Equipment for Fine-Tuning the Fit of Inset Doors

Cabinetmakers talk about equipment choices for refining the edges of inset doors for a perfect fit. April 6, 2011

I'm wondering how everyone else is fitting their doors and drawer fronts. I've been using the table saw and a sled. Are most of you using an oscillating edge sander? I have a smaller non oscillating sander now and am considering upgrading and was justifying its purchase. It will work well for drawer sides and the like I'm sure, but will it speed up fitting doors and fronts? Any info is appreciated.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor K:
I use an oscillating belt sander. Itís very useful tool for many jobs in the shop. A 6" x 108" or thereabouts is large enough to do any of the jobs properly.

From contributor C:
We are doing mostly inset door jobs. It sets us apart in the present market and gets us a lot of work. And we do charge dearly for it. Our fitting is done with a combination of table saw, jointer, and edge sander. All are running at once and are close-by to minimize time. With experience you will find it is not as monumental a task as it first seemed.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the responses. I'm mostly beaded inset (90% or better) and have it down. It just ties up the jointer and tablesaw for a period of time and was just wondering if an oscillating edge sander was that much better/faster than my current methods. I'm on the fence with buying a new dovetail machine or a good edge sander. Seems the edge sander is more versatile.

From contributor J:
I've used a good one (Kundig) and a bottom of the barrel Bridgewood and General machines that are less than $500 I think. Those latter two are in the shop now, and are used every day for countless tasks. Itís just a belt sander, not an edgebander or panel saw.

From the original questioner:
Does it oscillate? I have a edge sander now that does not, and I can't remove material fast enough, hence the table saw. I just use the edge sander to clean up doors after I fit them with the table saw. Do oscillating sander remove material fast enough without burning?

From contributor K:
That is the point of oscillating. The belt lasts longer by not burning or loading up in one spot. New 80 or 100 grit paper will remove as fast as you want to. It will take your finger tip down to the bone in the blink of an eye. I start by using the bottom of the belt and as the paper gets dull I raise the table 3/4" at a time. Most of the time the paper will get dull before it loads up and burn but it takes a while. Sanding wet glue joints will ruin the belt. Get a machine where you can remove the guard on the end so you can use it as a big spindle sander also. It makes the machine even more versatile. I would think you can find a good used machine today for $300 - $400.

From contributor W:
I made up a large router table, big enough to support an average size door. The fence is set to remove 1/32", if the opening is out of square, I start with the leading corner of door on the out feed side of fence and get a nice 1/32" taper. Set up router next to assembly station and free up saw and jointer, inexpensive to make and does not have to be fancy. Finish up with oscillating edge sander.

From contributor Y:
Question: Is there any other manufacturing industry that hand-fits parts like everyone here is suggesting for flush inset doors? My thinking has always been that if I can't get a door to sit nearly perfectly in a face frame opening - assuming 3/32" gaps, say - then either my face frame or door fabrication is not precise enough and fundamentally flawed. Mind you, we haven't quite made it there yet. We don't do a ton of flush inset, so we haven't put forth the time or money to try to get to where zero time is spent fitting.

When we've done flush inset with mortised butt hinges, we've fit the doors. However when we do flush inset with European hinges, we do not fit the doors. We cut them to size, finish sand them, and hang them. Yes our gaps (2.2mm approx) are very, very good. We've tried some flush inset with butt hinges and no fitting, but our mortising wasn't precise enough.

Think about what you need for flush inset doors to fit without trimming. You need a face frame opening that is square and precisely sized. You need a door that is square and precisely sized. If you are doing mortised butt hinges, you need a precisely machined hinge and a precise mortise depth and location. Pretty simple, really. We're dealing with rectangles, and very few factors.

I don't think that we're special because we're dealing with wood. Metal has even more problems with movement. The machinery at our disposal allows us to fabricate to remarkable precision. Why then do we allow ourselves to waste time fitting doors by hand?

From the original questioner:
Contributor Y, I agree with your thought process. You say, "We cut them to size, finish sand them, and hang them." That's what we're talking about, "cutting them to size". To rough glue a door to the approximate size you need is pretty tough/unlikely. I'm trying to find the easiest way to do this. I'm simply asking if sanding is more efficient then jointing an edge, 90 degree crosscutting, then final trim to size.

From contributor J:
I think if you can't remove enough material on the non oscillating edge sander you are needing to remove too much. I make or order the doors the size of the opening. I am then only trimming for the gap. I will take a pass on the jointer to start, but I'm doing the bulk of the work on the edge sander. No it doesn't go up and down, but the table does and if I wear out a spot, I just move the table up some.

From contributor P:
I don't know if it's typical for all edge sanders, but on mine (Pacco) the table can be tilted in the long direction (it's still square to the belt) to spread wear across a larger portion of the belt without oscillating. If your sander doesn't have this ability, it would be easy to build an angled form to achieve the same result.

From contributor W:
We do almost all inset doors and used to fit them using a combo of joiner, slider and belt sander. It was a major time sucker. I've since completely re-worked our assembly process so that our face frames are assembled and attached dead square. We use cut-to-length scrap spacers for each opening while assembling so that they come out square and the right size. Finally, I got my door formula and shaper setup down so that the doors come out the correct width and 1/8" long so we can trim/square the ends on the slider. All these measures mean that we no longer fit doors. They're made from a cutlist and go in to their opening with consistent 3/32" reveals 99.9% of the time. It amazed me how much time this saved. It was a bit arduous to get it all dialed in, but it's improved our whole process down the line and it's done quicker.

From contributor H:
We build a hybrid inset with a frameless box with applied ends and lightrail and other assorted fillers and wall scribes. Our door vendor sizes all doors and drawers on his CNC and we have never had to fit a door or drawer to a specific opening. Weíre going on ten years of doing this.