Tombstone Doors Bennington VT
North Adams, MA
Hoosick Falls, NY
North Adams, MA
by Lonnie Bird
Through many years studying and building 18th-century furniture,I’ve learned that this era produced countless fine examples of gooddesign. One example is the arched-top door. Often called a tombstonedoor because its shape resembles a grave marker, the panel on this typeof door is curved at the top and is capped by a matching curved rail.The overall effect is quite elegant, as shown at left.
Fortunately,you don’t have to be a period furniture maker to incorporate tombstonedoors into your work. The design looks right at home with modernfurniture, or it can work with paneling or kitchen cabinets. In fact,you can use tombstone doors wherever you want to dress up an otherwiseplain cabinet. Eighteenth-century cabinetmakers used a variety oftombstone designs in their work. Fig. C shows four basic doors,illustrating simple to elaborate designs. I’ll show you how I make astandard arched-top door as shown in Figs. A and B.
Lay Out the Top Rail
Figure C shows four traditional types of doors, with different archconfigurations. I’ll be making the most common type, the standard,where the centerline of the arch is aligned with the shoulders of thefield. The other types of doors are made like the standard door, butwith differing layouts.
Planning an arched-top door begins with thetop rail. The panel is then made to fit. Make a full-size drawing ofthe top rail for each different width of door. Follow the steps in Fig.D. When you know the dimensions of the top rail, you can make theremainder of your cutting list.
Prepare Your Stock
As with any door, it’s very important that the stock be well-driedand stable. I store it in the shop for a couple of weeks to let itsettle before working with it.
I mill the frame parts to 7/8 in.thickness for a stout, traditional-looking door. Cut the stiles 2 in.extra-long for ease in gluing up the door. This results in “horns” thatwill be trimmed off later (Fig. A).
Cut the mortise andtenon joints for the frame. I chop the mortises in the stiles using ahollow-chisel mortiser, and saw the tenons on my tablesaw. When cuttingthe tenons on the top and bottom rails, cut only the face-sideshoulders (see Photo 1).
Shape the Frame
Draw the curve on the top rail, saw to shape (Photo 1) and sand the shape smooth (Photo 2).On traditional frame-and-panel doors like these, I prefer a moldedinside edge on the frame, called “sticking.” Rout the molded edge onyour top rail, bottom rail and stiles, using a 3/32-in. roundover bitin your router table (Photo 3). Use a starter pin in your routertable for the curved top rail, and a straight fence for the otherparts. Then groove the frame members to receive the panel (Photo 4), using a piloted slot cutter. Miter the molded edge on both rails and stiles (Photo 5),and cut the back-side shoulders on the tenons. Use a tablesaw to cutthe unwanted molded edge ...