Old raised-panel door that is coming apart at the joints. Old House Door Repairs:

Fixing A Separating
Rail And Stile Door

In This Article:

An old rail and stile door is clamped tightly while glue and pocket screws are applied too hold the pieces together.

Related Articles:
Skill Level: 2 (Basic) Time Taken: 1/2 Hour

By , Editor


Old rail and stile doors, also called raised panel doors, have a tendency to come apart. I believe most of these doors were glued together during manufacturing, so it's no surprise that the glue might fail after a century or so.

A bathroom door in this turn-of-the-last-century house had a bad case of separated sections. I suspect that the previous owners had long been dealing with a door that wouldn't shut, which does not make for good privacy. I decided to try fixing it, and I was surprised how easy it was. 

Gap between sections of raised-panel solid wood door. At the top of this old solid-wood door there was a big gap between the stile (the vertical side board) and the rail (the horizontal cross-piece).

Memory Aid: Rails are like ladder Rungs.


The gap, about 1/4", was especially visible from the end.


I used a tiny screwdriver to clean out the dust and dirt from the gap.


I applied a 5 foot long pipe clamp across the top of the door, just to see if it would be possible for the pieces of wood to fit together. I figured that something would jam up and prevent the pieces from mating smoothly. Using a pipe clamp to force door together for gluing.


I tapped on a scrap of wood to make some vibrations. This can make a big difference in how easily tight pieces of wood fit together.


I was surprised. The sections went together perfectly. It appeared that the top rail had slipped down in some other position for a while, judging by the marks on the finish (red arrow).


The gap closed right up. I was tempted to just drill some holes and screw this joint together, but I wanted to glue the joint too.


So I shoved a screwdriver into the joint and pried the pieces back apart.

I squeezed some carpenter's glue into the gap.

Filling joint with glue - rail and stile door that is splitting apart.


Then I used a tiny screwdriver to spread the glue.

Note that the raised panels are NOT supposed to be glued to the rails and stiles. The panels are supposed to be free to move slightly.


I applied pressure with the pipe clamp and wiped off the excess glue with a wet rag.

Note the wood blocks used between the clamp and the door. These prevent the clamps from crushing the wood and leaving a dent.


The Real Holding Power:

I laid a 1-1/2" long sheet metal screw on the face of the door to check the ideal placement. The screw head will need to be buried in the wood so it never interferes with the closing of the door.


I used a 3/8" spade drill bit to make a pocket hole.

I have this fancy Kreg Pocket Drill kit, which drill holes at an extremely low angle, but I forgot it at home. So I had to improvise with the tools on hand.

It's impossible to start a spade bit at a low angle, so I started drilling almost perpendicular to the end of the door.


Once the drill was started I leaned the bit over to the low angle I wanted.


I made two quick holes. I tried to angle the holes away from the face of the doors, so the drill bit would not break through the surface.


Then I drilled a pilot hole with a long thin bit. I can't remember the diameter of this bit, it might be 3/32". 


Then I drilled a larger clearance hole. This hole only goes through the first piece of wood.


I drove the screws in.


The heads were buried in about 1/4" of wood.


The door fit perfectly in the door opening.

The arrow indicates where the door was hitting. I wonder how many cumulative minutes and hours of nuisance the previous occupants endured from this rather minor problem.

I have some old rail-and-stile doors with similar separation problems, but they have been painted over many times. Removing old paint from the gap could be 3 or 4 times as much work as fixing the gap. 



Tools Used:

  • Cordless Drill/Driver
  • Spade Bit
  • Extra-Long Drill Bit
  • Pipe Clamp


Materials Used:
  • Sheet Metal Screws
  • Carpenter's Glue



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Written February 6, 2002