Making inset doors

cfmuehlingMarch 29, 2011

Hi all!

I've been making my own cabinets, and cannabalizing some people gave me. So far, so good, altho I'll probably hate them when I learn more.

Here's my question: I want to make inset doors. I understand it's down to the 16th of an inch and am fine with that. What I don't know is how to make the slabs!

I don't think I can just use a piece of plywood because it'll warp. MDF is SOOOO heavy.

Does anyone have a reference where I can read about this in plain beginner language? :)

Then.... Does anyone know where I can buy the 1/4" bead I want to use? I have discovered the reason I could never pick cabinets is because I don't like overlay!! :)

Thanks for your help and advice,


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MDF's weight is not the problem you think it is. The weight of doors and drawer fronts is carried by the hinges or drawer slides. In use, the difference in the feel of an MDF vs. a plywood door is fairly subtle.

While plywood is certainly less stable than MDF, warpage shouldn't be a problem if you use good-quality material. But you won't find the good stuff at Home Depot.

For the applied bead, you could talk to a local millwork shop. If you have a router table, you could make that molding yourself.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2011 at 7:19AM
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Millwork shop.
Would that be a yellow pages thing? I'll have to look.

How does one know good quality material (plywood) vs. what's in the big stores? I don't know what to look for!

I have 2 routers and one has the stuff to hook it into a router table, but I don't have the table part. I probably have the bits, too.

That's one of the tools I'm not familiar with using. If you name it, I probably have 2 or 3 of them, but I'm learning them slowly and rather fearfully. Once I overcome the fear of noise, I'm pretty OK with them. I have a lot I need to do on the table saw and I just haven't made myself do it yet.

I'll check the yellow pages!
Thanks for the thoughts.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2011 at 8:47AM
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Yes, a millwork shop is likely to be found in the yellow pages, or via Google. A millwork shop is basically a business that mills and fabricates wooden architectural components for carpenters/contractors that don't have the time, equipment or expertise to do it themselves. They make moldings, stair treads, newel posts, etc.

Look for a plywood dealer that caters to professional cabinet shops. In my area it's this place. Expect cabinet-grade plywood to be substantially more expensive than the stuff you see at the big-box stores.

It sounds like you've accumulated a lot of equipment for someone who's still intimidated by the table saw. Take it slowly, and get in-person guidance from a knowledgeable friend if you can. Be safe.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2011 at 10:21AM
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[LOL] "Accumulated" is a good word.

My husband was a GC, when after we had a fire, 15 years of death and depression culminated in him bailing. He left not only me, 7 cats, 2 dogs and $643,680 in debt, he left all his, his father's and grandfather's tools, too.

When he couldn't find something, he'd just buy another. To clean his truck, he'd put everything in hefty bags & drop them in the driveway. I've gone through almost all of them and have probably returned $2000 worth of stuff to Lowe's & Home Depot, which got me many of the materials I needed to work on the house. I've sorted tools into bins, cleaned rust off zillions of wrenches, hammers, screw drivers, etc., and repaired power tools.

So when someone working on the house says, "We need to go to .... to get...." I take them out to the garage where I've sorted screws, nails, mystery things into cat litter buckets, or my tool bins, or my sorted wood piles in the barn, or trusses in the shed, or (shall I stop) and ask them, "Do you see what you need?"

I am going to be able to rebuild my collapsing 10' x 18' covered, screened in porch buy only buying 3, 6 x 12"s Not bad, huh?

But I'm teaching myself slowly. I have yet to tackle the routers, planer, jointer, 3 drill presses, bandsaw, scroll saw or some of those hammer drills. I did give away the radial arm saw. It scared me to death how it moved on its own. I love the braid nailer, Kreg pocket screw thingy, the paslode stuff (although I'm afraid of the noise), the framing nailers and the hardwood floor nailer. I usually use the compressor to fill my lawn mower tires. So far.

I go now. Off to the yellow pages. :) Wish me luck.

Thanks for the advice again.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2011 at 11:04AM
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Wow. Nice that you're squeezing a bit of lemonade out of all that. Good luck.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2011 at 2:49PM
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Construction grade plywood does not make very good furniture.

It often has voids and defects in the inner plies that will only become apparent when you cut the sheet down.

'Baltic birch' plywood was the high grade stuff for years, but there are a few competitors now ('Apple ply' comes to mind, and some Baltic birch has gone down in quality).

If you want high quality hardwood veneers on the plywood the sky is almost the limit on cost.
The better the veneer the higher the price.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2011 at 4:31PM
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I hadn't thought veneer.
I was thinking paint, but that opens up a world of possibilities.

Thx for the idea!

    Bookmark   March 30, 2011 at 4:43PM
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Great attitude. Hang in there.

Attached is a short video on fitting inset doors that you might find helpful. I would not count on any opening being square to the degree that you can measure and cut.

Here is a link that might be useful: Ticking sticks

    Bookmark   April 1, 2011 at 1:57PM
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That was interesting!
What a great way to do these doors.

I have to figure out how to do it with the face frames attached. The way I learned to do doors was with them on.

I like this way a heck of a lot better.

Thank you for sharing, bobsmyuncle!

    Bookmark   April 1, 2011 at 8:50PM
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Just a word of encouragement, since you sound like a kindred spirit! It does get easier and starts to make more sense. After a while, you look back at how something scared you at first and now you don't think twice about it. Eventually the sound of the table saw and router become familiar and you will develop controlled arm movements and a way of moving with each tool that will make working with them a pleasant passtime. (Hopefully!)

I haven't done my kitchen yet, but built furniture and other remodelling projects instead. I know I have done things "out of order" in the learning process, but I figure: why should I make a bird house if I don't need one? I may not do the job in the most efficient way, but I am saving a lot of money and the tweaks that I put in my designs make them personal.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2011 at 10:33AM
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I appreciate the encouragement. It's hard to do things alone sometimes. I was terrified of the brad nailer because I'd once shot the framing nailer and it about popped me backwards on my bummy. How anticlimactic!

I agree with you about on birdfeeders. Those little stinkers poop all over the place if you feed 'em! [LOL]

I figure anything I do can be redone later if I decide I did crappy, beginner work. Being anal, that's tough. But how many 5'2" women do you know who build and hang 42x42" wall cabinets alone, huh? [flexing biceps] Then change her mind twice and move them!?!

You're right and thank you. Just gotta do it or I got nuttin'


    Bookmark   April 2, 2011 at 10:47AM
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You make me laugh. I am the crazy that puts sheet rock up on the ceiling by herself. At least I have some height over you and the basement ceiling is only 7'6". I do have a spouse, but those kind of things are not his talent. I save most major projects for when he is out of town. It is almost easier that way.... no questions to answer. ;~]

    Bookmark   April 2, 2011 at 3:14PM
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So, would you still go with high end plywood even if it were going to be painted?

    Bookmark   May 10, 2011 at 1:48PM
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U know?
I haven't even gotten that far.
I'm actually thinking of MDF for its weight and stability.
The cabs are wood/plywood, so sturdy.
I don't see any reason why not MDF, since I'm painting.


    Bookmark   May 12, 2011 at 9:33AM
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The ticking stick method for fitting inset doors is interesting. I have two questions.

First, if the face frame is not yet mounted to the cabinet box, can one lay the frame on top of the door and trace the frame opening on to the door? (Instead of using ticking sticks to transfer dimensions from one piece of wood to another, simply transfer the dimensions directly?)

Second, can you assume the face frame's shape will not change when it is mounted on the box?

In general, do you folks prefer to fit doors and mounting hinges before the face frame is attached to the box, or after?

    Bookmark   May 15, 2011 at 12:38PM
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I have developed my method of hanging the doors after assembly; a lot of what I do is built-in-place. I mount the hinges to the door, then space the doors in the opening and lightly mark the hinge locations with the marking knife, then rout the hinge mortises into the faceframes. Age-old technique, just like hanging house doors, only smaller.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2011 at 8:40PM
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