The Sliding Cabinet Doors


Do you consciously try to work to a certain level of detail or quality? It occurred to me that I in fact do not. Detail for me has been a cumulative journey of work, slowly noticing new opportunities for improvement. Above is a good example of something I would have missed not that long ago, aligning the panel width to center the joint in the panel frame. If I hadn’t done this it would have been off by about 1/4″, not much, but enough for the eye to notice some small wonky disharmony.

And can I give a shout out to the dividers? Its one of those tools that connects us back as craftspeople to the ancient past, literally thousands of years. If you’ve any experience with these tools you come to understand how underrated present society views the technical capacity of the ancients. Take for example the Antikythera Mechanism made before the birth of Christ, and consider for a moment what skills and tools it would take to make it.


The panel length was marked directly from one of the stiles.


And then trimmed to length. The concrete in my shop is pretty cold in the winter, so I wear boots most of the time now. Ever notice how well plane shavings stick to your socks?


So! Everything was finish planed, and any spots of difficult reversing grain worked smooth with a card scraper. I need a high angle kanna, or a proper cabinet scraper. When I finish planed the carcass panels prior to assembly the heat from pushing the scraper blistered my thumb, haha.


No glue for these tenons, so assembly was just tapping things together, making sure the tenon shoulders were good. If you’ve never made cabinet doors before you may be wondering why the stiles stick out beyond the rails. That extra wood is known as the “horn” and helps to keep the stiles from splitting when the tenon is driven or wedged. A horn is also used on shoji, which both protects the panel corners during transports and allows for adjustment of the fit of the shoji panel to its adjacent wall or column. With shoji only the horns ride the bottom groove of its track, but for my cabinet doors the whole length of the bottom rebate will ride the groove.


The wedging tightened up the joints quite nicely. White Ash has plenty of flexibility, so no worries for me of splitting the tenons. I’m loving putting joints together with wedges. I mean, drawboring and pinning is elegant in its own way, but makes a more direct visual statement having the joinery visible on the face of the frame. Wedging keeps a cleaner look to the lines on the front, while still showing off a bit, haha.


After really firmly driving the wedges the horns were sawn back flush with the rails, and then the rail rebates were sawn to match. No end grain blowout from having the mortises so close to the rebate, so I was quite relieved.  There are no hard or fast rules when it comes to proportioning joinery, its very much something that you come to understand by eye what will work. In this case I followed the rule of thirds concerning tenon thickness, but after that it is just a balancing act between making a tenon of good enough size to provide a strong connection and leaving enough wood, enough relish, on the end of the stile.

After flushing up the rail/stile connection on the back of the frame…


A bit of fitting and trimming to get the doors moving smoothly but not rattling around too loose. Finally this piece of cabinet work is effectively done. I’ll take some more photos after I get it finished and installed. Its been quite a journey, thanks for following along! I’m not quite sure what I’ll be working on next, I certainly have no dearth of options.


2 thoughts on “The Sliding Cabinet Doors”

  1. Well, it is a gutsy move to wedge the tenons without a drip of glue. I suspect that the low temperatures are as much a reason as your bravado. I hope you follow up with the longterm status. And not so I can simply say: I told you so.
    Btw, is your stock of ash due to preemptive cutting for the emerald ash borer in your region?

    1. Oddly enough, when I was touring ESF last year I had a conversation with one of the professors…He got really excited when he found out my hometown, he stated my hometown is where the emerald ash borer first appeared, along the Erie Canal!

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