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Woodworker's Gazette
Gazette Archive 2/7/04

Mitered Sticking
by Alden Miller

Determine the size of the door(s)
What do you need to know? Are they going to be overlay or inset/Euro style doors? Is it a pair of doors or just a single door? How much overlay is called for at the sides of the door(s). How much overlay at the top and bottom of the door(s). If they are inset/Euro style doors, how much reveal is called for at the top and bottom of the doors? How much is called for at the sides. For both traditional and inset/Euro style, if these are double doors, how much of a gap do you need between the doors.

Conventional Doors:
Height: Opening Height + Top Overlay + Bottom Overlay
Single Door Width: Opening Width + Left Side Overlay + Right Side Overlay
Double Door Width: (Opening Width + Left Side Overlay + Right Side Overlay ­ Door Gap) / 2

Inset/Euro Doors
Height: Opening Height - Top Reveal - Bottom Reveal
Single Door Width: Opening Width - Left Side Reveal - Right Side Reveal
Double Door Width: (Opening Width - Left Side Reveal - Right Side Reveal - Door Gap) / 2

Wood Selection
What kind of wood makes a good door? I prefer quarter-sawn kiln dried wood for all parts of the door if possible. If I can't use quarter-sawn for the whole door, then I try to use it for the rails and stiles. This is especially critical when you are making doors that will have glass panels or very thin panels (1/4"). Plane all the wood to the same thickness, prepare a couple extra pieces of scrap at the same time.

Plan ahead! I like to make my doors with one inch extra on both ends of the stile during manufacturing. The extra on each end of the stile helps prevent blowouts while mortising and keeps the finished ends of the stiles protected while the doors are being made. You can vary this amount from nothing up to an inch or more, it is up to you. If you have an extra wide stile and your mortise does not come close to the end then you do not have to leave this extra amount on each end.

Grain orientation, I lay the stiles out in front of me face up. I try and orient the grain so that looking at the face of the stile it runs downhill from left to right. This will help later to prevent tearout when routing the sticking. I use a router table and cut moving the board from right to left. If you have a reversible shaper or another way of cutting the sticking then you may figure out the best orientation for your cutting method. If the grain changes direction, play the percentages and orient the board so the largest percentage of grain on the face of the board runs downhill from left to right.

Lay out your mortise positions. I run my mortises from the bottom of the miter on the sticking to the sticking cutter depth (SCD) from the finished end of the stile. To do this you need to know the cutter depth of the cutter you will be using for the sticking and the width of your rails. If we say that your SCD is 1/2", the outer edge of the mortise would be 1/2" in from the finished end of the stile. Figure where the inner edge of your mortise (the end that is closest to the center of the door) goes, work in from the end of the stile. Add the width of your rail (RW) and any extra length (EL) you have added for manufacturing (I use one inch as explained in the previous paragraph) and then subtract your sticking cutter depth (SCD). The calculation is RW + EL - SCD. For a door with a 2" wide rail, 1" of extra length, and a sticking cutter depth of 1/2" the distance would be 2 1/2" i.e. (2" + 1") - 1/2".

The miter you are cutting in the sticking is at 45 degrees so it will be a right triangle you are creating that is why if you subtract the sticking cutter depth you will be right at the bottom of the miter. If you are getting fancy and cutting your miters at other than 45 degrees, the math is up to you.

Figure where the outer edge of your mortise (the end that is closest to the outer edge of the door) goes, again work in from the end of the stile. Add any extra length (EL) that you are using to the distance from the outside of the finished end of the stile to the SCD. On a cabinet door I go in from the finished end of the stile the distance equal to the SCD. The calculation is EL + SCD.

Mark where the inner edge of the rail is on the stile, add the width of your rail (RW) and any extra length (EL) you have added for manufacturing. The calculation is RW + EL. I actually find it more convenient to mark this on a couple of pieces of scrap wood to use for setting up the miters later.

Some people will also mark where the actual stile ends on the stile before cutting. I find that this extra line is confusing and unnecessary.

If I am making a few sets of doors that have the same size rails and am using the same cutter for the sticking I will make some layout sticks. Layout sticks make for repeatability, I make one that is the distance in from the working end of the stile to the outer edge of the mortise. This is the first layout stick. The next one I make is the distance from the outer edge of the mortise to the inner edge of the mortise. . This is the second layout stick. I will then lay the stiles on edge (inside edge facing up) and butt them up against my saw fence. I then make sure that they are perpendicular to the fence using a square. I lay the first layout on top of the stiles and flush with the saw fence. I mark the inner face of the stiles along the edge of the layout stick. I then put the second layout stick on the stiles right next to the first layout stick and make another mark on the stiles.

Cut the Rails and Stiles to Length
Make sure that you cut the ends of the rails and stiles perfectly square. Double check that your saw blade is perpendicular to the saw table and that your miter gauge is square to the saw blade.

I make my mortises referenced off of the front face of the board, the face that will show when the door is completed. That is, the front face should be placed against the fence of the mortising machine or drill press that you are mortising with. In doing this you should find that any errors that you make in your setup would show up on the back of the door.

I set the depth of the mortise to a little bit more than the combined depth of the sticking and the tenon length. If you have room in your stile width, you may go a little deeper so you don't have to be as fussy cleaning up the bottom of the mortise. The mortise width should be one third the thickness of your stiles.

Take the time to center your mortise on the edge of the stiles. I use scrap pieces that are planed to the same thickness as the rails and stiles I am using. I make sure that the mortise is on center by cutting some test mortises and verifying the set up of my Hollow Chisel Mortiser at this time. It may sound like overkill but I sometimes use calipers to measure the wall thickness on each side of the mortise to make sure I am centered. You can also cut a mortise in one of the scrap pieces that you planed to the same thickness, turn it around so the other face is against the fence and cut a second mortise next to the first. When the two mortises line up, the cut is centered. I find that I get a better-looking door with less sanding if I take my time at this step of the process.

The Sticking
This also is based off of the face of the board. If you planned ahead correctly when you did your layout you should be all set for some smooth cutting. Cut some extra pieces at this point, you will use them to set up the mitering later. I cut the sticking on a router table face side down. I cut my sticking in three passes, the first is a light scoring cut with a depth of about 1/32". The second cut is about 1/32" short of the full depth of the sticking. The final cut removes the last 1/32" and leaves a very smooth finished product.

Accuracy counts! Again you should work off of the face of the board. This will depend on how you are cutting your tenons. Whatever method you are using cut the tenon cheek on the face side first. You can test the alignment of the tenon in relation to the face of the door with just the face cheek cut. Take a stile that has been mortised and hold it face side up, hold the rail in which you cut the tenon cheek face side down. Place the tenon cheek against the face of the stile next to the mortise. Check the alignment of the face of the rail with the face side edge of the mortise. When these edges line up you will have a smooth joint on the face of the door.

When I cut the tenons I cut a scoring cut around the faces and edges of the rails first. The cuts are the distance of the length of the tenon minus your saw kerf from the fence. This way the inner edge of the cut (closest to the center of the rail) is the length of the tenon from the end of the rail. I cut the face cuts to a depth that will leave the thickness of the tenon in the center of the rail that I am cutting. For a 3/4" board with a 1/4" thick tenon my depth of cut is 1/4". The depth of cuts to define the edge of the tenon is the same as the SCD.

After the scoring cuts are completed you may cut your tenons to their finished thickness and trim the waste off of the top and bottom edges of the rails.

Mitering the Sticking
Tilt your saw blade to 45 degrees. Using the pieces of scrap wood that you cut the sticking in earlier set the blade height to the sticking depth. That is to that only the sticking is mitered (hence the name mitered sticking). Setting up the fence for these cuts depends on whether your saw blade tilts to the left or to the right.

On a right tilt saw blade with the fence on the right side of the blade. The distance to the fence for cutting the stiles is measured from the left side of the blade to the fence. That distance is calculated (RW + EL). For rails, the distance is (Tenon Length (TL) + SCD).

For a saw with a blade that tilts to the left that can move the fence to the left side of the blade you calculate the cut distance the same but measure that distance from the right side of the blade. If the fence on your left tilting saw can't be used on the left the measurements are calculated as follows. For stiles it is (working stile length - EL - SCD). For rails it is (working rail length - TL - SCD).

After the sticking on the rails has been mitered they are complete. You may need to trim the shoulder of the tenon with a chisel so you get a tight fit but that depends on how you removed the waste from the tenon.

To trim the waste from the stiles I use my tablesaw I set the fence distance to the stile width minus the SCD. I raise the blade all the way up and wear a full-face shield. I've heard that this can be done on a band saw but I don't have one that tracks straight enough for this task. I cut the sticking from the stile and stop my cut just before the bottom of the saw blade hits the edge of the miter on the bottom of the stile.

There will be a little bit of wood that you need to remove with a chisel left from this operation. This will be at the base of the miter. The saw blade is circular so it leaves a little bit of wood on the topside of the cut. When you remove this excess, pare it down. Resist the temptation to pop the whole piece of waste off at once. Especially if you are cutting into the grain, I have found that you tend to get a little divot in the edge of the stile right at the base of the miter if you are too aggressive at this point. For the final cut removing this waste I hold the flat side of the chisel against the stile and pare the last little bit off. Remember, if you take off too big a piece at this point your chisel is likely to dive into the stile and give you that nice divot.

Now you are ready to assemble your project. Slide the tenons into the mortises and check the fit. If you left extra length at the end of the stiles I trim this off after the door has been glued up. If the miters don't quite close, sometimes the top of the tenon is hitting the top of the mortise and preventing the miters from closing, pare a little bit off of the top of the tenon to allow the miter to close. To check the squareness of the door, measure the diagonals. When the diagonal measurements are be equal, the door is square.

Alden Miller

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