Stile and Panel Material Size Optimizing in a Production Door Shop

Advice on material optimizing in production cabinet door manufacturing. May 12, 2013

Is there an easy, productive way to determine how many staves or boards to use in panel glue ups? We are a new door company and things are starting to fall into place as far as our process for building doors, but we still struggle with our panel process. How many staves and what are the minimum and maximum widths you use?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor L:
I try my hardest to use two boards per panel, 6-8" wide. Obviously when doing wider panels, you will use more than two boards. If I were in business only making doors, the likelihood would be using smaller boards of nearly equal widths. I hate that look personally, but it would be more economical and could be more stable.

From contributor M:
When you rip your boards down, you get 1 of 4 things: a panel piece, 2 stiles, or a stile and panel piece, or a drawer front. On the real wide boards you have lots of options, which is good too. So your panel pieces are determined by the material supplied to you.

From contributor B:
Contributor L, given you felt you had some very stable material from a very good source, what is the widest single board panel you would run?

I have always wondered about this because I deal with a great supplier and often get packs with lots of very wide boards (sometimes 15"+) and I have had pieces around the shop for long periods of time that have remained completely flat. I recently opened a 12' pack of FAS red oak and set aside perhaps 30 or more dead clear 13"-15" wide boards.

I have always assumed the ever narrowing boards in panels on commercial cabinet doors was more due to companies bringing in lower grades and breaking them down in house resulting in high quantities of narrow boards.

From contributor L:
8" is about as big as I go, because that is the limit of my jointer. On occasion I use my buddy's 16" jointer for wider boards. I don't have any worries about using wider boards. When you glue them up they act as a single entity anyway. As long as you feel you have a stable board, use it.

From contributor K:
There was an old cat, now deceased, named Jerry Metz that wrote a column for Furniture and Design or some such trade freebie magazine for 30 years or more. He apparently had done a stint as a production manager in a furniture factory and parlayed it into a consulting job. In the pre-internet days, his column was popular - the only reason anyone would pick up the magazine. He published Metz's Rules, a compendium of articles. Knowledge was in very short supply back then.

Anyway, Jerry was a fan of 'rip and flip', which still comes up here on WOODWEB. Basically, his idea was to not trust any piece of wood, so cross cut to rough length, then rip it to 3" or less, flip it and then glue it to another board or 2 or 3. The tactic was to limit your problem to a single 3" board instead of a whole panel.

While this sounds good at first glance, if you had a problem board, you ripped it up and now put the problem board into 3-6-or 9 panels, all of which are going to respond to the over wet, or over dry, or over stressed piece of wood. When I met him at a show once and asked him this burning question, he was unable to address what I saw as a lapse in logic.

I have no problem using wide boards where needed and have never had a problem. I know my wood, buy the best and play by the rules - not Jerry's, but just good craft.

I think your process should be modeled on good industry practice and your rough mill will be either 'cross first' or 'rip first' and set up accordingly. Panel stock typically accumulates and a panel maker grades by color and grain and picks and sorts for better looking panels. In fact, this is now automated -has been for 12 years or so. Then on to glue up racks and then planers and then tenoners for sizing and raising.

From contributor L:
I try to protect my panels as much as possible. One of the things I always do to my solid wood panels is put a sealer on the end grain of the tongue. That way it will slow the moisture uptake of the wicking end of the board. Usually it is just old clear I have in the shop. I do this before assembly (duh). I'm talking about the 1/4" flat end grain portion, not the bevel. If I am doing a clear finish with no stain I will seal the entire panel before I assemble the door.

From contributor B:
Contributor L, are you just wiping a coat of clear on the ends of the panels?

Similar to contributor K, I never saw the logic of rip and flip. Just as mentioned, a single board bad in the center of the panel, no matter how good it may look, will turn the panel into a V. Much better to know your material and build from there.

From contributor L:
More like dabbing it on with a paper towel. I try to get it on thick so it gets good penetration. When I do walls of paneling I still do the end grain and also the rear of the panel to keep the panel front and rear in equilibrium. Not quite perfect equilibrium, but much better than no coating on it.

From contributor C:
Oh my - get some better stock if you're gonna rip and flip or seal the end grain. No offense, but run the stiles and rail stock through the moulder and pick your panels from what you have and mark the glueups with a triangle and glue, clamp, rip, square and profile and back cut. Build the door and move on.

I build with whatever is in the 300 or 400 bf or 3000bf. I don't care - I just get gluing. Biggest panels first, then while they are gluing, get the medium sized going, and so on. Train your people to pick properly and allow for growth. We have built thousands of doors over the years and never had a problem.

From contributor I:
After planning, I go through the pile of boards and start sorting. Boards go in the R and S pile and in the panel pile. Panel boards are leaned against the wall by the chop saw and sorted by color. Then start grabbing boards to make panels. If we have different shades of color, we use one shade for uppers, and the other for bases, etc. Build longest panels first, smallest last. Set pieces on the bench, match grain, and pick the front of the panel. Mark with a triangle to keep everything lined up. Then, where two boards come together, I mark an X on opposite joining faces. This X goes against the joiner fence (which is the next step). Then glue, plane to thickness, widebelt, join, rip, cross cut, raise, sand, glue.

From contributor L:
That's pretty close to what I do. I try to get the panels out of the same board. I lay my cherry out on sawhorses and stack by color. Then when I have enough of one color I choose from that pile.

After I rough cut to length, I face and run through the planer, then I match the boards to each other to try to align the grain for best look. I draw some lines across the board combination at angles; some boards get one, two, three lines. This makes it easy to match up the boards in the proper order if they get messed up somehow. And then I put an "I" or an "O" on the meeting edges to designate in or out on the jointer fence.

From contributor M:

The original questioner says he is a new door company, and most of this discussion is really irrelevant in that regard (sorry cabinet guys). A door company needs 1) glue line rip saw, and 2) RF machine. There are no maximum widths, no flipping, no grain sealing, no jointers in a production door shop. If there are, then you are not talking about a production door shop.

I will expand a little on my previous comment, since it was kind of brief:
Rip your non-glue up DFs first, so you can minimize waste, using the right width boards.
If you need at least 5 1/2" (use your number based on your stile width) to get 2 stiles out of a board, then all boards under that are panel pieces.
Boards 5 1/2 to 6" will be for 2 stiles.
Boards over 6" will be for 1 stile, and the remainder is a panel piece that is wider than a stile - 3" plus.

I have no problem using 12"+ wide kiln dried boards in panels. They will move very little, and their movement is handcuffed by the frame. Arrange for grain and color.

If the panel stock created is uniform in width, you can clean up the outside edge when doing the initial ripping. If the panel stock created has inconsistent widths from crowning, defects, etc., then send it to the panel stations with one edge straight-lined, let the operator chop to length, and then clean up the outside edge on the glueline rip saw to maximize wood utilization.

You want your vendor to plane your lumber. You straight line. Never let a vendor straight line your material. Guys, I am telling this to a door guy, not a cabinetmaker. Huge difference, without meaning to offend anyone.

From contributor M:
When you get an RF machine, you can glue up to 36" in width on a typical machine, letting you typically combine 3 panels of the same length, giving you 1 drop-off for several panels instead of 1 drop off for each panel. This saves both material and time, since (next) your saw blade will often be cutting 2 edges instead of just one, as it cuts 2 panels apart.

From contributor A:
Well said. There is a huge difference in processes between a cabinetmaker making doors and a production shop.