Recessed or overlaid, which stile do you like?

DSC_0217I made two doors for the new tool cabinet I started to build recently and we of course filmed the work for the series now released and running on The doors like this must be twist free as must the cabinet itself, the drawers and so on otherwise you have alignment issues on all front and especially with recessed doors does this show. It was US mass-manufacturing boxes on kitchen walls that really introduced overlaid doors and drawer fronts and although it did lead to decades of ugly shadow lines and too much busyness as a facade, it’s real value was that nothing needed fitting. Drawers fit inside openings with an inch of crawl space all around each drawer and all drawers ran on metal runners that needed replacing after a decade or so or at least that’s how it seemed to me when I lived there. DSC_0208Doors too had cranked hinges that aligned with the inside edge of the door and you could fit a zillion doors in a day. All in all it was indeed the death of quality and craftsmanship to say the least. Europe did not escape such tragic unskilfulness either. It came out with the deplorable 32mm European hinge system that also copied the overlaying idea for speed and efficiency and managed to do away with the American face-frame concept altogether so no frame was seen at all. Then again, on the other side of all of this there came the highly specialised kitchen companies who chose the higher end of quality and eschewed cheapness to continue offering real craftsmanship. I like these things.

The methods we taught in making these doors for the tool cabinet are methods that guarantee twist free doors and yet we still cut the mortises by hand, tenons by hand and planed the wood twist free by hand.DSC_0206 Doors with such short rails can be hard to perfect because even a small misaligned plane stroke can and will create a twisted door. One of the things I loved and have always loved is the perfecting of a joint with just hand tools. I have done the same with machines and that’s fine too, but when a joint enters perfectly at the start and slightly tightens with increased friction on the faces of the tenons and the mortise walls there is something just very different that most people might miss. I suppose what it is is the minutest flex of a wide chisel or plane stroke that somehow feels completely owned by you. Yes, mortise holes and parallel tenons do come from the spinning teeth and blades of machines, but the difference is the dialling in of fixed distances and stops. Don’t get me wrong, I think that the men who developed the machines were highly skilled and knowledgeable engineers, but it really leaves the man making the door outside the loop. The parts align perfectly and the doors come out straight and unwarped, but achieving this with just hand tools, where every tenon face and mortise comes from chisels, saws and planes, well, it just leaves me still with not mere pride but pore and transparent joy. Until you’ve experienced this you really cannot understand it. Each of the joints, one by one, individually made and perfected, slipped together like a hand inside a glove and I knew that my now older hands and brain and upper body aligned to bring them each together. This to me is a real gift to me.


Within the how to make a door section of the series I introduce all of the fail-proof methods we use for making doors. I developed these methods for making mortise and tenons decades ago and stayed with it all the way through my life because of the success it brought to the work. I walk through how to size a recessed door, fit a recessed door, how to hang single and twin doors with recessed hinges and so on. Even this is special because we displaced overlays to conserve the tradition and quality recessed and properly fitted doors. Let’s face it, the only reason overlays took off and displaced recessed and fully fitted cabinet doors and drawers is because it was fast and cheap.

DSC_0224The drawers for the bottom section of the cabinet are nearly done and these two must be as twist free as the doors but the reasons are not usually so obvious as with the doors. A twisted drawer, especially smaller ones like these, rock and jam and rarely align and sit well.

DSC_0203We filmed how to make saw-tooth shelf adjusters using only a 1″ chisel and tenon saw and a knife and square. They take about five minutes for a perfectly matched fit and can usually be made from a scrap of wood.


  1. I do prefer the look of the recessed. It really screams quality when done right. On the practical side, overlay would give another 3/4″ inside of the cabinet. Figure on hanging tools on the inside of the door and that may be a significant amount of space.

    1. I am not going that root. never liked the look of it. I will do as the ones I have in my shop. perhaps a couple of saws on the doors, a small shelf for gauges and such.

      1. Hey Paul Its says that this episode is up and running on but I cant see it anywhere all I have is one and two. Is it still due to come out. Thanks Chris

        1. The series is at the cabinet stage of building and then comes the doors. Not sure when the dates are, but the series is once a week as always.

  2. Just make the carcass 3/4″ wider If you need extra room. I would think.

    Myself I’ve been dying to build a cabinet with recessed doors . I never had the skill set nor the confidence so I’m hoping this lesson will be the turning point for me in my cabinet making experience. My cabinet will be all together different in size because of where It’s going in my shop. . I’m having to build it according to my shop space. Mine will be wider than it will be tall.

    Paul is there anything I need to know while I’m still in the drawing process that will effect the stability of my cabinet being that my dimensions are going to be this way.

    Also I just received some beautiful tools from the UK today. In fact some of the best I have ever seen and in the box is a coffin smoother by JB Hindley . Its brand new with just a little use but the blade is not engaging the wood.

    . Paul or anybody who can help. Where can we discuss on how to sharpen the iron on this tool. It looks different than anything I’ve ever seen before. Do I sharpen it just the same way as any other plane 30 degrees.
    Thank you so much for this series Paul I can barley sleep at night anticipating the next video.

    1. No, it is all changeable within reason.
      Most older planes are sharpened the way I do with a cambered bevel. A new blade may well have a hollow grind from the factory. Most older planes also have a much shallower bevel but the camber ends in a steeper elliptical shape the establish the steeper as aspect at around 30-35 degrees. Just sharpen as you would any other bevel down smoother.

      1. Yea When I checked it the bevel was at 19.8 degrees. Thats not good is it. I will sharpen it the same way you do. I do all my Bench Planes that way now. Sometimes I run into the strangest things in tools I buy on ebay these days. I just got a hand crank grinder in today paid $13.50 for it .lol heck the shiping cost more but it has a weird wheel on it . I guess maybe it is silicone carbide not sure but it certainly didnt want to dress that easily with a diamond tip dresser tool.
        It cut but really slow. The wheel is 5 1/2″ in diameter .The arbor flange is 1″ in diameter inside diameter so the hole in the wheel is 1″. Its a pretty wild design I kind of like it but Im definetly will need to get a new wheel . This one is to fine I believe leave almost a finish surface on the blade. Im sorry I shouldnt be talking about this on this blog. Im having a very difficult time trying to balance out actually woodworking and getting all the tools I need to stay within traditional hand tool woodworking. and getting them p and working good. Sorry. but thank you for everything”, I REALLY” do appreciate all your help for sure. Cheers

        1. Actually 20 degrees is fine as it keeps the heel out of the way. You just need to start sharpening the cutting edge end at 30 now and then trail of down to what you have. Two seconds to an edge. I keep many of my planes with that lower angle cos it makes it easy and has no effect on the performance.

  3. Inlaid would be nice if there were a way to have room at the top for a cornice and at the bottom for a moulding. Do you just add a face frame and hang the door inlaid on the face frame?

  4. Beautiful cabinet, Paul. Such attention to detail, as always.
    I’m looking forward to seeing it finished, and the video on the saw tooth shelf adjusters.

  5. Just a expressing of gratitude. Thank you, Paul and team. Find your education in-valuable. Cheers Peter

  6. Paul this is another great series and look forward to building this one in the very near future. Thank You for everything you and your crew do as well.

    Off subject a little any ETA on your new book ?


  7. Sorry I didn’t answer the origional question, I like the recess door’s. I haven’t done this before and want to build a new cabinet although there is nothing wrong with my 40 year old plywood cabinet other than it is to short and it is made from plywood with a marine Varnish on it.


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