First set of panel doors

2 simple panel doors, roughly 26" x 21", made of 1/4 Birch Ply and 1x3 Oak. I guess the first question should be, are they too big for one panel? Should I be looking at putting a slat across the middle to help with rigidity?
I don't have a router table, and I am skeptical of my ability to line up tongues and grooves well enough. I wondered if I could make the rails and stiles both with grooves, using small "splines" (if that's the right word) to join them together. I looked online and found a video that suggests just that.
I've got lots of puzzlements. The first is, how deep should I make the grooves? Is 3/8" deep enough? If so, it would be pretty easy to cut "splines" from the same Oak 1x3, since they'd need to be 3/4" wide.
Here's my "off the top of my head" plan.
Do the math, based on the groove depth I choose. Cut the Oak rails and stiles to length. Rout the grooves. (could it be better to rout the full lengths of the stock, then cut to length?) Make the splines. Cut the panels. Should I make them a hair small, I wonder? Or is there something to be gained by having them fit right to the bottom of the groove? Prepare the various surfaces, BEFORE assembly. I assume that any kind of sanding/scraping/planing will be pretty difficult once I glue up the doors. Ease the edges and corners. Glue up the doors, (including gluing in the panel edges I think), clamping the rails and stiles flat on a flat surface in addition to across the width of the door. Struggle with finishing, as usual.
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On 11/3/2011 2:35 PM, Greg Guarino wrote:

Those are well within being ok as single panels.

Certainly can....a contrasting wood can even make them a feature if cut thru.
...

That's plenty for a ply panel--it should be 1/16" short on each edge or thereabouts.

Cut them to length as wide stock, then rip to width.

Don't have TS? I'd use it instead. But, it certainly shouldn't take more than an hour or so to make a perfectly suitable router mount for as simple a job as this if that's what you've got to use.

Yes, no, and lots to lose, nothing to gain, respectively... :) Even ply moves _some_ and if tight, it'll either buckle it or pop the joint(s).

Absolutely not the latter, at least more than a single point on one side and I don't do that. You can use the panel "space balls" or some homebrew variation of same to prevent panels from rattling around (see Rockler catalog amongst many others for specifics if don't know what that is).

Assemble on a flat surface, indeed. But, if stock is finished square and true, the door should glue up flat and w/o twist. Trying to achieve that by forcing it into a plane if it isn't will not succeed long term. On key is to dry fit and then don't over-clamp--if it fits, all it takes is pulling the joints together and holding them there; if it doesn't it won't matter how hard you force it, it'll not last long.
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About 4 years ago, I adopted a new method of clamping my stile and rail doors. I place a clamp on the backside of the door to pull the stiles toward the rail, and then use spring clamps to clamp the stile to the bar clamp. I then release the pressure on the bar clamp momentarily to let the spring clamps press the stiles to the rail and then re-tighten. I do the same procedure on the other end of the door, but also use a clamp to squeeze the bottom rail toward the panel, making it slightly tight.
Another helpful hint from Heloise, when I apply my glue to the rail joints, I use cheap school watercolor brushes to spread the glue so that it doesn't go where I don't want it, which is toward the panel. I feel like this also spreads the glue more evenly for a better joint. I stole, shamelessly, this from a discussion in Woodweb, where this dude was using flux brushes. He said it really solved a bottleneck in production.
I also use wax paper scraps between the door and clamp, where there is any glue. This prevents those dreaded black spots. A cabinetmaker who was my first mentor in the 80's used newspaper and it seemed to work. But he didn't use a brush to apply glue and I remember going for years having to use a utility knife to remove the squeeze-out in those little corners.
One minor detail which is imperative to remember is to put a framing square on the door while the glue is still wet and diagonally clamp the door if necessary to achieve a square door.
I know you are experienced and I like your helpful attitude. I just wanted to throw this in for the benefit of others who might benefit from my missnakes in the past, which have been many.
woodstuff
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On 11/3/2011 10:37 PM, woodstuff wrote:

You don't have a picture of this setup, do you? I'm not certain I'm visualizing it correctly.

Sounds like a good idea. I may even have some flux brushes.

Also good. I'll raid the kitchen cabinet. Is this better than packing tape?

A really obvious step... that I could easily have forgotten in the haste I sometimes find myself in when glue is involved.

Yup. Getting your mistakes second-hand is the best way.
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Splines in grooves is a good utilitarian approach. Yes 3/8" deep. If you do your grooves tight to the thickness of the ply you can make your splines from the ply too. Cut the panels 1/8" undersize Do not glue the panels in, let them float Lite pressure to glue up, there is not a plane that needs pressure in this setup Use epoxy or poly glue if the splines are loose
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On 11/4/2011 2:35 AM, SonomaProducts.com wrote:

No one is going to see the tops and bottoms of these doors. Still, I think it would bug me to see that. I am also not sure I will get the groove "tight". I've been musing on that very thing, actually. Someone suggested using a slot cutter that is smaller than the ply thickness(1/8" say), in two passes, experimenting on scrap until you get a good fit. I'm not sure if I'll go to that trouble. Maybe.

Two people have suggested this so far. I tend to overtighten things in general, so that's useful advice. I think I can see why it would be a mistake in this case.

Hmmm. I think I can make the splines fit snugly, as I will be cutting them myself. But do you mean that those types of glue fill gaps?
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Yep they fill gaps. Epoxy better than poly. PVA (normal wood glue) does not do gap filling.
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A piece of mdf and a 2x4 for a fence make a fine router table.
Using a basic slot cutter with a 1/4" cutter will work fine for your needs.
With a little practice you could even do it with a hand held router but a simple table is much easier.
Here is a simple router table:
http://www.woodworkingtips.com/etips/etip040700wb.html
You can also cut your grooves with a table saw quite easily.
Here is another approach using the splines you mentioned.
http://www.woodworkingtips.com/etips/etip010511sn.html
On 11/3/2011 3:35 PM, Greg Guarino wrote:

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All good suggestions. If you build a quicky router table you could then use a slot (groove) cutter and partner tenon (tongue) cutter or go with full blown cope and stick router bit set. Either way you get to spend lots of money on router bits. ;^)
Heck, you might as well buy a whole router table setup. I can suggest the Woodpeckers large size phenolic top with steel table, sidwinder router lift, super fence and variable pressure feather boards. I am loving mine.
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Why heck! One could buy a used industrial shaper for as much. And maybe a power feed as well with the left-over "spare change". There be lots of this stuff floating around these days with cabinet shops closing up daily. Shaper cutters can cost less than router bits also, staying sharper longer and doing the job better.
I made an extension to my table saw in the 80's that has a Porter Cable base attched underneath that has been the only router table I have needed. I've never done sticking, coping, or panel raising with a router, though I have done some back-cutting on panels with a router at times.
For me, I found that a 5.5 mm slot cutter is closer to the thickness of 1/4" plywood so there is no slop. I use 1/4" cutters on raised panels.