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Glossary Stiles and Rails

The "frame" parts of today's "frame-and-paneled-door". (For more on panel, click on the link.) The parts called "stiles" are the uprights, while the horizontal parts are the "rails". The center uprights are called "muntins". Stiles always run the full length of the door frame,with the rails fitted between them.

In doors, the stiles as either "hanging-" or "bingeing stile", and "closing-" or "shutting stile". In the case of double doors, stiles are known as "meeting stiles".

Since the 17th-century, stile -- sometimes also found as style -- refers to each of the vertical side pieces of a wainscot, sash, panel door, or other wooden framing.

The etymology of stile is not known, but -- according to the online Oxford English Dictionary -- possibly the term comes from Dutch stijl, "pillar, prop, doorpost". Since the 17th-century, in Britain, "stile" is generally used generally for the parts of furniture and other wooden fixtures noted above. Below are selections from a handful of historic accounts of stilea and rails in the vocabulary of cabinetmaking.

diagram of stiles, rails and panels

1678 Joseph Moxon Mechanick Exercises, or the Doctrine of Handy-Works I. v. 83

You must leave some stuff to pare away smooth to the struck line, that the Stile (that is, the upright Quarter) may make a close Joynt with the Rail (that is the lower Quarter).

1710 John Harris Lexicon Technicum

Stiles, the upright pieces which go from the bottom to the top in any Wainscot, are by the Workmen called Stiles.

17681774 A. Tucker Light of Nature (1834) I. 290

When we look upon the wainscot of a room, where the panels are painted of a different color from the stiles and moldings.

1824 John C. Loudon Green-house Companion page15

In the case of Grecian architecture, the moldings of any of the orders are readily applied to the styles, rails and bars.

1825 John Nicholson Operative Mechanic and British machinist; being a practical display of the manufactories and mechanical arts of the United Kingdom Philadelphia, T. Desilver, jun., 1831, page 589.

When strength, durability, and beauty are to be combined, frame, joined by mortise and tenon, is constructed with one or more openings; and these openings are filled with pieces called panels, fitted into grooves, ploughed in the edges of the frame. The horizontal pieces of the framing are called, according to their situation, top-rail, bottom-rail, lock-rail, and frieze-rail. On the lock-rail the lock is either mortised in, or screwed on; and the frieze-rail is an intermediate rail between the top and middle rail. The extreme critical pieces to which the rails are fixed are called stiles; and if there be any intermediate piece it is called a mounting.

1846 Charles Holtzapffel Turning & Mechanical Manipulation Volume II Construction, Action and Application of Cutting Tools Reprinted, Mendham, NJ: The Astragal Press, page 715.

In a rectangular frame, represented partly finished in figure [on left] ... the tenons are commonly made on the shorter pieces, called the rails, and the mortises, on the longer or the styles, which are always left somewhat longer than ultimately required, to prevent them from breaking out, either in making the mortises or in wedging up the frame. In carpentry, the panel is fitted in a groove, as at a, and is inserted or planted before the frame is glued up ; but in cabinet-work the panel is fitted in a rebate, as at b, and is fixed by slips of wood after the frame is finished.Holtzapffel's 1846 illustration for constructing stiles and rails

When the styles and rails have been planed up to their widths and thicknesses, (see pp. 498 to 503), the internal length of the frame is marked on the styles at l l, and the width on the rails at w w ; these lines are scribed on the four sides of each piece, with the square and scriber. The additional lines l'l' indicating the ultimate length of the style, are also marked.

[Holtzapffel's 1846 illustrator very vividly manages to capture the process of constructing stiles and rails]

Other Sources Consulted: Percy A Wells and John Hooper, Modern Cabinetwork, Furniture, and Fitments 1910, 1922 edition reprinted 2006, by Cambium Press, East Petersburg, PA; Vic Taylor, Woodworker's Dictionary Pownal, VT: Storey Communications, 1990; Jim Tolpin Working Wood: a Complete Bench-Top Reference Worcester, MA: Davis Publications, 1997.