Like many things in woodworking, there are many different ways of making things and cabinet doors are no different. The nice thing about using the router and router table to make cabinet doors is you can make as many or as few as you like. You can make production runs or just one door. Either way, the setup is identical and the results are consistent. The first time I was shown how to make doors on the router table I couldn't believe it was so easy ...
Watch it on Youtube: https://youtu.be/i2lYHvjHG_E
Once you understand the process and have made a few doors, it's not only fun ... it's easy to make pretty much any size and any quantity ...
Door Frame Widths and Lengths
I like to use a wood that is 2 inches wide for cabinet door frames. Most of the doors I make are with 3/4 inch material, but thicker is fine too, as long as it is all consistently the same thickness. I prefer to cut them on my table saw using my Freud Glue Line Rip blade because it does not leave any "jointer snipe". If you are using jointed wood, make sure you cut off the snipe if there is any or us your table saw with an excellent ripping blade, otherwise the snipe can show up in your corner joints.
The Stiles of the frames, the vertical frame pieces do not need any particular treatment. Whatever length of door you want to make, that is how long the stiles need to be.
Rails, the horizontal frame pieces, are another story. Depending on the router bit set you are using, you will have to adjust your cuts to account for the Tongue of the rails that will become the glue into the rails to make the door joints. Figuring out how long the stiles need to be is easy if you are working with 2-inch wide frame components. First, you need to know how long the tongues need to be on the bit set. To confirm this, it's best to cut a couple of test tongues, match them together to see how much space they require. The Freud, Adjustable Rail and Stile set #99-036 uses a 7/8 inch tongue length, as do some other brands, but you really need to check any of them to make sure before you start. This part is critical to know before you begin making the door.
Once you know the tongue length, and assuming you are working with 2-inch wide door frame components, here's how to figure out the math ... let us say you want a door that is 10 inches wide. You just need to take the width of both stiles away, then add back the total tongue length, so ... 10 - 2" - 2" + 7/8" = 6-7/8" rail length.
Marking the Wood
When you are making doors, it's very important to mark your pieces in terms of which parts are the front and which are the back. The reason you want to do this is so you don't get mixed up in either cutting them or gluing them up at assembly time. There could be slight variations in your tongue and groove setting and if you don't keep them consistent you can spoil an otherwise good door. I like to use blue masking tape, it stands out, is easily removed and doesn't leave any residue. You can mark the fronts and the backs with anything you want, but don't skip this step.
Cutting the Tongues on the Rails FIRST
Install your Tongue bit into your router table. Make sure to isolate the bearing and ensure there is just enough clearance around the fence for the bit to clean and not cut into the fence. Next, adjust the height of the bit. I like to use these measuring bars, they are accurate, easy to use and super handy ... I use them a lot. For 3/4 inch thick material I use the 1/4 inch measuring bar and set the top of the lower cutter on the Tongue cutting bit, even with the top side of the measuring bar. This will ensure our grove will be centered on your wood.
To cut these I use any square scrap material I have around, make sure it is absolutely square and use it as a push stick for cutting the tongues on each end of the rail sets.
It's very important to keep the rails square to the router bit as they pass through it. If they are not, your joint will be off and your doors will not come together properly. Your push block must be square ... must have one side firm against the fence and the other firm against the rail, then slowly move it through the router bit.
Cutting the Grooves
Next, you need to cut the grooves and they are cut into both rails and stiles.
Once the groove bit is installed, it needs to have the bearing isolated, then you set the bit to the proper height and to do this you will be using one of your already cut Rail Pieces to do this with.
The height of the groove bit is set by aligning the cutters with the exact height of tongue on the Rail Piece. When you think you have the height set, turn the router on and just barely touch the edge of one of the rail bits to the groove bit, then take it away. What you are looking for is that the groove bit has cut the very edge of that tongue and flared the wood on both sides. If there is a very thin sliver of wood on either side, the bit needs to be raised or lowered accordly. Re-test until the bit is set perfectly.
It's always a good idea to have enough spare material the same thickness as what you are using to for test material. It does take a bit of time to set these router cutters up, so making doors is a perfect time for production runs of cabinet doors.
Once you have cut all the components, it's time to assemble the door and to check the corners for alignment. If you are happy with the fit, the next step is to fill the center of the door with some sort of a panel. This could be a raised panel or a flat panel depending on the look you are going for. The panel will NOT be glued in place. The door panel should "float" in the door frame regardless of what materials you use for them. If you are using natural wood you will need to leave enough room for wood expansion and contraction, especially for natural woods.
The best way to permanently attach the frame pieces is with glue, probably clamped in a 90-degree jig so the frame remains square during the drying process of the glue. If you want to speed things up a bit, I have used 23 gauge pins and air compressor to drive a few very short pins in from the back of the door so that the doors can be taken out of the squaring jig while the glue is still wet. This allows the assembly of many, many doors without having to wait for each one to dry enough to move.
Making cabinet doors is easy and once you have made a few you will look forward to making more. It's another one of the fun processes we get to do in woodworking.
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Copyright Colin Knecht