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designing and building with wood channels my creativity and challenges my mind.
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Thursday, April 7, 2011

My first raised panels

Raised panels: most people don't think much about them, and many perhaps never noticed that some cabinet doors have them and some don't.  What's a raised panel?  Well, first I should say that many cabinet doors are made in a "frame and panel" fashion, where four narrow frame members form the outside edges of a rectangle, and hold between them a panel that's more or less flat.  The panel is secured within the frame by means of a groove that runs around the inside edges of each frame member; a "tongue" around the outside edge of the panel slips into this groove.

The Shakers, whose design aesthetic is still popular today, preferred to use flat panels: panels that appeared to be the same thickness throughout, and therefore were flat-faced.  Their reason?  The Shakers eschewed any frilly design elements that served no function.  Thankfully, flat panels are easily made from flat pieces of plywood, making it easy to design and build shaker-style frame-and-panel cabinets with inexpensive materials.

But raised panels are still used quite often in modern furniture, and harken back to European design traditions hundreds of years old.  Raised panels are narrow at the edges - in order to fit into the groove in a frame-and-panel case or door - but are thicker in the middle.  The part where the panel gets thicker is called the "bevel" and the thicker part of the panel is called the "field".  Bevels can be simple slopes, or be more decorative, looking a lot like the profile of crown molding.

Raised panels can't be made of plywood, because the bevel would expose the plies.  So making raised panels first requires making panels of solid wood.  From there, the bevel has to be cut.  There are a number of ways to do this, from planing the bevel by hand with a special plane, to using a special bit on the router or shaper (a shaper is a big router, mounted in a table).

I am making a pedestal stand for a "nano" aquarium out of solid cherry, and decided the time was right to make my first raised panel cabinet.  First, I jointed and planed a number of 6" wide cherry boards, and edge glued them together to form the wide panels.  After planing these wider panels again, to get them perfectly flat, it was time to cut the bevels and create the tongues and fields.

I chose to use my router and router table, and a bit from Rockler.  These bits are large and heavy, and in most cases a very powerful router or shaper is needed to run them.  My router isn't so powerful, so I chose the smallest bit in the store.  Luckily, my cabinet is small and I didn't need a bigger bevel on these panels.

I set the router on the slowest possible setting (any faster and it might have spun itself apart with such a heavy bit), and passed each panel over the bit, taking very light cuts.  Eventually, I had the bevel I wanted, and I stopped cutting into the panels.

The tongues I was left with were still too thick to fit into the grooves in my frame members, so I had to make another set of cuts, on the back side of each panel.  These "relief" cuts are common on raised panels.  So common, in fact, that many bits include a second cutter to make the relief cut (a "rebate") on the back edges of the panels.  Such a bit was out of my price range, and out of my router's power range, too, so I made by rebates with the same groove-cutting bit I used to make the grooves in the frame.

The result is in the pictures in this post. Very nice, if I do say so myself!  I was apprehensive about making raised panels, but the whole process went off without a hitch.  I look forward to adding raised panels to my repertoire.  The next thing to try?  beveled edges on the frame parts.  these are more challenging than raised panels, but I'm game to try it :)

1 comment:

  1. Funny, you mention that raised panels can not be made out of plywood. Aside from the aesthetics of exposed plies, why not? I have seen some fascinating wood turnings done with plywood panels laminated together into fairly large bowl blanks, and I have actually considered making raised panels out of quality plywood (not the cheap junk with lots of voids and such.).