Mitered vs Cope & Tenon Cabinet Doors

janralixApril 7, 2012

I first thought we wanted mitered cabinet doors in our kitchen remodel, mainly because I don't like the way some C & T doors show a light/dark finish difference between the vertical and horizontal pieces, and on the end grains. Then, after reading up on it some, I get the impression that mitered corners may tend to separate over time, whereas C & T joints do not. Of course, some say it (the finish difference, the separation, etc.) all depends on the quality of the construction, the selection of the wood pieces by the cabinetmaker, etc. What do you folks have to say about all this?

BTW, I'm going to be using cherry wood with a dark stain and the cabinets are to be custom made. On top of all that, the cabinetmaker says he buys the doors. Is that a common practice for a custom cabinetmaker? He also says mitered doors cost 60% more than C & T doors, so now I'm really confused.

Any help out there?


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Yes most smart cabinet mfg do purchase their doors, this allows them to offer more styles at a lower price. Door mfg do one thing very well, make doors. Depending on how the mitre doors are made, they may offer tendons similar to standard style and rail doors. Having a longer glue joint (45 degree) their may be more potential for movement, which can cause joints to open. I have never found it to be big problem and would not hesitate installing mitred doors.

FYI In my previous life I owned a custom cabinet shop, and used Waltzcraft doors exclusively. They make a great door as Im sure many others do also.

If you trust your cabinetmaker than I would follow his advise. Weather, humidity etc can all effect how much wood moves, he can best advise you on your local conditions.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2012 at 11:36AM
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Sophie Wheeler

Unless you have the equipment and shop to make any cabinet in any wood and in any style and any size that any customer might want, then you aren't a custom cabinet maker. Period. Someone who orders doors and just makes boxes may have the right to call themselves a "cabinet assembler" or "cabinet finisher" even a "semi-custom cabinet shop", but there is NO WAY that they are a true custom cabinet maker. Appropriating that label to make yourself appear to be more skilled and capable than you are is unethical and self aggrandizing false advertising. I find it extremely distasteful. Ask him if he can make you a 1" thick, 17 11/16 x 41 1/8, mitered and coved walnut frame around a reverse raised panel sapele inset with cherry inlay, and the box be the same (integral door as box). If he can't do it, then he isn't a custom cabinet maker and has zero right to use that title.

Finishing is also a step that the "custom" guys can have questionable practices. If they don't have their own clean room on site where they spray their finishes and use a conversion varnish as a top coat, then RED FLAG them and pass them by. You don't want the site finished inevitable dust and dirt in your cabinets's finish. Nor do you want the non durable finishes that they can produce but that won't show up until their warranty has expired.

That is not to say that such a cabinet shop cannot produce some great and even economical cabinets for you if what you want is a common profile in a common wood. However, the quality will have far more to do with the company that they order the doors from than the box maker.

Mitered doors will be composed of 4 different stiles and rails just like the mortise and tenoned doors will. Anytime you have 4 different pieces of wood, you have the chance of them not matching perfectly. That's a sign that is is a natural substance. Each tree is different, and you should NEVER expect a 100% match between wood. What you should expect is a very close match, if the maker uses premium all heartwood and no sapwood. That is a LOT more expensive than standard cherry, which is a mix of heart and sap.

And yes, a mitered join has more surface to be affected by wood's natural swelling and shrinking in response to fluctuating humidity levels. You may notice some tiny gapping in the winter, and the joint may swell back to no gap in the summer, or even a tiny bit of buckling or warping because the wood has absorbed so much summer humidity if you don't have AC. A whole house humidifier in the winter and the use of AC or dehumidfiers in the summer is the key to any wood in your home to being happy. And that goes for that elaborate crown molding, to your cabinets, to your wood floors or any other wood furniture.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2012 at 12:52PM
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I was kind of skeptical about mitered doors, but on one occasion I had the need to take some surplus doors apart to harvest the stain-matched material for another part of a project. They were amazingly well thought-out and executed joints. it was something akin to a finger joint, but mitered. These were Canack cabinets, made in Canada and not cheap; they were metric, however :(
So there are some good miters that would satisfy me. Cope/snub tenons are not inherently stronger. The only high-strength joinery is a full mortise & tenon, which nobody does any more, except for a few of us ultra-custom and historical types (like myself).

    Bookmark   April 7, 2012 at 1:33PM
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Circus Peanut

I don't feel as vehemently about the issue as Hollysprings, but I do wonder why a custom guy doesn't make his own doors? That's not been my experience working with custom carpenters, who have all produced doors for me out of the same wood stock as the rest of the cabinetry.

That said, your questions are good ones about the joints. It's my understanding that you don't want mitered joints with a painted finish, due to the slight weather-related separation that can split the paint, but with stained cabs I haven't heard anything negative. Miter-vs-cope&tenon seems to be mainly an aesthetic choice rather than a structural one, unless you have folks regularly swinging from your cabinets ... ;-)

Re. your concern about matching color and grain, I don't think you'll gain anything from going mitered. It's the angle of the wood that can make it look different colors, not what's going on at the attached ends, y'know?

Happy hunting!

    Bookmark   April 7, 2012 at 5:47PM
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Thanks to everyone for the opinions. They are just the kind of comments I was looking for.

hollysprings: I misspoke about my cabinetmaker: they can, and do, make the doors in-house but they also buy some. I can see ton999's point, I think, about door manufacturers doing one thing well. Maybe my guy goes both ways for time/scheduling or some other reasons. In fact, when I asked the KD at the cabinet shop, she said she would check with the shop to see if they would (not could) make mine in-house, but now I'm wondering if I should just let them go with however they want to do it, because I doubt they will say one way is better over the other. I will definitely ask these questions now that I know a little more. Also, this cabinetmaker is one of, if not the, best and highest rated high-end cabinetmakers in my area - which is why I went to them in the first place - so my concerns may just be unfounded. Any more comments on this?

Thanks again.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2012 at 1:34AM
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Any shop that thinks they can make every door style, with every inside and outside edge profile for a price even close to what a good door shop can, is a poor business person. I never made hardware either, does that mean im not a "True" cabinet maker...I could if I had to, but purchasing from other experts is a much wiser way of doing business.

Being a good business person, and offering the widest range of styles at a reasonable price to my customers is more important to them, them saying "I make it all myself". That mindset is foolish in today's world. I have been in literally 100's of shops and almost all purchase some items. Be it doors, drawers, parts etc, it's a good business move and many are some of the best cabinet shops in the country, producing top end casework.

Also, most door shops are drying the wood, gluing up panels etc, in controlled conditions. Conditions that most shops could never achieve. Waltzcraft that I mentioned even mills their own lumber. Does the location of where a door is made really make a difference to the customer? Having machines set up with dozens of panel profiles, edge details, is much more cost effective then setting up for each job and running a few dozen doors.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2012 at 6:18PM
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Setting the overlay aside......There is no reason to not use a mitered door, especially in a dark cherry stain. You will never see that joint do what it MIGHT do anyway.
Custom cabinet guy or whatever you want to call him, if you are too concerned about the joints, maybe you don't want real wood. Remember, it's mother nature's material and sometimes it's going to do whatever it wants no matter who put it together.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2012 at 7:55PM
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Many studies have been undertaken showing that outsourcing cabinet doors is more economical, more efficient, more consistent quality wise and provides more options. Even "custom" shops that make their own will often outsource mitered doors because nobody makes a higher quality joint than the CNC cut mortise & tenon joint. However, to avoid joints cracking after finishing, they must use a hot melt PUR adhesive, which will provide a true structural bond. Here's a few shops that I know use this method:

American Door, Swainsboro, GA
Georgia Hardwoods, Swainsboro, GA
Walzcraft, WI
Woodcrafters, St. Cloud, MN

    Bookmark   April 11, 2012 at 6:30PM
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I think it comes down to the look you like better. I think the mitre makes the door look more formal. Look at the doors next to each other and go with the one you like the look of better.

My cabinetmaker also purchases the doors from a reputable door manufacturer. I am getting one with an inset moulding and decided not to go with the mitered joint because my cabinets are too fancy already.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2012 at 10:37AM
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