How Much Gap Should I Leave Around Cabinet Doors?
Issue: Issue 302
Posted Date: 6/5/2012
I am building a jelly cabinet, which is half of a pie safe, using red oak. I am confused as to what the gap or reveal should be between the door and frame. A one-quarter inch reveal is recommended in some reference books, but that seems large to me. Then there are other sources, like the web, that suggest using 3/32" or 1/16". I'm leaning toward 3/32" because I don't want the door to rub on the frame. I am using butt hinges; don't think that would make a difference. So I would like to know, from someone with more experience than I, what should this gap be? - Paul Milot
Rob Johnstone: While there is no rule of thumb that I am aware of for reveals in this case, I am with you in thinking that a one-quarter inch gap all around your door is a bit excessive. One truth can’t be denied: you can always make a door smaller, but once it is made, it’s hard to make it bigger. I would make your door with about 1/8-inch reveal on all four sides. Put it in the opening and see how it looks. If you want more gap … you can make the door smaller — if not, you are ready to mount the hinges.
Tim Inman: One-quarter inch OVERALL would leave you with a one-eighth inch gap all around. That's about right. If you make the gap much bigger, it looks like sloppy work. If you make it any smaller, you'll end up with binding doors. I despise doors and drawers that bind and drag. There's no excuse for that in my book! Remember that, over time, your cabinet is likely to shift and go out of square. That little bit extra right now will provide a cushion or tolerance for imperfection later on - and will make your cabinet appreciated in the decades to come.
Chris Marshall: I always wonder what sort of wood other woodworkers are using when they advocate making solid-wood doors and drawers so tight as to barely leave a reveal. Evidently, they aren't working with the wood I use — the kind that expands and contracts across the grain. Sure, those tight reveals look fantastic during the winter when the wood has contracted, but boy will they cause problems in the middle of a muggy July! I agree with Rob and Tim: aim for 1/8-in. reveals, and you won't be disappointed. But, if you are making frame-and-panel doors where the panel "floats" inside the rails and stiles, you can get by with a tighter reveal. The doors won't expand and contract to any measurable degree.