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Classic Frame and Panel Door

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Classic Frame and Panel Door

Traditional methods for making doors that last.

By Lonnie Bird

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A few design elements are as simple, beautiful or enduring as the frame-and-panel (Fig. A). Woodworkers have been using this type of construction for centuries to build doors, wall paneling and cases. It’s a classic solution for dealing with an unavoidable problem: the seasonal expansion and contraction of a large panel. It’s also a great way to display a prized plank of figured stock.

Frame-and-panel is a very flexible design. By changing the shape and proportions of the panel or the frame, the design can be easily adapted to fit almost any style of furniture or architecture. Panels can be beveled or flat, rectangular or arched; the edges of the frame can be shaped with a decorative molding called a “sticking,” (Fig. B) or left square.

The main idea, though, is that the solid-wood panel isn’t glued in place: it’s free to float in grooves all the way around the frame. As a panel shrinks in width in winter, it’s free to withdraw in the stile’s grooves. As it expands in summer, there should be enough room in the grooves so the panel doesn’t bottom out and force the frame apart (Fig. C).

I’ll show you how I build a very traditional frame and panel door–one which will withstand years of use. It has mortise and tenon joints, a sticking which is mitered at the corners, and a rectangular raised panel.


Why mortise and tenon?

There’s more than one way to build a frame and panel door. Today, most woodworkers use a pair of cope-andstick router bits, which allow you to quickly and easily construct a kitchen full of doors. One bit shapes the decorative sticking profile and the panel groove; the second bit cuts the tenon and copes the ends of the rails to match the sticking. However, most of these bits create a short, stubby tenon (equal to the depth of the panel groove) which has only a small surface area for glue. Cope-and-stick joints are fine for lightweight doors, but I believe that large doors with solid-wood panels require more robust joinery.

For strength and longevity, it’s tough to beat traditional mortise and tenon joints (Photo 1). Unlike coped joints, deep mortises and long tenons provide mechanical interlock and plenty of surface area for glue. When I build traditional furniture that’s intended to last for generations, I always use mortise and tenon joints for the doors.

Click any image to view a larger version.

1. Here’s the joint I’ll be making. It provides a rigid mechanical interlock and plenty of surface area for glue. Note how the molding, or “sticking” is mitered, and how the joint is cut to accommodate the miter.


3. Scribe the mortise from each face to perfectly center it on the stile.


5. Cut the tenon on a test piece with a dado set. Remove equal amounts from each face to center the tenon. Clamp a board to the fence for protection.


7. Shape the sticking profile the full length of all the rails and stiles, plus a test piece.


12. Miter the rail’s sticking by aligning the tenon’s shoulder with the reference line.


15. Remove the waste by sawing close to the sticking’s edge or the scribed line, depending on which end of the stile you’re cutting. Guide the cut with a fence.


19. Rout the panel. Use a barrier guard to shield your hands from the bit.


20. Clamp the assembly on a flat surface to prevent it from twisting. Saw the stiles to final length to make the outside corners flush.


This story originally appeared in American Woodworker June/July 2009, issue #142.

June/July 2009, issue #142

Purchase this back issue.

Purchase the complete version of this woodworking technique story from AWBookstore.com.