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Cabinet Door Shrinkage and the White Line

One of the most common complaints about cabinetry through the years, especially in the dryer parts of the country like Colorado, is that the panels in the doors shrink and a white line shows up down the sides of the panel. Why is this? Raised panel doors are made of a wood frame and a separate center panel. This center panel is not glued in place and “floats” in the frame. This is done to allow the wood to shrink and swell with changes in humidity. If it was glued or held in place by pins or brads it would create havoc with the frame when it expanded or contracted and contort the door so that it wouldn’t open and close correctly.
When a door is stained after it is assembled the stain does not get all the way back into the edge of the panel concealed behind the groove in the frame. Thus, when the door panel shrinks you see the unstained area which looks white compared to the stained parts around it. This is most likely on doors that were finished during a time of high humidity or the door had a higher moisture content.
Note that this happens on panels made of solid wood. Doors made with veneered panels don’t typically have this problem because the core material of the panel is more stable and not affected by humidity.
Manufacturers who make cabinets doors with solid wood panels have several ways they deal with this. Some companies who stock doors ready for cabinets will store them in warehouses maintained at a specific humidity level. Many who make their doors to order will allow the wood to season and then test the raw wood for its moisture content to assure it is at an optimum level to avoid shrinkage. However, despite their best efforts these measures are not certain to control the issue. Due to the fact that a paneled door is made up of separate pieces it is impossible to completely seal the panel from air infiltration when they apply the finish coats. So, no matter how well prepped the panel is when air gets into the panel it changes the moisture content.
If a door is made in a moist climate, as is prevalent in many parts of the country, and then shipped to a dryer place it will most likely shrink (up to ¼” in some cases!). Once it is in the home it will then shrink and swell with the seasons. Humidity levels are typically lowest in the winter and many times the white lines only show up then and disappear in the summer.
The only sure cure for this is to stain the panel prior to assembly. However, I know of no major manufacturer that does this (at one time Wood Mode did but I don’t think they do anymore). It is simply not practical for them and they would have to charge a great deal more to do so because of the many additional steps it requires.
The only companies who can do this practically are small shops that can afford the time to do so. Here at The Cabinet Guy we do stain all panels prior to assembly on the doors that we make so this isn’t an issue for us or our customers.
If you do have these white lines you can help conceal them by wiping some stain on the line using a small paint brush or a stain pen (available at home centers and paint stores or from your cabinet supplier). After you have stained the line and it has dried you can bring up the gloss by applying some paste was or brushing on some lacquer or other type of varnish.
One other note. I recently had a client who had some cabinets with doors that were made in China. Most of the panels had shrunk by 3/8” to ½” and many had developed severe cracking. They were worse than anything I had ever seen. The cause of this turned out to be that they were shipped by boat in a container from China. These containers are huge steel boxes and during their 2-3 week journey the temperature can reach 150 degrees causing them to dry and shrink excessively. Fortunately most doors are still made in the USA and it is not likely that Asian manufacturers will corner this market for many practical reasons.

18 Comments to Cabinet Door Shrinkage and the White Line:

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roof trusses western Australia on Thursday, November 15, 2012 12:44 PM
Very good choice for me! I think that steel doors are very good for my home. Thanks!
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Sliding Garden Gates on Monday, July 8, 2013 11:31 PM
Yes, the steel doors are also good for the home. But, as we compared with the wooden they are not too much stylish.

garage door opener on Monday, December 10, 2012 3:43 AM
Aw, it was a top quality content. Actually I would like to write like this as well - taking time and real energy to bring about an excellent post… however what can I say… I procrastinate an awful lot and by no means appear to get things completed…
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Cool Room Shelving on Wednesday, January 9, 2013 1:29 AM
Cabinets is very important part of home furniture..I have bookmarked this website and I will keep visiting you for further such interesting posts.
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Dorian Mailhot on Saturday, January 26, 2013 12:10 AM
Good blog Geoff Dunn! The thing is that you have said the true things about Cabinet Door Shrinkage and the White Line because already i am using this door in my house. So keep it up! Thanks
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Raised Floors on Thursday, February 7, 2013 10:26 PM
Hi! This blog gives accurate and precise information about the cabinet doors, I was looking for. Thanks for sharing.
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hinges on Wednesday, February 13, 2013 1:29 AM
I thank you for sharing this very nice information. I always want and love reading quality contents. Keep sharing. Best wishes for your further efforts.
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arts courses on Saturday, March 16, 2013 2:16 AM
I am sure that the informative you shared through your post is useful for people. I am impressed with the way of writing. It kept connected me all the time. Keep up the good work.
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Lipozene Reviews on Friday, April 26, 2013 6:09 AM
This blog post really grabbed my attention. With that said I am going to subscribe. Therefore I will get more updates on what you have to say. Please keep writing as I want to learn more.
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Geoff on Tuesday, October 22, 2013 5:09 AM
Thanks to all of you for your responses. I am glad these blogs are proving useful to people around the world.

Kitchen Cabinet Doors on Monday, October 7, 2013 9:46 PM
This problem can be greatly reduced by doing a regular maintenance of door with paint.
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Kitchen Cabinet Doors on Tuesday, October 8, 2013 5:48 AM
Nice post on Cabinet doors, Kitchen as it must be remodel,Nice to know about updates,I am impressed with the way of writing. It kept connected me all the time. Keep up the good work.
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Zilvinas on Saturday, October 19, 2013 1:38 AM
Your solution is only good for small shops. And if some customers want to buy UNIFINISHED doors this option doesn't work. Some Italian, German companies do have the solutions for selling (un)finished doors that do not schrink/expand in panel... maybe some chemical stabilisation. Searching for this last few months. Drop me me an email to zilvinas@kazliskes.lt in case someone wants to discusss other solutions.
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Geoff on Tuesday, October 22, 2013 5:25 AM
In general you only see small shops do this however Woodmode Cabinetry in PA have been making doors this way for many years and they are a multi-million dollar manufacturer. In fact, that is where I first learned of the process. One option you can try is if you are ordering unfinished doors is to have the door manufacturer make door frames prepared for glass and have them make separate panels which you insert into the back after finishing.

Jayne on Sunday, January 26, 2014 6:20 AM
What happens if I cannot get the gel pen to stain the white line? We are having alot of shrinkage with the island....my brother inlaw actually stained the cabinets and restained them, but now a year later more shrinkage....I bought minwax gel pens in expresso and cannot get it the stick!? What do I do?
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Geoff Dunn on Sunday, January 26, 2014 6:41 AM
The problem is that when the doors were sprayed with the clear varnish the force of the spray drove the clear finish under the frame and sealed the wood which is now exposed. Gel stains will not adhere to a finish like that unless they are sanded really well. So, you have 2 options. 1) Get a solvent base stain at Sherwin Williams (or some other professional paint supplier) that is close and carefully wipe the stain on with Q-tips (test it on the back first!). The solvent in the stain will soften and dissolve the finish so that the stain adheres. Once it dries then put some paste wax on (Johnson's, Minwax, Bree-wax, etc) to bring up the sheen. 2) Order a PrepPen from Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Prep-Pen-PrepPen-Adjustable-Sanding/dp/B000J18RT6/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1390743198&sr=8-1&keywords=prep+pen) or buy one at an automotive paint supply store and use it to sand down the white line to get the finish off. Then the gel stain should adhere. Solution #1 is the best way to do it but the most expensive since you have to buy a quart of stain at about $25. The pen is $9 + shipping. Let me know how it goes.

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