As a member of a trim crew, once the doors have been hung and the case and base is installed, I can’t wait to get to the fun and unusual jobs. Some of these are crown molding or built-ins, but, for me, the best is building Jacuzzi/garden tub surrounds. These surrounds come in all different sizes and shapes, but they all need some means of access to the pumps, motors, and valves hidden under the tub deck.
Like many carpenters, I build face frames out of poplar or oak with pocket screws, but that’s where the similarities end. I use a dedicated fixture for cutting the raised panels. What’s special about this fixture is its zero-clearance base and tall fence, which allows you to cut raised panels that are not limited in length, width, or type of material.
I’ve watched several people make raised panels on portable table saws from MDF without zero clearance inserts. To work around the danger of the panel slipping down into the throat guard, they fasten together two pieces of 3/4-in. MDF, making the panel 1 1/2 in. thick. Then they set the fence about 1 in. from the blade, tilt the table saw blade to about 14 degrees, raise the blade, and cut the bevel for the panel. Though this is safer than attempting to cut a 1/4-in. panel without a zero clearance insert, holding a tall panel against a short rip fence is risky; and besides, why waste so much material?
I cut panels on my table saw frequently, but to keep the operation safe and the cuts precise, I use a fixture with a zero clearance slot for the blade, which eliminates the need for a backup piece, and makes cutting narrow long panels a lot easier. My fixture has a 3/4-in. MDF base with a zero clearance slot, and a 12-in. tall fence to help guide tall and narrow panels with less wobble than the short fence would.
To set up the fixture, first decide on the shape, angle, and design of the bevel you want to achieve. A 3/4-in. panel cut at 13 degrees will have a bevel length of 1 5/8 in., leaving a 1/4-in. thickness at the edge of the panel. A 3/4-in. panel cut at 11 degrees will have a bevel length of 2 5/8 in. and 1/4-in. thickness at the edge of the panel.
The initial setup of the fixture for a 13 degree cut is as follows:
1) Determine the distance from the saw fence to the tall vertical fence—in this case 4 1/2 in.
2) Add 1/4 in. for the thickness of the panel at the edge: 1/4 + 4 1/2 = 4 3/4 in.
3) Set the saw fence to 4 in. and tilt the blade to 13 degrees.
4) Using a 3/4-in. x 5-in. wide x 12-in. long piece of waste material, cut a kerf about 6 in. long.
5) Stop the saw and do not move the material.
6) Set the rip fence 4 3/4 in. from the saw kerf—it’s easy to measure to the kerf!
|7) Retract the blade and clamp the panel fixture to the rip fence.|
|8) Turn on the saw and raise the blade fully to cut the zero clearance slot in the base. Then stop the saw.|
9) Retract the blade to a height of 1 1/2 in. Cut a test piece and check the bevel and shoulder cut. Raise or lower the blade until you are satisfied with the design. Then record the measurements on the back of the panel fixture.
10) To cut raised panels with an 11 degree bevel, set the saw blade to 11 degrees and follow steps 4 thru 8. Record the angle, height of blade, and saw fence setting on the back side of the fixture for future reference.
Remember to always use eye, ear, and dust protection, and use a push stick if the panels are especially narrow. When cutting solid wood panels, such as oak, cut the end grain first to avoid tear out.
To install the panels in the face frame, we attach cleats or stops on the back of the face frame, and we fasten two tabs to the top of the panel. Insert the raised panel with the two tabs behind the upper rail of the face frame, then push the bottom in until its against the cleats and let go. Gravity will hold the panel in place.
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Please don’t try anything you see in THISisCarpentry, or anywhere else for that matter, unless you’re completely certain that you can do it safely.
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Chris Cooper is a licensed builder in East Lansing, MI, and owner of Omega Design & Build. He started his business later in life, at age 57, when the company he worked for as a draftsman/designer moved out of state. Prior to that he was a machinist and mold fabricator, but he’s always loved building and fixing things. As a boy, he helped his father add a family room to their home, and moved on to old classic cars and TVs (remember Heathkits?).
The precision and design aspects of his previous jobs really help him now. Early on he started working with a crew of very skilled trim carpenters and discovered that his true passion lies in the details of woodworking.
Chris is a true believer in lifelong learning, and attends classes and seminars whenever he can to learn the latest techniques and trends. He always has a stack of home building magazines near his favorite chair! In his spare time, Chris enjoys trap shooting, flyfishing, diving, reading, and working on his own home improvements.
Thanks for the article Chris, I loved it. Can’t wait to build and use it.
Thanks For the comment. this jig is simple to build and makes long and narrow panels easy to make
This jig greatly enhances the safety of using a table saw for producing raised panels. Great for running the hips on panels that are 8″ or longer but I would prefer an extra precaution for running the shorter dimension end grain hips. It might be tedious but when I make my version of this jig (thank you so much Chris for doing my homework) I will add a way to clamp an extra rail support to the panel for those end cuts. Likely just a piece of straight stock that will ride on the top of the jig support panel. Yes, this will slow down the process considerably as I will need to clamp & unclamp my support rail to the panel before I run each end but not so slow as the nearly inevitable kick out of the narrow panel. Watching you do that was a YIKES moment for me. Yeah you can do it maybe even dozens of times with no issues, but in a flash…
Ray, it’s good to have another set of eyes looking at the fixture to get ideas to make the fixture safer. Another addition would be to add a fence to the left of the blade slightly taller then the maximum height of the blade to prevent any contact with the blade.
Chris, good jig, but running tall narrow panels like that looks sketchy. The homemade jig I use is similar but it straddles the tablesaw fence and the panel is then clamped to the jig. It doesn’t have zero clearance but since it is clamped to the jig I haven’t had any problem. I could add some photos later this weekend when I get out to the shop if you’re interested.
Always looking for other ideas to improve my methods. Look forward for your pictures if you get the time to send them
O.K. so these are really fast and crude pictures as i am in the middle of redoing my own kitchen on top of a couple of beautiful 6 month old girls that give me absolutely no free time. Like I said it is just a tall fence that rides over the tablesaws fence. you can usually just use spring clamps or small hand clamps to hold the panel to the jig, but i like to screw some toggle clamps and move as necessary. i start by running perimeter 1/8″ rip to establish the raised portion, then adjust the bevel to around 11 degrees but more importantly so you get your 1/4″ to slide into the rails and stiles and the height is adjusted so it cuts right up to the raised portion. So i got it from an old jig book i have around the shop and it works out pretty well for me. I had to dig it out of the cabinet as I haven’t used it in about a year and I had about ten minutes to give a quick photo demo so atleast I got something up.
Any questions just let me know, Josh
Thanks for putting this together — very clever/ingenious approach — you’ve added some ideas/jigs to my repertoire …
This fixture was my improvement on the method shown me by the lead carpenter, David Castro, of our trim crew. We scratch each others back when needed. Sometimes two heads are better than one!!!!
Well done Chris. Really enjoyed the video.
Great idea, Chris. I’d also like to see some of the mods that Ray and Josh have suggested, if they can post them.
Great article. Easy to follow, step-by-step instructions and I thoroughly enjoyed the video.
Seriously, very well explained. I simply ain’t the sharpest machete in the shed … However, even I could readily and easily follow your article and instructions.
Again, I very much enjoyed your video.
I haven’t even figured how to email photographs. I keep having a problem trying to jam the film through my screen.
I lose more computers that way.
Thanks for your comments on the article and video!!
Long story as to why, but I cannot angle the blade on my tablesaw. Would it be safe to make a similar jig but angle the vertical fence away from the blade by 11 degrees or would the panel tend to wander away from the fence?
Sounds do-able, Maybe you could make the fixture adjustable- like the adjustable drafting triangles, so you are not locked into a single angle.
Kevin, If You made the fixture that had a short flange or lip at the base of the fixture that might not let the panel waver as you saw it. Just an idea for what it is worth.
I have been making panels keeping the blade upright and tilting the wood and it works fine, maybe even better.
With the blade vertical, there are no pinching problems if the wood were to raise up.
It also makes it possible to cut the panels on a right tilt blade saw on the left side of the fence.
Make the bottom at an angle to keep the panel in.
I use the 2″ high spring (only high, not low) that comes with the Grip-Tite featherboad to keep the panel and jig against the fence.
I do like simple solutions to tricky problems.
This is a simple solution to a tricky problem.
Love the write up, and love the video.
I’d say Gary has serious competition!!!!
Well done Chris.
I’m just a beginner compared to Gary but I am always looking for the easy way to do a job. thanks for the good words of encouragement!!
The only problem with making panels in this manner is that they do not allow for wood movement within the panel frame.
In a traditional rail and stile frame with a solid wood panel insert, the edge of the panel has a flat surface approximately 3/8″ wide which fits into the slot cut into the frame, with anywhere from a 1/16 – 1/8″ gap to allow for expansion of the panel. With the table saw panel described, the panel fits too tight into the frame which could swell, (depending on the type of wood), to the point of breaking the frame. If you make the panel smaller than the frame slot dimensions you solve the expansion issue, but now you have a panel that rattles in the frame.
I have made panels this way in the past with decent results, but found the best panels come from using a raised panel cutting bit in either my shaper or a good router and table setup. (It is not advisable to try to cut raised panels with a router that is not mounted in a table).
Great article otherwise!
I agree with you on panels made for rail and stile construction. The panels I made were for close-out panels in situations for access to the plumbing. If you made the raised panels out of 1/2″ material and the thin flange fit the slot in the frame you could use “space-balls” to take up the loose fit. Or make them out of 3/4″ with a back-cut of 1/4″ and a tapered that leaves a 1/4″edge.
Yes, I agree with Mark. Wood movement must be accommodated. I typically allow an 1/8″ for the panel to float between the rails and stiles. With out the flat “Land” at the edge of the panel and in the absence of a set of rail and sticking cutters one could capture the beveled edge of the panel installed in a butt jointed frame using an applied molding with good success. This however requires 4 more moldings per opening 8 miter cuts and some sort of backing or cleats behind the frame.
I use a Ritter triple Head shaper dedicated to raised panel work and working from field measurements can usually knock out a typical 60″x18″ tub front in MDF in less than two hours using pocket screws and Titebond to hold everything together. A quick trip through the timesaver to flush everything up and good to go.
Ovsuly, the same job executed in solid wood would require some glue ups and stock preparation adding to the time and cost
Of course Mark & John your point about wood movement is an important note of caution but in this case Chris is using MDF so movement is negligible. He is presenting a decent option for creating raised panels in the field or other than in a cabinet shop with equipment dedicated to that process.
If such panels needed to be made of wood it would be easy enough, even on a job site, to run a 1/4″ to 3/8″ flat around the edge of the hip with the table saw or a router that could be fitted into a rabbeted frame. The install would be different -not as easy as Chris’s technique described above. Also the look would be different as there would be a shoulder from the edge of the beveled hip to the new flat edge – a new shadow line around the panel – an interesting if unconventional detail.
Back to my original point though, for a paint grade MDF construction, Chris takes the mystique out of the process & shows us a way to do this with limited equipment, with good results.
I recommend that all surfaces be sealed to prevent any warping of the raised panels. The mdf will absorb moisture and start to flake and solid wood will warp with moisture levels different front to back.
Why not have a cleat on the bottom of this jig that registers in the miter slot on the table top??? Then make the jig the same length as the table from front to back and you can set the jig in the slot, line it up with the front/back of table and clamp it.. That way it will be always in the same location relative to the blade for every set up.. Much quicker than the measuring tape method used here I think..
I agree that the short edge cutting is scary as hell. It only takes one wrong move for that thing to add a new scar to your forehead.. Rather than clamping a guide to each work piece as Ray Menard suggests I think it would be easier and quicker over the long haul to make a push fence that you hang off the top of the jig for the short edge cuts??
I’ve been cogitatin’ on how to set up a top sled/panel clamp for 2 days. Not getting any closer to a simple & safe to repeat system. My best thought today is to make all the panels double wide – run 4 sides – remove the jig – rip the panel to width – run the 2 new long edges. Even if you are only making one panel it is worth the waste of MDF & a little bit of extra time, in the name of safety, to make the panel oversize at the start. With Oscar’s method of locating the jig in the table slot resetting the jig for another run of the resawn edges is a breeze. Hey with another 20+ comments will have this whole system work out & worthy of a patent.
Ray & Everyone else,
This article and video have taken on a life of it’s own. I am surprised by all the comments and suggestion. I hope this article leads to better and safer woodworking practices for everyone involved.
Great jig, great article and incredible video ! Lots of work from you to share this great idea.
It was really fun and an educational experience for all involved. I would do it again- no questions asked!!
Here is a very short video of cutting a raised panel on the table saw using 2″ high flexible springs , (no low feather board) and a blade tilted left.
As you see only the door moves along the fence and support angle.
An eighth inch rabbet on the back side can be done just as quick.
My angled poly support strip holds the wood appx. 1″ away from the fence and off the deck on a small rabbet cut into the strip. This eliminates the throat plate glitch problem. The support strip should be about 3′ long. I use a 4″ high sub fence.
What type of saw blade was used in your video.
I tried the same set up and the blade I used left burn marks on the wood.
Thanks for the response.
Is it 1/8″ kerf, 48 teeth? They list several on the web site
Chris your idea is really awesome, I did two little additions to your idea. I’m using a Makita 10″ model 2703X1 and what I did was, (by looking at the picture the red diagonal and horizontal arrow) I made the base of the jig so it laps over the miter guide groove approx 6″ and placed a strip right below. Then I added another piece to wrap over the rip fence so whenever I need to place my jig for use, all I do is set my angle for my panel cut and loosen the rip fence and everything comes together quickly. That way I have no hassle to prep and I just clamp the whole jig to the fence and raise the blade to its proper depth and its a breeze.
To date I’ve made well over 100 + kitchen cabinet doors all ranging from 12″ height to maximum height of 72″ and still going…Thanks again for this awesome idea of yours.
In reply to thread 13 of the original post Oscar Mann said “Why not have a cleat on the bottom of this jig that registers in the miter slot on the table top??? Then make the jig the same length as the table from front to back and you can set the jig in the slot, line it up with the front/back of table and clamp it.. That way it will be always in the same location relative to the blade for every set up.. Much quicker than the measuring tape method used here I think..” And thats exactly what I did and as I said before I wrapped the rip fence with wood and loosen the rip fence for quick settings, then lock the rip fence and clamp the wrapped part over the rip fence. Had I read the whole post I would’ve seen his article.
Now contrary to what people use for there angle which is approx 11 degrees, I use 17 degrees which works perfect for me using 3/4″ finished Teak lumber.
On another note, I live in the West Indies which is pure tropical and the type of lumber that I use is Teak which is air dried and also kiln (pronounced as kin) dried. So when I make my kitchen cabinet doors using stiles and rails and placing the raised panels into them I leave 1/16″ clearance, to that end I never have a problem with expansion and contraction.