Cabinets 3: How to Make Cabinet Doors

In this article I will discuss some ways a person having the basic shop tools can build his own kitchen cabinet doors or China cabinet doors or even curio cabinet doors.

Diagram of cabinet doors showing front and side elevations.To start with, the easiest cabinet doors to make is a slab door made from plywood or MDF with the edges rounded over or profiled and a square pattern routered out in the center. When purchasing the plywood or MDF always buy a sheet that lies flat on the pile. This should give fewer problems with warping.

Similar to this style would be the same plain plywood or MDF with a small molding nailed and glued in the form of a pattern on the face of the door, such as shown on the left. Going a bit further, instead of routering a profile on the edge of the cabinet door, you could apply a small molding on the edge similar to applying square edging or tape. This is particularly useful to hide the grain of plywood. Keep the molding flush with the back of the cabinet door. I used this design with melamine, trimming it with oak molding. MDF, if painted, is an ideal material for cabinet doors since no grain appears on the edges. Be careful to include the thickness of molding in your measurements when cutting the cabinet door to size. The cabinet door should overlap the face frame or gable by about 1/2" to 5/8", depending on the hinges you have chosen.

Tall cabinet doors, as shown in the drawing, should have three sets of hinges along the side, shorter cabinet doors need only two. Come down from the top and up from the bottom of the cabinet door about 3" when installing the hinges.

For a face frame cabinet, if the Amerock style overlap hinges are chosen for design, they should be self closing and should come with screws for the front and back as well as little bumpers. Notice the screws are different for the front and back. The cabinet door should have a magnetic closer installed under a shelf and the plate on the door. Install door pulls or knobs on the cabinet doors as desired.

Photo of a shaker door.Raised panel cabinet doors are usually bought or made by those with expensive tools or router bits. I've designed a panel type of cabinet door which is quite easy for the handyman. Basically it is designed like a Shaker door with a 1/4" plywood panel surrounded by four sides that have been dadoed out to receive the panel. You can reveal the stiles to the rails, as shown, or sand smooth.

Diagram of a shaker door showing rail, stile, spline, dado, panel from front and side elevations.

The stiles and rails of the cabinet door are cut to length and then dadoed to fit the 1/4" plywood panel. A spline is inserted with glue into each corner to fill the dado and provide stability. The cabinet door unit is glued up and clamped together to dry overnight. Make sure the units are assembled on a flat bench and weighted down to keep them true and flat.

Diagram of a shaker glass door with butt joints joining rails and stiles.

To make a cabinet door with a glass panel instead of a plywood panel, which is ideal to show off your fine china in a kitchen cabinet or in a separate china cabinet or curio cabinet, dado the stiles and rails to fit the same splines as in the panel cabinet doors. Rip off the back side of the dado just around the perimeter of the glass panel. Leave the dado intact at the corners for the spline. Finish the rip in the corners with a sharp chisel. Rip a stop for the glass to fit in this rabbet, allow for the thickness of glass. If the glass breaks, the stop can be removed without having to throw the cabinet door frame away. Add a lattice of 1/4" thick bars about 5/8" wide. Glue the butt joints to the stiles and rails of the cabinet door, make them fit tight. An optional method would be to half-lap the lattice at their intersecting joints. Notice how the cabinet door stiles overlap the ends of the rails. Trim the splines off flush with the top and bottom and stain or paint the cabinet doors. The spline makes an added feature as seen from the top or bottom.

Before staining or finishing the cabinet doors and china cabinet, sand lightly all over. Plywood will come with what is called a mill glaze over it. This should be sanded off or roughed up, with the grain, so the stain will cover evenly - use a 120 grit sandpaper before you stain. One of the problems I have encountered with homeowners is that they sand a project too smooth before applying the stain. The pores of the wood are all closed from the fine sanding and won't let the stain penetrate. When the stain dries apply a Varathane clear finish in satin or semi-gloss, rather than gloss. Don't use a latex type of stain or Varathane, go with the oil based. I like the professional Varathane which dries quickly and leaves a nice finish with a brush, as long as the temperature is above 50 degrees F. I also prefer the gelled stain for furniture - rub it in with a rag. Let the stain dry, before coating with the clear finish.

My next article will discuss making formica counter tops for your kitchen cabinets. Also, have a look at my Buffet and China Cabinet plan for more ideas on making glass cabinet doors.


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