Tongue then Groove or Groove then Tongue?

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Forum topic by KevinBlair posted 07-30-2013 09:22 PM 1917 views 0 times favorited 12 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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56 posts in 2295 days

07-30-2013 09:22 PM

Topic tags/keywords: question

I am getting ready to make 18 cabinet doors for the kitchen cabinets that I have been steadily making for the last several months.

The doors will be “shaker style” using birch hardwood (1/4” Baltic birch plywood for the panels) with tongue and groove joinery and a flat panel (my wife likes the IKEA cabinet look and that is what I am emulating).

I have decided to make the T&G using a router table and a T&G bit set.

My plan had been to mill all of the wood to thickness and width on my planer, jointer, and table saw and to start on the joinery by cutting all of the grooves needed (probably make 10-15% more linear feet than I measure as needed), cut my stiles from the grooved wood, and then make the rails (i.e., tongues).

However this video:, showing the making of the kind of door I want, is pretty firm in saying that you should make the tongue first, then the groove. I have looked for other videos showing best technique, but this is the only one I’ve found (if you know of others, please post the link).

I can do it as shown in the video and I understand the logic of fitting the groove to the tongue as demonstrated in the video, but it seems less efficient than running all of the grooves first. Of course, if getting the tongue to fit the cut grooves is too difficult, then this would be the better, more efficient, way.

So, should I make the tongues first and then the grooves (as shown in the video) or will I be better to make all of the grooves and then make the tongues? I could also make each door separately (i.e, one at a time), but that seems really inefficient and may also lead to noticeable variations in the doors.

Thoughts and ideas welcome!


12 replies so far

View Gene Howe's profile

Gene Howe

10383 posts in 3398 days

#1 posted 07-30-2013 09:27 PM

Most tongue and groove router bit set sellers will have a set up block for sale. A few bucks but worth it. Alternatively, you can make your own when you have it set perfectly.
Then, it wouldn’t matter which you do first.

-- Gene 'The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.' G. K. Chesterton

View TheDane's profile


5405 posts in 3633 days

#2 posted 07-30-2013 09:45 PM

Kevin—Gene is right … a few bucks for a setup block that matches your cutters is a wise investment. FWIW, I have done a few projects with T&G, and have always cut the grooves first. My T&G bits came from MLCS.

-- Gerry -- "I don't plan to ever really grow up ... I'm just going to learn how to act in public!"

View joeyinsouthaustin's profile


1294 posts in 2042 days

#3 posted 07-30-2013 09:46 PM

We make about 2000 doors a year, and we always run the grove first. cut, then set up the coping set up to the grove. Running LF of the material is more efficient and with proper set up more consistent. good luck.

-- Who is John Galt?

View joeyinsouthaustin's profile


1294 posts in 2042 days

#4 posted 07-30-2013 09:51 PM

it seems his selling point is the fact that the push stick he is using becomes the alignment block for the stick. The opposite is true once you have a the material “sticked” in bulk (we call it cope and stick in our shop) just cut a test piece to set the coping set. same thing in reverse. Since we cope in a sled, we would not have the push stick to work off of, and such.

-- Who is John Galt?

View firefighterontheside's profile


17978 posts in 1826 days

#5 posted 07-30-2013 10:24 PM

With my rail and stile set I run the stile ends first and then change to the other bit. This way you can remove tear out that may occur when cutting across the grain. When you make the groove it removes the end where the tear out was.

-- Bill M. "People change, walnut doesn't" by Gene.

View Charlie's profile


1100 posts in 2256 days

#6 posted 07-30-2013 11:01 PM

I made mine on the table saw. Shaker rails and stiles don’t have anything to really cope. It’s all straight edges.

Painted, but the top doors haven’t been painted yet.

Inside of one of the painted doors.

Small tongues. Only 3/8, but they’re holding up just fine. Thank you titebond III

The upper doors are small, but have removable panels. In case she decides she wants glass or just a decorative panel insert for holidays, etc…

Grooved everything on table saw.
Cut stiles to length.
Cut rails 3/4 over.
Cut tongues using Osborne EB-3 and my dado set on the table saw.

Rabbeted the backs of the plywood panels so the fronts are inset and the backs are flush.
Done deal.

View theoldfart's profile


9627 posts in 2421 days

#7 posted 07-30-2013 11:27 PM

Kevin, I’m a hand tool guy however the advice given above about doing all the grooves first is sound. I use a combination hand plane and will groove all my stock first, then crosscut to length. Then set up my tongue cutter and do all of that stock next, and cut to length. You’ll get better consistency this way. Good luck

-- "With every tool obtained, there is another that is needed" DonW ( Kevin )

View KevinBlair's profile


56 posts in 2295 days

#8 posted 07-31-2013 03:35 PM

Thanks everyone! I will run the groove and then do the tongues. Hopefully this weekend or early next week. I will try to post some pictures and some info on how things go.


View Rick  Dennington's profile (online now)

Rick Dennington

5815 posts in 3164 days

#9 posted 07-31-2013 04:39 PM

I also run my tongue and grooves on the table saw…..I have a t&g set for the router table, but I’ve just always did them on the table saw…...I have a set up I built especially for them in jig form…..Works for me….

-- " At my age, happy hour is a crap and a nap".....

View cutmantom's profile


402 posts in 3005 days

#10 posted 07-31-2013 04:54 PM

use scrap and try it both ways to see which is better for you

View RogerM's profile


792 posts in 2369 days

#11 posted 08-01-2013 04:03 PM

Kevin – You probably should check out the Sommerfields Own tongue and grove cabinet system. I have used this for a number of years with a lot of success.

-- Roger M, Aiken, SC

View Fuzzy's profile


298 posts in 3958 days

#12 posted 08-12-2013 09:34 PM

I too have been using the T & G Cabinet System for years … in fact, I have one of the first sets sold by Sommerfeld … they were made by CMT .. before he went Chinese on us. I use them a lot, and while they COULD be adjusted for making cabinet doors, that really isn’t their strong point or intended use.

-- - dabbling in sarcasm is foolish … if you’re not proficient at it, you end up looking stupid … ... ...

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