Spacer Balls for Raised-Panel Doors

A discussion of space-ball sizes, types, and purposes, along with some suggested tips and techniques. December 30, 2005

We use a .188 Spaceball on our raised panel doors around the center panel both at the top and bottom, and use a JLT clamp system to put together. My question is how do you keep the balls in place during the assembly? I have even gone to adding a tiny spot of hot melt to hold these in place. I watch our door assembler do this and she keeps all work on the table as she assembles but I think there is a piece of foam-like rubber that some assemblers use that is about an inch long. We make our center panel 1/4" smaller so we need to keep the space about 1/8" on each side of the panel. Has anyone seen this foam- like material? It looks about 3/8" thick and does not fall out but is a softer material.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor A:
Wouldn't the .26" Spaceballs stay snugly in place while clamping? You might have to change your overall panel size slightly.

From contributor B:
You could try weatherstripping. Use that grey stuff that is round (cylindrical actually) like rope. You can get a 50' roll for a couple of bucks, and lop off an inch or so for each placement.

From contributor C:
I've never had a problem with the spacers falling out and it shouldn't have anything to do with your panel size. To be honest, I've never specified size when I ordered them either. They fit very snug in the slot made by my shaper. I got some from Woodworkers Supply. They are very expensive there, but you might just give them a ring and ask them what size they sell.

From contributor D:
I had Spaceballs around for a while and found they were falling out of the groove so I purchased new stock. These were larger and fit snug. It makes me wonder, as the balls age, do they shrink?

From contributor E:
I started out using the Spaceball brand and didn't like them for just this reason. I switched to the Barrel brand of panel spacers sold at Hardware Distributors Ltd. Never have any more trouble! They have 3 sizes to choose from: .188", .212" and .25".

From contributor F:
Spaceballs come in more than one diameter. Like contributor A said, use the .26 balls and your problem will be solved. The barrels RWW mentioned work equally well. If you assemble a lot of doors there is a ball inserting gun available. It is similar to a small air nailer and really slick. I saw them at the Vegas show but do not recall who made them. If your time is worth any money at all, the weatherstripping thing is not worth the time. Balls or barrels purchased through HDL or any other professional supplier are very affordable and more than worth the cost.

From contributor G:
I’ve never used spaceballs and never had a problem with any of my work. I glue the panel in the dead center at the bottom. Just add a drop or two of glue to hold it in place. Where’s it going to go anyway? It'll just expand/contract on each side from the glue drop outwards.

From contributor H:
To contributor G: The method you are using works well. I have done the same and even pinned the center of the panels. I use space balls now because they make the panel tight and rattle free. I even use them on flat panel doors where wood movement is a non issue. It makes the door sound nicer when it closes with those little shock absorbers in the panel groove.

From contributor F:
Spaceballs also save the time of centering raised panels. They do it for you.

From contributor G:
To contributor H: I forgot to say that I do pin the panel. I have a bathroom door with 2 panels (3 rails) in it that sees a lot of moisture from the shower, then dryness, then shower, then dry, etc. I also forgot to say that I finish the panel before gluing up the door, then put the finish on the frame after glue up. That way, if the panel contracts it won’t show any non-finished wood. I highly recommend that method to anyone doing frame and panel. The bottom line on my door is that after 7 years there’s no problem whatsoever.

To contributor F: That’s a good point on the centering of raise panels. I do mostly green and green style, so there’s no need for me to center the panel like you would have to do. These are good points all around.

From contributor I:
I switched to the Barrel brand from HDL about two years ago, and I love them. They fit snug, they have three sizes and two different firmnesses, soft and regular, and they do not roll away as easily as space balls. And the best thing about them is that they are half the cost of Spaceballs.

From contributor H:
Using the right Spaceball size and hardness is important to your door assembly. CSH developed a softer ball .260”diameter with Spaceball to accommodate the smaller space between the raised panel and the door styles. The normal space allowance should be 5/32” per side. Spaceballs fit securely into a .250” groove and you do not have worry which end you are inserting, which would screw up your door.

The purpose of Spaceballs is to act as a spring to keep your doors from cracking by centering them. The other advantage is they keep the panels from rattling. Other products do not spring back after being compressed for years. Foam does not have enough spring in it to be effective year after year. Many doors have been ruined and had to be replaced, when the oils or chemicals used in their makeup were squeezed out after the doors expanded and stained the door panel.

CSH is the largest distributor of Spaceballs and stocks and supplies the largest cabinet companies in this country. CSH also has an insertion gun for installing the Spaceballs.