Coping – and sticking – with doors

Building doors for cabinets and other pieces of furniture can be more complicated that you think. Sure, you are talking about something simple that covers and opening… but, even the most basic door can take many shapes. From a painted piece of MDF on butt hinges to a hand-cut divided light masterpiece inlaid with antique reproduction glass – you can make them as fancy or as plain as you would like.

For the majority of woodworkers, the classic frame and panel door is what’s going to be seen most frequently. Even something as seemingly straightforward as this can involve many different decisions. Do you build the frame with mitered rails and stiles? Haunched through tenons? How about making it look like a frame and panel door by applying molding to a flat panel? The options freeze many beginning woodworkers in their tracks.

However, one of the best options is to build the doors using a cope and stick setup on a shaper or router table. The cutters are either a matched pair of bits (to cut the groove and molding on the inside of the panel and to cut the ‘coped’ joint on the end of the rails that fit into the side stiles). Others allow the woodworker to disassemble and reassemble the bit to cut both profiles. Still others have both profiles on one bit and can be raised or lowered to get the desired results.

The ‘sticking’ bit cuts the profile on the edges and the slot that holds the door’s panel in place. The ‘coping’ part cuts a profile on the ends of the cross members (rails) that perfectly match the stick. They are very easy to use, but they do take some care to get right.

Eagle America’s Retail Store Manager, Miki, pointed out some of the pitfalls woodworkers commonly encounter. “Getting nice 90 degree profiles on the edge of the rails is critical to getting a square door. If you are off by even a little bit, it’s going to be very difficult to get it right.”

That’s one of the reasons why Eagle America and other tool manufacturers offer coping sleds to help cut this critical part of the joint. The sleds slide across the top of the router table and register against a fence or have a runner that slides in a miter slot. Woodworkers can then place the board down and clamp it tight. “It’s critical that the board be secure before trying to rout,” said Miki. “If it moves, you could easily ruin the cut.”

These sleds offer an additional benefit. “Since the board is backed up by the stop, it reduces the likelihood of tear out where the bit exits the cut. Since the bit is cutting into the end grain of the rail, this is a very strong possibility.”

During any woodworking operation, safety is paramount. By using a clamp to hold the word down, woodworkers can keep their hands safely away form the bit and maintain firm control over the sled. “Anything that helps you make cuts more safely enhances the enjoyment of the hobby.”

Does it matter if you cut the cope or stick of the joint first? “Absolutely not,” said Miki. “It’s all a matter of personal preference. However, if you need to make many doors for a project like a set of kitchen cabinets, you might want to run the ‘stick’ part of the joint on the edges of the rails and stiles. You can run dozens of feet of stock this way, then cut what you need to length and cope the ends as you build.”

Eagle’s coping sleds are made with replaceable backing stops that can be replaced if they get dinged up or you use a different bit profile.

Eric, Eagle America’s Product Manager, mentions another important fact about building doors, “Make sure you do not glue the solid wood or plywood panel into place when assembling your doors. Even finished, the wood will want to expand and contract to equalize moisture content. Gluing the panel in place – even by inadvertently having the glue from the frame assembly getting onto the panel, can lead to broken joints in the future.” Eric advised using a product such as door tape or Space Balls to keep the unglued panel from rattling in the frame.

While cope and stick joints are very attractive and easy to cut, some woodworkers feel the joint may not be strong enough for larger, heavier doors. “In that case,” Miki said, “it’s possible to cut a floating tenon to further reinforce the joint. But, for the vast majority of cabinet doors, the cope and stick joint with today’s modern glues will be plenty strong to endure years of use and abuse.”

An attractive joint that makes door making easier? There’s no reason to put off door making now that you know the secrets of the cope and stick joint.

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