Almost three years ago I made a careless workshop error that led to what’s become my favourite method for making frame and panel doors. It happened on the router table. I was using a bearing-guided wing-cutter to create panel grooves along the edges of stiles and rails, when my focus wandered for a second. Without realizing it, I continued the groove from the edge of one of the rails around onto the end. Routing that end-grain area was a mistake because I’d planned to use biscuits there to join the door frame members, and needed a solid area to cut slots for flood damage Brisbane them. But as I switched off the router to look for scrap to glue into the blunder, the idea struck: Why not rout a full groove completely around the end of each rail, then cut floating tenons to fit in them? These would look and act as strong as traditional tenons, while being easier to prepare. And that was the start of a method I’ve used exclusively for frame and panel work since then. You can also use it to prepare any kind of small to medium-sized mortise and tenon joint for other applications.
Router-cut joints like these are simple and strong, yet demand only basic equipment to prepare. But there are small details that could sneak up on you and cause grief unless you’re warned ahead of time. Since I’ve already discovered the pitfalls, there’s no reason you need to learn the hard way.
This technique is based on the wing cutter, one of the most under-appreciated router bits around. It’s an inexpensive, long-lasting, versatile piece of hardware that does a slick job cutting slots of all kinds. Chuck the bit into any table-mounted router, switch on, then pass the edge of stiles and rails against the spinning tool. The result is a clean, fast and consistent groove. For frame and panel work, I recommend a bit with a 3/32” or 1/4”-wide cutter. I prefer a 1/2” shank bit because it’s more stable, though 1/4” diameter models will do. Depth of cut is determined by the size of the bearing on top of the shaft in relation to cutter diameter. You’ll find 1/2” is a typical depth of cut, ideal for both panel grooves and the tenons that connect stiles and rails. Complete wing cutters cost about $35, while replacement cutters that fasten to existing shafts cost $25. Quarter-inch wide wing cutters are the biggest commonly available, and though that isn’t enough for cutting panel grooves, there’s an easy way around that problem.