Why are doors typically designed with full length stiles instead of full width rails?

I'm building a two bin composter with side doors. The hinges will be on the face of the door (strap hinges) rather than the butt. With the materials at hand, I'll have less waste if I use full width rails on the doors. However, when I did some searching I found very few doors that were designed that way.

  • 2
    Partly I think this is just tradition. The the tradition is based on specific reasons. There are strength advantages to doing it this way but it also means there's less visible end grain surfaces on the finished door and in a lot of traditional woodwork they sought to hide end grain as much as possible.
    – Graphus
    Commented Jun 9, 2018 at 17:02
  • 1
    I believe the main reason is that it means you don't need super long clamps!
    – Jambo
    Commented Jun 9, 2018 at 19:30
  • @Jambo - just drawbore the tenons :)
    – aaron
    Commented Jun 11, 2018 at 18:24
  • Another consideration is that doors typically have more than 2 rails, so even if the top and bottom rails are full width, the ones in between will have to be shorter. This would be a bit more complicated in cutting and assembly, and probably a little funny looking.
    – Mark
    Commented Jun 13, 2018 at 21:11

2 Answers 2


The main reason for stiles traditionally being full length is because (on typical doors which open to the side) the hinges are mounted on the stiles, and the stress of opening and closing the door is concentrated where the hinges are, so the long-grain strength of the wood in that area works to your advantage.

Otherwise, that opening/closing stress would be concentrated on the hinges right near your mortise and tenon joint. The partial crosscut on the shoulders of the tenon would be in an area that has a lot of twisting stress, and cracks could develop.

  • Isn't this only a problem if the hinges are on the edge of the door?
    – Pikalek
    Commented Jun 11, 2018 at 18:36
  • Can you clarify what you mean by "the edge of the door?" Do you mean hinge type (e.g., butt hinge vs. knife hinge), or do you mean on the stile (so the door opens to the side, as most do) vs on the rail (so the door opens upward)? If you mean type, then knife hinges don't concentrate stress in the same way as other hinges do, but most other types of hinges will. If you mean that the hinge would be mounted on the top rail, then you'd want the rails full length for the same reason I mentioned above. Commented Jun 11, 2018 at 20:56
  • Sorry, my terminology / vocab is a bit weak. I by edge I was referring to something like a butt hinge. In contrast, the plans I'm working off of use strap hinges. If I understand you correctly, those would favor a full width rail.
    – Pikalek
    Commented Jun 12, 2018 at 14:02
  • No worries at all about terminology, I just wanted to make sure I was interpreting your question right. If you're planning on attaching the strap hinges to the rails, then full length rails should work great in your situation. Commented Jun 12, 2018 at 14:09

Consider expansion/contraction across the grain. If your stiles are flexing, then it's better to let them move independently, instead of having a rail top/bottom that isn't going to flex at the same rate. (You could design around this by pinning the outside and letting the tenon float toward the inside, but that probably makes a less substantial joint.)

Possibly as a side issue, windows and doors were made with "horns" on the bottoms of stiles, which were usually nipped off just before install. This wouldn't work with full width rails.

I suspect this design has leached into our collective consciousness to become the "normal" or "right" way to build something.

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    I don't understand this reasoning... in either case, you get movement. in one, its horizontal, in the other vertical. in any even, members are narrow enough (<6" in overwhelming majority) that we can usually neglect a lot of wood movement issues within tolerances provided by door reveals/margins.... and you can still have horns, just on the horizontal sides.
    – aaron
    Commented Jun 11, 2018 at 13:52
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    Uh, for something the size of doors expansion across something the width of a rail or stile is usually small enough that it doesn't need to be a concern (although as with most things, with modern wood that's less true than it once was). Re. the horns, those are a reinforcing measure for hand-cut mortises, to help prevent the short grain at the end of a mortise from blowing out when levering out chips.
    – Graphus
    Commented Jun 12, 2018 at 12:15

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