DIY Cabinet Doors
Plan to use 1×3 or 1×4 hardwood boards for the door’s frame. You’ll find this material at most home centers and lumberyards. These are just nominal dimensions, of course. The actual dimensions will be 3/4 x 2-1/2 in. or 3/4 x 3-1/2 in.
Store-bought wood has very straight and square edges. For the best results, use the wood in the widths it comes in. Narrower boards ripped from wider ones have a good chance of warping, a problem you won’t be able to fix. Plus, you’ll have a hard time making the new ripped edge smooth, square and crisp, which you’ll need for tight joints. Be picky when you choose your wood. Sight down each piece to make sure it’s flat and straight. If it’s not, your door won’t be flat or straight either, and it certainly won’t close right!
For the panel, look for 1/4-in. plywood that lies flat, but don’t worry if it’s not exactly 1/4 in. thick. Using this technique, that won’t matter. You’ll adjust the width of the grooves to fit the plywood. And for cabinets that need repairs check out our nine easy cabinet repairs.
A Mortise-and-Tenon Joint Without All the Fuss
Here’s a classic way to put together a strong, good-looking door without making any unsightly holes.
Sizing Your Doors
It’s a good idea to make your doors 1/8 in. extra tall (so you can trim their ends after gluing). Make a list of the parts of your doors before you begin. For each one, you’ll need two stiles (the vertical parts), two rails (the horizontal parts) and one panel. Figuring the length of the stiles is easy. Take the height of the door you want and add 1/8 in. Figuring the length of the rails is more complicated. First, measure the total width of two stiles placed side by side. Subtract this number from the width of the door you want. Then add 1/2 in., the length of two tenons (see Figure A, in Project PDF’s below).
You’ll also need at least two extra “test” pieces the same thickness as your rails and stiles. For your safety, they should be at least 12 in. long. It’s best to cut the plywood panel extra large at first. Rip it 1 in. wider than the length of the rails and 1 in. shorter than the length of the stiles.
To build a square door, the stiles and rails must all be exactly the same length with perfectly square ends. A table saw makes that easy. BE SAFE! You’ll have to remove the guard from your saw for several steps. Be careful, and be sure to replace your guard when you’re done.
1. Set Up Your Miter Gauges
To build a square door, the stiles and rails must all be exactly the same length with perfectly square ends. A table saw makes that easy. The simplest method is to use the miter gauge that came with your table saw. Attach a straight 24-in.- long hardwood 1×3 for more accuracy and to avoid splintering out the end of the cut. This fence also provides a place to clamp stops. The fence should be about 2-1/2 in. tall and 24 in. long.
A better method is to use a second miter gauge. When you tie two miter gauges together with a fence, the pair will function as a table saw sled. You’ll get perfectly straight, square cuts every time. (You can buy a second miter gauge for less than $20 online. The brand shouldn’t matter—most are made to fit 3/4-in. slots.) Use a combination square to set the miter gauges at 90 degrees.
2. Cut Parts to Length
The best way to cut duplicate parts is to use a “stop block”. It’s just a square block with the corner nipped off to prevent dust buildup. Cut a fresh slot in the fence, then measure from the slot to the block to set up each cut. Clamp the stop block to the fence. A small C-clamp works well because it won’t wiggle loose like some other clamps.
Precut your stiles and rails 1 in. extra long so they’re easier to handle. To cut them to the exact length, first place the part on the left side of the fence. Cut about 1/4 in. off the part’s right end to square it up. Slide the part over until it touches the block, and then cut the left end. Trim both ends of the test pieces now as well.
3. Mark the Parts
Assemble the door’s stiles and rails, with the best side facing up. Draw the four sides of a “cabinet maker’s triangle” to identify which part goes where.
4. First Pass
Next, cut the grooves that receive the plywood panels and tenon tongues along the inside edges of all the pieces. The width of the grooves must match the thickness of your plywood. You’ll accomplish this by making multiple passes, widening the groove a little each time until it’s just right. It doesn’t matter if you have a thin-kerf or standard blade—either will work. Start by drawing a center line on the end of one of your test pieces. Place this piece on your saw, then adjust the saw’s fence so that the blade is positioned slightly off the line. Next, adjust the height of the blade to cut a bit more than 1/4 in. deep. (Halfway between 1/4 in. and 5/16 in. is about right.) Saw a groove as shown above. Always use a feather-board to hold the wood tight to the fence as you push.
5. Second Pass
Next, flip the board end for end and make a second cut. This widens the groove. Check the groove’s depth and adjust your blade up or down if necessary. See if your panel fits. The panel should slide into the groove without requiring any force, but it shouldn’t wiggle, either. If the groove is too narrow (and it probably will be on the first try), nudge your saw’s fence a tiny bit and repeat both cuts. If the groove is too wide, adjust the fence and start a new groove on the other side of the test piece. When you have the fence setting just right, cut grooves in all the rails and stiles.
6. Set Up For Cutting Tenons
This setup also requires some fine tuning, so begin by using one of your test pieces. Put the miter gauge back on the saw and clamp a block 1/4 in. away from the slot in the saw’s fence. Place one of the rails or stiles next to the blade, then adjust the blade’s height to cut just a bit lower than the groove (about 1/16 in.).
7. Cut the Tenons
Make overlapping cuts on one end of the test piece. Flip the piece over and make the same cuts. See if the tenon fits into the groove as well as the plywood did. If the tenon is too tight, raise the blade a tiny bit and cut from both sides again. If the tenon is too loose, start over using a different end of a test piece. Once you get the blade set at the correct height, saw tenons on the ends of both rails.
8. Set the Fence
Next, set up the saw for cutting the plywood panel to size. Move the saw’s fence so the distance from the blade matches the length of the door’s rail.
9. Cut the Panel to Width
Rip the panel good side up to avoid scratches and chips.
10. Measure for Length
To figure out the panel’s length, assemble three sides of your door. Measure the distance between the tenons to determine the panel’s length.
11. Cut the Panel to Length
Adjust the saw’s fence to 1/16 in. less than the distance you measured. Use a miter gauge to steady the wood when you cut it.
12. Dribble Glue in the Grooves
It’s essential that you glue the panel into all four sides of the frame. That’s what really holds the door together; the tenons alone are too short. To avoid cleaning up lots of excess glue, it’s best to apply glue to the grooves rather than to the panel. Use a small bottle of Elmer’s Glue-All because its tip can be finely adjusted to lay down just a tiny amount of glue. But standard wood glue will also work. Make sure the rail is even with the end of the stile.
13. Slide in the Panel
Apply glue to both sides of the groove in one stile and one rail. Apply glue to the tenon of that rail. Push the rail into the stile, making sure the top edge of the rail is even with the end of the stile. Slide in the panel. Then apply glue to the groove, tenons and shoulders of the second rail. Slide the rail into place, again making sure it’s even with the end of the stile. Apply glue to the remaining stile and nudge it into place.
14. Clamp the Joints Tight
Clamp the door as shown in the photo above. Lay a straightedge across it to make sure it’s flat. If one of the rails is tilted, correct this by raising or lowering the clamps. Wipe up the excess glue with a putty knife and a damp rag. Wait at least an hour before removing the clamps. To even up the ends of the door, cut 1/16 in. from each end using the table saw. The result: a perfect door.
Get Help with the Hinges
Building doors is only part of the story. You also have to hang them. Euro, or “cup” hinges, are the easiest, most forgiving means of hanging your new cabinet doors. For help sizing your doors to fit your cabinets, along with tips for selecting and installing Euro hinges read our euro hinge guide.
Click the links below to download the construction drawings for this project.