Make Cove Raised Panel Cabinet Doors With Your Table Saw

Table saw cabinet maker
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  • 01 of 10

    Building Cove Raised Panel Cabinet Doors

    raised panel cabinets in kitchen
    Nancy Hugo, CKD/Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0

    Probably the fastest and most dramatic way to makeover the look of your kitchen is to replace the cabinet doors. And, if you have a table saw and a few clamps, you can inexpensively create cove-style raised panel cabinet doors following these free woodworking plans.

    These doors can be created using nearly any hardwood and can be stained to the color of your choice. Or, you can choose to make them from stock such as Poplar with a painted finish. If you want a more rustic look, consider making them out of knotty pine. No matter what type of look you're trying to achieve, you can easily make over your kitchen with these raised panel doors.

    Traditionally, cove panel doors are raised using panel raising router bit sets, which are fast, but quite expensive. In the following instructions, you'll learn how to cut coves of varying shapes using only your table saw. This method takes a bit more time than using a router and will require a bit more sanding, but if you don't want to go to the expense of purchasing a large, expensive panel raising router bit set (and the heavy-duty router to safely turn the bit), this might be an option.

    NOTE: The plans and dimensions referenced in the following set of free woodworking plans are for a 14" wide x 18" tall cabinet door with 2" wide rails and stiles. For doors of different sizes, adjust your lumber requirements accordingly.

    Difficulty Level

    • Woodworking: Moderate
    • Finishing: Paint or Stain/Polyurethane

    Time to Complete

    • 2 to 3 hours per door

    Recommended Tools

    Materials Needed

    • 8' of 1x6 or 10' of 1x6 - Pine, Poplar or hardwood of choice
    • 1 - 2 feet x 4 feet x 6 feet
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  • 02 of 10

    Prepare the Panel

    Boards for Panel for Door
    (c) 2009 Chris Baylor

    The first step to building a raised panel cabinet door is to prepare the panel. For a 14" x 18" door, you'll need a 10-5/8" x 14-1/2" panel.

    Begin by cutting three pieces of 1x4 or 1x6 to 15" in length. While you can use a circular saw or miter saw to cut these pieces, you could also cut them on your table saw using the miter gauge. (Do not use the fence to make crosscuts on the table saw, as end grain against the fence can cause the stock to bind, which leads to kickbacks.)

    With the three pieces cut to length, the next step is to make sure that each of the edges is straight (to ensure good glue joints). This can be accomplished with a jointer if you have one, or you can accomplish the same results with a table saw jointer jig. With either tool, take off only enough stock on each edge to make sure that the edge is flat, even and square to the face of the board.

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  • 03 of 10

    Glue Up the Panel

    Glue Up the Boards
    (c) 2009 Chris Baylor

    With the three boards for your panel cut and the edges jointed, the next step is to glue up the boards, clamp them and set them aside to dry.

    After determining the order of the boards that will look the best (based on color and grain patterns) in the panel, place a thin layer of woodworking glue on one edge of each of the joints and align the boards in a pair of woodworking clamps as shown in the image above. Tighten the clamps just enough to tighten the joints but not so tightly that the glue squeezes out of the joints. Be sure to immediately clean off any glue that does squeeze out of the joints.

    Set the assembly aside to allow the glue to dry for the amount of time recommended on the glue's label.

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  • 04 of 10

    Cut the Rails and Stiles

    Trim Boards to Length
    (c) 2009 Chris Baylor

    While the glued-up panel dries in the clamps, we'll turn our attention to cutting the rails and stiles for the raised panel cabinet door. As we're building a 14" x 18" door, we'll need two stiles that measure 2" wide by 18" in length, and two rails that measure 2" wide by 10-5/8" in length.

    Cut these pieces on your table saw, depending on the stock from which you're starting. If you're using 1x6, you can cut a piece of 1x6 to each of the required finished lengths (18" and 10-5/8" respectively) before ripping two 2" pieces out of each board. If you're using 1x4, you'll need to cut and rip each of the four boards individually.

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  • 05 of 10

    Cut the Grooves

    Cut the Groove in the Rails and Stiles
    (c) 2009 Chris Baylor

    With the rails and stiles cut to size, the next step is to cut the groove in one side of each of these four pieces that will hold the raised panel and also act as a mortise in the stiles.

    To begin, set up your table saw with a stacked dado blade set to 1/4" wide (which should be just the outer two blades and no chippers). Adjust the depth of cut to 5/16" and position your fence 1/4" away from the blade.

    To cut the groove, place one of the stiles on edge, flat against your fence with the edge against the table top (as shown in the image above), and run the stile through the blade. Then, turn the board around and re-cut the same groove, beginning with the opposite end of the board. This will ensure that the 1/4" groove is perfectly centered in the edge of the stile.

    Repeat the same process with the other stile and the two rails, cutting one centered groove in each board.

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  • 06 of 10

    Cut the Tenons in the Rails

    Cutting the Tenons
    (c) 2009 Chris Baylor

    After cutting centered grooves in each of the rails and stiles, the next step is to cut the tenons in the ends of the two rails. These two tenons will fit into the grooves on the stiles, which at that point will act as a mortise and tenon joint. These joints will determine the strength of the door, so the tenons must fit snugly into the mortises on the stiles.

    With your stacked dado blade still in the table saw set to 1/4" width, adjust the height of the blade to about 3/16" above the table. Then, clamp a sacrificial board against the leading half of your fence (but at least a few inches away from the blade). Since you'll be cutting the tenons using your miter gauge, this board will act only as a measuring guide. See the image above to view a proper set-up.

    Adjust your fence so that the measuring guide board on the fence is 5/16" away from the opposite edge of the dado blade. Then, lay one of the rails flat on the table with the end against the measuring board. Using the miter gauge set to 90-degrees, make the first tenon cut. After clearing the blade, lift the board off the table, return the miter gauge to the starting position and put the board back in place, this time to cut the remaining portion of the tenon (the board should not be touching the measuring board this time). Finish the tenon by making​ this second cut before flipping the board over and cutting the other half of this tenon.

    Attempt to dry-fit the tenon into the mortise on one of the stiles. The tenon should be too thick to fit into the mortise (which is by design). This will allow you to make gradual, appropriate height adjustments and re-cutting of the tenons until they fit snugly into the mortises of the stiles.

    Cut all four tenons in the ends of the rails using the same steps.

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  • 07 of 10

    Cut a Rabbet in the Raised Panel

    Cut a Rabbet in the Back of the Raised Panel
    (c) 2009 Chris Baylor

    Before beginning to make the cove cuts that will be the dominant visible feature of the raised panel cabinet door, we need to make a set of rabbets in the back of the raised panel. This will allow the raised panel to sit flush with the face of the rails and stiles.

    After allowing the glue to dry for the appropriate period of time, remove the panel from the clamps. Using your table saw and miter gauge (or a panel cutting jig), trim the panel assembly to the finished size (which was 10-5/8" x 14-1/2" in our example door).

    Next, give the assembly a good sanding with your random orbital sander. Once the panel is sanded to your satisfaction, return to the table saw, where you should still have your stacked dado blade set installed to a 1/4" wide cut.

    Adjust the depth of cut to 1/4". Then, clamp a sacrificial strip onto the entire length of your fence (with the clamps at least one inch above the surface of the table). Position the fence so that the dado blade just barely touches the sacrificial strip, but so that the blade turns freely.

    Place the back of the raised panel flat onto the table, and cut a 1/4" wide by 1/4" deep rabbet on all four sides of the panel's back, as shown in the image above.

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  • 08 of 10

    Set a Temporary Fence

    Adding a Temporary Fence for Cutting the Cove
    (c) 2009 Chris Baylor

    After the rabbet has been cut in the back of the panel, it's time to begin making the cove cuts on the front of the panel. You'll want to make a few test cuts before beginning to cut the face of your panels to make sure that you have the shape you want.

    Begin by removing your dado blade set from your table saw and replacing it with a clean, sharp saw blade. Do not re-install the riving knife or saw blade guard.

    As you're completing the blade's installation, make a pencil mark on your throat plate that denotes the center point of the arbor of your saw when the blade is completely recessed beneath the table (remember that your saw blade is likely not raised in a straight line, but along the path of an arc, so the center point when the blade is raised all the way will be different than when the blade is recessed).

    Next, clamp a 2x4 onto the top of your table at a 45-degree angle to the path of the blade, with the edge facing your body crossing at the pencil mark you made on the throat plate. This 2x4 will serve as the fence for making your cove cuts, so be sure that it is clamped securely and that the clamps will not interfere with the panel as it is being cut.

    Time for a test cut. With the blade still recessed, turn on the table saw and raise the blade about 1/8" above the table surface (cutting into the 2x4 fence slightly). Then, place a scrap piece of stock with the face flat on the table and the long edge against the temporary fence, and push the board across the blade. This will create a shallow cove shape in the board.

    Raise the blade slightly, and cut the cove again. Continue this process until you are satisfied with the shape of the cove in the test board.

    SAFETY TIP: Remember that you're working with an exposed saw blade, so be certain to keep your hands well clear of the blade as you're cutting.

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  • 09 of 10

    Cut the Coves

    Closeup of the Cove Cut
    (c) 2009 Chris Baylor

    After running a series of test cuts, it's time to cut the four coves into the face of the panel. Return the saw blade to a point where it is just slightly above the surface of the table saw. Then place the face of the panel to be raised flat on the table, with the edge to be cut against the temporary fence. Turn on the saw and ease the edge through the blade. Lift the panel off of the table saw, re-position the panel so as to cut the second of the four sides, and repeat until the first cove cut has been made on all four sides.

    Raise the blade slightly and cut all four sides again. Continue the process until you reach a depth of 1/4" on the cove cuts. (You may need to make eight or nine passes to reach the desired depth.) Ideally, this should leave 1/4" remaining for the raised panel to fit into the slots on the rails and stiles. When you get close to the appropriate depth, test the fit into the groove, continuing to cut the cove until the fit is clean but not too snug.

    Here are a few tips to keep in mind when cutting coves on a table saw in this manner: To adjust the shape of the cove, adjust the angle of the temporary fence. A 90-degree angle (perpendicular to the saw blade) will produce a wider cove, where angles more acute than 45-degrees will produce narrower coves.

    Also, when making your test cuts, be sure that the shoulder of the cove (that will eventually fit into the grooves of the rails and stiles) is parallel to the face of the board. If the temporary fence is set too far forward or back from the center of the blade's arbor, then the shoulder of the cove may be angling up or down slightly. A move of the fence in the appropriate direction will solve the problem.

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  • 10 of 10

    Assemble the Cabinet Door

    Assembling the Raised Panel Cabinet Door
    (c) 2009 Chris Baylor

    With the cove cuts completed, it's time for some sanding and assembly.

    As mentioned in the first step, cutting cove raised panel cabinet doors on a table saw will require a substantial amount of sanding. This can be done on most of the assembly with a random orbital sander. However, you will likely choose to sand the coves by hand or with a sanding sponge, as it may be the easiest way to sand their unusual shape. Begin with a relatively coarse grade of sandpaper, and then progress to finer grades, removing sanding lines with each grade. Finish your sanding with 300-grit sandpaper, giving all parts of the door (except the grooves and tenons) a good hand sanding.

    To assemble the door, apply a layer of glue to the tenons on the rails only. These four tenons are the only parts of the door assembly that will receive glue. The raised panel should be allowed to float freely in the grooves of the rails and stiles to allow for seasonal expansion and contraction.

    After assembling the rails and stiles with the raised panel inserted in the grooves, check the assembly for square and place it into a set of woodworking clamps. As before, clamp the assembly just tightly enough that the joints are tightened, but not so tight that the glue squeezes out of the joints. Clean up any glue that escapes the joint before setting the assembly aside to dry.

    After the assembly has dried, give the entire door a quick hand sanding before beginning to apply the finish of your choice.