Mitered Corner Doors: Fabricate or Outsource?

Outsourcing is highly practical, but for small quantities, here are some ideas on in-shop construction. January 20, 2007

I'm a small operation, and fabricate five-piece raised panel doors using a shaper. I have a request to supply mitered corner doors. Is there a fast, easy, and mostly foolproof way to fabricate these? Or should I outsource them?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor M:
About the only doors I'll make are mitered (what I usually call picture framed). What I do is pocket screw the miters together on the back side of the door and then plug the holes. It makes for a really strong door, especially if you add a flat plywood panel that you can glue.

From contributor H:
My clients would never accept plugs on the inside of a mitre door. Outsource them and keep on building those cabinets! My cost today is under 14.00/sq.ft plus 8.95 per door design fee. I cannot make them for that and they are select maple with tight perfect joints, sanded and ready to spray.

From contributor J:
I have to agree with contributor H on both points. Outsource your mitered doors for sure... might even think about outsourcing them all. If you figure your time in labor, it looks pretty intriguing.

I would also never subject my customers to visible pocket holes on doors. Contributor M, I'm curious if you've had any questions or complaints about that type of construction? Do you tell them up front how they will be built or just present the door to them like that? Not meaning to be rude, just curious.

From contributor A:
It would be hard to make a good mitered door in house. I dislike them anyway. I suppose you could biscuit them. If they are clear coated, you might get away with it. No way on a painted job.

From contributor T:
We outsource all our doors through Conestoga, the majority pre-finished. I would say about 50% are mitred styles - their #10875 being the most popular. Fingerjointed and double doweled on the corners. When I made doors, I thought they were the greatest (4 styles, 3 shapers, etc.). Now I have 50+ styles, 12 panel raises, 5 inside profiles, 10 applied mouldings, 20 species, hundreds of finishes and no stock and no dust, less finishing. Can't make everything - at least make money! I'll be selling another one while you are reinventing the wheel.

From contributor U:
If you want to keep this in-house, you might look for a Hoffmann dovetail machine. It machines a dovetail on each piece, then you use a bowtie shaped "key" to span the joint. I've heard of at least one shop that puts the joint on the front as an option. Some people would go for that. And dovetails are so hyped as a symbol of quality that most people won't object to seeing them on the back side. Of course, a good miter saw is a must.

From contributor X:
I would need more input to make a decision on fabricating or outsourcing. So I will explain it this way. Type of miter joint? Tongue and groove? Straight? Biscuit? List goes on. Type of material to be used? Style of door? Cost of door to fabricate myself or having it outsourced? Time - do I have the time to make them or will outsourcing them be quicker? Do I have the right machinery to do the job? How many doors and drawers will I have to get done? Just too many variables and not enough info, so I would say have them outsourced.

From contributor Z:
Buy 'em. I use Decorative Specialties. I just got premium maple 5 piece RP with a unique stepped square panel, kinda like a flat top pyramid, approx 2' x 2' including shipping, from Cal plant to NJ for under 40.00 each! I can't buy my maple alone that cheap.

From contributor M:
Nothing like the mention of pocket screws to get folks stirred up. In response to contributor J, I have some pictures and a sample that I can show people. I should probably also explain that I consider myself a finish carpenter, not a cabinetmaker. Therefore, when I need doors, it is usually only a few for things like built ins. I haven't had much luck finding reasonable prices on small quantities of doors. As far as people's response, here in the rural Midwest, the wife is happy because it looks good in front. The husband is happy because he equates screws with strength and it has a door that his grandkids won't tear up. I am happy because I can make these doors without the use of a shaper or expensive rail and stile bits. Also, I only use mitered doors in an overlay application, not for full insets. There is no way to trim the edge of a mitered door without making the corner look funny. Most of my customers are country folks who prefer simple designs and a flat panel mitered door is about as simple as it gets. On the rare occasion that someone wants something more elaborate and is willing to pay the price, then I find someplace to order them.

From contributor J:
I just wanted to let you know again that I didn't mean to knock your work or disrespect anything you do. Where are you located in the Midwest? I'm in Kansas. If you're providing what your costumers want, I'd say you're doing the right thing.

From contributor F:
I get my mitered doors from Cabinet Door Service in Oregon. 3" M&T joint. A small shop couldn't afford the machinery needed to make this door. Those guys make me look good!

From contributor D:
I'm sure you have figured it out by now! Your money is in the boxes. Door companies' money is in doors, since they have the machinery, mass quantity wood buying ability and cheap labor to put a board into a feeder. Plus you can show your customers all the different style doors you can sell them. Sell boxes! I actually went commercial (p-lam) - so easy, I giggle.

From contributor H:
Where are you getting your p-lam doors?