Making Doors With Hand Tool Methods

DSC_0291 Last year we made a series on making a wall-hung tool cabinet using hand tools and the whole process involved many elements to help woodworkers develop various woodworking and cabinet making skills. As we were filming we generated some extra footage intended for different YouTube presentations and one of the different series was how to make a door by hand. The door is panelled, grooved and has mortise and tenon construction methods for the joinery. DSC_0102 The goal is to make a twist-free door starting with the rails and stiles and using my method for guaranteed co-planer surfaces between rails and stiles. This in essence means that within the mortises the inside faces or cheeks of the mortise holes must be as near parallel to the outside faces as is humanly possible. A difficult accomplishment even for skilled craftsmen. Forming the tenon cheeks with faces where the cheeks perfectly align with the outside faces of the rails requires the same level of accuracy too. All of this leads to the outside faces of the rails and stiles being perfectly surface aligned. DSC_0100 I have never seen anyone create a strategy like this that didn’t follow what I developed and show in this video, but I have consistently seen twisted doors made by those using both hand and machine methods. This series has been important to me in that I wanted to pass on what truly works for the generations to come who love hand work as I do. It’s a four-part series and I think/hope that you will enjoy what we have put together for woodworkers around the world. As apprenticeships and craft training through colleges and universities gradually shut down over the years to come we must find alternative ways to ensure the future of craftsmanship. DSC_0206 Please, if you do like it, make sure that you tell others about this and our other craft training series as this is the only way we can truly protect the traditions of handwork. Much of what we teach comes from decades of training passed down that will only come this way.

Here is the link to a guaranteed future for craftsmanship internationally.



  1. I used these techniques when I built a small door for a project at the beginning of the summer. Worked a charm. Perfectly flat and parallel.

  2. Thanks Paul. I’ve got my dad hooked on watching your videos. I got him your recent book for Father’s Day and he was elated. He owns many wookworking books (he’s been collecting tools and such literally since the 1940s). He found your book had info that he hadn’t seen anywhere else in print. It’s not hard for any of us who watch you to find others that are very interested in what you do once they see and watch a few of your videos.

  3. I don’t fear as much the craft falling into demise or even extinction due to lack of craftsman or simple lack of interest but, what I do fear due to the excessive rising cost of timber it will be out of financial reach for the home hobbyist aka amateur woodworker and future generation of potential woodworkers. This is already evident in this country where so many cabinet shops have closed their doors due to the facts of high material costs and large companies due to their buying power are able to undercut many small family run businesses. This large buying power and undercutting which was strictly prohibited by the guild in the 18th century does not provide a guaranteed future but a bleak one in my view if atleast one condition isn’t met, lowering the cost of timber. If they can do it with oil they certainly can do it with wood.

    1. Wood is and always was a sustainable resource but as with all things mass managed the mass managers own power and can dictate the pricing structure of sales. Whether there is a shortage or not the almighty dollar controls. It is unlikely these days with the rugged-individualist image everyone projects that there could be a guild buying in wood to wholesale amongst its members.

  4. I have never seen nor experienced this rugged individualism as no one in this day and age truly has a say without government intervention. Today people are not able to help themselves as our government will not allow it. Instead the masses are given in to false hopes and fed continual lies and false promises by those serving in their electorate only to beguile the masses even more come time for re election. If such a guild did exist in this day and age it would be corrupt and would serve only the interest of the government of the day and not the tradesman. The only way for the price of timber to fall would be to destroy the housing market and for interest rates to rise like it did in the 80’s. Timber prices all over the US plummeted except for one state and I cannot remember which one that was.

    I strongly believe it is we the little people and not the corporations nor the extreme wealthy who finance our nations as they are takers and hoarders of wealth but it is we who do through enormous taxes and out of control consumerist behaviour. If we the little ones collapse the whole nation would collapse, therefore the power truly is with the people if they only but knew.

  5. HI PAUL,

    1. You do develop skills that result in accuracy without guides but the guide is what gets you started in the right direction until you develop that muscle memory.

      1. So Paul. I have been teaching my wife to play the guitar for a while now and I go on and on about muscle memory and that it takes time to learn things and to try not to get frustrated along the way. Apparently I’ve said that term enough that I’m not supposed to mention it again. ….. ever. 🙂 so….. I showed her your post. I’m pretty sure the big sigh was for me and it was worth it. 🙂 it is absolutely true though. Just keep practicing and soon enough you body will just know what to do.

  6. I dream of making big doors for houses. Because it’s such a hidden art of skill. Everywhere I go I find myself looking at the doors in buildings to try and work out how they were constructed. Some of them are just amazing.

    1. I was just thinking the same thing. I need new doors for my workshop/shed…. should I go fancy or functional? Or maybe a little bit of both. 🙂

  7. Dear Paul,
    I have watched your videos on the wall hung cabinet and they are excellent. Thanks for that. My question is this. How do you decide on the depth of the tenon in to the mortise hole. Will a tenon going 2/3rds in the mortise stock seem ok? Or is half the depth more acceptable? I mean is there a norm or any general rule of thumb? Thanks again.

    1. Unless a tenon is a through tenon most tenons are rarely longer than 2″ long with 1 1/2″ to 2″ being normal for cabinet doors and up to 2 1/2″ for internal house doors. Longer is unnecessary.

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