Building Cabinet Doors
Easy Shaker Style Doors


If you've put off building cabinet doors because you think you need all kinds of special tooling and expensive router bits, try your hand at making these great looking doors styled after shaker cabinet doors using nothing more than your table saw.

With simple stub tenon and groove construction for the frame and 1/4" plywood for the center panel, these doors are quickly and easily built using basic table saw techniques.

Dimensioning your stock

If you have a jointer and planer, you can mill your own stock as I did or you can pick up pre-milled hardwood lumber at your local building supply center. If you go the supply center route, make sure the lumber you buy is straight with no twists or cupping. Building cabinet doors with crooked lumber will leave you with a crooked door.

When making cabinet doors for european style cabinets, the doors will be the same height as the cabinet box. The width depends on whether it's a single or double door cabinet, with a single door spanning the full width of the box and double doors only half the width.

Building cabinet doors - the styles and rails are cut to size. The stiles and rails cut to length and ready to be grooved.

When building cabinet doors for a face frame cabinet, the doors need to be 1" wider and 1" taller than the opening in the face frame. This will allow the doors to overlay the face frame 1/2" on all sides.

Each door has five parts. The stiles are the two vertical pieces running the length of the door. The rails are the two horizontal pieces between the stiles at the top and bottom of the door. The panel makes up the center of the door and is held in place by fitting into centered grooves cut 1/2" deep in the inside edge of the stiles and rails.

The stiles and rails can be any width you'd like, but the norm is anywhere between 1 1/2" to 3", depending on what kind of look you're after. Some people like the look of wide rails with narrower stiles, but I prefer my stiles and rails to be the same width. The width on these doors is 2 1/8".

As mention earlier, the stiles are cut the same length as the finished door. The rail length is determined by doing a bit of simple math. As an example, I want my doors to have a finished width of 14 1/2". So if I subtract the width of both stiles (2 1/8" x 2 = 4 1/4") from the width of the door, I'm left with 10 1/4". This is the distance between the two stiles, but we still have to add tenons to the rails.

The tenons on the ends of the rails will be the same length as the depth of the grooves cut in the rails and stiles. In this case 1/2". So if we add twice this amount to the 10 1/4" measurement from above, we have a total width of 11 1/4" for the rails.

The simple plywood center panels that I'm using for these doors requires only a small amount of clearance in the grooves, so I make my panels 1/32" shorter in both width and length than the distance from groove bottom to groove bottom. When building cabinet doors this way, the panel isn't glued in, but rather is left to float in the grooves.

Cut the grooves

The grooves run the full length of the stiles and rails and are centered on the inside edge of each piece. To make sure you end up with a flat bottom in your groove, a saw blade with a flat topped tooth should be used. I use one of the outside blades out of my dado blade set, which has a beveled tooth alternating with a flat topped tooth.

Most quality combination and ripping blades will have flat topped teeth on them also and will make good candidates for building cabinet doors with stub tenons and grooves. If you use a crosscut ATB type blade, you'll leave little hills and valleys and the tenons won't close properly in the stiles.

Building cabinet doors - Making the first pass over the blade to cut the groove. The first pass is cut just off the center of the workpiece. A featherboard holds the board against the fence.

Building cabinet doors - Making the first pass over the blade to cut the groove. The board is flipped end for end and a second pass through the blade centers the groove.

Whether you buy or mill your stile and rail material, have an extra length for a test piece and use it to make your set-up for the grooves. To cut the grooves, set your blade height at 1/2" and adjust the fence so the left edge of a tooth is just off the centerline of the workpiece. Use a featherboard to keep your stock firmly against the fence.

Run your test piece through the blade and then flip it end for end and run it through again to center the groove. Check to see if your panel material fits in the groove. Chances are it won't at this point and the fence will need to be adjusted away from the blade to widen the groove.

Building cabinet doors - checking the fit of the center panel in one of the stiles. Check the fit of the center panel in one of the stiles or rails.

You'll need to be careful of how much you move the fence because you're removing material from both sides of the groove. A light tap or two is usually sufficient. Remember to readjust your featherboard after moving the fence.

Run the test piece through again both ways and recheck the panel fit. If it still doesn't fit, creep up on it some more.

Your center panel material should be a slip fit in the groove. It shouldn't have to be forced in and it shouldn't have any slop. Once you get there, you can cut the grooves in your stiles and rails with two passes for each piece. Whether you're making one door or a hundred, cut the grooves in all your stiles and rails with this set-up before moving to the next step.

Cut the tenons

There are a couple of quick and easy ways to cut the tenons on the rails. The method I'm using here utilizes a sacrificial fence with a dado stack and miter gauge. If you don't have a dado stack, you can still cut the tenons this way with the same blade you used for the grooves by cutting the shoulder first and then clearing the rest of the waste with several cuts.

I've also cut these type of tenons with my crosscut sled and dado jig attachment with great success. Once the adjustable stop block is set for the correct distance, the tenons can be quickly and precisely cut. Not everyone has a crosscut sled though, but most have a miter gauge, so this is the route I took for this article.

Setting the dado blade height. Adjust the dado blade height a hair below the groove for the first cut.

Install your sacrificial fence and set your dado blade width to 3/4". Adjust the fence so that 1/2" of the blade is sticking proud of the fence face, with the rest buried inside the fence.

Lay one of your rails up against the blade and adjust the blade height to a hair below the groove you cut earlier. Like the grooves, we'll sneak up on the tenon thickness to get a snug fit in the groove.

Screw a plywood fence to your miter gauge so that the right edge is just touching the blade. This will help prevent any tear-out where the blade exits the workpiece. Make sure to check that your miter gauge is perfectly square with the miter slot.

Building cabinet doors - Cutting the first cheek of the tenon. With the workpiece butted against both fences, it's run through the blade to form one side of the tenon.

Building cabinet doors - cutting the other side of the tenon. After the workpiece is flipped edge for edge, the other side of the tenon can be formed.

You can use the test piece from the previous step to set the blade height for the tenons. Cut the first side of the tenon by placing the workpiece edge against the miter gauge fence and placing one end against the sacrificial fence. Run the workpiece through the blade to remove the excess material.

Building cabinet doors - the finished parts ready to be assembled. With the tenons and grooves cut, the door is ready for assembly.

Flip the workpiece edge for edge on the miter gauge and cut the other side of the tenon. Check to see if it fits in one of your stiles. If not, raise the blade slightly and repeat the cuts on both sides of the tenon. You're removing material from both sides, so be careful about how much you raise the blade.

You'll want the tenon to be a snug fit in the groove, but not so tight that it has to be forced. A few light taps with a mallet should seat it fully. A bit tight here is much preferable to a bit loose, as the tenon cheeks can be lightly sanded for a perfect fit if it looks like another cut will be too much. Once the correct blade height is determined, cut the tenons on each end of both rails.

Assemble your cabinet doors

Before I assemble my doors, I finish sand the panels and the inside edges of the stiles and rails. These areas are difficult to get at when the door is glued together. When sanding the inside edge of the stile, don't sand where the rail and stile join or you could create gaps where they meet.

I'll then dry fit each door to be sure that the shoulders of the rails will close completely against the stiles and that the center panel has room to float in the grooves.

If you're going to use wood stain on the doors, stain the center panel before assembly. If the panel shifts in the grooves later on, it won't reveal any unstained areas. Attention to small details like these when building cabinet doors will keep your doors looking great for years down the road.

Building cabinet doors - glue is applied to the tenons. Apply glue to the cheeks of the tenons during assembly.

I like to use a couple of 2 x 4's to lay the doors on during assembly. I joint one edge and then plane them to a uniform height. This gives me a level platform that will allow me room for clamping, but I can also tell if the door is laying flat if it's touching at all four corners.

With a stile standing on edge on the platform, apply a thin layer of glue to the tenon cheeks on one end of a rail. Add a thin layer to the groove where the tenon will sit and insert the tenon, making sure the edge of the rail is even with the end of the stile. Tap it in place and check for square. Slip the panel in the grooves and then add the other rail like the first.

Building cabinet doors - clamping the assembly. Lay the door assembly on the planed 2 x 4's and clamp. If the door is touching the 2 x 4's at each corner, you'll know the door is flat.

Apply glue to the top tenons and the ends of the grooves in the other stile and tap the stile into place. Check to make sure your rail edges are even with the ends of the styles at each corner.

Lay the door assembly flat on the platform and clamp across the stiles about the midpoint of the rails. Use only enough pressure to completely close the joints. Too much pressure and the door will want to warp or twist.

Check that the door is square and that it's laying flat on the 2 x 4 platform at each corner. If the door needs to be tweaked a bit, loosen the clamps first, make the adjustment and then retighten the clamps.

If you have lots of doors to glue up and not many clamps, you can free up the clamps by driving a 1/2" brad into the stile and through each tenon on the back side of the door. After the glue has dried, drive the brads below the surface with a nail set and cover with wood putty.

As you can see, building cabinet doors that are strong and attractive isn't all that hard and you don't need a shop full of special equipment. If you have a router or router table you can cut a stylish profile on the outer edge of the doors to fancy them up a bit, but they look quite nice just the way they are.


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