Visually speaking, rectangular panels are more attractive than square ones. For this reason, square openings are usually divided into two doors (or one door with two rectangular panels). Otherwise, I like using a numerical proportioning system for calculating door size.
Once I've settled on the overall dimensions and proportions, I turn my attention to visual details. The most common panel edge is a flat bevel. But the edge can also be a curve, ogee, or a simple bevel. The panel shape can be square, arched, tombstone, or cathedral. Once completed, the overall effect of the design is strong, so I'm careful to chose details and proportions that complement rather than compete with the overall design of the piece on which the panel is to be used.
Panel-Raising Jig for the Table Saw
Panels can be raised with any number of methods: with a shaper, on a router table, or by hand. Without a doubt, the shaper is the most efficient tool you can use to raise panels. But shapers are expensive and routers lack the power to cut the profile in one pass. Because of these limitations, the table saw may be the best option for many woodworkers. Most woodworkers own table saws and the machine can easily make the cut in one pass.
To set up your table saw for panel raising, it makes sense to build a jig. Of course, you can instead tilt the blade and guide the stock with the fence. But the fence on most saws lacks sufficient height to provide good support for the panel.
A jig overcomes the support problem and offers other advantages as well. The broad surface area of the jig provides plenty of support, and the bevel angle is built in. So there's no need to tilt the blade and check the angle. Each time you use the jig, you'll save time. In addition, it's safer than using the fence.
One final note: Construct the jig so that it fits in your saw's miter slot instead of just following the fence. This will prevent the jig (or work) from coming in contact with the back of the blade and causing kickback.
Frame-and-panel doors can take on myriad designs. But certainly one of the most elegant examples is the tombstone door. A centuries-old design, the tombstone door is from a period when all woodworking was done by hand. Today, despite the beauty of the design, tombstone doors are not often seen.
I'm sure that one reason is that the inside corners that flank the arch must be carved. That's because router bits and shaper cutters cut in an arc, and so they won't create inside corners. The solution is to carve the corners by hand. This process isn't really difficult — just a bit time-consuming.
If you would like to incorporate tombstone doors into your next project, there are several designs from which to choose.
Door Joinery and Structural Strength
Router bits and shaper cutters are available in several profiles, making it easy to achieve traditional door frame joinery. Cope-and-stick joinery is actually quite a simple concept. A profile is milled on the inside of the door stile (the vertical member), and its reverse profile or mirror image is milled on the rail (the horizontal member).
In the process, a short tenon is formed that fits into the groove created for the panel. The last drawing shows a typical cope-and-stick router bit set. Single reversible bits are somewhat cheaper, but they can be fussier to set up.
Cope-and-stick joinery is fast and efficient and is best used when you have a large number of doors to make, say, for a kitchen. But this method of construction is not as strong as a traditional mortise-and-tenon joinery. The short tongue or tenon created by the coping cut is typically only 3/8 inches (9.5 millimeters) and just doesn't have much long-grain gluing surface.
So if you're building furniture for the ages, you'll want to consider the tried-and-true mitered sticking method, in which a regular tenon provides all the strength the frame will need to stand up to time.
Lonnie Bird is a professional woodworker, teacher, writer, and tool designer whose work has been featured in several books on woodworking, Fine Woodworking magazine, and other publications.
This article is excerpted from Shaping Wood, copyright © 2001, available from The Taunton Press.