Shaker cabinets are one of the most popular choices for cabinet styles. They are sleek and clean looking while maintaining just enough detail to avoid being labeled plain. They can work in pretty much any design style, and lucky for us, they are one of the easiest to build. But, not everyone knows exactly how to build a shaker door. So, in this post “How to Build Shaker Doors” we will focus on instructions for constructing basic shaker doors.
How To Build Shaker Doors…
Before we get started on the instructions, you will need to be familiar with safety gear (educate yourself if you don’t know what that includes) and with the parts of a door, of which there are three.
1) The panel – obviously this is the center of the door. 2) Rails – these are the boards that run horizontally across the bottom and the top of the doors. 3) Stiles – these are the boards that run vertically across the sides of the doors.
Materials Required for Shaker Doors…
While there are several ways that a door can be constructed, this method is widely used and is an acceptable way to build quality shaker doors.
It can be done using a dado blade, but for the purpose of the beginners, I am demonstrating just using a basic blade. If you need instructions for building cabinet boxes, they can be found here.
To construct shaker doors, you will need
- Quality 3/4″ wood for the rails and stiles – I am using poplar boards from Lowes. However, you will want to consider the final finish before choosing the type of wood. Since I plan to paint these, I am not concerned with anything more than the boards being straight, flat, and free of defects. If I were going to stain these, I would probably have chosen cherry. However, poplar stains up very similar to cherry. So, it is a good substitute.
- Quality 1/4″ plywood to use for the panels. – I am using basic birch plywood for my panels, but again I plan to paint them. (Tip: If you are building a kitchen cabinet door or a door that will receive a lot of harsh treatment, 1/2″ panels may be the way to go. I am using these doors in an area that will receive very light treatment, so 1/4″ panels will suffice. (If using 1/2″ panels, adjustments will need to be made to these instructions).
- Wood Glue
- Table saw
- Orbital Sander or sanding blocks
How to Measure and Cut for Shaker Doors…
I will assume that you know the size that you need your cabinet doors to be, so with that in mind, let’s get to the math. The easy part is the stiles.
They will be cut the actual length desired for the finished length of the door. In my situation, I needed doors that measure 30″ in length x 17″ in width. So, my stiles were cut to 30″.
For the rails – I am using 1/2″ tenons and 1/2″ grooves, and my boards are 2″ wide. So, the formula will look like this: desired door width – (stile width x 2) + 1 = rail length.
Or in other words, 17″ minus the 4″ width of my combined stiles. Then, add back the 1″ needed for the tenons. That total will be 14″ rails.
For the panels – The width will be the same as the rails (in my case 14″) and the height will be the stile’s length – (rail width x 2) + 1. Since my rails are 2″ each in width that means 30″ – 4″ + 1″ =27″
Making Grooves & Tenons for Shaker Doors…
Grooves and tenon is the method used to build professional shaker doors. I know you may have seen some DIY doors constructed using pocket hole jigs. Maybe you have done a few yourself.
Those are okay if you are just starting out, but it is not too difficult to make shaker doors the correct way. This is just one area where I would recommend not using pocket hole screws.
I suggest using a scrap piece of wood to practice on, before trying to cut the actual grooves and tenons for the doors.
How to Build Shaker Doors – Step 1
Let’s get the table saw set up to create the grooves (or dado) in the stiles. You want to get the groove perfectly centered in the stiles and cut 1/2″ deep.
So, you should set your table saw blade to be raised 1/2″ and the fence set approximately at 1/4″ away from zero.
Run a test to determine if the cut accurately cuts a groove 1/4″ away from the edge. If not, fine tune your fence placement.
Once you get the first groove cut in the stiles, move the fence 1/8″ further away from the blade and make a second pass in the stile.
Continue making 1/8″ adjustments and passes until the groove is wide enough to make a snug fit on your panel wood. It should only take 2-3 total passes.
You should end up with a stile that has 1/4″ left on each side of the groove and about a 1/4″ groove down the center.
To make the stiles quicker and easier, cut the grooves in the boards before cutting them into the individual stiles and rails.
HOW TO BUILD SHAKER DOORS – Step 2
To cut the tenons, lower the blade to be just 1/4″ above the table. Make it as accurate as possible.
Then, set the fence so that it is 1/2″ away from the far side of the blade. Again, do a test run to get your placements right.
Make a pass on both sides of each end of the rails. The notch should be exactly 1/2″ from the end of the rail. If not, make adjustments to the fence until it is accurate.
Begin moving the fence closer to the blade in 1/8″ increments, making a pass over both sides of each end with every adjustment.
Keep doing this until the tenon has been completed.
You can see how the passes remove the groove area that was previously cut, leaving behind just the tenon.
Test the fit of the tenon in the stile grooves. It should fit snugly but not overly tight or loose.
To assemble the door, place a bead of wood glue into the grooves of the stiles and rails.
Slide the bottom rail into the ends of the two stiles. Then, slide the center panel in place. Finally, slide the top rail into place.
Use bar clamps to hold the door until the glue fully dries.
NOTE – Be sure that you only tighten the clamps just enough to hold.
Do not apply any extra pressure with the clamps or attempt to over tighten them. This will cause the stiles/rails to bow upwards. You only need a light hold, similar to the pressure applied when holding it with your hands.
After the glue has dried (24 hrs), sand the door to remove any raised seams or ridges. Make sure to go over the entire rail and stiles and not just the seams. Otherwise, you may end up with dips.
Finish the door in your preferred method (stain or paint) and hang on your cabinet.
Keep in mind that learning how to build shaker doors is not difficult but may take several passes to get everything just right.
Getting grooves and tenons cut perfectly may take a bit of practice. However, with a little attention to detail, anyone can become an expert at making them.
So, if this is your first time attempting doors, just buy a little bit of extra wood, and practice at getting to know your table saw, as that is really where getting a perfect result will be made.
Don’t expect the cuts to be accurate with your first pass. But once you find that sweet spot, write it down or mark it off with some tape. And as always, make sure to use your safety gear!