Should Raised Panels be Proud of the Door Frame?

The evolution of shop equipment has changed what is usual, but that doesn't make the new way standard. July 25, 2010

I just started making my own doors in-house and I bought the UC-9000 shaper bit set from Freud. From what I understand about making doors, the panels are normally 5/8" thick, unless you use a back cutter, and then you can make 3/4" panels. The panel bit that comes with the set is made for 3/4" material, but no back cutter is included. Does anyone make their doors with the panel being 1/8" proud of the stile and rail? From my point of view this is not the correct way, but the people at Freud are telling me that it is acceptable. How do you make your doors?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor K:
How are you going to run it through a big sander to clean it up if the panel is proud? The fastest way to build a raised panel door is...

Glue up the panel,
Cut the stile and rails,
Raise the panel (don't sand yet),
Assemble the door.
Now run the whole thing through the sander.

Actually the fastest way is to outsource, but when I build them, that's my method.

From contributor L:
Actually, that is the correct way to make a raised panel door. That is what the term "raised" is referring to. A modern door should be called a beveled panel door, not raised. And yes, I make them this way. You can't send them through a widebelt sander without getting rid of the raised part. You have to use a hand sander to get it done.

From the original questioner:
I sand the back of the panel before assembly. But because we make a lot of MDF doors, I am used to doing the outside profile once the door is complete, but the 5 piece doors will not sit on the shaper flat. Also, it does make it rather hard to finish sand the stile and rail after assembly.

From contributor L:
I sand the whole panel before assembly. If it is a painted door, I prime the panel and scuff the primer. If it is a stained door, I will stain the tongue, front and back, so when the seasons change you don't have a raw streak showing. With a natural job I will seal the panel for the same reason, plus sealing the end grain will make the panel more stable with humidity changes. I will also sand the profiles on the stick and rail. Much easier to do it before the door is assembled.

From contributor A:
Contributor L is correct in stating it's more traditional to have the panels proud. It certainly makes the sanding aspect more difficult. If you look at old shaker doors, they have 3/4" panels that stick out the back of the door. Keep in mind back in the day it took a lot of work to make a board thinner. I encourage you to buy a 5/8" panel cutter. I realize it's about $140, but when you compare the cost of sanding the proud doors, it looks cheap. You should likewise get a backcutter. They sell 5/8" MDF, which is the best material for paint grade panels. Likewise they sell 3/8" MDF for flat panel doors.

From contributor F:
Flush raised panels and back cutters are really a production solution that came about after the wide belt sander became a common shop tool. A panel that protrudes from the surface of the stiles and rails is not incorrect and was common before wide belts entered the scene. I personally see it as way more cost effective to buy and use a back cutter than to surface 13/16" stock down to 5/8" if you are going to use a wide belt in the sanding process.

From contributor G:
I'd bet good money none of your customers could care less if the panels are raised panel or beveled panel. Exchange what you have if not used yet or buy a panel cutter for 5/8" panels (back cutter optional for 3/4" panels), move on, and make more money building this way. If Freud insists that what they sold you is in your best interest to make money, buy from a different company. Even if you don't have a widebelt now, you may in the future, and you need to consider that while investing in tooling.

From contributor L:
You'd lose that bet. I have a client that checks every time I bring something in that has a panel. Gets out the straight edge and makes sure the panel is proud. He doesn't want anything that can be mass produced.

From contributor F:
Am I nuts here, or wouldn't it be way faster and therefore cheaper to buy a back cutter rather than to surface 3/16" off of all your panels every time?

From contributor L:
I would bet you are correct. Plus you could sand the door and the panel at the same time without a separate sanding. But you would still have to sand the bevel by hand (or machine if you had a profile sander) before you assembled the door.

From contributor M:
I don't own a wide belt, and I still only do back cut as well because I don't want to stand at the planer to get it all down to 5/8.

From contributor D:
From my experience when the panel is proud of the frame, there is more road rash on the panel face after assembly. Edge work and sanding and boring for hinges can be a challenge when the panel is proud, not to mention wide belt sanding.

Raised panel or beveled panel, we are splitting hairs. I have found the extra weight of a full thickness panel adds no integrity to the product but may actually work against us on very large doors.

I also have never had a client ask or care unless I was matching an existing door. I have never had them ask if I screw my face frames or use M&T either. Every now and then they will ask about dovetail drawers.

From contributor O:
If using just on wood, use the tantung cutters from Freeborn; they are sharper and last longer. If doing MDF, use carbide. MDF will dull tantung on the first pass. If you do an MDF job with carbide, you need to get them sharpened before doing a wood job. The better solution is to just buy your doors.

From the original questioner:
Basically the purpose of the thread was to figure out if making doors with the panel proud is the standard way. I see some people do, but most seem not to. I am really just irritated that I bought a $500 shaper bit set and it makes the panels proud of the door. I was just trying to see if I had a leg to stand on saying to Freud give me a 5/8" panel bit or a back cutter.

From contributor L:
As of now, this is not the "standard" way of doing it. Using a flush or below flush to the face panel is now considered the norm. The all mighty dollar has once again beaten tradition and prestige out of a product.

From contributor G:
I'd be upset too. Have you talked to Freud about this? Might be worth a try.

A panel that is flush with the stile and rails has been standard for quite some time. If it needs to be checked with a straight edge, one has to wonder if it is really worth the extra work. In my world, no. If I had a customer such as contributor L's who insisted on it and is willing to pay for a true raised panel, I'd do it in a heartbeat.

By the way, years ago, I also unknowingly purchase a raised panel cutter such as yours.

From contributor E:
I use a Freud raised panel cutter and 3/4 hardwood for my panels, with 3/4 rails and stiles. This leaves the panel 1/8" proud of the frame. I hand plane and/or sand prior to assembly. The raised effect helps give better definition to the cabinet detail from a distance. I used this approach for the kitchen below and the panel detail shows up well even with the all white finish.

Because I cut my rails and stiles first, another advantage of not using a backcutter is that if the panel edge is a shade tight in the rail and stile grooves, I can raise the bit into the wood 1/32" or so and fix any tight fit issues due to a little swelling or other irregularity. In the end, though, it's just personal (or customer) preference.

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