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My rails and stiles just won't fit!

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Forum topic by SoCalWoodGal posted 05-23-2016 03:31 PM 2777 views 2 times favorited 65 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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SoCalWoodGal

18 posts in 194 days


05-23-2016 03:31 PM

Topic tags/keywords: rail and stile cope and stick router cabinet doors question

My latest project is new kitchen cabinets for our house. I’ve run into some difficulty and I’m stuck. I just can’t seem to get the rails and stiles to fit snugly no matter how many shims I add to my router bit. I contacted the seller of the bit and he sent me a smaller bearing, saying that should fix the problem. It didn’t. Before we get into the less than helpful- “just buy an expensive bit”, I want to make sure it’s not me who’s messing up this joint.
Could anyone help me troubleshoot? I’m in a holding pattern and can’t move forward until I get this worked out. I’ve done a thorough amount of research online as well, and just can’t seem to make it tight.

Bit and Table:

The Joints: Rails are on the right, Stiles on the left, new smaller bearing
No shims:

4 shim on rail bit, Zero on Stile:

4 shim on Rail, 2 on Stile:

Larger original bearing and 1 shim on rail, 2 on stile:

I have pictures of all the combinations of shims on rail and stile I’ve made, but these are the ones that are the tightest, and even these are super loose.

-- SoCalWoodGal http://brittanyjoyner.com/Woodworking.html


65 replies so far

View pintodeluxe's profile

pintodeluxe

4852 posts in 2273 days


#1 posted 05-23-2016 03:46 PM

I really prefer the two bit sets. Less adjustments to make, which simplifies things.

Either there is some magic combination of shims, or the bit is defective.

-- Willie, Washington "If You Choose Not To Decide, You Still Have Made a Choice" - Rush

View chrisstef's profile

chrisstef

15656 posts in 2466 days


#2 posted 05-23-2016 04:00 PM

Even with an expensive 2 piece set, stiles and rails are no peach to set up. I just finished up my first foray with them and the most important thing I noticed was stock prep. All pieces need to be exactly the same thickness and dead flat. If it wanders the least bit on your router table it becomes noticeable. My stock was .03 different and it showed. Lots of hand plane work to even them out.

-- rock, chalk, jayhawk

View MadMark's profile

MadMark

976 posts in 913 days


#3 posted 05-23-2016 04:08 PM

Take all the shims out.

Measure to the top of the undercutter, s/b .125” (1/8”), when inverted the underside should be .625” (5/8”) assuming exactly .750” (3/4”) stock.

Stock thickness variations around .750” will double the error. Shims should not be needed on new sets. Shims magnify gaps. More shims = more gap.

Set your bits with a DRO.

-- Madmark - Madmark2150@yahoo.com Wiretreefarm.com

View distrbd's profile (online now)

distrbd

2227 posts in 1906 days


#4 posted 05-23-2016 04:08 PM


the most important thing I noticed was stock prep. All pieces need to be exactly the same thickness and dead flat. I

- chrisstef


+1.

#1 rule to follow, even if the pieces were planed a day in advance I would still run them through the planer prior to routing just to make sure they’re still the same (exact) thickness.

-- Ken from Ontario, Canada

View SoCalWoodGal's profile

SoCalWoodGal

18 posts in 194 days


#5 posted 05-23-2016 04:09 PM



Even with an expensive 2 piece set, stiles and rails are no peach to set up. I just finished up my first foray with them and the most important thing I noticed was stock prep. All pieces need to be exactly the same thickness and dead flat. If it wanders the least bit on your router table it becomes noticeable. My stock was .03 different and it showed. Lots of hand plane work to even them out.

- chrisstef


Firstly, Chrisstef, your pantry doors have me drooling. Gah, they’re gorgeous! Secondly, should I be doing anything more than just holding the wood side by side and seeing that they’re the same height? The pictured stuff is mdf because I was sick of wasting my good wood just to find a perfect fit before routing the real stuff. This is such a pain- I’m so close to being done with this set of cabinets, and this has me dead in my tracks!

-- SoCalWoodGal http://brittanyjoyner.com/Woodworking.html

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SoCalWoodGal

18 posts in 194 days


#6 posted 05-23-2016 04:17 PM



Take all the shims out.

Measure to the top of the undercutter, s/b .125” (1/8”), when inverted the underside should be .625” (5/8”) assuming exactly .750” (3/4”) stock.

Stock thickness variations around .750” will double the error. Shims should not be needed on new sets. Shims magnify gaps. More shims = more gap.

Set your bits with a DRO.

- MadMark


Excellent advice, MadMark, thank you. Headed to HF to get a DRO and I’ll check the settings.

-- SoCalWoodGal http://brittanyjoyner.com/Woodworking.html

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chrisstef

15656 posts in 2466 days


#7 posted 05-23-2016 04:19 PM

Thanks for the compliment. MDF should be dead flat and the same thickness but, if it were me, id do like Mark and use a set of veneer calipers. Cheapo’s can be had at harbor freight for a song. Ken echoed my initial thought after I had routed all my stiles and rails …. run it through the planer immediately before routing. They’re finicky little bits and every minute error is magnified in the final product. You need machinist precision for these puppies to produce top quality.

Put on some good calming tunes and keep tinkering, you’ll get it eventually.

-- rock, chalk, jayhawk

View skatefriday's profile

skatefriday

380 posts in 942 days


#8 posted 05-23-2016 05:28 PM

I made lots of firewood before I was able to get tongue/groove rail/stile sets that I was happy with. Two things that made a difference. A digital depth meter.

http://www.amazon.com/iGAGING-DIGITAL-MULTI-GAUGE-WOODWORKERS-WELDERS/dp/B0032OG42O?ie=UTF8&psc=1&redirect=true&ref_=oh_aui_detailpage_o08_s00

And this two piece router set.

http://www.amazon.com/1-3-Dia-Adjustable-Tongue-Groove/dp/B00006XMTT?ie=UTF8&psc=1&redirect=true&ref_=oh_aui_detailpage_o03_s00

Feather boards are used both top and side while passing the pieces over the bits to maintain spacing.

Practice and test cuts are key. Expect to burn wood while figuring out what works for you.

View SoCalWoodGal's profile

SoCalWoodGal

18 posts in 194 days


#9 posted 05-23-2016 11:51 PM


Measure to the top of the undercutter, s/b .125” (1/8”), when inverted the underside should be .625” (5/8”) assuming exactly .750” (3/4”) stock.
- MadMark

MadMark, I got a digital caliper but I’m confused on your directions. s/b mean should be? Measuring to top of undercutter from table base? By inverted you mean… Sorry if these are newb q’s, but I am new to this. Thanks!

-- SoCalWoodGal http://brittanyjoyner.com/Woodworking.html

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MadMark

976 posts in 913 days


#10 posted 05-24-2016 12:12 AM

The inversion is when you change from rail to stile. The cutters change sequence on the shaft. The tongue and groove are flat and easiy to measure. Your stock is .750, the undercut is .125. When you restack the cutters and cut upside down, that edge needs to be at 5/8 or .625 (.750 – .125 = .625). This should match your setups to just a couple thou.

M

-- Madmark - Madmark2150@yahoo.com Wiretreefarm.com

View wuddoc's profile

wuddoc

93 posts in 3178 days


#11 posted 05-24-2016 04:09 AM

In addition you may want to consider feather boards as Skatefriday suggests. The slightest change in pressure (variable) against the wood during machining changes the geometry. Feather boards reduce that variable by creating consistent pressure.

-- Wuddoc

View dbray45's profile

dbray45

3178 posts in 2236 days


#12 posted 05-24-2016 01:01 PM

Brittany – Couple of things I have learned and have spent a few dollars to find out. Router tables, routers, and bits have a whole bunch of variables – all of which do not work in your favor.

I have a good router (3+ HP) for the table. It is heavy, variable speed, soft start and isn’t fazed by much that I put to it. Smaller ones will not give you the kind of results that you want for this work.

The table that I bought is one of many that are out the and it sits on a cabinet that I made – when doing any routing with wood up to 30 lbs., it does not move – except the top where the router bit comes out. When you push a piece of wood through the bit, you also push down – can’t help it, it is gonna happen. This is where feather boards come in – once set, it applies the same pressure in that direction all of the time on boards that are the same thickness. I make my own but the store bought ones work well also. You want to set these just in front of the bit – 1/8” or so.

Router bits – this is a topic all in itself. I have used the bits that you change and the pairs of bits. I have used bits made from here and there and most companies make bits that are great. Door bits are an animal all of their own – so I have found. To fit together it takes time. When I cut rails and stiles for 4 doors, I make the rails and stiles for 5 doors. One of the spare rails and stiles are for mistakes that you make on the production doors (a production shop does things a little differently), the other one is setup and cut to 6” lengths. I have to say at this point, I have decided that I have invested in Freud bits for all of the panel doors that I make – cabinet and entry. They have been very accurate and extremely sharp – they cut everything that gets in their way and they do it well.

When you cut end grain for the rails – always put another board (cull) against the right side of the board. You want to router into that cull or you will splinter the crap out of it and kick it back (which can hurt). I use a 6” wide piece to do this to help keep the primary piece cutting straight through the opening.

When you rip the profile with the grain, watch the direction of the grain, if it catches against the grain, it will chip it out. Once you do this a couple of times you will understand what I am saying.

I usually run the end grain cuts first – that’s a me thing, center the profile on the culls that you made. Once this is set, using you table saw, cut the ones you don’t like off the culls – or this could get very confusing. Once set, do all of the cuts on the culls and rail ends. Set the door rails away from where you are working, just work with the culls for now.

Remove the bit and put in the other profile. Using one of the culls, set the height as close to the other profile that you can and run one of the stile culls through the bit and match up to the rail culls. Align the height up and down as required. After you have set the height to match the culls, take the new cull to the door rails that you have cut and test the fit. If they match up, you are clear to run one of the production stiles – then test the fit. If this fits, run the rest of the stiles.

Here is the biggest problem that folks have – running the profile for the rails. Many times they get the board upside down – very easy to do. Using the rail cull, cut the profile and fit to the stiles. Once you have this set, stack all of the rails the same way and cut them.

If the bits do not match each others’ profiles – take them back and get a refund. I hope that I am not confusing you more.

Good luck

-- David in Damascus, MD

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JBrow

814 posts in 380 days


#13 posted 05-24-2016 01:10 PM

SoCalWoodGal,

Looking at the large bearing with shims photo, it appears that the rail is slightly thicker than the stile. Perhaps to aid in trouble shooting and saving some hardwood, a few test strips of ¾” thick MDF ripped from the same sheet would eliminate any variability in stock thickness. I would think this set up is a one-time effort. Once the joint is dialed in to a nice fit, the MDF stile and rail components can be cut and saved as references for future set-ups, with the proper shimming of each stack written on the MDF.

Fine tuning the stile cutter stack is straight forward. With no shims, the groove is moved as close to the profile cutter as it can ever be. Shimming the stile cutter has only one effect; to move the location of the groove away from the profile cutter. Since the profile cutter is presumably bottomed out on the router bit shank, its position remains fixed relative to the router table surface. Since the slot cutter height is fixed, altering the height of the groove is not possible.

The cope stack (rails) is more complex because the “show” face on the work piece is not referenced against the router table, but is up when cutting the cope. The minimum height of the tongue is determined by the height of the bearing. The smaller bearing (I assume the height of the bearing) will produce a narrower tongue than the original large bearing. No matter the bearing, shimming between the profile cutter and the slot cutter can only increase the height of the tongue. Unfortunately, if the only manipulation of the shims on the cope cutter is to add or remove shims between the slot and the profile cutter, the joint will never close. This is because that as shims are added or removed, the distance of the profile cutter from the router table is also changed by the amount of the shims added or removed between the profile and slot cutters. The slot cutter, bottomed out on the router bit shaft, remains fixed relative to table. This may explain why the tongue always rests on the lower face of the grooves in all of your photos and shimming the rail stack introduces the gap in the profile fit, no matter the configuration of shims used.

Assuming this has been the method of shimming the cope stack, better fitting joints could perhaps be achieved by first adding a stack of the shims below the slot cutter (so the slot cutter bottoms out on a stack of shims). The slot cutter is added to the stack (set on top of the shim stack), followed by the bearing and then the profile cutter completes the stack. The distance of the profile cutter from the router table is adjusted by setting the router height adjustment so that the profiles of the rail and stile form a nice fitting joint without regard to the alignment or fit of the tongue and groove. In order to perfect the fit of the tongue and groove, shims are added or removed from between the slot cutter and the profile bit. The same number (thickness) of shims are also added or removed from under the slot cutter. When these lower-most shims (below the slot cutter) are added or removed, the distance of the profile cutter from the router table is returned to its previous position. By doing this, the profiles or the stile and rail will remain a nice fit, and the only adjustment is to the tongue.

View KellyB's profile

KellyB

77 posts in 642 days


#14 posted 05-24-2016 01:11 PM

Have you considered using a coping sled? The store-bought ones are a bit pricey, but I find the ability to hold both pieces in precisely the same orientation is important.

+1 for stock prep.

I’m not a fine woodworker by any means, but with the Freud two-bit set, i have been quite successful, to my surprise. It does take a good deal of fiddling, and I also use the digital gauge mentioned by skatefriday.

View dbray45's profile

dbray45

3178 posts in 2236 days


#15 posted 05-24-2016 01:22 PM

A coping sled works but they drive me crazy. If you router into them they get messed up. They want you to have one for every profile and that makes them expensive and space consuming. For me, I have 2 trash cans of culls to use.

-- David in Damascus, MD

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