Design of Shaker-Style Panel Doors

      If the face is flat but the edge is narrower than the rest of the door panel, where does the raise go? March 25, 2007

I'm getting ready to do some shaker style doors and thought I'd just reverse the raised panel. It occurs to me though that on the back side the panel will be substantially proud of the frame. This might only be a problem when doing cabinets with adjustable shelves hitting the panel. I'm wondering how others handle their shaker styles. The last ones I did I used 1/4" MDF, but that really makes a light weight door. I'd rather use a 5/8" solid panel and reverse it.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor A:
I think if you just turned a raised panel around it would look like someone put the door on backwards. For nice doors I use a glued up panel about 5/16" thick - Spaceballs and M&T frame. This is a very nice feeling door. For most doors I just use plywood glued in place.

From contributor B:
I typically use 3/8" MDF and use a backcutter to put a minor radius. This keeps the panel 1/16-1/8 below in the back and a 1/4-5/16 reveal on the front. The difference between 1/4" and 3/8"'' MDF is substantial. You can buy the back/under cutter for $45 from Grizzly.

From contributor C:
Read your history on the Shakers. If you are going to use their name, you owe it to them, yourself and your customer. Along with lots of great information, you will find that the Shakers preferred the clean look of a flat panel as opposed to a raised panel. The raise was considered an undesirable design element.

Being pragmatic but balancing that with design, they did not want to spend a bunch of time hand planing 1" material to 3/8" or so. Their solution was to turn the raise to the inside/backside. This also helped keep the (air-dried) panel in balance. To be fair, fielding a panel and turning the field (raised) to the back was common for centuries before the Shakers, but they get the credit in this part of the world. The resulting flat panels could show fancy grains, be veneered, carved or ornamented better than a raised panel. You may also read that a Shaker woman invented the circular saw blade ("teeth on a wheel"). This was also done about the same time in England.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the response. My cutters cut a 1/4" slot and it seems to me a few years ago I did plane some panels down to fit the slot, and as I recall they warped almost immediately. I was careful about removing the same amount from each side and not stacking them, but it didn't seem to make much difference. I've seen shaker doors with the panels reversed, but don't remember where and didn't see any finished end panels to see how they handled that.

From the original questioner:
To contributor C: I have a couple of books dedicated to the shakers. It is interesting reading. I did some experimenting this morning and set my tongue and groove cutters about the same as my other cutters, which gives me a little more than a 5/16" reveal, maybe even closer to 3/8". I could back that off a little, but I slipped a raised panel in the slot and it looks just like I thought it would - too much panel protruding on the back side to use on finished ends with shelves. Itís a terrible waste of time and material to plane down to fit the slot though, plus I'm concerned about warpage and the resulting reduced weight of the door. My clients are fine with the reversed raised panels and actually saw it someplace else.

From contributor D:
I order my doors. On the last shaker job I used reversed shaker raised panel doors. The customer was more than pleased with the upgrade. The solid wood panel looks better than veneer 1/4" MDF. The door is now a little heavier (not much though). The style of the 5/8" inset panel is a shaker style, so it doesn't look like a traditional raised panel door put on backwards. All in all he was very pleased about it, and for years to come, he will open other peoplesí cabinet doors and see that he's the only one with the correct door and a better door.

From the original questioner:
To contributor D: Thanks for the reply. ďThe style of the 5/8" inset panel is a shaker style, so it doesn't look like a traditional raised panel door put on backwards". I'm not sure I know what you mean by that quote. How did they handle the backside of the panel? How much did it protrude and how did you handle shelves if you used a frame and panel finished end?

From contributor E:
Run your panels as usual and then put them through the planer or widebelt and make them thick enough so they are flush with the back of the door. It won't have the raised lip but will still be attractive.

From the original questioner:
To contributor E: Thanks, that is my next move. I've got a base finished end panel ready to plane down now to try just that.

From contributor F :
I have made many doors like this, but maybe I should call them "Faker" doors, because I didn't hand plane or take my horse and buggy to pick up the wood. Anyway, I do a reverse raised panel. Everyone thought I hung the doors backwards! I also make my S&R 4" wide. It's a nice modern/old look.

From contributor G:
We resaw 4/4 lumber in half (on a bandsaw with a resaw feeder), glue to width, widebelt sand down to 1/4" and build the doors. Panel lumber goes twice as far and as stated earlier looks better then ply. I used to plane down to 1/2" and do the back raise thing but realized my customers don't care and would rather not pay for that. If they wanted we would be more then happy to do so.

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