Door Panel Tolerances

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Sloppy fit : Is the supplier at fault? August 7, 2004

I have received a large order of doors from a local supplier, after using an out of state supplier for years. The doors are shaker style (square-edged frames with recessed flat panels), with solid wood panels. The panels have a small raise on the back, which is typical of this style of door when using a solid panel.

My concern has to do with the fit of the panel into the groove of the frame. Of all the hundreds (thousands?) of doors I have outsourced, I have never noticed any play in the fit of the panel in the groove. These doors range from barely acceptable to a gap of 1/16". The supplier remade the order once with the same results. In fact, some of the smaller fronts had gaps of 1/8"! They remade those ones again, so now I have a large pile of doors with panels that I can move back and forth in the frames. The supplier tells me that "That's how we make our doors - up to 1/16" is acceptable. We make 1500 doors a day and you're the first one to complain."

The cost was only a little lower than my previous (and future) supplier. I was really trying to save the shipping costs and the time spent on unpacking and disposing of packaging materials.

I am probably going to have to glue wedges in the groove (gluing only to the backs of the panels, not the frames, to ensure that the gaps don't open up in the fronts of the doors - these will be painted).

I would throw these away and re-order if I had the time, but now that I've gone back and forth for two weeks with these people, and I'm out of time to re-order.

Are there industry standards which can be referred to? Does anyone have input on this situation?

Forum Responses
If I understand you correctly, it is the thickness of the panel that is in question, not the height or width (area) of the panel, which is customarily cut at 1/16" to 1/18" to account for wood movement. If the rail/stiles have a 1/4" slot/groove, then the panel should be 1/4" thick. What kind of wood is it? Different woods act/move differently. I work with red oak quite a bit. Some books/cabinetmakers will tell you to make a panel 1/16" less all the way around; some will tell you 1/8" on each side. In my experience, red oak will move/swell lengthwise (with the grain) instead of widthwise (cross grain). It sounds like your door maker is planing the panels too thin. I only make RP doors so I'm not sure if flat panel rules are much different. I don't use Panalign or space balls, but I would have to if the panel thickness and panel groove were different so they wouldn't rattle. What did this company say when you had the panels remade the 1st time?

From the original questioner:
Yes, it is the panel thickness that is the problem, specifically the thickness at the edge of the panel where it fits in the 1/4" wide dado in the frame.

These people are trying, but they are really lumber wholesalers that started making doors several years ago. When I first saw one of their doors a few years ago I was impressed, but they have grown so fast they can barely keep up with it. They have nice equipment and a lot of laborers, but apparently very little in the way of proper training, procedures, and supervision (i.e. quality control), and few if any skilled woodworkers.

I think part of it is the nature of the door, with the raise on the back - apparently they raise the profile with the back of the door flat on the shaper, then run the face and back through a widebelt sander, so they have no control over panel edge thickness. I tried to explain that to the main guy, and I think he might have understood, but he wasn't going to change their procedures for me, as I supposedly was the first one to complain. Makes me wonder who's buying the other 1450 doors they made those days.

I suggest that if you want to continue using this supplier you give them your specifications and tolerances in writing. If they are unable to meet your expectations, they will have to change or you will have to go to a more reliable supplier.

The best thing you are doing is talking to them and trying to help them improve their product. If they are not willing to work with you, there is nothing you can do about that.

We make doors and we do use spaceballs and spacers to control lateral movements of the panel. We made our panel edges at 1/4 mm thinner than the groove of the rails and stiles - just enough gap to compensate for the warping and sometimes inconsistent tenoning of the panels. Be careful gluing the panels to the frame (especially if you're going to send this door to the planer/sander afterward). This will cause the panel to crack/split on the corner.

It's time to source another supplier. What a waste of time and resources.

I think you're dead on with the wide belt deal. They are running yours upside down because they are flat front. Lay them face down and shoot 3/8'' brads in stiles and rails to panel from back side, then run some 1/4'' 1/4 round on the inside to cover the crack or make you some little square stock. If they are paint grade and it will be on the inside of the door, probably just brad nail it and a small bead of good white latex caulking around the crack on the back side. I hate that raised panel flipped over to make a flat panel - it looks like shit when you open the door. If I must have a solid flat panel, I don't raise it - I just rabbet it on the jointer, and it being square on back looks a lot better.

From the original questioner:
All of the responses were right on the money. I just wanted to make sure that I wasn't being crazy or unreasonable.

Do not pin the rails and stiles. When the panel expands, and it will, it will pull the rail/stile joint apart. If you want to pin at all, just put one in the rail near the center point so it can expand on each side.

From the original questioner:
I briefly considered pinning, but since the shortest brads I have are 5.8" I decided against it. If I could use shorter brads, which would not penetrate through the panel into the front side of the frame, I figured the space between the panel and frame would allow the brads to give slightly as the panel moved.

Instead, I have been slipping small shims between the rear of the frame and the panel, which serve the purpose of holding the panel to the front of the frame. I am applying just enough glue to keep the shims from sliding out, and only gluing the shims to the frame, not the panel, so the panel is still free to expand and contract as usual.

Follow up: I spoke with the supplier this morning. They are selling most of their doors to large production home builders, which explains why nobody has bothered to complain - their doors are good enough for the majority of their customers. He gave me some credit for the time I am wasting shimming the doors.

I may still use them for some products (glued up panels, mainly), but I'll go back to my old supplier for frame and panel doors and just deal with the shipping and packaging material.

One way you could deal with the shipping and packing materials is to ask your supplier to consider reusable packaging. So rather than filling up your dumpster, the packages can be sent back the next time you receive an order.

A company I used to work for shipped doors between their plants using carts which had dividers separating the doors vertically. The carts could easily be rolled on and off the trucks and around the shop.

Don't know if that suits your operation, but I hope that helps.