Making Shaker Style Kitchen Cabinet Doors

About: I build, I write, I film... Mostly a woodworker.

My wife and I are replacing our kitchen cabinets with Ikea Sektion kitchen cabinets -- However, we are NOT using the Ikea cabinet fronts!

(We are not using Ikea Doors or Ikea Drawer Fronts.)

Instead I am building my own doors (and drawers) for our kitchen cabinets.

In this article I explain how I make classic flat-panel shaker-style cabinet doors. We like the clean simple lines, and they are also quite easy to build.

The rails and stiles are solid cherry, while the flat panels are 1/4" thick cherry veneer plywood.

Step 1: Video Build

If you would prefer, you can watch a video about this build. Otherwise, read on!

Step 2: Prepare Stock

I first prepared the cherry stock for this build.

I planed the cherry to 3/4" thick, and then ripped the pieces to 2.5" wide. That is the size I chose for our rails and stiles. I then cut the pieces to length and sorted them into piles: two rails and two stiles for each door that I am building.

Step 3: Layout the Pieces

I then arranged the pieces and chose which face was the show face, and also how I wanted them arranged. I always make an effort to lay out the piece so that the grain flows in a pleasing manner.

For example, in the first photo you can see that the grain in the rail is curving AWAY from the centre of the door. I don't think this is a good look, so I took this piece and flipped it around so that the grain curved the other way. In this way it gives the door a subtle arch kind of look, and I think it also helps the grain flow from the stiles to the rails and back. It's a subtle, but I find it to be important.

In the second photo is another view of the same piece with the grain now curving the other way. I also have rearranged the stile on the left, so that it's grain also curves toward the rail. I find that extra effort like this is one of the big advantages of doing custom work. When you buy a manufactured piece of furniture, manufactured in a factory, you rarely find that the grain has been carefully arranged like this.

Once the piece has been arranged how I like it, I mark all the joints so that I can later reassemble it the right way. I also need to make marks that I used when making the joiner with my dowel jig.

Step 4: Simple Dowel Joinery

You might have noticed that I had already cut my pieces to final length. If I was using traditional mortise and tenon (or cope and stick) joinery, then I would need to live the rails long, to allow for the tenons. But I am using dowel joinery, so I can cut all my door pieces to their final length.

I have had an awesome dowelling jig for about ten years (plus accessory kit), and I use it a lot. In fact, I've never actually made cope-and-stick doors. No reason, I just haven't.

I therefore made use of my jig for building my doors, drilling holes in the ends and joining the pieces with glue and dowels.

After drilling all the dowel holes, I glued the frames together and clamped them.

(I use a Dowelmax Jig, but there are other good jigs available or you can make your own)

Step 5: Flat Panels

Since I'm using plywood panels, I don't need to worry about wood movement. Hence, there is no need for the panels to "float" in the frame. Therefore, I use the router table to cut a rabbet in the back of the frames to receive the plywood panels.

I cut this in two passes so as not to take such a deep cut. This makes a HUGE mess, as it's almost impossible to use dust collection in this situation.

I then used a chisel to square up the corners. The other option would be to cut the corners of the plywood panels round, but I think this looks better.

Step 6: Assembly and Finishing

I cut the plywood panels to size and glued them into the rabbet. I used some 5/8" brads, nailed at a 45-degree angle, to hold the panels in place while the glue dried. On previous doors I have just used glue (and clamps), which is all you really need. Using brads just makes the process go faster.

I bought 1/4" thick cherry plywood for this project. It was good-two-side plywood, with a particle board core. I had thought about buying good-one-side plywood, but changed my mind, as we will see the back of our cabinet doors a LOT in our kitchen. Every time we open the door I want to see something nice, not something ugly.

I finished the panels with three coats of Minwax oil-modified polyurethane. Despite the name, this is a water-based polyurethane finish. It has the easy cleanup and low-VOC of a water-based finish, but it also gives some of the lovely amber colour that oil-based finishes provide.

Step 7: Photos

Here is a photo of some finished doors; one closeup, and one showing the doors in our kitchen.

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