Tips on Frame and Panel Construction

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Forum topic by TheWoodenOyster posted 04-14-2014 06:37 PM 1072 views 0 times favorited 13 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View TheWoodenOyster's profile


1275 posts in 1358 days

04-14-2014 06:37 PM

Topic tags/keywords: frame and panel

Hey there everyone,

My mom has requested some basic frame and flat panel drawer fronts and cabinet doors in her bathroom. I plan on using 1/4” ply for the panels and 3/4 poplar for the frames. I have never done any “cabinet” work, so this is new to me. I have a few questions that I know many of you have some good answers to, so here it goes:

1. What is the best way to join the frames?

(Biscuits and pocket screws are out. Frame is to skinny for biscuits, it is 1 1/2” wide at some of the smaller drawers. Pocket screws will be visible from the back side of the cabinet doors. I have been considering dowels.)

2. How do I account for seasonal expansion of the frame?

(Seems to me like no matter which way you do the joints, they will expand and not line up, sort of like a poorly constructed breadboard. Maybe I needn’t worry about that with a max frame width of 2 1/2”, but I am a little concerned.)

3. What is the best way to glue panels up?

(I am trying to avoid as much glue drip as I can, as it’ll be tough and time consuming to clean. I also am looking to keep all the joints aligned to avoid having to plane or sand joint intersections much.)

4. Is MDF or veneered MDF a reasonable option for the panels?

(They will be painted, but I am concerned about moisture absorbtion when used in a restroom. My usual supplier doesn’t carry any decent 1/4” plywood.)

This is a little more of a batching out job that I am used to, so I wanted to tap some knowledge out there, cause I know most of you know a lot more about this procedure than me.


-- The Wood Is Your Oyster

13 replies so far

View bandit571's profile


14084 posts in 2106 days

#1 posted 04-14-2014 07:08 PM

Maybe something like this for a frame and panel build?

Never mind about the junk in the bottom,hehe, but this is the way I do F&P stuff

Those panels just sit in grooves. The tenons are sized to fit the grooves as well. Panels just sit in the grooves, no glue allowed. There is a product called Space Balls. Just small foam rubber balls that sit in the grooves, and lock the panel in place. They will allow the panels to shrink and swell, though. On the doors I made a long time ago, one small brad into the center of the panel, top and bottom, locked the panel in place. Panel was still free to expand and contract. Just didn’t rattle.

Grooves? Use the two outside cutters of a dado set. Set to the middle of the board’s edge. Set the depth about 1/2” or so deep. Size the rest to that groove.

Raised panels, or flat ones???

-- A Planer? I'M the planer, this is what I use

View SCOTSMAN's profile


5839 posts in 3008 days

#2 posted 04-14-2014 07:28 PM

Have fun safely.I would say why not try the pocket jig type holes. I bought or had bought for me a pocket jig for Christmas although I have yet to try it,from what I hear however it is a great way to build cabinetry. Alistair

-- excuse my typing as I have a form of parkinsons disease

View bondogaposis's profile


3972 posts in 1774 days

#3 posted 04-14-2014 08:34 PM

With plywood panels you can use stub tenons and glue up the whole thing, panel and all, for a very sturdy door.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View joeyinsouthaustin's profile


1294 posts in 1495 days

#4 posted 04-14-2014 08:40 PM

We use MDF panels in bathrooms all the time. Once properly painted they will be just fine. Groove and tenon is the way to go. I use 3/8” MDF for flat panels, and rabbet them down to fit the 1/4 groove. Hope that is helpful

-- Who is John Galt?

View TheWoodenOyster's profile


1275 posts in 1358 days

#5 posted 04-14-2014 08:58 PM

Thanks for the tips guys. I was thinking about stub tenons, which I assume is similar to tongue and groove? I suppose once you glue it all up, it would be more than solid.

Joey, glad to hear mdf is ok once it is painted. I was thinking that might be the case, but just wanted to hear it from someone else.

-- The Wood Is Your Oyster

View Loren's profile


8168 posts in 3070 days

#6 posted 04-14-2014 09:21 PM

1. you can plug pocket screw holes. I assume the work
will be painted. Dowels are fine too. Saddle joints are
strong and easy to cut on the table saw with a jig that
holds the work on end. They look cool too but if the work
is painted that doesn’t matter.

2. don’t worry about it. If the doors are inset, make
them slightly undersized or the same size as the opening
and carefully trim and shape with hand planes to fit the
openings with a consistent reveal all around. I like 3/32”.
Pay attention to the shadow line most of all. Even if
the door isn’t perfectly fitted the shadow line can be
manipulated to make it appear to be when closed.

3. Use exactly the right amount of glue. ;)

Some folks are waxing faces so glue doesn’t go in the pores
and removing the wax with mineral spirits after. I tried this
when gluing a guitar fingerboard recently and it worked
acceptably. For cabinet work I don’t know if it’s more
hassle than it’s worth.

4. For paint grade work or veneer, it’s great stuff generally.
I glue MDF panels in generally and I like to think the
flatness of the MDF helps the frame stay a little flatter too.

View TheWoodenOyster's profile


1275 posts in 1358 days

#7 posted 04-15-2014 03:27 AM

Thanks Loren. As usual, lots of useful info from you

-- The Wood Is Your Oyster

View pintodeluxe's profile


4827 posts in 2236 days

#8 posted 04-15-2014 04:24 AM

Stub tenon and groove construction is great for cabinet doors and frames. Make deeper mortises where strength is a concern. Frame and panel construction essentially solves wood movement issues. If it were a solid wood panel, you would make the panel slightly undersized, but mdf or plywood no problem.

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

View Rick M.'s profile

Rick M.

7725 posts in 1803 days

#9 posted 04-15-2014 04:46 AM

Stub tenons would be a good choice, mitered half laps would be another, or splined miters if the doors are smallish.


View runswithscissors's profile


2127 posts in 1448 days

#10 posted 04-15-2014 06:29 AM

One point not mentioned is that all your joints must be based on every piece—ends and edges—being absolutely square. I mean rail to stile joints. If not, you will get a twisted or warped door that cannot be made flat. Don’t count on powerful clamping to mitigate non-square material.

-- I admit to being an adrenaline junky; fortunately, I'm very easily frightened

View oldnovice's profile


5655 posts in 2790 days

#11 posted 04-15-2014 06:42 AM

Instead of MDF you can use double sided MDO!
This is the material the the California highway department uses for the large freeway signs.

The benefits of MDO:
  • takes paint beautifully
  • no grain to fill before painting
  • virtually no voids
  • stands up to water better than MDF
  • lighter than the same thickness of MDF
  • it doesn’t create as much dust when cutting

I use it for many of my painted projects!

-- "I never met a board I didn't like!"

View Rick M.'s profile

Rick M.

7725 posts in 1803 days

#12 posted 04-15-2014 03:56 PM

Good call on the MDO.


View Shawn Masterson's profile

Shawn Masterson

1295 posts in 1371 days

#13 posted 04-15-2014 06:50 PM

Something I haven’t seen stated yet. I make my panels from 1/2” material with a rabbit. I do this so I have a nice area to screw the front to the drawer box. You can screw right into the panel.

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