Frame and Panel Construction – Part 3: The Real Thing

Parts one and two of this series showed construction of a small frame and panel assembly. I made a half dozen of those as learning exercises for the final project, rebuilding the entrance to the crawl space in my tri-level home. This may be way over engineered but the old doors are truly ugly, made from thin paneling covered with contact paper, and besides, I wanted to learn how to make raised panels with hand tools.

Most of the techniques I used came from the Woodwright’s Shop episodes mentioned in part 2, this part 3 will document differences needed to complete the larger scale crawl space entrance.

I built a new outer frame from 2 inch pine to fit the existing opening.  I have to admit not using hand tools for that as I recently acquired a Kreg K2 jig and wanted to try it out. Also the rails on a butt jointed frame would be four inches shorter than a mitered corner frame which worked out much better with the 72″ stock I had.

Pencil study for cut list

Pencil study for cut list

The outside dimension of the doors is determined by the inside edges of the outer frame so I propped up the outer frame and centered the stile pieces leaving about 1/16″ gap at the sides.

Outer frame with door stiles

Outer frame with door stiles

Each pair of stiles was checked for parallel with pinch rods. Everything came out OK with very little tweaking. Stiles were marked top and bottom where they touched the outer frame.  Then I centered the rail blanks on the stiles and marked where they touched the rails left and right. Those four lines define the dimensions of the doors.

Checking stiles for parallel

Checking stiles for parallel

Here you can see tenons laid out on the four rails. These were sawn, tuned, and outlines transfered to the stiles as in part 2. Mortising the stiles, then grooving and molding the inside of each piece proceeded as in part 2.

All four rails with tenons laid out

All four rails with tenons laid out

I glued up two panels a couple months ago but had to square them for fitting in the frames. Could not hold the panel steady against the miter gauge so I built a miter gauge helper from a piece of heavy aluminum angle and a toggle clamp, should have done that years ago. The panel surfaces were planed with a Stanley 4 1/2.

Straighten and square the panels

Straighten and square the panels

Each completed door frame was laid over the square glued up stock. I aligned left and bottom panel edges with the inside of the frame, marked the top and right edges of the inside opening on the panel stock, then ruled a line one half inch farther out on the top and right. This allows room for a 1/4″ tenon all around the finished panel. I then trimmed the panel top to my ruled line on the table saw using the miter gauge as in the previous photo.

Next, the panels had to be trimmed to width. They are too tall to use the miter gauge, so I got out my standard homemade saw fence, a four inch oak timber. I used the line on the cut off top piece to adjust the fence to the proper width.

Setting fence to rip long side of panel

Setting fence to rip long side of panel

A deep breath moment.  I had been putting off cutting these panels to exact size because I was afraid of screwing up the measurements. In the end, they fit well.

Panel ripped to final width

Panel ripped to final width

As in part 1, I struck a line with a cutting gauge to define the panel step, then removed wood with a block plane to 1/16″ of the line.  Raising the panel actually means lowering the edge. It depends on your point of view. In this photo, the cross grain ends have been lowered and I’m ready to work the long grain edges.

Roughed in panel bevel

Roughed in panel bevel

The panel raising plane lowered the bevel to the edge line and created the top step as in part 1. This took a while as the panel raising plane was acting up and I took time to tune it. I believe the bed under the blade is not flat so the blade doesn’t fit properly.

Completed raising of both panels

Completed raising of both panels

There were a LOT more shavings than in part 1. Working the two panels took most of an afternoon.

Shavings from panel raising

Shavings from panel raising

The last operation on the panels is creating a rabbit all the way around the rear side. Always cut the cross grain ends first then the long sides. Knifing the cut line with the gauge is mandatory on the ends, the spur on this MF 85 sticks out way too far. I also used a sharp knife to relieve the wood at the left end of the rabbit before planing to reduce tearout there. There was a small amount of fuzz which I cleaned up with the wooden shoulder plane.

I had more trouble with the sides than the ends, the grain was not with me. Home Depot pine does not have a strong grain pattern and it’s hard to see how it’s running. Waxing the plane about every fifth stroke helped.

Rabbit the back side of panels

Rabbit the back side of panels

Checking the tongue for fit in one of the rail piece grooves. I want a good fit to keep the panel from rattling around if it shrinks. I found a web site that calculates wood movement, these 14 inch wide panels could move with humidity variations as much as an eighth of an inch.

Test fit of panel with one of the rails

Test fit of panel with one of the rails

Finally, the completed panels fit with very little tuning. I sawed off the frame horns and am happy with the results. This photo shows the back side of the assembled doors.

Rear view of panels assembled into frames

Rear view of panels assembled into frames

And this is the raised panel side.

Front side of assembled doors

Front side of assembled doors

The sawn off horns were rough so I converted my workbench and planing fixture into a shooting board.

Shooting a top edge

Shooting a top edge

Checking the frame and panel doors for fit in the frame is awkward as I don’t have an area in the garage that I trust to be flat. I had to trim 1/16″ from the left bottom, the rest fit well. There will be a final tweaking after the hinges are installed, and a final-final tweak after the glue up, and a final-final-final after it’s nailed onto the crawl space.

Checking the doors for fit

Checking the doors for fit

Hinge position is somewhat arbitrary. I used the bottom of the panel field as a reference. A steel ruler is held against the raised line and the outer frame marked. This sets the outer edge of the hinge gain.

Marking hinge position on outer frame

Marking hinge position on outer frame

Laying the hinge on the marked frame defines the inside of the hinge pocket. Both marks were squared across the inside with a knife and deepened with a chisel. I chiseled every quarter inch along the area to be removed then used a Stanley 71 to remove wood. Clamping boards to the sides gives the router plane has something to sit on.  A Stanley 71 1/2 that doesn’t have the wide gap at the front would work better for this.

The hinge plate measured .060″, I cut the pockets to about .080″deep to narrow the gap between door and outer frame.

Routing a pocket for the hinge

Routing a pocket for the hinge

I use a small Vix bit to establish the hinge screw position then pilot each hole with a 1/16″ drill so the screw doesn’t wander in this soft pine grain.

All four hinge gains were cut in the outer frame, hinges screwed in, then the doors were re-inserted and marked where the hinges touched. Those marks were knifed square across the outer stiles and incised with a chisel.

Preparing to seat a door hinge

Preparing to seat a door hinge

I was able to clamp my router support fixture on the doors. It forms a reference surface for the router plane and also furnishes a square outer edge to locate the hinge.

Router support fixture

Router support fixture

Here the hinges are seated and the doors dry fitted back in the outer frame.  The doors closed OK with a small amount of planing on the inside vertical edge. There will be a final fitting after the door frames are finished and glued up.

Completed frame with doors dry fitted

Completed frame with doors dry fitted

Tenon cheek cutoffs are perfect for trying out different finishes and I have 16 of them. I made several samples using Minwax Jacobean, Dark Walnut, and English Chestnut stains plus a few samples with various mixtures. I also experimented with Minwax Pre-Stain Conditioner which produced much more even results. Most of the wood in the house near the crawl space entrance is very dark and I thought the Jacobean would be the best match, but the wife overruled and picked the English Chestnut sample which is much warmer.

The doors were removed and completely disassembled for staining. A raised panel can not be finished in place because if it shrinks, an unfinished area would appear at the edge. So at least the stain has to go on with the panels outside the frames.  I did separately the door frames, then the panels, then the outer frame as I did not want to let the stain set too long without wiping off. The Chestnut stain did not color evenly though the conditioner did help. This photo shows the two door frames, one of the panels and the outer frame.

Stained doors

Stained doors

With every frame piece stained and both panels stained all the way to their edges, it was finally time to glue up the doors. I dry fitted the everything together again, reattaching the doors to the outer frame with the four hinges for a final fitting.  I noticed the hinge screws were loosening up after being removed three or four times so following a tip in a recent magazine, I drizzled super glue into the screw holes. It seems to help quite a bit.

I propped one door open, removed the center stile, pulled out one rail at a time, applied liquid hide glue to the hinge side tenon and plugged the rail back into the hinged stile. Because I did one rail at a time, the panel could remain in place. Both rails then got the inside tenon buttered with LHG, and the inside stile installed.

Since the doors were still hinged to the outer frame I could check for racking before the glue set up. I clamped the doors in the outer frame, using thin wedge shims inserted under the hinges to even the pressure.  After 2 hours for the glue setting, I did the second door the same way.

Clamping the glued up mortise and tenon joints

Clamping the glued up mortise and tenon joints

The next day, I removed the doors yet again and took the outer frame to the crawl space for a fitting around the opening. A little dry wall trimming was all that was necessary. Minwax semi-gloss poly was next, two coats applied to each door and to the outer frame.

Panel with Poly applied

Panel with Poly applied

Check out the shadow lines in this photo.

Detail showing frame molding

Detail showing frame molding

There were a bunch of cutoffs from ripping original stock down to two inches. I planed, stained, and varnished some of them.  These will form a lip around the inside of the crawl space opening. One of the original specifications was that the doors be insect proof.

Cutoffs to be used as seals

Cutoffs to be used as seals

Finally it was time to install the frame and assemble the doors.  There are only four 8d finishing nails, one at each hinge, holding the frame on in this photo. I may put more nails in the top and bottom rails after the wood acclimates but for now the doors close without rubbing anywhere. One of the finished strips was screwed to the inside edge of the left door with a quarter inch protrusion, so the right door holds the left door closed and theres no visible gap. The old doors had two magnetic catches, I reused one at the bottom of the right door.

Installed!

Installed!

This is what it used to look like.

Crawl space entrance Before

Crawl space entrance Before

This has been a four month long project with much of the time spent learning how to use hand tools to create the raised panels. I couldn’t have begun without inspiration and education from Roy Underhill. Three episodes of “The Woodwright’s Shop” contributed to the project.
Raising Panel-Zona” describes several methods of making a raised panel.
Painless Panel Doors” where Roy constructs a mortise and tenon frame.
Simple Sash Restoration” shows how to join a frame with molding around the inside.

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