Cabinet door building question

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Forum topic by DaltonWoodWorker posted 02-11-2017 03:23 PM 954 views 0 times favorited 8 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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1 post in 675 days

02-11-2017 03:23 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question

Hello Everyone,

First post here and I need some advice on building a cabinet door to replace one that broke for an apartment complex my wife manages.
The door in question is 3/4” thick. It has rails and stiles with 1/4” plywood as the panel. The outside edges of the door were cut with a raised panel cove router bit and the inside edges were cut with a 5/16” roundover bit. The groove that holds the panel is halfway down the roundover cut around the inside of the door. The door failed in the bottom where rail and stile met. The door was joined with rail and stile bits.. In the picture below you can see white glue on the last 1/4” of the panel which rested in the stile. My intention is to build the door with a 1/4inch mortise and tenon with the tenon on the rails. Okay, sorry if I gave too much information but I figured that more was better than too little. So my questions are
1.) Will the mortise and tenon joint be better than the stile and rail joint? Obviously the stile and rail joint was born for a reason, just curious what the reason is and why I should not mortise and tenon instead
2.) Gluing the panel into the grooves seems like a mistake to me. Shouldn’t the panel float in the grooves?

Thanks Everyone.

-- Life is short. Make something that will last.

8 replies so far

View a1Jim's profile


117342 posts in 3782 days

#1 posted 02-11-2017 04:11 PM

Hi Dalton welcome to LJs
The type of joint you have is called a cope and stick joint on your cabinet doors and yes a mortice and tenon joint is stronger .Yes gluing the panel in place is a bad idea if your panel is solid wood, but if the panel is plywood than it’s not a concern because solid wood expands and contracts due to seasonal changes because it takes on moisture during part of the year and moisture lessons other times of the year plywood does not have this problem. If your panel is solid wood this seasonal wood movement may be what cause you joint failure in the first place.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View jerryminer's profile


944 posts in 1647 days

#2 posted 02-11-2017 07:37 PM

Jiim is right. M&T is stronger—-if it is well made and the tenon is longer than the typical 3/8” “stub tenon” in a cope-and-stick joint.

Solid wood needs room to move, but plywood doesn’t and is typically glued in place (this gives the whole door additional structural strength).

There are a gazillion cabinet doors in the world made with cope-and stick joints that are holding up fine. They are easier to make, but if you want to invest the effort in M&T go for it.

-- Jerry, making sawdust professionally since 1976

View bondogaposis's profile (online now)


5096 posts in 2556 days

#3 posted 02-11-2017 08:02 PM

2.) Gluing the panel into the grooves seems like a mistake to me. Shouldn’t the panel float in the grooves?

No, it is not a mistake, plywood is stable it does not move. In this type of construction gluing the plywood panel adds considerable strength to the door. Cope and stick joints are kind of weak, gluing the plywood in helps to compensate for it.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View JBrow's profile


1366 posts in 1125 days

#4 posted 02-11-2017 08:43 PM


Obviously the stile and rail joint was born for a reason, just curious what the reason is…

I suspect the reason the coped rail and stile joint is a favored joint is that it is a faster joint to make and a bit more forgiving than a mortise and tenon joint. The profile on the inside edges of the door frame must be mitred where the rail and stile join in the corner and then profile removed from the stile where the rail abuts the stile. Sizing the length of the rails needs to consider the width of the profile that is removed from the stile; otherwise the rails could be too short. If not done well, the joint line on the face will not look very good, so it can take some time.

If there is no profile on the inside edges of the rails and stiles, then the mortise and tenon joint comes together without much fuss.

View a1Jim's profile


117342 posts in 3782 days

#5 posted 02-11-2017 11:46 PM

Hi again Dalton
I just reread your original post and I realized you did have a plywood panel, I also noticed your talking about using a 1/4” tenon , in that case, I would say that joint is not stronger than cope and stick joinery, there’s more glue surface on the cope and stick than a 1/4” mortise and tenon. Another concern your going to have is to make the repaired door look like the rest of the cabinets, besides similar joinery, you’ll need to have the finish match which can be a real challenge even for a very experienced woodworker unless you going to paint the cabinet door to match the others

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View AlaskaGuy's profile


4818 posts in 2514 days

#6 posted 02-12-2017 03:37 AM

M&T is stronger. But for typical kitchen cabinet doors style and rail is strong enough. Factories have been using joint for a long time. In my 50 years of working I have seen very few cabinet doors come apart at the joint. Do to time and ease I usually use Cope & Stick cutters on a shaper. The cutters I have make a 1/2 stub tenon.

If I do need a stronger joint you can add a floating tenon to the style and rail joint.

Gluing the plywood panel is personal choice. It will make the door stronger and make it rattle free. It will make it more difficult to repair in the future.

I’d probably make a new door.

-- Alaskan's for Global warming!

View Dave G's profile

Dave G

333 posts in 2253 days

#7 posted 02-12-2017 04:05 AM

You may be able to glue this door back together. What do you have to lose? A pocket screw (on the inside) of each stile may make it strong enough to hold together a few more years.

-- Dave, New England - “We are made to persist. that's how we find out who we are.” ― Tobias Wolff

View Madmark2's profile


405 posts in 793 days

#8 posted 02-12-2017 04:53 PM

The door did not fail on it’s own, it was intentionally broken by someone hanging from it. Given this, no joint would gave held against an attack like this.

Make a copy of the same door and hand the tenant a bill.


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