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ART DIRECTION: VERN JOHNSON • PHOTOGRAPHY: MIKE HABERMANN
By George Vondriska
Make beautiful raised panels without a router table and expensive bits.
The tool of choice for most small-shop woodworkers who want to make raised panels is the router: A large one, generally 3 hp, hung in a router table, plus a set of specialized bits. The whole setup will cost $350 to $800 and is money well spent if you're going to make a whole kitchen-full of doors.
But what if you just want to make one or two raised-panel doors, say for a bathroom vanity, a small cabinet, or a jewelry box? With our technique you can make raised panels with the traditional scooped-out profile using just your tablesaw. This process is based on the traditional method for cutting coved moldings on the tablesaw, but we've adapted it for making raised panels. You clamp an auxiliary fence at an angle to your blade, and feed the panel over the blade repeatedly, taking off only a little at a time until you get the profile you want. Cutting coves on the tablesaw can require a fair amount of trial and error, but we've eliminated that by developing a simple recipe that steers you through the process and gives you perfect results, even the first time.
For large doors, cutting coved panels on the tablesaw is actually a better technique than using a router. The tablesaw allows you to cut a very wide profile; wider than you could cut with a router bit. On large raised panels, like those found on entertainment centers and armoires, the narrow profile produced by router bits can look out of scale. The best way to cut these wider raised panels is with a shaper, but again, if you're only making a couple panels, this tablesaw method will give you excellent results.
For many doors, you may still need a router and a railand-stile router bit set to make the door frames. But these are smaller, less-expensive bits, and don't require a 3-hp router. For more information on making the frames to go with these panels, see "Stile and Rail Joinery," AW #78, February 2000, page 72 and "Raised-Panel Doors," AW #86, April 2001, page 32.
The Bad News
One downside of this tablesaw technique is that the panel requires a fair amount of sanding. We've developed a solution to simplify the sanding and make it go faster, but if you had to sand more than three or four doors at a time, it'll get old. However, for one or two doors, the sanding is not a big deal.
The other drawback to this technique, although it's minor, is that the panel edge is not automatically cut to the right thickness. Because this is the part that fits into the groove in the frame, it has to fit precisely. It's important to make accurate measurements as you go (Photo 7).
Any tablesaw, from benchtop to cabinet saw, can handle this work, as long as you have a sharp, carbide-tipped blade to make the cuts. A blade with a high tooth count (60 or more) will produce a smoother cut than a blade with fewer teeth. And a smoother cut means less time spent sanding.
You'll need to build a simple auxiliary fence for your tablesaw and a fresh zero-clearance throat plate (see page 50 for how to make one). An inexpensive dial caliper ($15) is handy but not essential for measuring the thickness of your panel edges.
With this method, the panels are cut to fit the frame, so it's essential to make the frame parts first. You can use a spare rail or stile to test the thickness of the panel edge when it's near completion.
Glue up your panels, if required, and plane them all to the same thickness. This is important for cutting the tongue of each panel to the correct thickness.
By varying the angle of the fence and the size of the blade you use, you can get an infinite variety of profiles (see page 40). We suggest starting off with a profile that has a small cove on the back of the panel and a larger one on the front. For most door frames, this will make the outside surface of the panel slightly below or flush with the frame, which will make sanding the doors much easier.
For our doors, we planed the panels to 13/16-in. thick, and cut a profile that had a 1/4-in. tongue, a 1/8-in. cove on the back and a 7/16-in. cove on the front. Our maximum depth of cut was 7/16 in.
This is a piece of plywood, approximately 8 in. x 8 in., with a pencil line square to one edge and a 5/8-in. hole exactly centered on the line, 5 in. from the edge.
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