Canadian Woodworking

Build an interior door

Author: Rob Brown
Photos: Rob Brown
Published: December January 2018

Building a set of doors is a great way to customize the interior of your home. Design options are almost endless, and it doesn’t take much time or effort to build solid, timeless doors.


  • Difficulty
  • Length/Time
  • Cost

The approach I took with these doors was to keep the design and joinery simple, so I could build them with minimal time and effort. Other than for breakout, I stuck with the table saw for pretty much all the joinery. You could easily add more stiles or rails to create a door that matched something existing, or even to change the overall look of the doors. The general approach would be exactly the same, but it may take a bit longer to construct.

I built these two doors for a bedroom closet, but they could also have been used as any interior door. The only difference is surrounding how they’re installed.

Simple and Straight
 Brown holds the workpiece in place with his hand, as long as the cut being made isn’t too aggressive, or the material being cut isn’t too dense.

Reference Off the Fence
The piece of solid wood should be machined so its bottom edge rides on top of the metal portion of the fence, and guides the jig parallel with the table saw’s top surface.

A Nice Fit
 The fit between the piece of plywood and the large solid wood piece should be snug enough so the jig doesn’t easily flop around during use.

How Long?
In order to cut the loose tenons to size, Brown measures the depth of the grooves then doubles that distance. He went with 1-1/2" total, in order to stay on the small side, rather than risk the joint not coming together.

Make it Obvious
 Because the joints between the rails and stiles will likely move over the years, add a small reveal along the edge of the rails, in order to make the joint look obvious.

First Sub-Assembly
 Glue one rail to one stile, then add the panel, for the first glue-up. Trying to do it all at once is a recipe for disaster.

On the Safe Side
 Before the second subassembly, Brown assembles the door to double check that it will fit.

Mitre the Trim
 With a table saw mitre sled, Brown makes a slow and accurate cut to produce a perfectly mitred piece of trim.

Attach the Trim
 A 23g pin nailer is great for light-duty tasks. The pins keep the trim in place until the glue dries.

Rout Hinge Mortises
A trim router, equipped with a straight bit, makes quick work of the mortises for hinges. Before making the series of passes to remove the waste, use a wide chisel or plane iron to score a straight line at either end of the mortise.

Crosscut the Door
 Once the doors have been temporarily installed, then marked and removed, a track saw makes accurate and quick work of cutting the bottom and top edges of each door.

Simple Stop
 Brown made a solid wood stop, and embedded a rare earth magnet in it, in order to keep the door in place when closed.


Because these paint-grade doors would be in a very lowtraffic area of our home, I selected poplar from which to machine the frame. Soft maple would be a bit more appropriate if the doors would be hung in a more central part of our home.

For the panels I opted for were 1/2″-thick PureBond plywood from Columbia Forest Products, as I like the formaldehyde- free adhesive. The 1/2″ plywood provides a fair bit of strength yet is very easy to manage while working with it.

How big?

A quick check of my door opening gave me the information I needed to build the doors. I divided the opening width in half to give me my overall door width, and I marked the overall height as well. In theory, I made the doors to fit perfectly in the opening, then I could trim them to fit. This gave me a bit of flexibility during construction, and allowed that the finished gaps were not too large. I also checked for square, and made a few notes about what I found.

Before you start making sawdust, you should make a cutlist showing all the overall dimensions of the parts, and the dimensions of the joinery that will need to be cut.

Break out the materials

Starting with 6/4 stock, I cut the parts to rough size, jointed and planed them all to final thickness of 1-1/4″ then ripped them all to final width. The stiles and upper rail finished at 3-1/2″ wide, while the bottom rail finished at 7″ wide. These dimensions don’t need to be adhered to too closely but are a starting point for your design. Most interior doors are 1-3/8″ thick, but I ended up needing to remove a bit more material to create smooth surfaces on one of the stiles.

I also cut the PureBond plywood into oversized panels, as I needed to expose one clean edge in order to create an accurately sized groove that would accept the panels perfectly. Working with the factory edge of any sheet good can be risky, as they are sometimes slightly rough and uneven.


As I mentioned, I stuck to my table saw for the joinery of these doors, as it’s simple and fast. First, I installed a dado set that would create a groove that would accept the panels perfectly. Shims are going to be needed. Take your time here, as it will save a lot of time down the road. Also, don’t make the groove at all too tight, as when you’re fitting the long side of the panel into it, the fit will be tighter than you think. Too loose isn’t good either though, so be careful with this setup. Set the rip fence to position the groove – I opted to move the panel slightly back from the centerline of the solid wood frame to give the panel a larger setback from the frame on the visible face of the doors. The exact location isn’t crucial though.

Once all the grooves are cut into the stiles and rails, it’s time to focus on the grooves across the end grain of the rails. Loose tenons, made of the same material as the panels, will be used to fix the rails to the stiles. A tenon jig can be used here, but I have a simple shop-made device that does a great job. See the sidebar for more information about how to make your own, and how to use it. I now cut the grooves in the ends of the rails.

 Shop-Made Tenoning Jig

With only three parts, you can make a simple and effective tenoning jig to hold medium-sized workpieces upright when working on your table saw. This jig was designed for my General T-Fence, so it may have to be modified to fit your fence. The fit to the fence is important, so there is no movement between the jig and the fence. While in use, the jig holds the workpiece perpendicular to the table, while it’s run over the blade. The exact dimension of the parts isn’t crucial but will give you somewhere to start.

First, cut a piece of 3/4″-thick plywood to 3″ wide x 17″ long. Next, machine a piece of solid 14″ x 2″ x 1-3/4″. This piece will be what fixes the jig to the fence, and it has to be machined very accurately to do so. I cut a rabbet in one edge of this piece, so when it was attached to the piece of plywood it would be tight enough, but not so tight that the jig couldn’t slide on the fence. The upper lip of the rip fence’s face will fit into this rabbet, and the plywood will run on the face of the rip fence. In use, the lowest edge of the large solid piece runs on the center metal portion of the rip fence, while the upper face of the rabbet should be cut to leave a slight gap between itself and the upper face of the rip fence.

To test the fit before assembly, clamp the parts together and see how it runs. A light pass with a hand plane might be needed to fine-tune the fit. Glue and screw these two parts together at a right angle, and so the bottom of the plywood is about 1/2″ above the table saw’s top surface. The last piece of solid, which is about 6″ x 1″ x 3/4″, is machined and attached to the plywood. This piece helps keep the workpiece perpendicular to the table during use. Depending on how much material is being removed, and what species I’m working with, I either clamp the workpiece in place during the cut, or just use my hands to hold it. A bit of wax on the inner surfaces of the plywood and larger solid piece help keep the jig moving freely.

Loose tenons

From the same material from which that the panels will be cut, I ripped one long length to use as loose tenons. I made sure it was about 1/16″ narrower than needed, as I didn’t want to risk any problems during assembly. I then cut the loose tenons to length and eased their edges to make them easier to install during assembly. The loose tenons for the upper rail were cut about 2-1/2″ long, while the lower loose tenons finished about 5-1/2″ long. Any excess that protruded from either end of the assembled door could always be trimmed later.

A small reveal

When building projects, the goal is always perfection, but that’s not always the result. From time to time we have to realize that joining pieces will not remain perfectly flush, and to pretend otherwise only makes the project look poorer in the long run. The joint between the rails and stiles will likely crack slightly over time, and with a few coats of paint, a dark line will appear. To camouflage the joint, a slight reveal can be machined into the ends of the rails. I set up the table saw blade to cut slightly more than 1/16″ high, then adjusted the rip fence to take the same cut. Each of the rails was passed over the blade, leaving a small reveal.

Cut the panels

Trim the panels slightly smaller than the opening between the rails and stiles, then test their fit. They will likely be slightly tighter than you want, so a bit of white wood sanding is all that’s needed to allow the panels to fit into the grooves nicely. I also heavily eased the edges of the panels, so assembly would go even smoother.

Assemble the doors

Start with gluing one rail to one stile, along with adding the panel. Apply glue to the loose tenon and to the surface of the grooves that will accept the loose tenon, as well as the groove on the end of the rail. Bring the rail and stile together so their outer edges are flush. A bit of glue on the inside of the panel grooves is next. Now the panel can be added, clamped in place in both directions, and when the rail and stile are square, left to dry.

The next sub-assembly will involve gluing the rest of the joints and loose tenons and bringing all the parts together. When gluing the lower rail to the stile, I leave the lower half of the joint without glue, so it can move with the seasons. The loose tenon will still keep the parts in line though.

Add some trim

Though not necessary, the trim adds depth to the door, and in my opinion, gives a nicer look. Rip 1/4″-thick x 1″-wide strips, then mitre their ends. Sand their faces and ease their edge before installing them. A small bead of glue on the door panel, coupled with my trusty pin nailer, and the trim strips are in place for good. I used a bit of wood filler to fill any tiny holes left by the nailer.

Mortise for the hinges

I cut the doors slightly oversize, then marked for the hinges. I first scored the edges of the mortises to avoid splintering, then used a trim router with a straight bit to recess the hinge flush with the door edge. For now, only predrill and install a couple of screws in each hinge, in case you need to adjust the hinge location on the door.

Time to fit the doors

I found it easiest to have a few thin spacers that would lift the door to the right height. I aligned the doors so there was a 1/8″ gap above them, and the faces of the doors were set back about 1/8″ from the face of the trim, then marked where one screw should be installed in each hinge. At this point, an extra set of hands is nice to have, but not necessary. These dimensions worked nicely for my situation, but for yours it will depend on whether the doors are built for a new or existing space, and what sort of details you’re dealing with.

With the doors temporarily hung, I took a close look at their operation and how they looked. A few changes were needed, both to the overall dimensions of the doors, as well as how they were hung. I had to cut a fair bit of material off their bottoms to allow them to swing freely, and so they would align with each other. I also needed to move the bottom of one door inward so the two doors would meet evenly down their center line. A couple of trips to and from my shop, with doors in hand, and I had a fit I was happy with. I also beveled the inner edges of each door at about 3°, so they wouldn’t bind when opened. A purchased piece of hardware could also be used here.

Finishing off the interior door

I then brought the doors back to my shop, where I made sure all the faces were sanded smooth, and edges eased, before priming and painting them.

I installed a simple handle in each door, then made and installed a wood stop with magnetic catch that would hold the doors in place when closed. I used a pair of rare earth magnets set into a piece of wood. The wood acted as a stop, and the magnets attracted a cup washer installed into the upper front corner of each door. After a few uses, I found the sound of magnet on metal a little much, so I added a very thin felt bumper between the wood stop and the backs of the doors.

After realizing how simple and fun these doors were to make, I realized I shouldn’t have procrastinated on making them since we moved in 12 years ago.

Easy Crosscuts

When working with large workpieces, it can be a challenge to make accurate crosscuts. If you don’t have a track saw, an adjustable edge guide like the Bora 50″ WTX Clamp Edge Saw Guide from Affinity Tool Works is a great tool to have. Easily and quickly clamp the guide to the workpiece at any angle necessary, then use your circular saw, router or other power tool to make an accurate cut. Learn more at Similar models from Lee Valley, Home Hardware, Brettwood Machinery, Grizzly, Kreg and Workshop Supply are also available.

Rob Brown - [email protected]

Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement. Instagram at @RobBrownTeaches

1 comment

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  2. Nice job. I have made everything from closet doors to entrance doors and refurbished 100 year old doors that people had thrown out. It can be very rewarding and you can end up with a very unique project.

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