Cabinet Door Shoot-Out
Mortise-and-tenon vs. cope-and-stick joinery: Experienced cabinetmakers share their preference.
Synopsis: For this article, Fine Homebuilding brought two cabinetmakers together to see how they would approach the construction of a simple cabinet door made of cherry with a 1/2-in. cherry-plywood panel. Contributing writer Scott Gibson made his cabinet doors with mortise-and-tenon joints, and Joseph Lanza made his with cope-and-stick joints. Each cabinetmaker describes his method—including set up, cutting, and assembling—and close-up photos illustrate each step. Gibson used a tablesaw and a mortising machine as well as some basic hand tools. He admits that his method is more time-consuming than cope-and-stick joinery, but says that once the machine settings are dialed in, the work goes surprisingly fast. Lanza made all of his cuts with a table-mounted router and cope-and-stick bits. He likes the speed with which he can make such a door, and although he believes cope-and-stick joints are strong enough for most cabinet doors, for larger doors he would consider using slip tenons or dowels for reinforcement, or possibly mortises and tenons.
MORTISE AND TENON
I have a lot of confidence in a traditional mortise-and-tenon door. The wood-to-wood contact is substantial, meaning there’s a large glue area, and the joints are highly resistant to racking. A door with tight-fitting joints is extremely durable.
The process is more time-consuming than making cope-and-stick joints with a router, and it isn’t as well suited to making doors on a job site. That said, the work goes surprisingly fast once the machine settings have been dialed in. For tooling, I use a tablesaw and a mortising machine in addition to a few basic hand tools. Mortises could be cut with a drill press or even a portable drill plus a chisel, but the mortising machine is faster and more accurate.
It may be overkill to make doors the way I…