Sanding and Squaring Raised Panel Doors

It's typical to build raised-panel doors a hair over-size so that they can be squared up accurately as a final step. In this thread, cabinetmakers describe the various ways they go about it. April 18, 2011

I have been making raised panel doors for about two years. I make my doors about 1/16" bigger than the finished size so I can sand them down to the size and square them. I use a Weaver edge sander with a 100 grit paper to sand them down to size. I have tried to make them the exact size but they're always a little off. What do most cabinet door shops do to make this process fast?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor L:
You are wasting a lot of time sanding to square and size. Make sure your machining is correct and you should be able to clamp to square. Leave your cope shaper set up so you get the same cut every time. I used a gage block on the calibrated miter saw to cut my rails. It subtracted the stiles and added the cope tenons from the desired door width, no math required. Run to an outside fence to shape your sticking (powerfeed required). Again you can make a setup panel (locks into the miter groove) to locate the shaper fence and use a gage block to set the outside fence. No measuring required. Remember to label your gage blocks for the door frame widths.

From contributor O:
I make my door about 1/64th over on width and 1/16" on length. I do more on the length so I can get rid of any chipout due to the cope. A fresh 150 grit belt on the edge sander makes pretty quick work of it. I have a sled that is square so there is little thinking to keep it square.

I use a couple of spacer sticks to get my margin around the doors. 3/16" in the winter (3/32 margin) and 5/32 in the summer (5/64 margin).

From contributor A:
I used to work at a shop that wasted days and thousands of dollars doing the same thing. Well, after a lean journey, here it is... I cut all stile and rails to 1/16" wider than needed and then wide belt or plane to consistent thickness and finished width. We then cut all stiles and rails to the correct dimensions needed to come up with a completed door at its dimension. The panels are raised and we place pads on our clamps to keep from damaging the stiles - no cutting or trimming - just straight to the wide belt, profile and then circle sand - the edges are done in the beginning, so they get a quick circle sander hit.

From contributor C:
When I started to make my own doors a couple years back, I quickly realized I needed a fast, accurate way of assembling doors, so I bought a Ritter door clamp machine. I simply cut and shape my stiles, rails, and panels using three shapers. When ready to assemble, I apply glue and assemble the door on the clamp machine and press the pedal and woosh, the air pressurized clamps do all the work of squaring and tightening the door. I leave the door on the machine while I prepare the pieces for the next door and when those pieces are ready, I take the first door off the machine and set it aside to dry and keep going.

I also made myself a panel clamp rack to glue up panels using pipe clamps. Brand new, these racks can be expensive for their purpose, so I made my own and it works well. I can glue up 8 panels at one time but I have developed a system with which, by the time I'm done gluing the 8th panel, I can take off the first one I glued and put that aside and glue another and take off the second and glue another and so on until I'm done.

I cut my stiles and rails 1/8" bigger just in case. When a door is ready to cut to size, I cut 1/8" all around.

From contributor R:
I have built them every way you can imagine, except sizing and squaring with sandpaper as you stated. I evolved into my present method over many years and I could completely eliminate resizing if I chose to, but it still works for me. You could try it. I rip my stock 2 3/8 wide and add 1/4'' to my stile length, giving me a door 1/4'' oversized, then resize to width on table saw, then square up when taking 1/8th of top and bottom length on an industrial strength RAS, and it always seems like an added step and complete waste of time, until I find that one door in every set that for some reason or another came out less than square.

It takes about 1 hour to square and resize a 25-30 door kitchen, which is recovered because I can fly on assembly because no matter what, they are gonna end up square with flush, tearout free joints, when I'm done. All I really have to watch out for is sawdust between the material and the sled when I'm doing the cope cut on the rails, or maybe a twisted rail. It's just cheap insurance, and when I'm done every door is perfect to the naked eye and a 16'' X 24'' framing square. By myself, starting from scratch, I can build 35 raised panel doors a day, which I'm sure someone here can double with 5 shapers and a door clamp, but I figure it's good enough for me working alone. The world was not built in a day.

From contributor U:
I am with contributor R on this one regarding oversizing. I machine all sticking cuts at 60 mm for a 55 mm finished dim (after trimming), and add 10 mm to my sticking lengths for the doors. This allows plenty of beef all around the door for clamp marks, dings, etc... no worries about crushing an edge. Sand both faces with 80 grit to remove squeezeout at the joints, and initial surface prep. Then CC 5 mm off the ends using a stop block on the miter gauge and the fence at finished size, and finally rip both edges, using the rip fence at +5mm for the first trim, and a 5mm spacer for the finish trim. Perfectly square, clean, straight edges and doors are the result.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor A:
If you can afford it, get a JLT door clamp machine. I do most of my cabinetmaking with inset doors, as long as my cuts are square on my face frames, my doors are square and need very little if any sizing after glue-up. I allow a 1/16" to 3/32" all the way around for clearance. The door clamp machine is one of the best investments I made for inset door construction. I use a Kreg face frame table and Pneumatic drill machine for face frame assembly. I am a one man cabinet shop and I believe that surrounding yourself with good machinery aids you in doing better and faster work, and is usually worth the cost in the long run.