High-Quality Cherry Slab Doors

An extended discussion of the advantages of various ways to make slab doors. October 25, 2006

I have a customer that wants cherry doors in a contemporary look. These would be on euro boxes. The ones she has pictured are simply slabs. I have a couple of ideas about how to produce these, but would like others to chime in, as I have not actually done this before. Clear gloss finish (no stain).

Option one: solid wood slabs. Option two: cherry veneer on MDF core with thin solid wood edge glue applied. Comments on advantages, disadvantages and other options welcome. I'd prefer to learn from others who have done these. Top quality is essential.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor R:
Solid would will have more of a tendency to warp, and cost more. Veneered will be less expensive, and much less likely to warp. I would approach the customer with it, and lean toward veneered MDF or plywood myself.

From contributor M:
The best way would be to use MDF with cherry veneer (you can buy it that way from most suppliers). Edgeband with an iron-on cherry pre-glued edgebanding, and you are done - it is very easy and not very expensive. Solid wood and plywood will not stay flat.

From contributor J:
Ditto the veneered MDF panels and edge banding.

From the original questioner:
Thanks. Those are the answers I thought I would get. So, MDF core it is.

From contributor J:
Also... Buy veneered MDF panels. If you're going to use more than one sheet of material, be sure to order it SMN (sequence matched and numbered). The veneers will be uniform throughout your project.

From contributor D:
As contributor J said, order the panels sequenced. Then lay them out and cut up for continuous grain match throughout so when the project is complete, there is uniformity to the whole. The veneers should all center match on each panel. See the AWI Quality Standards book for good practice.

Then, do not use that d**n iron-on crap edgebanding. Use solid wood, 1/8" thick, butted or mitered at the corners. Flush this perimeter and then either bevel or round over the solid to within 1/32 of the veneer. This is far more durable than any iron-on or veneer. The finish is better, the feel is better, the cabinets wear and age better, and the solid speaks of quality.

A second way is to edge band the MDF, then lay up the veneers, all for a sequence match, then ease or bevel or round over the edges. This will give you far more choice and control over the veneers, and therefore the final look. At least that is how I would define top quality.

From the original questioner:
I was thinking of buying the MDF with veneer already on. I had not thought about asking for SNM. I will keep that in mind when ordering.

Contributor D, you said "The veneers should all center match on each panel. See the AWI Quality Standards book for good practice." Could you explain what is meant by "center match"? Also, I looked to see what AWI Quality Standards costs. Wow! $900 for non-members, $90 for members. Minimum $600 membership. I guess I'll hold off on the book.

From contributor F:
For your essential top quality criteria, veneer type edge banding is out of the question. The premium way to use solid egdebanding is to run a tongue on the banding and a groove in the panel edge. Of course the tongue would have to be notched back if you butt join the corners, so I always miter. The tongue simplifies alignment while clamping.

I think contributor D was referring to balancing your veneer work, which is always done on finer work with veneers (and solid panels, for the matter). There are two options depending on the individual door panel width. The first method is to put a joint between two leaves of veneer dead center in the width of the panel. This way you will have an even number of veneer leaves, whether full width or not, on each side of the center line. The partial width leaves would be at the left and right edges. The second method is to place the center of a veneer leaf at the panel's center. You would then have an equal amount of full and partial leaves to the left and right of the centered leaf of veneer. Naturally, a pair of doors would be cut using the same strategy of the two methods for each door in the pair and with similar if not exact veneer characteristics.

From contributor T:
1. Remember that the leaves are not always aligned with the edges of the panels. You have to sometimes cut the doors from the panel at a slight angle to compensate.

2. With cherry you will probably get pretty short runs that are matched. Stack all your boards against a wall and pick the boards with the longest run of matches for the biggest section, etc.

3. White chalk works well for marking your doors out on the panels, just don't leave it on so long that the cherry gets sunburned around it!

4. It is likely that your customer will not notice that you have matched the doors, but after you tell them, they will show everyone that sees their kitchen.

From contributor M:
The questioner decided, after soliciting advice, to veneer MDF with cherry veneer and add iron-on edge banding - a perfectly adequate formula. But the formula was pumped up all the way to thick solid-wood edgebanding mortised into the panel with "center-matched" veneers, selected sequence matched for the whole cabinet run. What has gone unnoticed in this process is the fact that the questioner's request for a solution has morphed up to a $4000 two-week job.

From contributor F:
In the first post, the questioner said that top quality is essential. Nobody is twisting his arm about what methodology to choose, as far as I can see.

From contributor T:
I wouldn't veneer the MDF; it will cost about twice as much and add unnecessary labor. The SM&N is pretty standard - that's what most of my suppliers stock for cherry veneer MDF. It is a good idea, in your case, because with a clear coat finish, you could end up with a lot of different colored doors if you don't use SM&N.

In my experience, customers can get pretty picky about color. The rest of the advice is just for building a higher quality euro door, but in the case of clear coated doors, solid edging is going to be more noticeable than edgebanding on the front of the door and not the best option. (My opinion only.) A veneered edge will be practically unnoticeable and the door will look more like solid wood. The edges on euro cabinets are protected pretty well by the design.

You can use your judgment about centering the seams: it is more time consuming than just starting from one edge of the panel and cutting doors. With dark stains that hide grain, or Q sawn veneers, it is not really necessary, but with a pretty strong grained wood like cherry, the seams will be pretty obvious in a clear coated door. I try to avoid gloss finishes. My finisher charges 3-4 times as much for gloss as for 30 sheen. Cost of a gloss finish is usually a job-killer.

From contributor P:
It really does come down to explaining what you would do, giving a price, and seeing if that's really what the customer wants. For my super-skookum slab doors, I resaw solid 12/4 cherry to generous 1/8 inch flitches, surface sand to 3/64, bundle them and joint the bundle, bookmatch and edge glue up pieces large enough for each door, and then vacuum-bag the cherry onto MDF panels already glued up with 1/8" cherry edges. Once you widebelt these doors to about 180 grit and gently break the edges, you've got the flattest, purtiest, high end slab door you could imagine.

Disclaimer: I admit that I have used iron-on banding in the past and there might be a place for it - but to imply that it is at all a lasting, durable piece of cabinetry is simply (to put it politely) misleading your client.

From contributor D:
Well, it all does come down to how one might define "top quality." With the wide range of what makes top quality here, can you imagine how the customer might be confused? The best quality may not even be noticed. Does it matter that the veneer flitches used in a Rolls Royce are recorded and stored for future restoration/replacement on that vehicle, should it ever be needed? Is this unnecessary? It doesn't matter - it goes with the territory of top quality.

The original post says top quality. While that is most definitely a marketing buzzword, I and others took it for face value and gave our definition of what it would mean in this situation. Again, the customer determines the level - knowingly or not, and it is our job to fulfill and exceed expectations. The questioner asked a valid question, and he knew to go beyond his own perceptions of what constitutes quality and to ask others - always a wise step in both business and craft.

I'll gladly stake out the top of my profession and leave the bulk of my competitors slugging it out in the trenches. Since this profession is plagued by the cheap trying to get cheaper, we all suffer from a case of not even recognizing inferior methods when we see/use them. The public suffers with the wide variant of "kwality" and as a result, has a wide range of expectations - reasonable and unreasonable. Educating the customer would include showing them a good example of matched panels and a similar example of no match, factory panels - as part of the selling. A good dialogue overall, despite the call to embrace mediocrity.

From the original questioner:
I appreciate the different views on quality and know that each has its place. The customer should get what they pay for and know what that is in advance. To give an idea of the build level I was intending, the box interiors would be pre-finished plywood with 3/4" sides, 1/2" backs, blind dado assembly. The drawers are solid wood English dovetail with Blumotion Tandem slides.

With regard to the gloss finish, I am not excited; we usually do a period style inset face frame with dull finish. I do intend to offer the gloss, but thought I would charge about $2000 extra.

I was concerned about seeing the edging from the front. I am not, however, a big fan of the thin edge banding. I like the idea of putting solid wood on MDF, then calibrating with the widebelt, then veneering. However, I don't have a wide belt yet, and think the costs of this will push beyond the customer's budget.

Sounds like the balance for this project will be pre-veneered MDF panels with a solid wood edge applied (1/8"). I normally bevel my door edges, so I'll do a sample and see if this combination minimizes the border look. I'll have to think about the tongue and groove application. While that sounds nice, my initial reaction is overkill.

From contributor P:
You might look into the Burgess Edge router bit set. I have not tried this, but the theory is appealing - combining the durability of a hardwood edge with the appearance of thin veneer. I believe there has been some mention on this forum of inconsistent results; not surprising with today's plywood. It looks like it needs a nuts-on accurate setup - perhaps MDF would remove the "varying thickness panels" from the equation.

From contributor F:
Yes, tongue and groove edgebanding is a lot of work and I rarely use it myself. I know you already know the basics and beyond and I tossed that out as an alternative. The best place for that technique is actually for plastic laminate drawer fronts or doors if used in a situation where they must last through tough conditions. I outfit vans for a fleet of mobile horse veterinarians who need something tough enough and easy to clean. Maple laminate with quarter inch maple banding works well. The tongue and groove makes flushing the edge banding to the laminate much easier. Interestingly, when I told the vet I felt like the project might be getting too costly for comfort, he told me that "junk" metal cabinets that are commercially made for horse doctor vans were selling for more than the nice wooden ones I was building him were.

Another method I have used that is very time consuming but yields beautiful results is "V" edging. The door and drawer front edges are sawn to leave a 30 degree "V" shaped recess around all edges. A "V" solid wood edging is then machined and mitered and glued in. I rarely use this technique, either, because it takes so long, but when used for veneered plywood or veneered MDF, you have to look really close to be able to determine that they aren't solid plank doors and drawer fronts and it provides the protection the veneer needs at the edges. Naturally, banding pre-veneered sheet goods is the most cost effective way to go, no matter what method you use to protect the edges.

From contributor W:
MLCS sells plywood edge bits similar to the Burgess bit mentioned. They have two; one cuts a "V" like contributor F does, and the other cuts more of a tongue and groove.

From contributor E:

If you're going to veneer MDF, definitely apply 3mm edgebanding (or 3mm hardwood strips). .5mm peels too easy, in my opinion.

One other option you may consider is to thermofoil the doors. This will provide a more durable finish and the RTF material will completely seal the front and edges of the door. Many of the European (imported) kitchens from Alno, etc., do this and they charge a mint for their products! Dackor carries the Skai brand of themofoil (used by Alno) that has some finishes that are very difficult to distinguish from real wood (see their Pella de Pesca and Fineze finishes).

From contributor U:
As someone who likes this style and builds it almost exclusively, I vote for edgebanding. If the 1/8" solid edge shows, it removes the whole point that the doors look like one big piece separated by 3/32"-1/8" reveals. 1/8" roundover would harm the look, too. Just ease the edges. I would be okay with cherry veneer core or classic core, too. Though less stable, this isn't generally a problem with euro hinges. I have less problems edgebanding ply than MDF. I also prefer to avoid lifting and sniffing MDF. You could build it tougher if they wanna pay, but if banded and sealed correctly, it's unnecessary.

From contributor S:
Cherry on MDF SM&N, like everybody says, is the way to go. As for edgebanding, call Richter USA. All the thicknesses you will ever need. .018 ( 1/25) for normal stuff - cabinet box edges; 1mm for door edges is my norm. 2mm for open shelves/ref. panels -can r.o. with 1/8" r.o. in lam trimmer. 3 to 5 mm I have not used yet. No E.B. mach. Don't cut your own edge. Buy the roll thickness you want and glue it on with Titebond 3. Nice brown glue line, clamp and mel cauls and lip plane off. Dozens of jobs done like this.

Drawer banks - B15. Cut blank to width, full height of cab plus e.b.2L cross to height stamp number on back - bases from the bottom of the sheets – uppers, top, etc.

Drill for hinges and hang heads before finish. As for the finish… MLC 1 coat vinyl sealer, then 2 topcoats gloss Krystal, Kremlin applied (buy one - figure it in your upcharge) and double it for polyester and a roll of 1/8" packing foam. Do not blanket wrap gloss - we learned! Do not clip on doors or heads until you are the last person out of the job site (we learned, also). Besides informing the customer of gloss upcharge, have them sign release as to gloss - glued on the back of a large sample that they have for a week or two. Tell them to beat it up, because that's what it will look like in a year or two. I have refinished some - their cost - that did not heed the warning - with satin.

From contributor G:
I'm not familiar enough with the US market, but in Europe there is available what's called 3-layer hardwood panels. It's basically 3/4" ply made of 3 layers only, same hardwood all through. Very stable, available 4' wide by varying lengths. Check out for example this Austrian manufacturer (tillygruppe.com), whose stuff I've used several times. It's a good solution for clients who want solid wood slab doors.

From contributor K:
Why is everyone so hot and heavy for MDF core on panel doors? I have always used particleboard and find it a better material than MDF. I know the stuff is cheap, but it just doesn't have the ability to hold together like particleboard. I know customers cringe at the sound of pb, but I usually tell them that I am using a high tech composite panel material that resists warping, cupping and twisting. Otherwise the morons demand plywood. And we all know what eventually happens to unfielded panel doors made from plywood. Don't get me wrong - I've learned to love making cabinets out of plywood. The stuff is a hell of a lot lighter than pb, and I would usually just alienate the customer trying to convince them that pb is a fine material to make cabinets out of. Damn IKEA, all their fault.

From contributor A:
I've done it both ways (referring to the original question) - once with solid because my client provided wood that was struck by lightning in his backyard, and that was all I had to use, but typically I use plywood, sometimes veneer core, sometimes MDF. The veneer in my area sometimes has a lot of figure in it, so it justifies the added hassle. Most of the time, I band the edges with solid 1/4". My clients seem to like the added look of the trim. Of course, banding with thin banding gives you the look of being seamless.

From contributor N:
The 3 layer panels are an elegant solution to a lot of designs, but to my knowledge they are not available in the USA unless you import directly. A wood floor company in our area brings in 3 layer engineered wide plank flooring from a similar company in Austria that also does the panels. I’ve shown the panels to a lot of lumber suppliers hoping to spark interest. We now have the bamboo panels that are a similar construction. My cousin in the Val di Non region of Trento uses them in his door making shop. Another shop in the area builds kitchen cabinets totally out of the panels, even the boxes. They are marketed as a totally natural product with no chemicals or off-gassing. Do you edge band these? I have always seen them with the edges exposed.

From contributor G:
No, we don't edgeband them. Clients who go for these doors are made to understand the 3-ply construction and why it is necessary. We're not hiding it, and in fact it doesn't look bad at all. Before the panels were available, we refused to do slab doors, but they have made it a viable option. We use either Austrian or Italian imports. Prices vary quite a bit depending on the quality of the panels. A good (no gaps) white oak panel runs us about $150 per sq. meter. It sometimes seems a lot, but there's no work except cutting to size and finish.

From contributor N:
I agree - it is an honest material and the exposed edge looks good.