Shaker doors are a popular sight on kitchen and bathroom cabinets, as well as in laundry rooms, offices, and any other room of the house that needs a shot of practicality and charm. With their clean lines and precise shadows, Shaker doors project a classic feeling that's tempered with a modern air. It's no wonder that Shaker doors are equally at home with both traditional and contemporary architectural styles.
It's also fortunate that Shaker cabinet doors are easy to build. If you can imagine a picture frame with a solid insert, you've got the basic idea of Shaker cabinet door construction.
Basics of Making Shaker Cabinet Doors
The look of a Shaker cabinet door is that of a framed picture. Yet, a Shaker cabinet door's frame does not rest on the front of the solid center panel. Instead, the panel is inserted into the center of this frame within grooves.
The frame is built out of four pieces of 1x3 solid hardwood lumber. Vertical pieces are called stiles. Horizontal pieces run between the stiles and are called rails.
If you're watching costs, you can use a softwood like pine, spruce, or fir. Softwoods are easier to cut but aren't as durable in the long term. For a more substantial build, choose a hardwood such as oak, maple, or birch. Hardwoods are more difficult to cut and are more expensive but make for a solid door.
Shaker cabinet doors feature a 1/4-thick center panel. Choose any type of sheet wood or veneer panel, as long as it's 1/4-inch thick. Factory-applied veneer on the wood that matches the frame wood can be stained and coated or painted.
Shaker cabinet doors use mortise and tenon joinery. A mortise is a female groove in the wood; a tenon is a male projection in an adjacent board that fits into the female groove. Mortise and tenon joinery lets you construct cabinet doors without fasteners.
Equipment / Tools
- Table saw
- Bar clamps
- Speed Square
- Straight edge or tape measure
- 1x3 board, 8 feet long
- Veneer panel, 1/4-inch thick, 4-foot by 4-foot
- Wood glue
Cut the Stiles and Rails
Make two cuts to produce two stiles, each measuring 23-1/2 inches. Cut two more boards, each at 13-1/4, for the rails. These boards will form a cabinet door that is 23-1/2 inches high by 17-1/2 inches wide.
Add Grooves (Mortises) to the Stiles and Rails
Raise the table saw blade height to 3/8-inch above the level of the table. Move the saw fence (or guide) until the blade is centered along a test piece of wood. So, for a 1-inch nominal thick board (3/4-inch true dimension), the center point would be 0.375-inch. Turn on the saw and run the test piece of wood through to check the depth of the groove and whether it is centered. If everything looks correct, cut grooves on the two stiles and two rails (one side only).
Widen the Groove to the Inset Panel Thickness
Because a single saw blade is not 1/4-inch thick, it is necessary to adjust the saw fence and cut the stiles and rails again. Move the saw fence slightly closer (about 1/16-inch). Run the test piece through, flip the board, then run it a second time. The intention is to equalize the cuts on both sides of the existing groove.
Check that the plywood inset panel fits snugly in the groove. If it is too tight, slightly adjust the fence and cut again. When everything is correct, run the stiles and rails through the saw.
Create the Tenons in the Rails
Use a clamp to add a scrap block of wood to the saw fence 2-1/2 inches away from the blade. Using one cabinet rail as a guide, lower the saw blade until it is just below the groove of the stile. Use the Speed Square to make a mark 3/8-inch back from the end of each rail. With a rail against the saw's sliding guide, cut away all material on each side of the rail to create a tenon. Test that the tenon fits into one of the stile's grooves. Cut all four tenons.
Determine the Inset Panel Size
Dry-fit the stiles and rails loosely so that you can see the tenons fitting into the grooves. With the pencil, lightly mark the depth of the grooves at eight points (two at each corner). Measure the size of this rectangle with the straight edge.
Cut the Inset Panel
Transfer the marks in the previous step to the 1/4-inch panel. Cut the panel to size on the table saw.
Fit and Glue the Cabinet Door Together
Dry-fit the stiles, rails, and inset panel. If the pieces fit, lightly glue the tenons and edges of the inset panel and fit the door together permanently.
Clamp the Cabinet Door
Apply bar clamps to the door to hold it together while the glue dries. This should take about three hours.