Replacement Kitchen Cabinet Doors — An Alternative to New Cabinets

by Tim Layton on February 19, 2010 Google+

in Doors,Kitchens

“I need a new kitchen!” These words are often spoken with some combination of feelings. These might include excitement, anticipation, and maybe a bit of old-fashioned fear! Fear of the work being too hard, fear that the cost will be too high, and fear of a bunch of contractors making life way too complicated!

I’ve got an idea for you today that might help put some of those concerns at ease. An idea that works for anyone looking to remodel a kitchen on a budget. Especially those who like the layout they already have. Here it is: Rather than replace the whole set of cabinets, try replacing just the doors.

White Flat Panel Replacement Cabinet Doors

Replacement Kitchen Cabinet Doors Are Nothing To Fear

Most of this article is focused on the DIY approach to this job, but these same ideas can work to save you money if you want to hire a capenter, cabinet maker, or contractor.

No matter your approach, replacement kitchen cabinet doors will save you a bundle of money as compared to new cabinets.

Cabinets Doors Are Most Of What You See

Take a look at your kitchen cabinets. What percentage of visible surface is doors? If you have a European style cabinet, it may be 100%, but even for a traditional design, the percentage is very high. The simple fact is that the visual component of cabinets is heavily focused on the doors.

Cabinet Doors are 90% of what you see!

This means that new cabinet doors will result in a visual impact very similar to a whole new cabinet! That said, a good bit more work is required to really complete the job. But it is all something you can totally do yourself.

This article is meant to be a relatively comprehensive overview of the various components of this job. We’ll start with the doors, move on to the process of updating the fixed components of your cabinets, and then finish with a brief overview of the hardware you’ll need.

Cabinet Doors – Make Them, Buy Them, or Have Them Made

Make Your Own Cabinet Doors

If you’re of the adventerous sort and have a fair dose of woodworking skill, you might be wondering if you can make your own cabinet doors. Of course the answer is yes! But the level of skill and tools required varies widely with the type of door you want to use.

Simple Plywood Cabinet Doors

Plywood can have voids, or be void free.The most basic cabinet door you can make is so simple, you can do it in about ten minutes! It’s only a matter of cutting a sheet of quality plywood to size. For the most basic form, that’s actually pretty much it.

  • Cut the plywood to size.
  • Sand the edges and faces.
  • Paint it or finish it.
  • Done!

Depending on your experience with plywood, you may be thinking: what about the big gaps in the edge of the plywood? You know what I mean, you cut a sheet of plywood and when you look at the edge, there are openings in the inner plys, sometimes quite large. These are called voids.

There are two options for that: the first is to use wood filler to fill these gaps prior to painting or finishing. The second, that you might not be aware of, is to buy plywood that doesn’t have that to begin with!

Plywood is available in various quality levels and one of the measures of quality has to do with the “voids”. You can buy plywood that is 100% void-free.

A Step-Up From Simple Plywood Cabinet Doors

No matter how high-quality your plywood is, it can be very difficult to make the edges appear totally smooth. Most simple plywood doors don’t totally cover the plys on the edge. You see the lines.

If that doesn’t sound like something you would like, there are a couple of easy alternatives.

  1. ImageYou can use a glue-on edge band
  2. or you can install a solid wood edge.

Glue-On Edge Band for Plywood Doors

Edge Banding is about as simple as it gets. Most of it has heat activated glue and, are you ready for this, you iron it on. With a regular iron. I’ll never forget the time we were building a huge set of top-dollar cabinets and our professional iron broke. I had to run to Wal-Mart and buy a regular clothes iron to finish the job. That was the most non-tool looking tool I ever purchased!

You just roll the banding on the edge, heat and press with the iron, let the glue set for awhile, then trim the excess off the edge with a sharp razor blade. A light sanding on the edge and the whole door looks like a slab of solid wood.

Solid Wood Strips On The Cabinet Door EdgeImage

If you want to keep your DIY replacement kitchen cabinet doors simple, but you don’t like the look of a flat slab, you can add some depth and visual interest by adding a wood strip to the edge that protrudes a little beyond the face of the plywood.

By cutting your plywood panel 1.5 inches less than the size you want in the end, you can simply add some stock 1-by material (3/4″ thick) to the edge and meet your finished size easily.

This looks nice if you allow the edge strip to protrude a little. About 1/4″ looks nice. So if you’re using 3/4″ thick plywood (recommended for cabinet doors), you would use 1″ x 3/4″ wood strips for the edge.

Flat Panel Cabinet Doors

ImageAnother step-up on the time/effort/skill scale is a nice flat-panel door. Rather than a solid plywood structure, these doors are made in a more traditional style using five parts.

  • Stiles – on either side of the door
  • Rails – at the top and bottom
  • Panel – the insert that fills the center of the door

There are a number of tutorials online that show how to make these doors at varying levels of detail and using graduating degrees of complex joinery and woodworking techniques.

One simple manner that I’ve used in the past is taking a solid 1×4 and cutting what’s known as a rabbet on the back edge, 1/4″ deep by 3/4″ wide, which creates a space for a flat panel. You can use plywood, mdf, or even a chalkboard for this flat panel insert.

Raised Panel Cabinet Doors

As flat panel doors are a step-up from simple plywood doors, so raised panel doors are a step-up from flat panels. As such, the whole concept really requires its own article and tutorials! Suffice it to say that the concept is very similar to flat panel in terms of door construction, and the complexity is mostly involved in the construction of the panel itself.

All of these doors are something that you can build yourself and when you install them, you’ll have a great new kitchen.

Buy Replacement Cabinet Doors

If you want to do the finish work yourself and install them yourself, you can still save a fortune with much less work by buying replacement cabinet doors from a company that specializes in this niche.

I’ve bought at least four or five kitchens full of doors from one particular company who provides great doors, but there are dozens (at least) that do nothing but build cabinet doors.

The company I’ve used in the past is Walzcraft, but there are many more listed online.

These companies all have huge selections and all you have to do is give them the measurements, select a style, and decide if you want them to do the finishing.

Pay your money (it can add up!) and a few weeks later a huge pile of boxes show up full of beautiiful cabinet doors.

Have Them Made

ImageThe last option is similar to the previous, but what I’m referring to here is going to a local cabinet maker or woodworker and having them make your replacement doors for you, with the understanding that you’ll finish them and install them. (or have them finish the doors for you!)

This option is nice because you can have more control over the design details. You can probably make your own design combining edge details, wood species, panel shape, and other factors to really make the door you want (though all those options are available from the big companies too).

If you want to really incorporate something unique, such as a wood carving or some stained glass you already own, this is the way to go.

Interestingly, it’s very possible that having the doors custom made locally might actually cost less than ordering them from a larger company. The trick to that is shopping around and knowing what the market price is for what you want.

What About The Rest Of The Cabinets When Replacing Doors

When you replace your cabinet doors, you cover the vast majority of the visible component of the cabinets, but not everything. What do you need to do to the rest to make it all look like new?

The answer depends on the style of your cabinets. They might be European Style or Face Frame (or a few varieties of these).

European Style Cabinets – generally consist of a plywood box with no face on it. If you remove the doors, you don’t see anything but the inside of the cabinets. These require the least work when replacing cabinet doors.

Face-Frame Style Cabinets – this style is more traditional and probably more common overall. With the doors in-place, you see some flat solid wood between your doors, usually a couple of inches or so. This wood is called the “face frame”. These type cabinets require a bit more effort when using replacement doors.

The Common Thread

Really, the gist of what is necessary between the two styles is the same. Anything that’s left when the doors are removed, or anything that is visible with them installed that isn’t part of the doors, has to be refinished to match your new doors, or to accent them the way you want.

The good news is that usually this is pretty do-able work. Especially if you’re painting your cabinets rather than staining them.

Installing The Doors

I’ve done these myself a number of times and I can tell you, it’s really not that terribly difficult. The market is full of custom tools and jigs, and you might be told you need a drill-press or other special machine. Sure, those things help, but not having them doesn’t mean you can’t do the job!

For regular exposed hinges all you really need is a drill with a tiny drill bit (for predrilling), a screwdriver (a hand screwdriver works fine), a tape measure, and a pencil.

For concealed hinges, you’ll need to add what’s known as a “forstner bit” to the mix for drilling a large flat bottom hole in the back of the door. This is a step you want to be extra careful with! No drilling huge holes all the way through!

To avoid that, you can mark the bit at the proper depth for your hinges. A scrap of lumber is good for a little trial and error testing before you start on your fancy new doors!

The End Result: A kitchen that looks brand new and a wallet with a few dollars left!

If you’re considering a kitchen remodel, think about replacement kitchen cabinet doors as an option!

Questions? I know that this is an undertaking with more questions than I’ve answered here. I’ll be adding more information as I can (might even do a bit at my house and show you) and eventually I’ll have the whole process detailed on the blog. But in the meantime, if you want to do this in your house and you have questions, please feel free to leave your question in the comments and I’ll get to it as quickly as I can.

One good way to be sure you don’t miss updates to this category is to subscribe to Remodeling Guy in a feed reader. It’s free and, at least in theory, you won’t miss a single new detail!

Article by Tim Layton

{ 4 comments }

1 Cheryl February 20, 2010 at 9:12 am

Good post Tim. I stumbled on a blog recently where a couple was redoing their kitchen. They liked the layout for the most part, so chose to redo the cabinet doors. They used MDF that was laser cut to make a nice cabinet front. The result was very professional looking. I will post the link for ya…i have to find it again first.
.-= Cheryl´s last blog ..A beautiful home tour =-.

2 Cheryl February 20, 2010 at 9:29 am

Hey Tim,
here is the blog I was talking about.
http://www.recapturedcharm.com/2010/01/kitchen-chronicles-part-3-working-with.html
I have never seen this before. Wonder where you get MDF laser cut?
.-= Cheryl´s last blog ..A beautiful home tour =-.

3 Melissa February 20, 2010 at 2:33 pm

The sides of my kitcen cabinets aren’t real wood but some kind of laminate or something. What are my options for refinishing them?
Thanks for all the great ideas!

4 Jon May 18, 2013 at 11:47 am

My current cabinets are face frame that revel about an inch or so around each drawer and door. Is it possible to go to a eurpean style that will hide most if not all of the face frame?

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