Applied Mouldings on Cabinet Doors

Tips on how to achieve production-shop speed and custom-shop quality when applying mouldings to frame-and-panel cabinet doors. September 23, 2006

Are there secrets to installing applied molding? This is proving to be very time consuming. I started out by making the moldings with a rabbet on the outside edge of the molding so that the molding would overlap the door frame by + /- 1/8". Sanding each door so the distance from the face of the door to the panel is exactly the same on every door seems impossible. If it is not then either the molding sticks up too far from the face of the door, or the molding doesn't reach the panel. We could tilt the molding to get a decent fit to the door, but then the miters would be bad.

The last batch I tried fitting the molding without the rabbet, which makes precision miter cuts crucial, but we had no worries about thickness variances in the doors. Iím still having trouble with getting perfect miters though. If I make the applied molding frame flat on the table the miters are perfect, but when I put it in the door and push it down tight to the panel the miters almost always open up. If I install one stick at a time I get better joints but it takes longer. Should I make the frame first and wait for the glue to dry before installing it to the door? Maybe I should use PUR or similar hot glue?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor A:
Do you want to be in the door business? Why are you knocking yourself out? If you buy your doors without the moulding, ask the manufacturer what the distance is from the surface of the door to the panel, you will know what you need in the way of a moulding. Buying the doors should give you a consistent measurement and you can add the moulding to save money if you want. I know having the door company apply the moulding can be pricey. It sounds like you're burning up a lot of time fabricating moulding and trying to get a level of quality you're satisfied with. The whole problem could be in your moulding. Don't be penny wise and pound foolish.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the response. I'm definitely questioning the value of building doors in house. In this case, however, I'm trying to keep a personal approach. It is a large job (175 inset cabinet doors/5 pc. drawer fronts) and nearly every room has a different combination of molding/raised panel. The customer has set a ridiculously high standard of grain and color matching so we are doing things like batching stiles, rails, and panels so that the grain and color blend throughout a wall or group of cabinets.

We have been building cabinets and doors in batches, and the customer has been pleased with the results. I think the illusion of having a hand crafted product is very important to her. If I bought out the cab doors, and she knew about it, it would totally change her perception of the product.

In any case, using an applied molding sure adds a nice look to the doors. Much more refined. I'm just having a hard time finding a good, fast, repeatable system for installing the molding. Maybe I'm splitting hairs, but it takes about 15 minutes to cut the four pieces of moulding, install them, fill any bad miters, and sand. This is about the same amount of time it takes to build the door. Also it takes a fairly skilled carpenter, which I'm short on right now. I suppose some sort of automatic cutoff saw would speed things up, but that's not in the near future.

From contributor B:
15 minutes is a lot of time. Coincidentally I'm working on what sounds like a very similar project today - beaded face frame inset door with lots of wainscoting, endpanels, and appliance panels. These are all applied mouldings doors and panels.I sat down and made a bunch of test doors to figure out which method would be the most cost effective. I ended up making flat panel doors with 3/8 panels. I had my grinding company make me a variation of a cove/bead moulding. It is inset to the frame. It is about 1/32" proud of the frame. There's a 1/16" groove created between the moulding and frame.

To apply the moulding you can simply miter a pile of lefts or rights and then mark the return miter off of the door. I made a table for the chopsaw so you can line up the mark with the kerf mark on the table. This allows you to mark the back of the moulding and cut it backwards with no blowout. It's all very fast. 5 minutes a door when doing a dozen or two. The rabbeted styles always are a pain. The other trick is to backcut the top and bottom of panel, so it leaves a little hollow space in the corner of the frame. The moulding lays a lot flatter. At the end of the day you have two choices - charge 50% more for applied moulding doors or outsource mitered doors and live with the fact that they will crack.

From contributor C:
I am currently doing some applied mouldings on a bar wall that sound similar to what you are doing. There are only 6 large panels, so time isn't as important as quality but it does take a while. If I had that many doors to do, I would definitely order them. If the customer has high standards he should be happy to know that his doors were made in a specialized shop that has lots of money invested in tooling. If he wants the hand made look, then a few gaps (not in miters) shouldn't be a big deal. I would point out that even the highest end raised panel doors have some small gaps around the panel to allow for expansion.

From contributor D:
Applied moldings are a pain. I think you want them tight to the frame, not the panel, especially if they're painted. If they're stained, they should look fine once they're done. Did you try finishing one all the way through to see what it would look like? You have to watch out for glue squeeze-out from the applied molding binding up your panels, too.

From contributor E:
It sounds like you could benefit from two approaches that we take. Run all rail and site and raised panel material on a shaper with power feed. I usually run the profile first, and then the cope. We do this by making a sliding jig for the cope that has two fences, one for the flat edge and one for the profile (no power feeder at this point). That allows us to be more efficient on the grain and color matching as well as linear foot usage. The power feeder allows us to have consistent joinery.

I use a disc sander along with a shop made, two sided miter gauge jig to grind the miters. That allows me to precisely fit the trim, and makes a dead perfect miter if set up properly. It would be unacceptable in my shop for a cabinetmaker to fill a miter joint on something done in-house, especially if the item in question is ninety degrees. If you don't have one I would suggest investing in a 24 inch Starrett combo square. They are well worth the money.

From contributor F:
We do quite a few of these types of doors. We use a Hoffman dovetail spline key machine on the mitered frames then after assembly we cut the rabbet around the frames to fit the door allowing us to creep up on the correct depth. This may sound like a lot of steps but average time to cut, machine the dovetails, assemble the frames, rabbet the edges, and install into the door frame is 2-1/2 minutes each. The Hoffman allows us to assemble the frames without any glue which speeds up tremendously and does not risk squeeze out. The limits are that the frame has to be wide and deep enough to have room for the dovetail keys.

From the original questioner:
How do you cut the rabbet around the frames? Router table with bearing bit? Router table with fence and straight bit? Other?

From contributor F:
The rabbet is cut on a shaper against a fence using an insert rabbeting head. We like this cutter best due to the side knife which cuts without tearing out the edge.

From contributor D:
I'm having a hard time picturing how you use a dovetail spline on the panel molding. The applied moldings I've used on doors are usually pretty small - less than an inch wide or less and 5/8 - 3/4" thick. Does this only work with a fairly beefy molding?

From contributor F:
The sizes you mention are perfect for the spline. You would not have a problem until the profile was say less than about 5/8 wide and 1/2 thick. The Hoffman keys are only about 5/16 wide and are offered in many lengths to suite the material thickness. I use there smallest machine which is a portable bench top unit. We use the same on our mitred doors, only we use two keys per joint.