Reinforcing Cope-and-Stick Joinery

Do cope-and-stick door joints require reinforcement from dowels or tenons? September 15, 2011

I make a lot of paint-grade raised-panel doors, using poplar frames and ultra-light MDF panels, glued into the frame. I have a new cope-and-stick shaper set with a 3/8" profile. A current project requires solid maple raised panels. Do most of you rely just on the cope-and-stick joint, or reinforce the joint? In the past, especially on bigger doors, I would reinforce the cope-and-stick with a floating tenon done on my horizontal mortiser. More recently I've done the same with the portable Festool Domino. Most of the doors are fairly small (12 x 24), and I plan to make the rails 3" wide for a little extra glue surface. What do the big door makers like Conestoga and Keystone do?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor S:
For us it depends on the thickness of the rails and how many mid rails. I do not think I have ever made a raised panel door taller than 40" without a mid rail, they just look funny. The mid rail adds a lot of strength, especially if it is wider than two inches. For shaker style doors with thinner flat panels we use lighter plywood and wider frames so again the frame is stronger due to the wider cope joints.

There have been times where I add dowels to the cope (we have dowel machines so this is the obvious choice for us) but it is usually due to odd engineering issues like heavy door mounted hardware or excessively wide doors. For tall raised panel doors with no mid rail I would want to add dowels. It is easy to do and only takes a minute to do. I do not have any great engineering parameters for deciding this it is based on experience. I also would not glue in the panel on a large door, even if it is MDF.

From contributor A:
The industry standard from dedicated door/drawer companies is nominal 5/8" tenons which are integral to the cope/stick. The router bit sets come with 3/8". These are not going to last forever without a dowel or true tenon. Many people use Freeborn shaper sets with 1/2" - 5/8" tenons. These are strong enough for large doors. Plenty of glue will hold forever.

From contributor G:
Iíve been relying on the glue and Iíve never had a failure in 20 years with 1/2" stub.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the replies. Of course I would not glue in a solid wood panel, but do glue in MDF or plywood panels. Seems like I just need a shaper cope-and-stick set with a 1/2-inch deep tenon vs. the 3/8 that I have. If I use the 3/8 set I would add a tenon with the domino.