I recently had a horrible time with door rail coping. The doors were a seven piece with no profiles. I was using a Bosch t&g bit with a Porter Cable router under a table with a miter slot, which I used a mitre guide in. I was using yellow birch. First, I kept burning the material a little. I know I wasn't keeping the material flat because I had poor consistency on my joints. What's the proper way to run these things? Is a coping sled the solution? I want one that slides in the mitre track, so do I still use the fence? Also, why am I burning? Do I need to make a series of passes? It seems that the more passes, the more likely the joint will be loose. Also, what's a good sled to purchase?
And please, don't tell me to buy my doors next time. I want to build my own. It's a matter of pride. What the heck is a cabinet shop that doesn't build their own doors? It takes the artisan from the equation, and that's not what my customer pays for.
From contributor J:
I think it is kind of funny that you think that shops that don't make their own doors don't take pride in their work and aren't artisans. In the same post you ask how it is to be done correctly. Are you more an artisan than someone who owns a shop that buys their doors?
The reasons that shops buy their doors are many, but among them is the fact that to build doors correctly and efficiently, you need to make a substantial investment in equipment. It is not because they lack craftsmanship and pride in their work.
To answer your question, I would buy a Panelcrafter for coping and arches and at least one good shaper and a powerfeed before I would even consider making any doors at all.
That said, I usually use my table saw with a dado set to do T&G. I've never been happy with the quality of T&G cuts on my shaper - too much tearout and snipe if the fence is not perfectly adjusted.
For what it's worth, I mostly outsource my doors, but I'll build 'em myself if they're a unique style, if I can't deal with the lead time, or if I only need a few doors. As far as craftsmanship goes, it's hard to beat the quality of a door from the big door companies like Meridian or Conestoga. They have the best machinery, tooling, choice of lumber, quality control processes, etc. It's hard to admit, but they build a better door than I can. Pretty cheap, too, if you care about making money.
The people who forged this path (using routers to make cabinet doors) quickly saw the futile waste of time and quality. This was before the days of outsourcing. Those ancestors either invested their money in a shaper or went out of the cabinet business. At the end of the day unless you are an outstanding craftsman, your customers are interested in getting the best product for the best price.
On the other hand, if you are getting paid $100 a door to make routed, burned, warped, failure prone doors, then all the power to you.
Every one of us makes decisions to make less money everyday for many reasons. Pride, education, interest, boredom, etc. However, everyone has to start making doors with whatever tools they have on hand. I've made numerous shaker doors with a TS, but now I can make them a hell of a lot better and faster on the shaper.
Good luck - even with all of this, you will need it in today's market. My answer to customers who seem surprised that I don't make my own doors anymore (I only use referrals to get new business) is to show them what I can offer in the way of style, species, and yes, heaven forbid, the 1000+ different finishes I can offer, and ask them to compare that to offerings of the shops that make their own door (yeah, singular)
using routers and putty. (Sorry, couldn't resist). I have not gotten only two jobs in the last 5 years I have bid on and they were not because I didn't make my own doors.
If your customers want you to build their doors, fine. I'm betting that you really think you can't charge enough to outsource doors - or to tool up properly and make your own (pocket screw, plug and paint!?). You fear that your prices will have to go up too much. If so, your customers are keeping you poor and resourceless. Remember, you are working for yourself, not them.
Anyway, is the PriceCutter coping sled any good?
Having said that, you do need to invest in one decent shaper with a powerfeed. I started the same as you, doing doors on the router table. You spend too much time doing it this way. Even with all the correct bits, speeds, hold downs and featherboards, you are still getting a lot of machine marks and tear out that will need to be sanded out.
With a shaper and feed, your parts are smooth and ready to finish with a quick swipe of sandpaper. Very few if any machine marks or tearouts. You will see the biggest difference when using harder woods like maples and oaks. Also, you will get the parts cut significantly faster with this setup, as you just feed parts into the feeder wheels and it does all the hard work. Believe me when I say these machines will pay for themselves in no time.
Lastly I'll say you don't need to justify your building your own doors to anyone but yourself. As long as you can make them and still make money, then you're in good shape. I still build mine after 5 years and enjoy building them. But I'm not opposed to be buying them either, and if I have a need to, I will go that route.
Almost forgot the original question! Yup, you should use a sled for copes. This way you have clamps holding the work piece down and tight to the cutter. Doesn't really need to run in the mitre slot; probably better if it doesn't. I run my sled right up against the fence.
I would say buy the best you can afford, either used or new. A 3 hp motor with two speeds is a popular choice and the smallest you should get. I know some people are afraid of the used market, but I bought my two year old 1 hp Delta feeder and Delta 3 hp shaper for less than the cost of a new Grizzly shaper. Patience is key when looking for equipment!
As far as the sled goes, the bits do indeed graze the sled - it's just a sled, so I don't worry about it much. You also need a set of backing blocks to eliminate tearout as the rail passes the cutter, and these too will get chopped up by the bit. But with this setup, your piece is completely supported, with zero clearance for blowout.
Contributor D pointed out what I consider to be the foundation of precision woodworking. That is learning to dress your stock. If your door parts have been flattened and straightened with saws, jointers and planers, your accuracy even with a router setup will be much higher than with stock taken straight from the kiln or the delivery truck.
Next, you need to learn to take square seriously. Square is square! Not almost square or pretty square... but dead nuts square. This is only possible if your tools for checking for it are accurate. Learn how to test your squares for accuracy and adjust them if needed.
Those are the fundamentals of becoming a precise millman. If a part is supposed to be flat, straight, and square... do your utmost to make it such. If you do, all of the following milling operations will be easier and much more precise. Is this basic? Yup!
After you train yourself in this manner, it will transfer to the next important area for a small shop situation where industrial machinery would be impractical. That is, building fixtures and jigs. Now you are using perfectly straight and square methodology to build your jigs, which in turn greatly increases the precision of your parts.
As to outsourcing doors, I struggled with the concept myself and have come almost full circle on the idea. Differently than someone else stated, as a woodworker of some three decades including a fine furniture background, I definitely can, do, and have made better quality doors than I am able to outsource.
However, very few cabinet shops would be interested in paying what a door company would have to charge to make them with my personal level of quality. The differences are in things like matched grain adjacent stiles, continuous grained rails and drawer fronts. Carefully selected and matched solid panel glue-ups. Plywood panels that are center matched with plainsawn veneers from sequenced and numbered units. Panel grooves sized to the panel stock per job, not shimmed tight to the face with brads shot between the panel and doorframe on the back side (whoever got the notion that was okay – ugh!). Joints that are tight due to being left in the clamps until dry instead of braded from the back.
But if you shop around, you can find a door company that makes doors that are acceptable. I agree with everyone else that the companies that specialize in cabinet doors make them nearly as good as I can from a structural standpoint. Stick and cope is stick and cope and that's what holds the stiles to the rails.
I was set in my ways, but the business has changed and I am changing with it. As a one man shop, very few contractors or private clients have the time or patience to allow me to make the doors myself. Most want fast food. If they can wait and if they will pay the extra, they can have a very special product. If not, I have found an outsource door company that I am mostly happy with.
As I said, if you learn those fundamentals and practice them on your parts and jigs, you can do high quality millwork with almost any tooling you may have. But the job of making cabinet doors is much easier with a shaper and power feed. I think every cabinetmaker should know how to make stick and cope doors because even if you outsource your doors, you will find it very expensive to get a door company to make panel finished ends and backs that have frame members with widths other than 2.25".
I find it much less hassle to make the end and back panels in house to match the doors, because the door shops don't like to think outside of the door box and charge a fortune if you order that way.
I know that a lot of shops just plant on doors as a finished end or back, but mine are part of the carcass and must have custom sized frame members to work on my designs.
“It takes the artisan from the equation”
Maybe, but a craftsman knows how to make doors efficiently (and that is not with a router!).
“and that's not what my customer pays for”
No, your customer is paying you to make a quality product at a price he is willing to pay. I don’t think he gives a damn about your methods; it’s the end result he is looking for.
First, you will need at least one shaper. A 3 horsepower will work just fine. You will also need a coping sled. If cost is a factor, I suppose you could make your own, but you would be better served to spend the $50 and buy one from Eagle America (example only). You will also need to buy a decent set of door making bits. The key is to slow down. Take time with your passes and expect some burning. Sand the panels, especially the raised edges, before you assemble the doors. After you assemble the doors, plan on spending quite a bit of time filling cracks and joints and sanding and then sanding some more. On an average size kitchen, expect to mill a couple of hundred parts. Mill extra ones because some will become defective. This process will take you 2-3 days. Plan on a day of assembly and another couple of days sanding to the exclusion of everything else.
Order extra raw material because you will run out. Once the doors are finished, then you can get back to the task at hand of finishing the job. Don't forget that you will have to hinge the doors as well. As I mentioned earlier, you can certainly make your own cabinet doors and they will look every bit as good as those that you order (with some practice) or... long pause... you could simply order your doors from a door company and spend the next week working on other things like new sales, callbacks, building boxes and frames, etc. and when your doors arrive, all you have to do is hang them.
Sometimes I would like to make my own doors, and maybe I will. I've lost jobs that would have been a great fill-in, but the door company is so popular their lead time is over 3 weeks. But then again, the big bag of chocolate cookies they bring makes it all worth it. But then again, if you get a high end miter door job, there's no way you're going to set up to build those doors.
Around here most custom cabinetmakers make their own doors, with the same attitude you have. I tell them I'd rather build more and nicer kitchens, with a huge number of door styles, then spend all day making doors, which is a $8.50 to $10.00 a hour labour factor. I know this for a fact as my son works for the largest cabinet shop in the state and that's what they pay to build cabinet doors. Now if you're in a very high end market, I'd say make your own unique doors and charge for it, play the craftsman sales game. You know we hand select our hardwood for matching color and grain, etc. But then you don't get the cookies.
1. If you have one employee helping or making the doors with you, in the end, this is the same as outsourcing. Only difference is you are not paying employee tax, insurance, etc. for the same end result.
2. To me, "custom" means whatever you want, but to do this, if you are really interested in giving your clients a broad range of offerings, it will be near to impossible to offer the gamut that's available out there and what people are seeing in the magazines and home shows. Think of it this way - as a finish carpenter, you don't make all your mouldings from scratch, do you? What about carved corbels, etc.? There are many mouldings we make in-house, because we can do it easily and profitably, but there are many I wouldn't attempt to because it doesn't make sense. We would have to charge the customer an arm and a leg to do it, and usually they only want to pay a finger.
3. You don't cut your own trees down to get the wood, do you? No, you outsource it because even though you may know how to, it doesn't make sense to. The customer would be waiting a very long time to get their product, it would cost you more to produce it, and you and your family would make less money.
4. If you are only doing a couple of hundred doors per year, as it sounds like this may be the case, it is very hard to justify the machinery, the tooling, electric and the maintenance, just to be able to say you did it yourself. If you are making over 5,000 doors per year, it starts to make sense. Otherwise, you are throwing money out the window that could go into your family's pocket, not your customer's...
We struggled with this for a long time, mainly due to the pride factor, but we came to a happy medium by continuing to offer our customers whatever they wanted, but outsourcing the items that we either don't have tooling for, or that we very rarely make, or if we are experiencing schedule stress. We still make doors, just not all of them (we currently offer more than a customer will ever need to choose from).
For the hardcore customer who wants you to make the doors yourself, and is not open to outsourcing for something you don't normally make, there are many ways to handle this... One would be to simply explain that you would be happy to do so, but please realize, Mr. Customer, that there will be an upcharge for the tooling involved, as the price for what they choose reflected outsourced doors, as it is impossible to maintain an inventory of every profile out there. Then simply ask, knowing this, which way would you like me to proceed, as we are happy to meet your needs either way. If they really want it, they will pay for it...
In the end, you will be able to service your customer better, and offer them more, make more money for you and your family, as well as your business, and open a whole new world to your artistic creativity, by not closing the door to outsourcing. Once you consider all that you already outsource (wood, plywood, corbels, mouldings, knobs, pulls, hinges, drawer glides, etc.), you'll realize that outsourcing is a tool for your business to make money, not the identity of who you are as an artist.
After all, painters don't make their own paint, brushes and canvas to create their masterpieces, but outsource these items so they can focus their attention on the finished product.
I do have a philosophy in my shop and I try to get my employees to follow it. If you are working too hard (forcing the work), or you are not getting the results we want (high quality parts = quality work) with ease (setup should make the task safe and effortlessly repeatable), something is wrong with your setup, your tool, or your approach to the task. I also remind them fairly regularly that they can be replaced by a well-positioned clamp most of the time, and with some of the jigs and fixtures I've come up with over the years, they know I'm not kidding.