Mill the Frame Pieces
Cut the Rails to Length
In most cases, the rails fit inside of the stiles, so you will need to subtract twice the stile width from the overall frame width to derive the rail length. If you are using tenons to connect the rails and stiles, add twice the tenon length to the rail length to account for the extra stock required for the tenons.
Cut the Stiles to Length
Cut them to match the finished height required for your panel. If the stiles are going to be capped by the rails, use the techniques above to derive the correct stile length.
Cut Blind Tenons in Both Ends of Each Rail
Lay out and cut mortises in the stiles. If you are using dowels or biscuit joints, it is not necessary to cut tenons in the rails.
Cut Grooves on the Inside Edges of the Rails & Stiles
Rout or cut a groove in the inside edge of each rail and stile to receive the panel. Size the grooves to match the panel's width and make them deep enough so the distance between opposing grooves is 1/8 inches to 1/4 in. greater than the length or width of the panel. The groove can continue to the ends of the pieces (rails or stiles) that will be capped, but it should stop at the mortise of the cap piece.
Dry fit the frame pieces and check for fit and square. Adjust the pieces as necessary.
Good to Know
For good sheet panels, 1/8 in. is enough space between the edges of the panel and the bottoms of the grooves.
For solid wood panels, it's best to leave 1/4 in. of space so the panel doesn't distort the frame as it shrinks and swells.
Make a Flat Panel
Cut the Flat Panel
For panels made from 1x stock, glue-up the stock so that it is slightly wider and longer than needed to make the finished panel. For panels made from plywood or other sheet goods, go to step two.
Cut the panel so there is 1/8 in. to 1/4 in. of play between the edges of the panel and the bottoms of the grooves in the assembled frame.
Make a Raised Panel
Glue, Cut & Plane the Raised Panel
Assemble the Frame & Panel
Dry Fit the Entire Assembly
Place the top and bottom rail tenons into one of the stiles. The grooves in each piece should face the interior of the assembly. Slide the panel into the rail grooves until it seats in the stile groove. Cap the rails and panel with the second stile. The panel should move slightly inside the frame to allow for seasonal wood movement. Check the frame and panel for fit and square, adjusting as necessary.
Once the adjustments are complete, glue, assemble, and clamp the frame and panel. Wipe away any excess glue that squeezes out of the joints.
Allow the glue to dry completely before unclamping.
How To Terms
Use our how-to guide to learn a new woodworking project: making your own customized bookshelf.