Troubleshooting Twist in Cabinet Doors

Here's advice on building cabinet doors to minimize twisting caused by wood moisture content changes. January 26, 2009

We decided to go back to making simple flat panel doors in-house. We buy S4S material such as soft maple in 2 1/4" width to profile, cope, and assemble. The problem we are having is longer pantry doors having some length "twist" in them once hung on the frame or box.

Using a squaring frame clamp helps its intended use but not this problem. We select the most flat lengths of frame and panel material for these doors. We have had some success using old winding T sticks on a flat table with hand clamps to tweak the joints but that takes a lot of time and space. Does anyone have any suggestions?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor K:
I have found that any lumber used that comes in the door with any twist at all eventually shows up in the cabinet doors. No matter how much time I spent flatting the stock it shows up in the finished product. I clamp on a Ritter frame table and it's critical to be sure your clamping table is flat to start with. Next, if I have long doors, I'll take the time with a chisel to shave just a little extra off the tenons so they fit a little looser and can twist a bit in the joints to help the door lay flat on the clamping table while being glued and pinned. After that, I hope and pray. I also deliberately avoid doors taller than 42". Also, if you're buying door stock already milled S4S, try making your own just for those taller doors. No moulder is going to straighten and flatten any piece of lumber. You need to do it by hand.

From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Twist will not occur unless the MC changes. You need to check that your incoming MC is correct - 7.0% MC and within 1/2% MC of that.

From contributor W:
One thing you may try is to allow your wood for stile and rail construction to just rest at least overnight after ripping. Try to select your wood pieces so that any tendencies to curve (warp) will counter act each other (i.e. flipping or turning end for end etc.).

In addition, check and recheck the square of your cope cuts (and your cope clamping device). If the cope cuts are not virtually perfectly square, the clamping table is going to "force" all to be square. If cope cuts are not square the only way for the assembly (door or panel) to comply when clamping is to warp! Of course the effect will be the more noticeable the larger the assembly.

From contributor R:
I've always advocated pre-milling stock when it arrives, leaving it oversized, stickering and stacking it to allow it to acclimate, then re-milling just before using it. I've gotten some flack on this on occasion, but it always works.

Gene is correct about MC, but for most of my clients, (and my experience in the shop) getting consistent, properly dried wood stock is not only difficult, but getting harder and harder to find all the time.

From contributor A:
I think the bigger issue is multiple large panels. Large cabinet doors do not resemble large interior/exterior doors. When building doors over 42" the panels add a lot of weight to one thin skinny knob stile. At some point it starts to bow out of column, almost bending at the lock rail intersections. Keep in mind the weight/load distribution is not equal or balanced on any door. There should be a rule of thumb that you need to bump up to 5/4 stiles/rails at a given height. Multiple hinges do not solve this problem.

From contributor B:
Here's my secret. Using S2S lumber, rip your lumber for the stiles at two times the final width, plus 1/4". Cut to length, and stick one edge on the shaper, then flip it over and stick the other edge. Rip two stiles from this board to the final stile width and keep them as a pair. When you assemble the doors, the bow direction, if any will be reversed, balancing the door out. It works. Try it.