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Making Cathedral Doors


Making Cathedral Doors

A time-tested recipe for making beautiful cathedral raised-panel doors.

By George Vondriska

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Cathedral raised-panel doors are beautiful, but they can be intimidating to make. After many years of teaching students how to make these doors, I’ve got a trick or two up my sleeve to simplify the process and remove some of the fear factor. Here’s a tried-and-true recipe to help you safely and successfully make beautiful doors.

There are a few specialized tools you must have to make cathedral doors. Start with a suitable router table. It should be equipped with a 2-hp or higher variable-speed router that accepts 1/2-in.-shank router bits. You’ll also need a set of door-making router bits, a cathedral template set, and a bandsaw or jigsaw for cutting the curves. The bits and templates are a big part of what makes this technique airtight. The good news is the router bits are not specific to cathedral-top doors; they can be used to make any frame-and-panel door.

You’ll need a two-piece matched rail-and-stile set to make the frame. It’s easier to get good results with a twopiece set than with a one-piece reversible bit. With a twopiece set, you feed all the pieces face down. Reversible bits use one arbor with removable cutters. Some parts are machined face up, others face down. This often results in poor alignment between rails and stiles. Plus, it’s a hassle to have to change cutters on the arbor. Bits with a 1/2-in. shank will produce less chatter and a smoother cut than those with 1/4-in. shank.


Make the frame

First, cut all the frame pieces (see “Sizing a Door,” page 10). For a good-looking, stable door, make the frame from straight-grained wood.

Mark the back of all the frame pieces. They get machined with their good faces down, so you should be looking at the mark on the back for all the cuts.

2. Set the fence even with the face of the ball bearing. A straightedge makes quick work of this job.

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5. Rout the rail ends. Remember, the back of the board is face up for all cuts. To ensure a uniform cut, keep consistent downward pressure on the sled at all times.

7. Flush-trim the rail with a template guide and a flush-trim bit. Use double-faced tape to adhere the pattern to the rail. The fence is replaced with a bit cover and starter pin assembly (see Recommended Gear, page 8).

8. Set the height of the long-grain cutter by aligning the groove cutter with the tongue on the end of a machined rail. The top of the cutter should be even with the top of the tongue.

12. Machine the long-grain edges of every frame piece, including the straight portions of the arched rail. Make sure the piece is face down. You should be able to see the mark on the back of the piece when you’re machining it.

14. Complete the long-grain cut by pivoting off the starter pin and riding the router-bit bearing through the entire length of the arched rail. Use push blocks to keep consistent downward pressure on the rail throughout the cut.

Make the panel

Rip the panel to width (see “Sizing a Door,” page 10), but don’t cut it to length until after you’ve flush-trimmed the arch on top, just in case you have a problem with the flush-trimming step. Mark the back of the panel to remind you to keep it face down on the router table.

19. Make the first pass on the panel with the face of the fence set even with the large bearing. The first cut is made on the panel’s bottom edge. Rotate the panel counterclockwise and make the second cut on the long-grain edge. Keep the panel moving in one continuous motion to prevent burning. Cuts 3 and 4 will require different setups.

20. Set up to cut the panel arch (Cut 3) by removing the fence and clamping the bit cover and starting pin in place. Turn on the router and position the arch against the starting pin without contacting the bit.

Assembling the door

Sand all the pieces and prefinish the panel before putting the door together. Be careful when sanding the long-grain profile on the stiles. If you sand too much, the stiles won’t mate with the rails the way they should.

Have everything you need ready before applying the first drop of glue. Glue dries fast, and you don’t want the glue to start setting up while you’re running around the shop looking for a clamp.

23. Glue in sequence from 1 to 5. Start with a stile and the top rail. Add the panel, then the bottom rail, and capture it all with the last stile. Keep the edge of the rail dead even with the end of the stile.

This story originally appeared in American Woodworker November 2004, issue #111.

November 2004, issue #111

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