Canadian Woodworking
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Design and build curvy doors

Author: Rob Brown
Photos: Rob Brown
Published: February March 2023
Curvy doors
Curvy doors

Doors are a blank canvas, just waiting to be sculpted, carved, shaped or curved. The technique described here can be used on just about any door, so let your creativity run wild.

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In its simplest form, a door is made from a piece of material cut to fit a cabinet opening and hinged so it can be opened. To me, a door always seems like a blank canvas, waiting to be designed and made in a creative way. The vanity I made for our small bathroom (see “Build a Floating Vanity” on page 24) was quite simple; no exposed joinery, very clean lines and fairly small, but I wanted to add some visual interest with the two doors. Doors like this might be a bit much for a kitchen, but a smaller vanity was the perfect opportunity.

Full-Sized Plans
Once the door blank was glued up, Brown was able to draw the pattern right on it. He played around with different designs, some of which included five curved lines, as opposed to the three he ended up settling on.

Curvy doors

Nice, Thin Kerf
A bandsaw can cut the curves, but it leaves a wider kerf, causing the curved joint not to fit back together as well as it would with a narrower kerf. Instead, Brown used a scroll saw to separate the parts.

Curvy doors

A Routed Rabbet
Brown machined a small rabbet on one edge of the curved sections to guide him while power carving the face of each section.

Curvy doors

Smooth the Transition
Brown power carved the curved sections to slope down to the routed rabbet, but hand tools and sanders would also work.

Curvy doors

Sand the Curved Surfaces
A power sander will make quick work of the sloped surfaces. They need to be sanded so they’re ready for a finish before the curved sections are glued back together.

Curvy doors

Add Some Paint
Here, the door edges in the gap are painted.

Curvy doors

Paint the Visible Edge
The portion of the curved edge that will be visible once the curved sections are glued back together gets painted now. If you add paint to the entire edge, the glue will not adhere properly and the parts will likely come apart down the road.

Curvy doors

Small V-Groove
This edge will get glued to another edge that has had its outer 1/4" painted. To stop the glue from squeezing out, Brown added a small V-groove on its edge, close to the face of the doors, to capture any glue before it made a mess on the visible surface of the doors.

Curvy doors

Glue Them Up
Brown uses a few clamps to bring the mating parts back together to make one of the two doors. You can easily see the 1/4" edge that was painted blue here. The V-groove Brown added is on the mating part.

Curvy doors

A big blank

Rather than come up with a design beforehand, I broke out a large solid wood blank to fit snuggly into the opening of the cabi­net. The extra bit of material in both width and height would allow me to trim the doors to fit nicely towards the end of the pro­cess. Designing a piece of furniture before breaking out material is usually the best approach, but in this case, I knew the overall dimensions I needed and drawing the curves directly on the door blank allowed me to clearly see the design full-sized.

I drew the curves on the blank with a piece of chalk. I tried five curves, but that seemed too busy for such a small cabinet. After playing around with different options and taking photos so I could look at the options I came up with, I settled on a design with three curves.

Cut the curves

Gentle curves like these are best cut on a bandsaw, but I wanted to ensure I’d remove the least amount of wood possible with the cuts. A scroll saw was the best option to reduce the kerf, even if it doesn’t do as good of a job at cutting even curves. The reason I wanted to reduce the kerf was because the cut edges would even­tually be glued back together again, and the less waste I removed, the better that glue joint would be.

While cutting the curves on the scroll saw, it was less important that I stayed on the lines, than making sure the resulting curve was even. These were supposed to be very fluid, smooth curves, and the fact that I was at times straying up to 1/4″ from the lines wouldn’t be a problem.

Sand, shave or power carve

The next step was to create a surface with different heights, sort of like ocean waves rolling into shore. Because this van­ity would be seen only from the left, I opted to reduce the thickness of the right sides of a few of the curved door parts, as this would allow the user to see the narrow blue edge of some of these parts. If I added the curves the opposite way the blue edges would never be seen.

To guide me as I reduced the thickness of some of the door pan­els, I first used a rabbet bit in my router to add a curved rabbet to the edges, setting the bit to cut to a depth of about 3/16″.

Next, I removed some material from the faces of these panels to create an even transition down to the rabbet. I was careful not to remove too much material at the rabbet edge, as that would make for a weaker joint once the curved sections were glued back together. I was aiming to finish with a 1/4″ high visible edge that would eventually be painted blue. I did this with power carving equipment, but some hand tools to even the faces and an aggres­sive sander with course grit sandpaper would also work well.

After power carving I sanded the rough surfaces smooth.

Add some colour

My scroll saw left a very smooth edge, so I didn’t sand it much at all. A few passes with a fine grit paper was all that was needed. If the edge you end up with is rougher, you might want to sand it a bit more heavily, but just be sure to not take off so much material that it will stop the mating curved sections from being glued back together properly.

I aligned the curved sections face up, side-by-side, on a flat surface and traced a faint line onto the mating parts where the reduced thickness edges lined up with their neighbours. This line gave me something to work towards while brushing milk paint onto the edges. As long as the wood was covered up to, and slightly beyond, that line the visible portion of it would be all painted. Keep in mind that painting much beyond the pencil line will cause problems with glue adhesion while laminating these curved sections back together.

The centre edge, which wouldn’t be glued to the mating piece, gets painted on its entire edge.

Sand and prep

Both the slightly curved and flat faces of these curved sections need to be sanded before glue-up.

I didn’t want any glue squeeze-out to get on the painted edges, so I added a small V-groove on the slightly narrower edges, as close as possible to the front face of the edges. For me, only two V-grooves were needed. This small groove would trap any glue that would otherwise squeeze out onto the painted edges during glue-up.

Do a test fit to ensure the parts line up nicely. If they don’t, removing a very small amount of material is likely all that will be needed. Chances are everything will line up fine, though. Evenly apply a small amount of glue to the mating surfaces, then bring the parts together and apply clamps. I used a few curved cauls along the curved edge, but it’s easy to also cut a few curved pieces of solid wood to protect the curved edges of the doors. Ensure the back faces, as well as the ends, of the parts are aligned as closely as possible before setting the panels aside to dry.

At this stage you can treat the panels like typical doors. I hung the doors, trimmed them so the gaps were even, took them back to the shop to apply a finish and then installed a pair of mag­netic push latches so the doors could easily be opened.


Rob Brown - [email protected]

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

4 Comments

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  2. Hi Mike,

    I used a combination of Arbortech and Kutzall discs for this project. There’s a large selection on the market, and I’ve covered many of them in a video on our site that I made a few years ago. Check out our videos section.

  3. Hi Robin,

    Glad you like the final design.

    I see the addition of dowels as likely only a detriment, as they would have to be located very accurately to work properly. As it is, the curves of each door line up top-to-bottom of the door very nicely. The only thing I needed to be sure of during the assembly was making sure the rear faces were fairly close. They can also be sanded flush after they’re assembled, if need be.

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