Q: I have made some kitchen cabinets, and the doors are made of poplar frame with paneling in the middle. They are so bowed it is heartbreaking. How can I remedy this? Any suggestions will be gladly appreciated.
Chris Marshall: I wish there were an easy answer to your cabinet door problem, but I don’t think there is one. Here are a couple of suggestions to consider: If the panels are warped but the frames are flat — and you built the doors with tongue-and-groove joints holding the panels in place — you might be able to rout off the back lip that captures the panels in the frames and replace them. Then, nail the new panels back in with wooden retainer strips. But, I’m guessing that it’s the door rails and stiles that are bowed, which is a more perplexing problem. It’s possible that the wood wasn’t properly seasoned when you bought it and not fully dry, so now the poplar is taking on a bow as it dries. Or, you could just have some particularly unruly stock on your hands. You might be able to take the doors to a cabinet shop and have them run through a large belt sander to flatten the faces again, then refinish them. In the future, it’s very important to buy dry stock and let it acclimate to your shop environment for a few weeks before using it. Some woodworkers even do a preliminary round of surfacing, leaving it thicker than necessary and waiting a few more weeks before milling to final thickness. That way, the wood has plenty of opportunity to distort and reach equilibrium before it’s flattened and squared for the final time.
Rob Johnstone: Like Chris, I am a bit at a loss as to exactly what has happened to your doors. One idea that comes to mind is that you may have only finished one face of the doors. If that is true (or if one face has a heavy finish applied and the other face just a flimsy film), it may be unequal moisture absorption that is behind the distortion. (Although with frame and panel doors I confess it seems unlikely.) If it is the case, applying a good finish to the lightly sealed face may help. Another cause of warping in frame and panel doors is not allowing sufficient room for the panel to expand. If the panels completely fill up the groove in the door rails, when they expand, they have to go somewhere. I think that your best bet is to remake the doors with properly seasoned stock and sufficient space in the grooves for your panels to move. (And finish both faces equally!)