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Assembling the Pieces

Assembling a panel with so many joints is a difficult task when you have a helper, and nearly impossible if you don't.  Because I needed to be able to do the task myself, I broke the assembly down into manageable portions.

Forgive me, but I didn't get photos of every step - so bear with me if you would.  To start, I was able to glue each rail into one of the stiles, then set that aside to dry, planning to return to glue the other stile on later.  I did use a clamp to get them to fit tightly and while I drove the wedges into place - but after that, the slip fit along with the wedges was tight enough that once the rails in place I could remove the clamps.  I did leave the clamp in place on the bottom ones just as a precaution in case I bumped it while setting it down.  Make sure to use a clamp that won't damage the end of the tenon - I used some Jorgensen Cabinet Master clamps.

Once dry, I put them back up on the bench, inserted the panels where they were to go, and placed the other rail on top so it was ready to be glued into place (note the wedges on the bench in the lower left corner of the photo - to be mentioned later)

This step was the biggest reason I went with a wedged tenon.  Had they all been tight fitting tenons, there's no good way I could slip the rail in without damaging the tenon somehow.  The slots where the wedges fit give me a little slop so I can drive the rail home more easily, then add the wedges to tighten the joint.  I don't have the luxury of being able to do one joint at a time, like I did when gluing the stiles into the first rail - here, there's no choice but to do it all at one.

And, being I had to go fairly quickly, there are no direct photos of the sequence... but I think you can get the idea.  First, I set each door panel up just as above, with most of the tenon showing below the rail:

Having gone through and test fit each individual tenon, I knew each would fit, and that the slots for the wedges would give me a bit of room - it's still a good idea to check the fit anyway.  Its almost impossible to get it apart, so I don't actually push the rail on to the stiles, rather I just check the fit as it sits above.  If it looks like it will go, it should - remember, there should be about 1/8" clearance for these tenons that the wedges will close up.

I then fit the stile onto each tenon, making sure they were all started into their corresponding mortise.  Working quickly, I apply glue to all the faces I have access to, and also apply a thick bead of glue on the wall of the mortise at the top, spreading it out with a small stick as best as I can.  When all the surfaces have glue on them, I drive the stile onto the rails with my wooden joiners mallet, and use a pipe clamp at each stile to clamp the whole assembly together.  Watch that there is still access to the slot for the wedges, as they must be installed while the glue is still wet.

The wedges - shown in the above mentioned photo - are made by thicknessing some stock to the same thickness as the tenon, then cut freehand of them on the band saw.  The taper I use is similar to that used on dovetails, something like 1 in 7.  I used walnut here because it contrasts with the oak nicely, but nearly any wood will do.  They don't have to be anything fancy, but the end needs a point that will fit into the slot they are intended for.

Now that I have the stiles clamped in place, I dab a little glue on a wedge and drive it home into its prospective slot:

Note the tenon doesn't reach all the way to the outside of the mortise - I always oversize my outer stiles by an 1/8" or so, that way I can trim off what's gotten damaged while making them.  I also don't bother to wipe up the glue right away, as that would just spread it around - it's better to wait until the glue gets leather hard, then scrape it off.

Now's a good time for the first inspection of the visible parts for gaps.  Fill any larger ones first with glue and a sliver of wood, and trim off the excess with a chisel.  It's best to fill any larger gaps that you can while the work is still in a rough stage - it gives you the opportunity to remove any glue that might squeeze out onto the face of the wood.  The less glue you have to deal with on exposed surfaces, the better.

Once the gaps are filled, I trim the panel to it's finished size, and round off the edge with a 1/8" round over bit in a laminate trimmer, and inspect the exposed parts for gaps again - here's what I ended up with:

Not  too bad - but not perfect, either - I did have 3 or 4 small areas where tiny gaps appeared after trimming the doors to their final width.  I doubt you would have even been able to see them after staining the wood (I couldn't even photograph them well enough to be seen), but I took the time and filled them anyway - more for my own satisfaction than anything.  A bit of wood glue and fine sawdust (from sanding) to fill them does the trick nicely.  

The assembly is now ready for the next step, whether it be it planing, scraping, or sanding.  I must say that I really love the subtle look of these joints - they've always been on of my favorite things to find on a piece of furniture.  Well executed joints such as these always tell me that the maker has gone the extra mile to make something of good quality.   I only hope that can be said of what I've made here someday.

Here's a shot of the door in it's finished state, with a closeup of the end of one of the tenons inset on the right:

Thanks for reading!