How to Build Slab-Style Cabinet Doors
The quickest way to refurbish the look of a kitchen is to re-finish the faces of the cabinets and replace the cabinet doors. Depending on the style of doors you wish to use, the costs can range from quite expensive to surprisingly inexpensive.
Probably the most inexpensive (and versatile) style of a cabinet door is the slab. While slab-style cabinet doors can be built from plywood or melamine (with the edges banded), it is relatively simple to build slab doors from solid wood. They can be finished with paint, stain followed by polyurethane, or any other finish you deem appropriate.
In this set of free woodworking plans, learn how to build slab-style cabinet doors from any solid wood of your choice. For this example, we chose a knotty pine, mainly because we think the knots will look good stained, but you can choose pretty much any solid wood you like and adapt accordingly.
Keep in mind that solid wood tends to move with fluctuations in humidity, so your doors may expand or contract seasonally. Try to take this into account when you determine the sizes for your doors.
In this example, we'll be building a door measuring 13-inch by 13-inch using 1- by 6-foot pine. You will want to choose your species and measurements according to the sizes of doors you want to build.
- Woodworking: Moderate
- Finishing: Paint or stain/polyurethane
Time to Complete
- 1 to 2 hours per door
- Table Saw
- Circular Saw or compound miter saw
- Jointer or Table Saw Jointer Jig
- Fixed-Base Router with router table
- 3/8-inch roundover router bit with bearing tip
- 1 x 6 x 4 foot #1 select or #2 pine
Cut the Boards to Length
The first step to building slab-style cabinet doors from solid wood is to cut the boards to length. Because we'll be using tongue and groove joinery to assemble the boards, you'll want to account for the half an inch of width for each joint that will be lost when the boards are joined.
Also, it is a good idea to allow at least one extra inch of length on each board. You can cut off the extra after the assembly is complete.
For this example 13- by 13-inch cabinet door, cut three sections of 1- by 6-foot wood to 14 inches in length using a circular saw or compound miter saw.
Joint the Edges of the Boards
With the board cut to length, the next step to building slab-style cabinet doors is to make sure that the edges of the boards are flat, straight and square to the faces of the board.
This is a two-phase task. Begin by "truing up" one edge of the board on a jointer. If you don't have a jointer, you can perform the same task with a table saw jointer jig (as shown in the image above).
After one edge of the board is flat, straight and square to the face of the board, the opposite edge can be trimmed parallel with the first on your table saw. Adjust the fence so that you can take off a minimal amount of stock, but enough that none of the factory edge remains.
Lay out the Boards
Before beginning to make the tongue and groove joints on your slab-style cabinet doors, it is a good idea to lay out all the boards you are making according to their grain patterns. Since each of the boards likely came from the same original piece of stock, the grain patterns for each board should be quite similar.
If you look at the end grain of each of the three boards shown in the image above, you'll likely notice that the grain on each board arcs upward or downward. The best method for laying out your boards is to alternate the grain pattern so that each board's grain is the opposite of the next.
Also, take a look at the face of each board and make sure that the color and grain patterns of each corresponding board are similar. You may choose to adjust the order of the boards so that the colors and grain patterns match before alternating the end grain.
Mark the end of each board so you know the order that the boards should be assembled. This will help to make sure that you don't make any mistakes when assembling the joints later on.
Cut the Grooves
With the layout of the boards determined, we'll turn our attention to the tongue and groove joints that will hold the slab-style cabinet doors together.
Install a stacked dado blade set on your table saw, set to 1/4 inch width. Adjust the depth of cut to 1/2 inch, and set the fence 1/4 inch away from the right side of the dado blade. Place the face of the first board to receive a groove, flat against the fence (with the edge flat on the table) and run the board through the dado blade. Then, turn the board around and run it through the blade again, this time leading with the opposite end of the board. Cutting the groove from each end will ensure that the groove is perfectly centered.
Repeat this step for each of the remaining grooves.
Cut the Tongues Next
With the grooves cut in the boards of our slab-style cabinet doors, the next step is to cut the tongues. When making tongue and groove joints on the table saw, it is always advisable to cut the grooves first. It is much easier to cut a little more off of the tongues to gain a proper fit than it is to cut more out of the grooves.
Set up the stacked dado blade set in your table saw to 1/2 inch width, and set the depth to 3/16 inch.
Next, clamp a sacrificial board to your table saw fence. Be sure that the clamps are at least one inch above the table saw surface. Adjust the fence so that the sacrificial board is just barely touching your dado blade (but the blade can still turn freely).
Lay the face of one of the boards to receive a tongue flat on the table, and the edge receiving the tongue against the sacrificial fence. Turn on the saw and run the board through the blade, then, repeat the step on the opposite face. This should make a tongue that is a little thicker than you'll need to fit into the groove.
Attempt to dry-fit the tongue into the corresponding groove. If everything went according to plans, you should need to remove a little more material from each side of the tongue, so adjust your table saw blade depth accordingly and cut both sides of the tongue again. Check the fit of the tongue and groove joint. You want it to be snug, but not too tight.
Repeat these steps for each of the tongues.
With the tongue and groove joints cut, the next step is to assemble the boards that will make up the cabinet doors.
Apply a thin layer of glue to all surfaces of each groove, and insert the corresponding tongue. Immediately wipe off any glue that seeps out of the joint, as the glue could cause an issue with finishing the cabinet door later.
When all joints have been glued and assembled, place the entire assembly into a set of woodworking clamps. Tighten the clamps enough so that the joints are closed tightly, but not enough to squeeze the glue out of the joints.
Set the entire assembly aside and allow the glue to dry for 24 hours.
Cut the Cabinet Door to Size
After the glue has set for 24 hours, it's time to remove the clamps and cut the cabinet door to its finished size.
Begin by cutting the ends off of the assembly. Making the first cut can be done with a circular saw and a straight edge. Simply use a square to align the straight-edge so that the circular saw will remove a minimal amount of stock, and clamp the straight edge in place. Verify that the straight-edge is square to the jointed ends, and cut off the end of the cabinet door.
Then, set your table saw fence to the desired height of the door. Place the assembly flat on the table with the newly cut door bottom against the fence and run the door through the blade. Your cabinet door should now be the desired height.
Next, adjust the table saw fence to the desired width of the door, and trim the door to width.
Tip: When trimming tongue and groove assemblies to width, it is advisable to take an equal amount of stock from each side of the assembly. In this manner, if the joints show on the finished product, the joint assembly will look balanced. To achieve this look, instead of taking all of the material off of one side to trim the door to width, take half of the stock to be removed off of each side.
Round Over the Edges
The next step is a matter of personal choice. Some people prefer their slab-style cabinet doors to have square edges, while others prefer a rounded edge (or other profile) on the exposed face.
To create this rounded edge, install a 3/8 inch round over bit with a bearing tip in your fixed-base router, and place it into a router table. Adjust the depth of cut so that the base of the round over profile is just beneath the surface of the router table.
Holding the face of the cabinet door to be rounded flat against the table, round over all four edges of the cabinet door.
Tip: It is a good idea (whenever possible) to route the end grain of a board first, as routing the end grain is far more likely to cause a chip than routing with the grain.
Sand, Finish and Install
To complete the slab-style cabinet doors, begin with a good sanding.
Install a coarse grit sanding pad onto your random orbital sander and sand the entire cabinet door, paying special attention to the tongue and groove joints. When satisfied with the coarse sanding, move to a finer grit and sand the entire cabinet door again. Repeat this process until you have completed your sanding with a very fine grit, at least 320. You may even wish to spend a few minutes hand sanding for a perfect finish.
Remove all sawdust from your cabinet doors, and then begin to apply the finish of your choice, whether paint or stain followed by a few coats of polyurethane or another finish of your choosing.
When the finish has dried, install the doors by attaching them to the hinges of your choice, and add your chosen handles (if any).