Minimizing Tell-Tale Un-Stained Lines around Door Panels

Seasonal wood shrinkage often leaves a noticeable unstained margin showing around the edge of a door panel. Here are thoughts on how to minimize the occurrence. March 26, 2009

I did a kitchen this past March and I just recently replaced a few rubber bumpers on the doors and drawers that have fallen off. I outsourced all the raised panel oak doors for the first time and I felt pretty confident about how things went. But I noticed on a few doors that you can now see a small outline where the panel must have shrunk a little - the unstained or unwiped stained areas were under the stiles and rails, but are now exposed. I only noticed it on a few doors... 4 or 5 out of 45-50 doors.

They haven't said anything about it but because I noticed it... I'm concerned. Have you had this problem? It seems now that some panels I can push around in the framework of the door, but it's like they have shrunk just enough you can't hide the outline. What should I do if they call me back? Could a guy just rub some stain around the edge and call it good? Makes me nervous about outsourcing my doors now. Thanks for the input!

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor W:
I took a piece of cloth and dipped it in the stain, then wrapped it over the flat part of a screwdriver to get rid of the lines in my most recent project.

Don't worry about outsourcing doors, because they will all do this, especially in the winter when the homeowner has the heat on.

From contributor T:
Sounds like maybe they didn't use Spaceballs. If they had, I wouldn't think they'd rattle like that. You may be able to use a 1/2 or 5/8" pin nail in the centers on the backside to hold them in place. I've done it before and don't like it, but back before we used Spaceballs, it was pretty common practice.

From the original questioner:

In the order book, they show Spaceballs being used. I had thought about brad nailing the panel if they complain about it.

From contributor J:
I know of at least one shop that I sell to that uses a blow gun to push the stain further into the edge inside the groove during finishing. Over the summer they will probably swell back up and hide whatever you do.

You didn't mention rattling, and some people commented on Spaceballs vs. pins. But regardless of how the panel is centered - spacers or pins - when the panel shrinks the stain lines show up.

From contributor D:
We make our own doors but we have an easement cutter on the rail and stile cutter. It lets the stain soak back on the panels so you don't get the shrink lines. Works great. We don't use Spaceballs - we just pin nail the top and bottom of the panel in the center of the door with 23 gauge pins.

From contributor O:
Easement cutter. It sounds like this is the sticker cutter and is made to open up the under cut that touches the top part of the panel so that there is enough gap for finish to wash in on the panel edge behind the face view of the sticker profile. Is this right? I ask because I adhere to your construction method and think Spaceballs are a production cop out.

From contributor Q:
Why not wipe the edges of rp doors before assembly? Does anyone do this? I realize the lacquer line would still be there, but maybe would not be as noticeable? Any more pitfalls to this? Also if they are outsourced maybe this is not an option.

From contributor T:
I have eased cutters also. It helps a little and in my opinion, reduces tearout. I also use an air hose and blow around the edges. And yes, I still use Spaceballs to keep the panels centered. Cop out? I'm not sure I understand that statement, but it's one step closer to perfection and a little added insurance. I've never had lines from stain or topcoat show up.

From contributor P:
Contributor Q's mention of building the doors points up the fork in the road on this point. One can build their own doors, pre-stain the panels, and exercise complete control over every detail, thereby distinguishing his work from all the others, while offering his customers a superior product. Or one could accept the common and mediocre and just continue to buy their doors, while adding contractual language to deflect responsibility or just do man-made products, or ignore it all and keep moving.

I like the notion of exclaiming to the customer, "Well, you are the one that wanted solid wood panels, and this is what you get!"

I have no axe to grind with component manufacturers, but any competent cabinetmaker soon learns he is also outsourcing today's profit and tomorrow's job security.

From contributor D:
Contributor O, you are right about easement cutter.

From the original questioner:
Contributor P, to each his own, but this is the first job I have outsourced the doors. I am getting into cabinetry more and more while working full time doing construction work. I thought it was a good idea - I knew my cost and timeframe, so I could bid the job close. I couldn't possibly make all the doors with a router table and hand sand them and expect to make any money. The more I get into it, and the more I make on each job, I will eventually put that money towards a door machine to where I can do all my doors in house. For now, it's nice just outsourcing them. I couldn't possibly make them for what I can outsource them for.

From contributor O:
Thanks, contributor D. I really like this concept for two reasons.
1. The stain can get to the part of the panel edge that may show eventually.
2. Sometimes the topcoats have siphoned into this area, and can lock the panel in like glue.

I have seen panels split down the center because the edges were locked in. This easement cut might allow the panel to pull out of the groove easier as the groove widens toward the sticking edge. I feel that a set of centered locking brads top and bottom of the panel is more likely to keep the movement consistent, rather than see one side frozen and the other doing all the movement. This is old school so we are just paying respect to the old guys with this method, but the easement cutter is all new to me, and I thank you for the tip.

From contributor C:
We tried the Spaceballs and didn't like them; too much trouble trying to keep the door square. Before that, we used pins, which would be set deep enough, but on nearly every job, at least a couple of them would be sanded into and leave those annoying little grooves in the brand new - "cabinet-doors-only-last-pass" wide belts. For the last few years, we have been using a small dab of hot-melt in the center of the rails. I don't think this way can be beat. No rattle, even shrink/swell, and you can easily center the panel by eye with clearance at the rail ends. As long as your panels are square, the door ain't got no choice but to be square.