The Dale C. Maley Family Web Site

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Cabinet Door Design ***NOTE: this page is obsolete** Please use this link to see an up-to-date page......Thanks :)

Jim Heavey, of Wood Magazine, gave a great 1 hour overview of how to design and build cabinet doors. He also explained how to make curves on top of the doors.

 I took short notes during the seminar.  When I reviewed the notes later, I was amazed at how much information he squeezed into his 1 hour seminar!!

I decided to expand his notes, plus supplement them with my own Sketchup drawings.......then publish them on this web site for future reference.

I have only made plain cabinet doors before. They have a 1/4" wide groove cut in the rails and stiles, then a piece of 1/4" oak plywood was inserted into the grooves as the panel. I often thought about making fancier doors, but could never get myself to spend the $180 to $200 required for the router bit set to do them (rail bit, stile bit, panel raising bit).  After taking Jim's class, I may bite the bullet and spend the money for a good router bit set.......and try making some fancy doors.

Wood Color and Grain Selection

Jim said that when they do projects at Wood Magazine, they spend a lot of time selecting the wood for each piece, based upon color and grain selection. On red oak for example, there can be wide variations in the color of the wood. Furniture factories tint the spray finish, to make the color come out the same.  Hobbyist are staining, and a light color oak will come out lighter after staining than a darker colored piece.  Also try to pick out grain patterns that are pleasing to the eye.  Pay attention to the cathedral grain pattern, and place it accordingly.  He said these 2 steps separate really good looking projects, to not so good looking projects.

Study Commercially Made cabinet doors in the Big Box Stores

He suggested visiting the big box stores, with the wife is she needs to approve the design, and study how they made cabinet doors similar to what you want. He said that you will find the standard rail and stile width is about 2.25" wide, with a 1/2" overlap of the door over the cabinet opening.

When I got home, I checked the expensive kitchen cabinets in my house, and the rails and stiles are 2.25" wide, with a 1/2" overlap.  On my lower cost set of cabinets in my basement kitchen, they are only 1-7/8" wide with 1/2" overlap.

He also said to pay attention to hinge selection.  They come with different opening angles.  Pick a smaller angle if the door might swing open and hit an adjacent wall.  If you want to be able to fully access the cabinet, pick the wider opening angle.

For illustrative purposes, a cabinet with a 16x13" opening will be used to demonstrate the design guidelines.

Mind Trick

I can never remember which is which, the rails or the stiles.  He uses the memory trick, on a split rail fence, the rails are horizontal, making the stiles vertical.  I like this trick!

Router Bit Tip

Most cabinet door router bits are going to be with 1/2" diameter shanks. You should not drop the bit all the way down when you install it in the router, because you can damage the collet.  You should leave at least an 1/8" gap to prevent this damage.  He suggested going to Ace Hardware and buying some 1/2" o-rings, then leave the o-rings on the bits so you get a good spacing each time.

Router Bit Selection

He highly recommended buying a good quality set of bits, versus the lower cost ones.  I went to Rockler's web site to choose a set I liked.  They come in different styles also. I picked one of the Freud sets that I liked the molding style. It is shown below.

I took a screen shot of this Freud set, then imported the image into sketchup........then scaled it to the correct size.  I then designed the rails, stiles, and panel in Sketchup.....

Arched Top Panels

The rule of thumb is that the radius for the top arch should be 1/2 the door height, with the smallest section at the middle being the same 2.25" width.  

To make the top curved rail, he suggested making a template, then trace and cut out the piece 1/16 to an 1/8" bigger than the template tracing..........then attach the workpiece to the templated using 2-sided tape from Home Depot (you can see a web in it), then use a follower type router bit. Note that for the panel, the arch radius will be about 3/8" longer than for the top rail, because the arc swing is further out from the same center.

Preventing rattling panels

1. Use 1 space ball on each side

2. Make your own space balls by laying down a bead of silicone caulk on a piece of scrap wood, let dry, cut short lengths.
3. Using a pin nailer, put 1 nail in top center of panel, and 1 nail in bottom center of panel. Wood can still expand and contract ok.

Preventing unstained edge of panel from showing

If you stain the panel after it is assembled, you run the risk of not staining the panel under the edges of the rails and stiles.  Due to expansion and contraction, your unstained area may become visible. He suggests staining the panel before you assemble it into the frame to prevent this.

Preventing router bit blow-out on Rail ends

He suggested making a square piece from MDF that becomes the sacrificial piece when the router bit exits the rail end.  There is a also a center hole for your fingers to fit in.

Raised Panel Bit too big for Router table

He did not discuss this in his 1 hour seminar.

I have a small router table, an old Sears one from the 1980's. The hole opening is only 1.75".   The Freud rail & stile set has a raised panel cutter with a 3.5" diameter, which will not fit on my router table.

I had a similar problem with a 2.5" diameter round-over bit that I used to make 1922 race cars.  I solved the problem by putting the bit above the router table, using a temporary wood fence.  I can probably use the same fence for the big 3.5" raised panel bit.....

Closing Thoughts

I plan in the near future, on buying the Freud router bit set shown above.  Then I will make a cabinet with the fancy arched top doors, as my first project.