Equipment Choices for Door Fabrication

What kind of shop equipment will speed up door production, for a reasonable cost? November 13, 2009

A few months ago I decided to start making my own doors. I bought the following tools (new and used): 6" jointer, 16" planer, one 1hp shaper, one 3hp shaper, one 5hp shaper, a shop made panel glue up rack, door assembly table, radial arm saw.

Everything is working pretty good, but I would like to speed up production a little bit without getting into the really expensive machinery. I would especially like to speed up production on raised panels because they take up quite a bit of time. What tools should I upgrade or replace for this purpose? I am already convinced that I need a wide belt or drum sander. I'm also thinking about buying a moulder.

My process for making doors with the above tools is as follows: cut boards close to length on radial saw, rip boards, joint one face, plane other face, joint edges for stiles and rails, joint edges for panels, glue up panels, machine stiles and rails on shapers, plane panels to thickness on planer, machine the panels on 5hp shaper, sand panels with orbital sander (a killer), assemble door, cut doors to size, outside profile, and sand the door with the orbital sander (a super killer).

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor J:
What to upgrade will depend on your budget. I think your first step should be towards sanding. You need a way to get your panels/doors flat quickly before finish sanding. Whether a widebelt or a drum, this should be a priority.

The moulder is probably a better option for once you've grown a bit. I believe they are typically used for running sticking, though. I don't see where this would help you in your raised panels.

Also you could probably speed up your milling quite a bit by upgrading to bigger industrial equipment. This would allow you to change your methods a bit which will save time. For instance, with a bigger jointer and planer setup, you could face and plane your stock before cutting to length or width. You would also be able to run multiple parts through the planer at a time - more time savings.

My advice is upgrade as you can, and buying used equipment can help you go much farther for your money. Every time you buy a better machine you'll quickly realize it was worth every penny, and will want to upgrade the next.

From contributor L:

Get a straight line rip saw and a larger jointer. A sander of any kind will help production. If you are small, stick with a drum; if you plan on growing, get a widebelt. A widebelt is on orders magnitudes faster than a drum sander. If you don't have them already, get power feeders - they make things easier to sand because the mill marks are consistent and make it safer.

Change the way you do things a bit. Cut the wood into strips before you cut them into lengths. This will make the ripping process go much quicker. You won't need to rip each piece individually. After that you cut them to rough length, have your cutlist optimized for length; this will speed things a bit.

From contributor H:
One thing that costs almost nothing: buy your lumber already surfaced and straight lined one edge. You cannot do it for less than the lumber mill. There is no need to joint the edges of your stiles. When you pass them through your shaper, they come out profiled. A good blade in your table saw will also give you a glue ready edge. You spend too much time on the jointer.

From contributor M:
You may want to consider a compressor large enough to run a DA. The pneumatic sanders kill the electric sanders.

I agree with the other posting about ripping first. I would consider looking for an older gang rip saw if you have the power for one. I have used our Stetson Ross gang rip for years and I have no desire to ever return to one rip at a time.

From contributor S:
I agree with the sander suggestions, especially a belt, as I am still using a drum. Add another shaper. I keep one machine set for cope, one for stick, largest machine for panel raiser and fourth for outside edge. Use 3/4 panels with a back cutter; that way the planing is eliminated and you only need to rough sand panels before assembly, as they will sand to final size with rails and stiles after assembly. I think the thicker panel adds richness to the feel of the door, and all my customers love the detail on the reverse side. Having enough machines preset will save a lot of time, and a door botched further down the production process is only a 20 minute job to remake.

From the original questioner:
Thanks. I have a question about the gang rip saw - would I run the board rough through the rip saw and then joint? I have also heard of moulders with a jointer head that clean cut two edges and a face. Does anyone use this type of moulder?

From contributor J:
There are many types of moulders available, of which I know relatively little, to be completely honest. The place to start is number of heads. Single head machines are generally for molding work and just do the top face, not much help for doors. Multiple head machines will offer much greater flexibility. What you may be referring to are bigger 5+ head machines. I used to run one in the past and they are very nice machines. You feed a rough board in one end which has an infeed table just like a jointer. It joints the bottom, then 1 edge, the next edge, the top and then the 5th head can add a profile to the top. Extra heads can add extra profiles to the edges (think t+g flooring).

These machines are amazing but probably not within the budget of a small shop. I don't think you'll really need to go this route unless you're doing a very large volume. Other things to keep in mind are they aren't completely stand-alone. If you have a board with a lot of twist or bow, you'll still need to pass it over the jointer prior to running it.

I haven't used a gang rip, so can't help you there. But if you're using random width lumber, a straight rip saw will save you a lot of time. Again though, good ones aren't cheap and they take up some real estate. It may help to give us an idea what budget you're working with, as it makes a great difference in what machinery to buy if you're spending $5k or $25k.

From contributor M:
Well, I guess I am in the minority. I have a 20" jointer, but I doubt I could even find the switch as I almost never use it. If I have a badly twisted board, I trash it. Labor is too high to be messing with that issue. If the cups and bows were too much, then I would change supplier. Fortunately I have a top flight supplier who delivers to me as frequently as I need.

The gang rip saw will help if you are producing larger volume (50+ doors daily). The feed speed for our gang saw can be as high as 192' per minute, but quality of cut and blade life will deteriorate at the higher speeds. I usually run ours about 60 FPM. Ours will give a glue line joint, but some will not.

From contributor J:
Contributor M, it may help if you tell us how you do mill your lumber? Or are you buying it already milled? Telling us how you don't do it doesn't really enlighten anyone here.

To the original questioner: another idea I've been toying with for a small production setting would be using a dbl spindle shaper for doors. You could set it up with a sticking head on 1 spindle, and a straight cut on the other and have the feeder run them through diagonally so both sides are machined. This way you could just rough rip oversize and send the parts through. Don't know if anyone has tried this or if it would be worth the bother, but I've seen so many dbl spindles going for short money I've been trying to think of ways I could use one.

From contributor M:
We buy our door lumber surfaced to 13/16 and straight lined. I just bought a Diehl rip saw and I may try to straight line myself to see if I can rein in the waste factor a little. The biggest thing I use a jointer for is face jointing narrow panels to knock the glue off and I don't do that often, usually to the planer with the panels. We use 5/8" panels. I do like the look of the 3/4" panels with the back raise, but I don't think we can get it from the 13/16" our stock is milled to. What thickness stock do you guys use for 3/4" panels? I guess I should also clarify that we don't put anything wider than 3 1/2" into our panels and 99% of them are glued up with 2 1/4 stock (same as our standard rail and stile).

From contributor B:
To the original questioner: since you are already in the hole with your equipment, carry on! What baffles me, though, is that you have the impression that you can produce doors of the same quality and speed that a top door company can, not to mention you are on the hook for the guarantee. My door supplier guarantees for a period of five years. Good luck collecting the tooling for your shapers to compete with their selection. And remember to add all that labor into your quote. I have built my own doors in the past, if a super high end client requested grain matching. But in that case, your final quote should reflect the extra devalued dollars in material, tooling, and labor cost. Those clients are almost extinct, now that everyone (including so-called "high end" contractors) want their cabinetry yesterday, wrapped in Chinese cardboard.

From contributor E:
You know not what you have gotten yourself into. If you can't come to the conclusion that you should sell all that equipment and buy from a reputable supplier, do the following...

Get a single-blade glue-line rip-saw. Grizzly makes a good one for the money. Sell the joiner. It is useless. Get a wide-belt sander. The newer, more heads and wider table, the better.

Straight line and rip first. Suppliers make money by not caring how much off-fall there is. You should care very much, and straight line yourself. Buy material slightly thicker than 13/16, or you will not have enough to sand door and panel clean.

Cut stiles and rails. Use slightly warped pieces for the shortest rails. Toss very warped pieces as mentioned. Shape. Cut panels and glue as flat as possible. Invest in a RF (radio-frequency) gluer when possible. Shape panels. Assemble doors. Sand door in wide-belt to finest grit you can, to minimize orbit sanding. Edge. Sand with air-powered orbit as mentioned.

From contributor R:
The two things you said were a killer were sanding panels and door edges. You should get a shape and sand machine that will take care of this for you. There are several on the market. I have a Unique 4522 which is 2 shape, 2 sand, but I know they have smaller models available for lower production.

From contributor N:
Here's how I do RP doors in my basement shop:
1) S4S all lumber at full length (I buy rough)
2) Cut stock for panels, glue up (3/4")
3) Rip frame stock to 4 5/8" and run through shaper with style cutter (need feeder here - climb cut if necessary)
4) Cut frame stock to length, and cope rail ends
5) Rip frame stock in 1/2 to yield 2 x 2 1/4 pieces
6) Cut panels to size and raise them - with back cutter aligned so panel is flush with frames front and back
7) Assemble doors, pin and remove from clamps
8) Trim doors to size
9) Sand doors - drum sander (or WB if you have $$$) - 120/150g
10) Sand and profile edges
11) Hand sand to remove cross-grain scratches in doors (minimal - I use 6" electric)

I have gotten to a point where I can make decent money building my own doors, but it took a while to get my process there.