Making Cabinet Doors Using a Router Table

Cabinet doors can be pricey. If you have a router table it may not be as hard as you think to make your own! In this tutorial I am going to show you how I made shaker style drawer fronts using a router table and rail and stile router bits. Plus, there are all kinds of profiles you can cut using the same process with different router bits.

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Disclosure: This episode was sponsored by Kreg Tool Company however the opinions are 100% my own. 

Full Project Video

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  • 1 x 3 x 8′ Poplar (or wood of choice)
  • 1/4″ Plywood

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Some terms that get thrown around when describing parts of a cabinet door are “rails” and “stiles”. These parts make up of the outer frame of the door and there are two of each. The “stiles” are the vertical boards and the “rails” are the horizontal boards. These boards are commonly 1x3s or 1x2s, with actual dimensions of 3/4″ x 2-1/2″ or 3/4″ x 1-1/2″ respectively. I prefer to use poplar for painted cabinets because it is pretty stable, paints well, and can be pretty affordable.

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The rails and stiles all have a groove cut on the inside of the board to accept a panel. The rails also have a tongue cut on each end that will mate with the groove on the stiles.

Making the Stiles

The stiles are fairly easy to make. They just get a groove cut on the inside and in this tutorial we are going to do it with a router table and a set of rail and stile router bits.

Set the Groove Depth

To get started we need to figure out the height of the 1/4″ groove. Typically, the groove in a cabinet door is in the middle. So you would have 1/4″ lip on the back, 1/4″ groove for the panel and 1/4″ decorative edge on the front.

For a drawer front we will need to fill the void behind the panel, otherwise, when the drawer pull is installed, it would cause the panel to get sucked in. We can fix this problem by adding scrap 1/4″ plywood behind it. However, you should know that 1/4″ plywood is not truly 1/4″ thick; it is actually 1/32″ less thick, and when you multiply that by two, you get 1/16″ less than the expected 1/2″.

Therefore, we are going to slide this groove toward the back of the door by 1/6″ giving us the following: 3/16″ back lip, 1/4″ groove and 5/16″ decorative front. So that is how it should be laid out on the edge of a scrap 3/4″ board to test. The Kreg Multi-Mark is the perfect tool for this.

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Mount the groove profile router bit and raise/lower it to align with your markings.

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Align the Fence

Once the vertical alignment is set up, then align the fence with the steel collar. You can do so with a straight edge, making sure that it is flush with both sides of the fence and the collar barely spins when the straight edge is moved from side to side.

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Test Cut

When cutting a profile on the router table you should always go from right to left and apply consistent pressure in the following three directions:

  1. Against the fence
  2. Against the table
  3. Feeding from right to left

1 and 2 can be done safely with the use of featherboards on both sides of the router while 3 is done with your hands feeding the stock through. Or the same can be down with a Microjig or two.

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After running the test piece through the router, check the profile to make sure it is what you were aiming for.

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Cutting the Groove

Once you are happy with the placement, all of the 1×3 stock can be routed with the groove profile.

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Cutting Stiles to Length

The length of the stiles is equal to the overall height of the drawer front or door. I went with a full overlay drawer front. This means that there will only be 1/8″ gap between the door and any adjacent doors or surfaces. And when there is no adjacent surfaces (end of cabinet), the door drawer front is flush with the end.

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If you have a lot of the same height fronts, a stop block like I have above will help you make quick and consistent cuts.

Making the Rails

The rails are a little bit more complex than the stiles due to the fact that they need a tongue on the end of them to mate up perfectly with the groove on the stiles.

Determining the Lengths

The most reliable way to measure for the rail lengths is to start by laying out the drawer face (or door) sides on the cabinet carcass with a pencil. With our 1/8″ gap marked on the center of the drawer dividers we were then able to measure the drawer front width.

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Now that we know the width of the face we need to subtract the stiles. By taking two stiles and turning the flat sides in, you can then measure from the inside of one groove to the inside of the other (I came up with 4-1/4″). Then subtract this amount from the overall width you measure earlier to get the length of the rails.

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These widths will vary, so make sure to measure for each drawer front and try to keep your accuracy with a 1/16″. Now you can cut those rails to length on the miter saw. Make sure to keep note of what goes where and mark the rails to make it easier on yourself.

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Router Bit Setup

Replace the groove profile bit with the tongue profile.

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Align the bit as best you can with the groove on a piece you have already cut. Then align the collar with the fence as we did in the previous step.

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Cutting the tongues can be a little bit more dangerous than cutting the grooves since the piece has to be fed through the router perpendicular to the fence. To make sure these are routed safely you can use a rail coping sled or a scrap square of plywood and a Microjig to make sure the rail stays perpendicular to the fence as it is fed through the router.

Note: The front face of the board (decorative edge) should be down. This is an easy thing to overlook and routing the tongue upside down will result in having to remake the piece. (I know because I’ve done it… Several times.)

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Cut a tongue on a test piece and check the fit to make sure the height of the bit is correct. Once you are happy with the cut, proceed to cut the tongues on all the rails.

Tips: Cutting the tongues can create tear-out at the end of a cut. To help minimize this, make slow passes (but not too slow that you burn the wood) and make sure to have a solid scrap plywood square behind it.

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Cutting the Panels

The panels that we are making are flat plywood panels. These are very easy to make and look great. Another option is a solid wood, raised panel but those will not be covered in this tutorial.

Determine the dimensions of the panel and make sure to include the depth of the groove. Then subtract about 1/16″ to make sure the fit isn’t too tight.

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The panels can then be cut down on the table saw and miter saw.

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Gluing Up the Door

Apply a thin layer of wood glue to the entire mating surface of the tongues.

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The insert the two rails into the groove of one of the stiles. Make sure to align the outside edges when doing so, and slide the panel into place.

Note: If you want to make sure the panel doesn’t rattle you add a little wood glue in the groove. This only works with plywood because it is a stable product, meaning the expansion and contraction is negligible. If this were a solid wood panel you would not glue the panel in place, but rather you would use something like space balls to prevent rattle.

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Add that last stile and clamp that panel up, making sure the panel remains flat in the clamps. Any deflection in the panel from the clamping process has a strong possibility of being permanent once the glue sets up.

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After the glue sets up over night you can remove the clamps, fill and sand any imperfections to get ready for paint or stain. That completes the process of making a drawer front or cabinet door. If you would like to learn more about painting and installing cabinet doors, be sure to check out that process here.

Questions? Comments?

As always, if you have any questions don’t hesitate to comment below and especially don’t forget to post pictures of your finished products in the comments! ENJOY!

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