Dowels or biscuits?

flgargoyleFebruary 4, 2007

I am planning on making kitchen cabinet doors, and need to join the outer stiles. I can either make a really accurate drilling fixture for dowels (I'm a toolmaker), or invest in a biscuit (plate) joiner. There are about 20 doors in the kitchen, so I need fast, repeatable joints. What are the pros and cons of each method? BTW, I'm building my own house in a couple years, so the biscuit joiner would see plenty of use, if it's the best way to go.

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Jon1270

Either would work for joining one stick to another, but there are better ways for cabinet doors. Look into "rail and stile" or "cope and stick" router bits, which come in matched pairs and cut both the corner joints and the slot for the panel to fit into.

Here is a link that might be useful: Lee Valley's router bits

    Bookmark   February 4, 2007 at 10:45AM
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flgargoyle

I actually have a shaper, and looked into rail and stile kits, but I want to make the 'panel' out of beadboard paneling, which is 5/16" thick. All of the cutter sets I found are 1/4". I was just going to cut a rabbet in the backside of 1X3 stock, miter the corners, assemble, then glue in the beadboard panels. If I could find a 5/16" cutter, that would be perfect. I guess I could modify a 3/8" cutter if I had to. I read a lot of reviews on biscuit joiners, and all but the extremely expensive ones had their flaws.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2007 at 2:21PM
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magnumv8

I've got a Freud biscuit joiner. Its a very basic model, not really expensive, and it does the jobs I ask it to do. I've used it mostly for faceframe construction, where I don't have to rely on the strength of the biscuits for the long haul. Personally, I would opt for something a little more "beefy" on door construction, i.e., mortise and tenon. But that doesn't really sound feasible for mitered corners. Do you have a specific need for mitered doors?

How about a mitered half-lap? I've never made one, mostly because I don't work with miters that much. But it seems you could set up something for repetitive cuts on the table saw. The half-lap probably provides the largest glue surface next to the mortise and tenon. Check out this link for the mitered half-lap.

Here is a link that might be useful: Mitered half-lap tutorial

    Bookmark   February 4, 2007 at 5:06PM
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sombreuil_mongrel

Hi,
If I needed to make a lot of very precise miters that had to stay together, I'd probably take the speed of the biscuitter, and buy a pneumatic gun to drive the chevron-shaped staple/clip things that picture framers use. They drive in from behind, not the face.
I was examining some mitered cabinet doors and I saw that they now use a cutter similar to a fingerjoint bit to deliver a really interlocked glue joint. i don't think that type of cutter is available for small shapers.
The bisuit is adjustable in one plane during glue-up,but the dowel is completely fixed.
Use the driest stock you can, as these miters only stay tight if the wood is dry/stable.
Casey

    Bookmark   February 4, 2007 at 7:37PM
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flgargoyle

I planned on miters, as I wanted to rabbet my 1X3 stock before cutting it. If I use any kind of butt joint, the rabbet will be visible. I don't know how I'd rabbet it otherwise. BTW, the cabinets are to be painted, so I can fill any imperfections. I'm not overly concerned about strength and longevity- they only need to last a few years in a 'quiet' home. I'm trying to save money, and use the equipment I have (other than a biscuit joiner). I have good quality 12" miter saw, but no table saw or radial arm.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2007 at 4:50PM
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HandyMac

In your situation, biscuits will be faster and easier. Trying to dowel and get corners to match evenly will be difficult. The biscuits will allow a bit of wiggle room for making nice even corners.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2007 at 7:31PM
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kudzu9

I've been woodworking for 40 years and dowels are a real pain, even with a fixture, because there is no wiggle room (literally or figuratively). I can do them properly when I need to, but I much prefer a biscuit joiner. It's plenty strong, and fast, and the slots are just a little longer than the biscuits, so you can make slight sliding adjustments to bring a joint into perfect alignment. I've got a Porter-Cable unit and I've been happy with it.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2007 at 12:57PM
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flgargoyle

Thanks for the advice and discussion- looks like I need to go buy a new toy!

    Bookmark   February 8, 2007 at 4:30PM
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brickeyee

"I want to make the 'panel' out of beadboard paneling, which is 5/16" thick. All of the cutter sets I found are 1/4"."

You use a back cutter to reduce the panel thickness at the edges to 1/4 inch.

    Bookmark   February 8, 2007 at 7:37PM
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kmealy

In addition to all the dowel alignment issues, they have minimal surface area for gluing and most of the joint is short-grain. Biscuits, on the other hand, are flat-grain to flat grain in this instance.

I have built a number of floor-to-ceiling bookcases using biscuits as a shelf joint. After glue up they are much sturdier than dado joints, which wiggle like crazy until you get a back panel on them.

One advantage of the Porter Cable model is their undersized FF biscuit that comes in handy for face frame or small work. Takes a separate cutter (included).

    Bookmark   February 12, 2007 at 11:33AM
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flgargoyle

I'm looking at a different approach now. I bought the paneling, and although it says 5/16" thick, it actually measures only very slightly over 1/4" (.005") I'm going to order a plain 1/4" cutter for my shaper, and cut the rabbet w/ that. Then, I'll cut tenons on the ends to fit inside it, also using the shaper. I'm not sure if I'll get 2 rabbet cutters and a spacer, or use one, and flip the piece to do the other side. How much undersize should I make the beadboard 'panel' to allow for float?

    Bookmark   February 12, 2007 at 4:43PM
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flgargoyle

I finally got my cabinet doors done! No, it didn't take that long; I didn't start until September. I wound up buying a table saw (Ridgid) and a good Freud dado set. I cut dadoes, then cut tenons on the end of the stiles to fit. I discovered part-way into the project that wood (even the 'good' stuff) from the big box store is not all the same thickness- not even close. This gave me trouble keeping the dadoes centered, and controlling the tenon thickness. Next time I'll plane the stock. The beadboard also varied a lot in thickness, but I just trimmed that. All in all- a lot of work, but very inexpensive, and they came out great!

    Bookmark   November 13, 2007 at 7:12PM
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