How to Build a Flat Panel Wood Kitchen Cabinet Doors


Building your own custom cabinets can be a cost-saving and rewarding enterprise. Using the right tools, you can produce a stunning set of cabinets at a fraction of the cost of a set of custom cabinets. By building your own cabinets, you can add many additional features into your own design. The do-it-yourself handyman can use a set of stile and rail router bits to build the frame for flat panel kitchen cabinet doors.

Things You'll Need

  • Cabinet hinges
  • Tape measure
  • Calculator
  • Router table
  • Stile and rail router bit set
  • Straight edge
  • Stile and rail material
  • Feather boards
  • Miter saw
  • Steel ruler
  • Wood glue
  • Small acid brush
  • Spacers
  • Wood clamps
  • Square
  • Decide on the door hinges you will use. Each style of hinge has a different requirement for the door overlay. You need this information to determine the overall height and width of each cabinet door. The door overlay is the distance that the door overhangs the cabinet's face frame. The face frame is the flat portion of the cabinet that the doors and drawers rest against when closed.

  • Measure the rough opening of each door in your custom cabinets. Write these down on a sheet of paper. Add the door overlay to each of the rough openings for the actual overall height and width required for each cabinet door.

  • Cut the stiles and rail material to width using a table saw. This will be 2 1/2 inches for most cabinets. However, this can be almost any dimension that you want for your own custom look.

  • Set up a router table with the stile router bit. Most router bit sets have shims you can add between the cutters to vary the thickness of the groove that the flat panel will fit within. Adjust this to the thickness of the flat panels you will be using. Cabinet-grade plywood at 3/8-inch is often used instead of 1/4-inch plywood to make the doors sturdier.

  • Adjust the router bit for the material thickness that you are using. Adjust the router's fence so that it is in line with the outside edge of the guide bearing on the router bit. Use a straight edge for this step. A steel ruler works great for this.

  • Run a test piece of material through the router table. Use the same material you will be using on the cabinets. Run a piece that is at least 9 inches in length for safety.

  • Move the router fence out of your way and remove the stile cutter from the router table. Do not raise or lower the router bit. Router bit sets are designed to be a matching set. So once the height is set, you should not move it. Place the rail bit in the router and lock it in place. Adjust the fence again to be in line with the outer edge of the guide bearing. Run a second test piece through the router table. Assemble the two test pieces to check the fit. Adjust the router bits as in the previous steps until you have the profile that you desire.

  • Run all of the stile material through the router table. Use a feather board to hold the material tight against the fence and table. A feather board is a jig that keeps constant pressure on the stiles as they are passed through the cutters.

  • Cut the stiles to length using a miter saw. Cut the rails to length also. You need to refer to the instructions of your stile and rail bits to determine what the rails should be cut to. Most sets are designed so that you subtract the width of the two stiles from the overall width.

  • Change the router table setup to the rail bits as in the previous steps. Use a piece of wood that is the same thickness as a backer board when you cut the ends of the rails. A backer board is a scrap piece of wood that backs up the good material to prevent the router bit from tearing out of the back of the joint as it is being cut.

  • Dry fit the stiles and rails together and measure the height and width of the flat plywood panel for the cabinet door. A steel ruler works best for this. Deduct 1/4 inch from each for expansion and contraction of the wood. Cut the plywood panel to fit using a table saw. Use a zero clearance insert on the table saw to help reduce any tear-out of the plywood.

  • Apply glue to the ends of the rails using a small brush to get a good coat of wood glue on the joints. Assemble the door, putting spacers in between the plywood panel and the stile and rails. This will keep the door from rattling.

  • Place the glued cabinet door in wood clamps. Tighten the clamps until glue starts to squeeze out of the joints. Wipe off the excess glue before it can set with a damp rag. Check that the door is square before you set it aside to dry.

  • Unclamp the door after it has dried. Sand as needed.

Tips & Warnings

  • Double check your dimensions and your math for each door before you cut any wood. It is a lot fast and less expensive to catch a mistake now than after you have built a door that is the wrong size.
  • Wear safety glasses when using power tools.

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