I’m not sure if this is standard practice or not, but when I’m building a piece where the dimensions don’t need to be exact, I start with the doors and build out from there. I’m building some simple shaker-style doors, mostly because I don’t have any actual stile and rail bits for my router. In the past I’ve done all the cutting—slotting and tenoning—with straight bits. For this project, though, I decided to spend some money on a slot cutting bit set from Harbor Freight and it worked really well for me.
I’m using 1/4” birch plywood for my panels, but it’s not really 1/4”, it’s 5.2mm, which is significantly smaller. So I put the 3/14” slot cutter on the mandrel and make two passes. It takes some adjusting to get the slot the right size, but it’s not so difficult.
Next, I installed a straight bit to cut the tenons for the rails. I put on a 3/8” bit to give myself some room to work with—I’m cutting 1/4” tenons. I decided to build myself a tenoning jig to make the cuts. I’ve read a few articles about building and using these kinds of jigs. In the past, I’ve cut a square block of plywood to push the rail, which keeps is square and prevents tear out. but it requires some good hand strength to keep everything lined up. Unfortunately, I didn’t think about the fact that most people using these tenoning jigs are using stile and rail bit sets, which are lifted off the table.
So I was surprised when I started cutting and the entire leading edge of the jig was cut off by the bit, rendering it a lot less useful. This was still better than just doing it by hand with a square push block because I had a clamp to hold the rail in place and that trailing end of the jig kept the rail square. What I could have done was install an additional piece of 1x stock parallel to the fence on the leading edge of the jig. Then, the bit cutting the tenon would have cut a rabbet in the bottom but the top edge would have been intact, leaving a good guide. I’ll have to remember that next time :)
The other thing I would have done differently would be to use a different base. I used some thin hardboard because I didn’t want to have to raise my bit too much. But that hardboard was a bit too thin and I couldn’t tighten the hold down clamp very much without bending the hardboard, rendering the jig inaccurate. I’m thinking some 1/4” or 3/8” stock would be ideal. I think the hardboard I used was 1/8”.
The other what-was-I-thinking moment was that I didn’t make any test block with slots to get my tenon cuts right. Usually I make a few extra small rail blocks with the slot cut and use them to adjust the depth of the tenon because it’s easy to over adjust and cut them too thin. I didn’t do that this time and I wasted two of the rails and had to go back and cut two new ones, which meant going back and setting up the slot cutter again. It wasn’t a big deal because the rails were only 8.5” long, but it wasted some time.
Here are the doors glued up:
I used Rockler’s space balls to float the panels and it made it a good bit easier to get them right.
The doors weren’t exactly the same size so I had to do some trimming. One door ended up about 1/8” wider than the other but that didn’t concern me. But one ended up being about 3/16” taller than the other which would have been obvious. I trimmed them up on the table saw but my blade left a less than ideal edge. I don’t have a hand plane or a jointer, so I clamped the two doors together, creating a 1 1/2” edge to work with and sanded them with my hand sander to get an even edge:
Next: the face frames.