How do YOU finish rail and stile doors?

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Forum topic by Matt Przybylski posted 08-03-2013 11:46 PM 3688 views 0 times favorited 12 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Matt Przybylski

566 posts in 2583 days

08-03-2013 11:46 PM

Topic tags/keywords: raised panel rail stiles finishing

I’ve got four rail and stile, raised panel doors that I need to finish. The parts are all done except for sanding. None of them are put together, everything is piece by piece still, and I’m debating how I should finish them. For what it’s worth I’ll be applying a gel stain and top coating with enduro var poly (both from GF). The wood is red oak. Here are my questions:

1) I’ve read many places to finish the panel before assembly so that if the door moves, it won’t have unfinished space on the sides/tops. I assume this is good advice and this was the plan I had. That begs the question, however, of do I then protect this panel by taping on paper when I put it all together and finish the rest of the door after assembly? Or do I finish each part separately and mask off areas that will receive glue eventually when assembling?

2) because I’m not putting the door together until its finished (presumably), when I go to drill holes for hinges (euro hinges with the cups) and hardware, I’d be drilling into finished wood which makes me a bit nervous. Is this a bad idea? If so, how do I pre-drill everything if the door is not together?

I apologize for the ignorant questions but its my first time making raised panel rail and stile doors and I’m pretty nervous since they took quite a while to make :/

Thanks for any advice that you can offer.

-- Matt, Arizona,

12 replies so far

View Redoak49's profile


3672 posts in 2194 days

#1 posted 08-04-2013 12:24 AM

The way that I make rail and panel doors is to assemble them and then finish them. If you are staining the doors, you might stain the panel before assembly. I do not know of anyone who finishes the parts before assembly. The reason for this is you may need to do some sanding after you glue the door together.

I make a glue frame for the doors out of a piece of 3/4” plywood and then screw some 1×2s to it. I make certain that the 1×2 are absolutely square and I do not but them together at the corner. Making this jig will make it much easier to put them together and clamp them and keep them square.

I always need to do a little bit of sanding before finishing as the corners may be off a little bit and need to be sanded flush.

I use a forstner bit to drill the euro hinge holes and do not have a problem. If this is the first time that you have done this, then I would be very careful in laying out where the hinges go and where you need to drill the holes. There are many of us including me that has drilled them in the wrong place at least once.

My typical finish is an oil based stain and then oil based poly with 3-4 coats of poly and sanding in between. I put the first coats on with a foam brush and then use a wipe on poly for the last coat. This works for me and I have made a lot of doors mainly out of red oak.

Good Luck.

View OggieOglethorpe's profile


1276 posts in 2316 days

#2 posted 08-04-2013 12:36 AM

I always fit doors before finishing, then remove the doors and hardware and finish everything.

I don’t totally prefinish panels before assembly, I stain or oil the panels, and apply sanding sealer. I spray the entire door as an assembled unit when applying the final clear coats.

View huff's profile


2828 posts in 3491 days

#3 posted 08-04-2013 12:55 AM


As the others have said; once I have all the pieces to my doors cut to size, I do the final sanding on all the panels. I stain and put a sealer coat on both sides of the panels. I then assemble and glue my doors (making sure they are square and flat).

Once they come off the clamps, I usually lay out and drill for my hinges and do my final sanding. Then I do my final staining and sealer coates. Final top coates and you’re done.

Good luck.

-- John @

View Matt Przybylski's profile

Matt Przybylski

566 posts in 2583 days

#4 posted 08-04-2013 02:23 AM

Ok, so this is all great info, thank you. Here is my new plan based on the above, then.

1) gel stain the panels after sanding smooth
2) assemble the doors with the stained panel inside
3) fit hardware and make sure everything looks good
4) take off hardware, sand rails and stiles and adjust as necessary if fit is not correct
5) stain remainder of door which at this point should be the rails and stiles (tape off the panel inside so it doesn’t get more stain?)
6) spray on enduro var poly on whole door

Do I have that correct? Of course, this brings on two more questions:

1) I was always under the impression that if you screw into wood and then remove the screw, putting the screw back in that spot means the holding power is no longer as good. Is that not true?

2) if I spray my clear poly on the fully assembled door do I not open myself up to portions of the door not having the topcoat if/when the panel moves in humid Chicago weather?

Again, really appreciate the help and input from everyone.

-- Matt, Arizona,

View huff's profile


2828 posts in 3491 days

#5 posted 08-04-2013 12:17 PM


The reason I put a coat of sealer on the panels after I stain them but before I assemble the door is; then I don’t have to worry as much about staining the remainder of the door after they are assembled and sanded. The sealer on the panels will help protect them.

If you are still concerned about the new stain getting on the panels, then you can always tape around the edge of the panel, but usually if you wipe your stain off if any gets on a panel it will not darken it.

The sealer coat also gives the panel a little finish and if the panel does move after finishing, it is hard to tell where the top coat stops and where there is just sealer ( unless you really glob on heavy coates of top coat).

Are you using any kind of “space balls” or spacers to keep the panel centered and snug, but allowing for the panel to be able to expand and contract?

I’ve found over the years when I see signs of where a panel has moved, it’s more often that the panel has slid from one side to the other; not that the panel actually changed size that much.

Again, if your panel is stained and a good sealer coat is applied before assembly, even if the panel shrinks or moves, it will be real hard to notice.

-- John @

View Matt Przybylski's profile

Matt Przybylski

566 posts in 2583 days

#6 posted 08-04-2013 01:32 PM

@john: that makes a lot of sense, thanks. I will be utilizing space balls, yes. What sealer do you use? I’m not familiar with sealers at all. What exactly does a sealer do?

Also, any I put on the screws being removed and then reapplied and their strength?

-- Matt, Arizona,

View huff's profile


2828 posts in 3491 days

#7 posted 08-04-2013 03:35 PM


I’m not sure what to use for your sealer under enduro var poly? Shelac makes a good sealer and I’m sure it would be fine with the enduro var poly. You can check on the can of poly and see what the manufacturer recommends as a sealer. (if any)

A lot of todays finishes can actually be used as the sealer also. Just spray a light coat enough to seal in the color and it seals the grain. The main reason to use the sealer is it makes sanding that first coat a lot easier. A sealer is soft and sands easily

I’ve sprayed pre-catalyzed lacquer for years, so I’m not sure what other products recommend.

I’ve always mounted hardware first and then removed for finishing. Just be careful not to over tighten either time they are mounted.

Getting in a hurry with a cordless drill can strip out the screws if not careful. Take your time and just snug things down the first time and you will be fine.

-- John @

View Matt Przybylski's profile

Matt Przybylski

566 posts in 2583 days

#8 posted 08-04-2013 06:42 PM

Thanks John, really appreciate your advice.

-- Matt, Arizona,

View AlanBienlein's profile


159 posts in 2880 days

#9 posted 08-04-2013 08:06 PM

I’ll stain the panels and the edges of the stiles and rails before assembly. I will then fit them if they are inset, finish sand and then stain the rest of the door and apply the top coat. Cherry doors assembled and sanded waiting for stain.

Cherry doors after stain and finish.

Pecan doors for my kitchen prestained and fitted to cabinet.

Same doors after final sand on the stiles and rails, stained and finished.

View Matt Przybylski's profile

Matt Przybylski

566 posts in 2583 days

#10 posted 08-05-2013 02:02 PM

Thanks for the pics Alan!

-- Matt, Arizona,

View EdfromEagan's profile


2 posts in 1442 days

#11 posted 01-06-2015 04:04 PM

Regarding a sealer and then a poly coat, I use Seal Coat shellac (2 very light coats), 600 grit sanding and then General Finish High Performance water-based poly. The shellac gives the wood a smoother, warmer look and the GF High Performance poly dries fast and very smooth. I think the final finish looks better with the High Performance mix vs. the Enduro mix.

Applying shellac can be frustrating. If you brush, I suggest dabbing the brush into shop rags before applying to the wood and only apply with the grain in one direction – no back and forth strokes because the shellac dries way too fast. If you miss a spot you will get it on the next coat, which can be applied in about 30 minutes. Think thin, thin, thin coats, otherwise the wood will look gummy and you will have to sand it down. If the project is large enough, I prefer to spray the shellac. It is very fast, you can re-coat in 30 minutes and it is easy to apply 2 very light coats.

Regarding staining the profile of the rails and stiles before assembly (something I would like to do), how do you keep the stain off the face of the rails and stiles? I use GF gel-based stain and it is nearly impossible to stain just an edge without also getting some on the face of the boards.

-- Ed from Eagan

View bonesbr549's profile


1576 posts in 3272 days

#12 posted 01-06-2015 04:44 PM

Well, I prefinish the panels completely. I assemble the door frames and then custom fit doors to openings, then tape off panels and then do the final finish.

-- Sooner or later Liberals run out of other people's money.

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