A coopered panel can make a fine cabinet door on its own.
But I really like the look you get when you surround a curved panel with a stile-and-rail frame. There are two tricky parts in this venture: raising the edges of the curved panel, and making the curved rails.
To raise the edges of a curved panel, you need to replace your router's flat plastic sub-base with a curved wooden one made by gluing together several short staves. Make your wooden base oversize so there's plenty of surface area to bear on the panel.
I use two bits to create a raised edge. I start out with a V2-in. rabbeting bit. I cut a rabbet all the way around the panel, guiding the router's auxiliary base against the curved surface of the panel and the bit's pilot bearing against the panel edge. Then I replace the rabbeting bit with a core-box bit, which creates a curved transition between the edge and the field. (See left photo, below.) A bowl-cutting bit will also work. You'll need to attach a wooden fence to the underside of the auxiliary base in order to guide the router when making these final cuts. By repositioning the fence and making additional passes, you can get the bit to cut farther from the edge.
While it's possible to bandsaw curved rails, I prefer to laminate my rails on a form. Laminated rails are stronger. They look better, too, since you're not sawing across the grain at an angle. The rails for the door shown in this article are V4 in. thick and 1 V2 in. wide.
I use a simple plywood form for laminating, taking the curve of the form directly from the finished panel. It's impor tant to make the form oversize, since you have to allow for rail length, plus the length of the rail tenons and a little waste. I screw short struts to the form sides to keep the laminations straight, and I drill holes for securing clamps. A pair of wooden feet, screwed to the bottom of the form, keep it upright. (See center photo, below.) And to prevent glue squeeze-out from adhering the rail to the form, I cover all "working" surfaces with masking tape.
I rip the rail laminations on my tablesaw. With a premium thin-kerf blade, I can get stock that's ready for laminating without sanding or planing. I cut each laminate strip 3/32 in. thick, 13/4 in. wide, and about 4 in. longer than necessary. Eight strips are required to make a 3/4-in.-thick rail. Pre-bending the strips is a good idea. To do this, I dampen the laminations with a wet sponge, clamp them up without glue, and let the setup stand for about 20 minutes before unclamping.
For the actual glue-up, I spread yellow glue evenly over the joining edges, stack the laminations up evenly, and place them on the curved form. I tighten a clamp near the center of the stack, then work my way out toward the ends, as shown below. Once the glue has dried, I unclamp the rail, scrape off the hardened squeeze-out and plane the layers flush. Then I trim the rail to its finished length and cut the tenons on the tablesaw, using a shop-made tenoning jig. (See right photo, below.)
The stiles are straight, so there's nothing unusual about completing their mortises and panel grooves. But to cut the panel grooves in the curved rails, I chuck a 1/4-in.-dia. straight bit in the router and attach a curved fence to the router base. The fence's curve should match the curve of the rail. Position the fence so that the bit is centered on the curved rail, —S.H.
Cutting a rail tenon. With a laminated rail clamped in a shop-made tenoning jig, Hanson cuts half the tenon. The jig's base is guided by the tablesaw's rip fence.
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