A few design elements are as
simple, beautiful or enduring as the
frame-and-panel (Fig. A). Woodworkers
have been using this type of construction
for centuries to build doors, wall
paneling and cases. It’s a classic solution
for dealing with an unavoidable
problem: the seasonal expansion and
contraction of a large panel. It’s also a
great way to display a prized plank of
Frame-and-panel is a very flexible
design. By changing the shape and proportions
of the panel or the frame, the
design can be easily adapted to fit almost
any style of furniture or architecture.
Panels can be beveled or flat, rectangular
or arched; the edges of the frame can be
shaped with a decorative molding called
a “sticking,” (Fig. B) or left square.
The main idea, though, is that the
solid-wood panel isn’t glued in place:
it’s free to float in grooves all the way
around the frame. As a panel shrinks in
width in winter, it’s free to withdraw in
the stile’s grooves. As it expands in summer,
there should be enough room in
the grooves so the panel doesn’t bottom
out and force the frame apart (Fig. C).
I’ll show you how I build a very
traditional frame and panel door–one
which will withstand years of use. It
has mortise and tenon joints, a sticking
which is mitered at the corners, and a
rectangular raised panel.
Why mortise and tenon?
There’s more than one way to build
a frame and panel door. Today, most
woodworkers use a pair of cope-andstick
router bits, which allow you to
quickly and easily construct a kitchen
full of doors. One bit shapes the decorative
sticking profile and the panel
groove; the second bit cuts the tenon
and copes the ends of the rails to
match the sticking. However, most
of these bits create a short, stubby
tenon (equal to the depth of the panel
groove) which has only a small surface
area for glue. Cope-and-stick joints are
fine for lightweight doors, but I believe that large doors with solid-wood panels
require more robust joinery.
For strength and longevity, it’s
tough to beat traditional mortise and
tenon joints (Photo 1). Unlike coped
joints, deep mortises and long tenons
provide mechanical interlock and plenty
of surface area for glue. When I build
traditional furniture that’s intended to
last for generations, I always use mortise
and tenon joints for the doors.
Click any image to view a larger version.
1. Here’s the joint I’ll be making. It provides a rigid mechanical
interlock and plenty of surface area for glue. Note how the molding,
or “sticking” is mitered, and how the joint is cut to accommodate
3. Scribe the mortise from each face to perfectly center it on
5. Cut the tenon on a test piece with a dado set. Remove equal
amounts from each face to center the tenon. Clamp a board to the
fence for protection.
7. Shape the sticking profile the full length of all the rails and stiles,
plus a test piece.
12. Miter the rail’s sticking by aligning the tenon’s shoulder with the
15. Remove the waste by sawing close to the sticking’s edge or the
scribed line, depending on which end of the stile you’re cutting.
Guide the cut with a fence.
19. Rout the panel. Use a barrier guard to shield your hands from the bit.
20. Clamp the assembly on a flat surface to prevent it from twisting.
Saw the stiles to final length to make the outside corners flush.