Setting Up to Build Cabinet Doors

Even if you usually outsource, building your own doors in special circumstances can make sense. Here's advice on machinery and tooling for that scenario. June 16, 2014

I have a small shop and sub out most of my cabinet doors. I was thinking of starting to build some of my own. I have read most of the info on WOODWEB and think I can produce a lot of my own cabinet doors. I have a lot of the equipment required already. What is the most efficient way to build a five piece door for a small shop? I have one shaper and was looking at another one. I was also wondering what the Unique equipment is like - am I better off to buy a Unique door machine? I’m looking to get some insert tooling – what tooling is being used the most out there?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor L:
My guess is you would be financially better off to buy your doors and invest in something that returns better pay for your time. If you don't see it that way be sure you get a decent shaper, 1 1/4" spindle, used European, powerfeed with good dust collection. As for the tooling most production shops use inserted tooling. It might not pay for a very small shop. The advantages are that it always stays the same profile and diameter, is never out for sharpening and lasts a very long time even in high production. Many of them can change profiles just by changing inserts. If you go looking for them look for the DIN certification for whatever method of feed you will use. For hand feeding that means chip limiting. It just might save your hand sometime. If you are going into serious production (for a small shop) the latest unique machines look good.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for your input. I was just wondering what you had in mind when you said "invest in something that returns better pay for your time."

From contributor S:
I have a couple of shapers with sliding tables etc. and tooling to make doors. The only doors I could make some good money on are entry doors and custom doors for libraries, etc.

From contributor L:
Would you rather make $2/ hour and invest $4K to do it or would you be better off selling more kitchens where you can make a decent profit? Put your maximum effort where the best return for your time is. Your time is the only thing you have to sell and it is not infinite!

From contributor D:
The doors you have been buying have nice, sanded profiles? That is the difference between you spending a few thousand on equipment, and the door companies. You will be stuck in sanding purgatory, making $2/hour for an inconsistent product. If you choose to ignore that fact, Weaver shapers are excellent and worth getting because you really want their power feeds that have belts, not rollers.

From Contributor W:
We’ve been outsourcing doors since 2000 and as our company grew I never have regretted this decision. As for what to buy that's easy – a CNC ATC router.

From Contributor J:
We are also a small shop that does mainly kitchen cabinetry. We outsource some jobs, but also make special doors in-house. The doors we make are generally all bookmatched panels, with rails and stiles possibly of different wood species than panels. In other words it’s more labor intensive but what sets us apart from the other shops and suppliers in our area. But, you have to be able to charge more for that product. For the average cabinet job I agree with the other posters - it makes sense to buy from another source and concentrate on the quality and speed of your boxes, faceframes, etc.

By the way, for a small shop you don't always have to have the best, most expensive equipment to turn out a product if you don't have a large volume of product to build. In my first few years I managed quite nicely with a shop made shaper with a 1" spindle and no power feed hooked up to a homemade dust collector. If you do go ahead, look for a decent used shaper with a good sized table. It doesn't sound like we're talking a huge volume of doors to justify a Unique system unless you find a great deal on a used unit.

From Contributor B:
As a small one man shop I run my own doors and can control the grain and color and matching far better than when you outsource. I charge enough for my doors to make money on them. I run 5 shapers, and the stile and rail are always set up raised panel and molding and edge detail.The machines were all bought used one at a time over the years - five is just right for me. In a small shop if you are extremely busy go ahead and outsource your doors. My experience was not good on the one set of doors I outsourced in 30 years, so I make my own. Used shapers are readily available from $500-$2000 for just about anything you want. Each machine will pay for itself after a few sets of doors.

From contributor F:
Good points given already. I agree with doing what’s right for you. If you’re knocking out generic kitchens all day long then buying doors may be the best way to go. If on the other hand you’re doing more one-off type jobs having the basic setups to make your own can be handy. I make my own doors, both cabinet and passage, as it's a better way for my shop. I can match grain on doors and bookmatch the panels when needed as well. Of course that type of work is going to be more expensive, but if you have the clientele who'll pay for it, you have to be able to provide that quality.

I have several heavy Euro shapers that do a nice job of being able to produce whatever I need. The Unique and similar machines are too limiting for a shop like mine. I don't do enough cabinet doors to justify one. With a big shaper you can do your cabinet doors and panels and then switch out for passage doors, custom moldings, and whatever comes your way. For me flexibility is key and a big accurate shaper gives you a lot of flexibility.

From Contributor O:
I would add that you can use the shop-made product to give added value. I think that is the buzzword for your product and your shop. You make it all and control the grain, the veneers, the look and layouts, etc. You can exercise creative freedom at will to the benefit of your customers. This will help set your shop apart. The rest can help you get better work and more work per project. Your thoughts on tooling are good and reasonable, and easy to resolve.

From contributor L:
Bottom line to all of the above: make what your customer will pay for. Charge enough for those special doors to offset your lost opportunity costs. If you are in this for the long haul, price wisely. There are folks on this site that turn their noses up at using CNC or doing anything or anyway other than the traditional labor intensive methods. That said a CNC won't necessarily make you piles of money. It will enable you to though. It still takes a business mind set. Same applies to having employees.

From Contributor B:
Some jobs may be small and some big. I make my own doors for the quality not because of any traditional values. I have had the pleasure of building jobs that have been cut on a CNC . No fine tablesaw can match the accuracy and quality of the cuts when all is good.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for all the thoughts. I don't intend on building all the doors I need but a few profiles for small jobs for veneer matching or for different kinds of wood in the same door. I have seen lots of man door parts done on a pod and rail CNC, and lots of MDF cabinet doors done on a nesting CNC. Can you do five piece cabinet doors on a nested CNC?

From contributor K:
You can do five piece doors using CNC but I don't think it would be practical.

If you are seeing this message, your version of flash needs to be upgraded to view this video.
Click here to get the latest version of the Flash player.