Simple frame-and-panel doors in 30 minutes

In the time it takes to sit through a sitcom on TV, you can have some real fun creating sturdy, no-fuss doors.

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Simple frame-and-panel doors in 30-minutes

Frame-and-panel doors add class to any project, but they don't have to add a lot of assembly time. Using the straightforward process detailed here, you can crank out great-looking doors for many applications, including furniture, cabinets, and built-ins. Frames use 34 "-thick stock with 14 " panels in various materials and veneers. A general-purpose saw blade will do the job, although a dado stack cuts smoother tenons.

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Started with a well-tuned tablesaw

Take a few minutes to tune your tablesaw before cutting any project parts. Check that the fence and miter slots run parallel to the blade. Attach an extension to the miter gauge, and use a drafting triangle to square the gauge to the blade. Then lock your blade at precisely 90° to the tabletop. Okay, let's start the stopwatch.

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How to determine frame-and-panel door dimensions

To size an inset door for a specific opening, first subtract 18 " from the size of the opening to allow a 116 " reveal around the door. Then figure the part sizes as follows:

*The length of the stiles A equals the door height.

*The rail length B equals the door width minus two times the stile width C plus 34 " for the two 38 " tenons.

*The panel width D equals the length of B minus 116 ".

*The panel length E equals just less than the stile length A minus two times the rail width C plus 34 ".

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Rip the rails and stiles to width

Step 1

Calculate your door dimensions using the plan, slide 2. From 34 " stock, rip all rail-and-stile stock to width C (2" wide in the photo). Cut extra stock just in case you make a mistake. See slide 3.

Success secrets: For uniform color and grain match between the frame parts, cut them from the same board. The technique we'll use later to cut grooves and tenons requires stock exactly 34 " thick, so thickness plane all frame stock at one time. Then take advantage of these doors' easy assembly, and complete the remaining steps before the wood has time to move.

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Cut the stiles, then the rails

Step 2

Attach a spacer block near the front of the fence with double-faced tape, and lock the fence where the distance between the block and blade equals the stile length A. Cut the stiles, re-adjust the fence, and cut the rails B.

Success secrets: Because the workpiece slides free of the fence-mounted spacer block before you cut, there's little danger of kickback. Cut your longest frame parts (usually the stiles) first. Why? If you make a measurement mistake, you can reuse the miscut piece for the shorter rails.

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Test the blade height in scrap

Step 3

Adjust the blade height to 38 " and set the fence to center the blade on the edge of a frame scrap. Make a test cut and measure the depth. If your blade has alternating-bevel teeth that leave an uneven groove bottom, sand it flat.

Success secrets: Grooves, as illustrated on slide 3, can be cut in fewer passes with a regular blade instead of a thin-kerf blade. Once you perfect the depth, lock the blade height to ensure uniform cuts on each piece. Reduce tear-out by using a zero-clearance tablesaw insert.

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Test-cut for groove width

Step 4 

Move the fence away from the blade about 116 ". Cut one groove in scrap, then turn it end-for-end for a second pass. Measure the width of the groove, and gradually move the fence away from the blade until the two cuts produce a 14 "-wide groove. (Every fence movement doubles the width of the groove.)

Success secrets: Measure your panel thickness before cutting grooves into the frame. Actual panel stock thickness may vary slightly from 14 ", especially if you try some of the decorative panels. You can increase or decrease the groove width up to 116 " to accommodate your panel thickness.

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Groove the rails and stiles

Step 5 

Cut a kerf on one edge of a stile or rail. Rotate the part end-for-end and make the second pass to complete the groove, as in Step 4, slide 7. Repeat both cuts for the remaining rails and stiles.

Success secrets: For consistency, use a feather board as shown. Feed stock over the blade as quickly as possible to avoid burning the inside of the groove, which can reduce the strength of the glue joint. (Scorched surfaces do not absorb glue well.)

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Plan your panels

Step 6 

For maximum visual impact, center prominent grain shapes, such as cathedral pattern. To visualize the final look, mask out the width of the panel using two strips of cardboard spaced apart the same width as the panel. If necessary, add two more pieces of cardboard to mark the top and bottom of the panel. Then mark the area to be cut.

Success secrets: If your plywood has a glue line on its face, avoid it on the panel or center it as a pattern element.

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Cut panels to size

Step 7

Using the marks from slide 9 as a guide, cut the panel to size.

Success secrets: To prevent tear-out, use a zero-clearance throat insert. If cross-cutting tear-out extends more than 38 " in from the ends of the panel, replace or resharpen your saw blade.

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Cut test tenons in scrap

Step 8 

Install a dado blade slightly wider than 38 ", and raise it to just greater than 14 " high. Attach the spacer block used in Step 2, slide 5, to the front of the fence; then set the fence to leave a 38 " gap between the spacer block and the left side of the blade. Butt the end of a frame scrap against the spacer block before dadoing each face.

Success secrets: To reduce tear-out, use a zero-clearance dado-blade insert.

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Test-fit the tenons

Step 9 

Check the tenon fit on a stile groove. If the tenon is too thick, raise the blade height, and recut until it fits. Now check the tenon length. To cure gaps at the groove bottom, nudge the fence away from the blade. To eliminate gaps at the tenon shoulders, move the fence closer to the blade. Then cut tenons on the ends of each rail.

Success secrets: A too-thick tenon can be fixed easier than one that's too thin. Anticipate minor differences in groove widths by leaving a little extra to be removed in the next step.

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Fine-tune the tenon thickness

Step 10 

To thin slightly oversize tenons, make a sanding block by attaching 100-grit, adhesive-backed sandpaper to one face of a hardboard scrap. Sand using the same number of passes on each side of the tenon to keep it centered.

Success secrets: This also eliminates minor scoring from the dado blade, producing a stronger glue joint. By applying sandpaper to just one face of the scrap, you avoid marring the tenon shoulders.

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Glue and assemble the frame

Step 11

Dry-fit the joints with the panel to confirm the correct panel size. Then glue one tenon on each rail, and seat them at the ends of a stile. Insert the panel, glue the other two rail tenons, and add the other stile. Clamp and check for square by measuring diagonally for equal distances between the corners.

Success secrets: To keep loose panels from rattling, apply a spot of glue to only the centers of both rail grooves.

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Optional step: Sand the grooves flat

If the groove bottom is ridged from the blade's teeth, lower the blade height about 164 ". Then attach a strip of adhesive-backed sandpaper to the edge of a 732 "-thick hardboard scrap, and use it to sand away the ridges. Sand with the same number of strokes in each groove for consistent depth.

To eliminate this step, cut grooves with a flat-tooth ripping blade or high-quality dado set. Both leave fewer ridges or score marks on the groove bottom.

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Use different materials for different looks

Just because these doors are quick to make doesn't mean they cramp your creativity. To go beyond the basics, rout a cove, round-over, or ogee profile around the front edges of the assembled door. (Do the rails first to limit tear-out.)

For contrast, mix wood species, such as a walnut panel in a maple frame. Then try one of the combinations shown above or one of the following panels:

  • Punched tin alone or over hardboard.
  • Mirrors or decorative glass.


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