit into the slots. We chose a third route and made raised panels out of the light-weight version of medium-density fiberboard. We glued the panels on all four edges and set them in the grooves. Glue plywood panels, too, but don't glue solid-wood panels in place.

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