Steps for processing cabinets

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Cabinetmakers share the methods they use for processing doors and cabinet parts. July 3, 2001

I'm interested in the steps that your shop uses to process 4/4 stock into door and cabinet parts.

Being that I run a small shop, yield is important. Usually 4/4 is planed down just enough to see the color and figure of the species. Rails and stiles are ripped to 1/8 over width (more on long pieces) and cut to over length (amount depends on defects and cracks in end pieces.) Better boards are crosscut to panel sizes. At this point, everything is put aside for at least a day for pieces to warp, relax, crack, twist, etc.

I will continue to use this process in steps, depending on the parts. For instance, door panels will be face jointed and planed down another 1/8 or so and allowed to sit again. Rails and stiles will also go through this process 3 times; rough, relax, and final dimensioning. I try not to do the final dimensioning until I am able to machine and glue it up that day. After final dimensioning, I run everything through a drum sander to remove snipe and planer marks. Then it's off to the shaper or glue table.

This seems a bit overboard. I seldom have cracked panels or warped doors, and although it seems like a laborious process, I swear I make it up in later phases of construction when I have good, straight and uniform stock. I don't have a wide belt to run everything through, so the time saved sanding seems worth it alone. Face frame and door joints require only fine orbital sanding.

Any comments or suggestions? I'd love to hear the process small and even larger shops use, as some of us smaller shops envision being at that level some day.

Forum Responses
What about just buying S4S material? It would seem a lot cheaper to me than going through all you go through. Do you get paid for all this "laborious process"? I would buy S4S for the stiles and rails, and edge-glued panels for the panels.

More importantly, there's no waiting for whatever's going to happen, just cut the stuff and put it together. We've done it that way for years and never had any problems in the "later phases" of construction.

The above post has a point, for sure, but if you'd like to continue to process the raw material, I've got some suggestions. I see no reason to go through the redundant machining and settling processes unless you are buying lumber that is not up to par. Properly manufactured and dried lumber doesn't need all this attention, in my opinion, for production work. If on the other hand, you're doing one-off pieces or are using unusual wood, that may warrant a bit more fussing.

Here's our solid wood production schedule for kitchen cabinet doors:
1. Rough rip - rough cross cut stiles and rails to final dimension plus allowances for further machining

2. Panel parts rough ripped, cross cut
3. All parts faced on jointer (or production machine)
4. Stiles and rails planed to thickness 1/16" oversize to allow for wide-belt sanding
5. Stiles and rails edge jointed and ripped oversize for machining on shaper
6. Panel parts planed as thick as possible, edge jointed, ripped parallel if required and edge jointed again for maximum yield
7. Panel parts glued, then planed oversize to allow for wide-belt sanding

We made thousands of doors using these methods with a near-zero reject rate (and our standards were quite high). If you're involved in higher production, then you can save even more effort by using production equipment in place of the planer-jointer-shaper combination.

If you are buying well made lumber, you can rely on its stability.

My process is similar to the original one. I take rough wood, cut lengths 1" over the part size, rip parts 1/4 - 3/8 over size, depending on length. I then run 1 face on the jointer, plane the other face to 1/16 over size. Then I run 1 edge on the jointer, rip the parts to 1/16 oversize and joint the other edge. For my 5/8" panels I use the same process. I rip all stock to under 4", plane to 13/16", joint edges, glue up the panels, then plane to 11/16". After the panels are to finish size, I run them through the drum sander, then shape edges. After doors are assembled I run them through the drum sander, shape edges, then finish sand.

I do not have a waiting time between processes, except for glue to dry. This is a time-consuming process. If I were in mass production I would have to do it differently. Out of the hundreds of doors I have made this way I have not had to replace any. When I started woodworking in high school and then at my first job, we used only S4S lumber. What I learned then is why I do it this way today.

We follow most of the same steps as the others, but we buy our lumber S2S 13/16 and SLR1E. This along with buying good quality FAS kiln dried lumber will cut your processing time in half. The little extra you pay for milling is well worth the time (money) spent.

I would do it much as the original questioner has. Cross-cutting first, then ripping to width. This allows me to pick how much warp is going into what part and straight line for later machining or glue-up. Stiles and rails are usually sent through a jointer with a power feeder on one face, then planed to thickness. I like to start with H&M 15/16" lumber to allow for some warp removal. If I have only a few doors and it is good stock and I am real careful, 13/16" S2S stock is faster because of less machine time. Panels are glued and planed or sanded (I purchase glued panels when I can) then cut to size and machined. It is far less expensive to purchase doors from a door company than make my own, however sometimes the project and time frame dictate differently.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor A:
I have a process which is slighty different from the the rest I've read. First I would start by planing the rails/stiles 1/6 oversize, then the panels 1/6 oversize after they're glued together. Second, rip the rails and stiles (gang rip would save a lot of time). Third, shape all the rails/stiles. Fourth, crosscut rails/stiles to the desired measurment by setting up a stop block jig. This will enable you to cut 8 or more peices, making them all the exact same size. Fifth, crosscut panels. Sixth, cope cut the rails on the shaper, then the panels. Now assemble. There is one part I left out - after ripping rails/stiles, pass as many as possible trough the planer on edge, keeping a square edge. This ensures uniform width.