How to Make a Kitchen Cabinet Door: Flat Panel Construction

kitchen cabinet panel
Final Kitchen Cabinet Panel

These panels have been hot sellers recently, so I thought I’d blog the directions to you.  There is another variant using raised panels in the center, but we’ll save that post for another day.  I’ll describe the process for making flat panels which typically use plywood in the center which can be very economical.  The panel in the picture was custom made with 4″ wide red oak edges in order to attach the panel to a metal dishwasher door.  2″ wide edges are pretty standard these days for kitchen cabinets.  These panels are relatively easy to make once you’ve made one or two and I’ll share some lessons learned that will make it even easier for you.

rail and stile bit set
Rail and Stile Bit Set

First of all, it’s important to understand the terminology of these panels so you purchase the right bits and understand the orientation of the directions.  The horizontal pieces are called rails and the vertical pieces are called stiles.  The stiles run the entire height of the door and the rails meet them (more on measuring rails below).  There are router bit sets specially made for these panel doors and I recommend Whiteside bit set #6001 (available at Woodcraft).  These run about $115, but will last forever and allow you to make hundreds of panel doors.  In addition, the contours from this bit are common today and appealing to the eye.  If you are redoing your kitchen, you may want to consider investing in one of these bit sets.  A kitchen remodel can run tens of thousands of dollars and making your own doors can save you a bundle (see our post about not skimping on tools).  Once you’ve made one door, the rest are easy.  In addition, you can run all the rails and stiles for all the doors through the router table at one time and really expedite the process.

Step 1:  measure the opening your doors will cover and plan for 1/2″ overlap all the way around.

the raw wood
The Raw Wood

Craftsman Tip:  the width of your door is NOT equal to twice the width of your stiles and the length of your rail!  Due to the nature of the cuts made by this bit set, the rails will overlap the stiles by 3/8″ on each end.  This means you need to add 3/4″ (3/8″ on left plus 3/8″ on right) to your beginning rail length or your doors will be too narrow.  I learned this lesson the hard way on an earlier project and had to toss out the rails and start over.  Said another way, the desired width of your door needs to equal twice the width of the stiles, plus the length of the rail, then add 3/4″.  You’ll lose that 3/4″ during the routing process.

flat panel rails and stiles
Flat Panel Rails and Stiles

Step 2:  cut your rails and stiles in accordance with the tip above.






stile close up
Stile Close Up

Step 3:  rout the edges of the rails and stiles.  Don’t forget to have a piece of scrap wood behind the piece as it passes the router bit to prevent tear out.




Craftsman Tip:  don’t cut the plywood to fit the gaps exactly because it may prevent a perfect seating of the rails within the stiles.  I like to leave a 1/16″ gap all the way around the plywood to allow for some slight wood movement due to humidity and temperature changes.

Step 4:  cut your plywood panel in accordance with the tip above.

rail and stile good fit
Rail and Stile Good Fit

Once you have all the pieces cut, put them together to dry fit everything.  There should be no gaps between the rails and the stiles.  If there are, it’s time to go back to the router table.  See our post about the gulag,  craftsmanship, and not leaving a job undone.

cabinet flat panel glue up
Cabinet Flat Panel Glue Up

Step 5:  dry fit the panel together then glue it up.  There is an old woodworking adage that you can never have enough clamps and this is definitely true.  There is nothing like extreme clamping pressure to make for an absolutely rock solid joint.  The Jet clamps in the picture are gifts from the Best Sister in the Whole World, but pipe clamps from Lowes will also do the trick. I have a mix of both in the wood shop.

Step 6:  either paint or finish the panel.  For tips on the finishing process, read our blog post on the cherry coat rack commission.

As you can see from the picture, these panels are beautiful when done correctly.  Please let me know how the directions worked for you in the comments below!