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Make a Kitchen Cabinet Door

Similar to Making a Picture Frame; Design it, Build it, and Apply Wood Finishing Techniques

© 2008 by Kelly R. Smith

Photo of Kelly R. Smith

A kitchen cabinet door

A kitchen cabinet door

This article was updated on 05/14/21.

This article explains what a DIY’er needs to know about building kitchen cabinet doors. It discusses wood selection, finish selection, and types of hinges and cabinet hardware. It’s a great woodworking project and well within the reach of anybody with some basic woodworking tools and skills.

New Construction or Remodel?

Kitchen cabinet doors sustain a lot of use on a daily basis, yet get little respect. Actually, the one time they get any mention at all is when they don’t close properly.

Perhaps you’re building kitchen cabinet doors since your old ones gave up the ghost or maybe you’re installing new cabinets and need to put your distinguishing touch on them.

Also, there will be times when you’re refinishing kitchen cabinets that one door is just not salvageable. In this case, you’ll have to duplicate the old one.

Kitchen Cabinet Refacing

Kitchen cabinet refacing is a term you will hear often among remodeling contractors. This is a viable alternative to completely replacing built-in cabinets. Just the doors and the hardware are updated. This saves money on both materials and labor (if you choose to hire a contractor rather than DIY). There are many styles to choose from.

Planning Kitchen Cabinet Door Finish

The initial thing to take into consideration is what kind of a wood finish product you planning to use. For a natural finish such as tung oil, varnish, or polyurethane, the cabinet door wood should match the cabinet wood.

If you insist on them being different, keep them consistently different and while maintaining an overall consistent theme.

In order to match, the wood should be the same so that the grain and color is respectably similar. For instance, oak has a characteristic “pin” looking grain, but few oak varieties are the exact color. Oak ranges from bleached to darkish red.

Speaking of matching wood color, it’s almost impossible to find exactly the right shade of commercial wood filler, even given the vast selection that Minwax provides.
Finish Carpenter Tip: Achieve perfection. Make your own inexpensive custom wood putty that will match your project exactly.

If you’re building kitchen cabinets or doors yourself, and not prefab, know that kitchen cabinet doors use a boatload of trim. If the bankroll is an issue, avoid pecan, walnut, oak, and the like, and check out poplar. It's a beautiful wood with yellow and purple highlights. This hardwood is easy to work with, takes woodworking glue well and best of all, is affordable.

The Architecture of a kitchen Cabinet Door

Your basic kitchen cabinet door is a flat slab of wood, or more commonly, plywood with a veneer, usually with some beveled edges, and hinged to your cabinets so that it covers your cabinet’s openings.

If you’re after more sophisticated cabinet doors, think of the cabinet door as a picture frame. But you’re not constrained to glass, a backing of the wood the cabinet is constructed from is common as well.

Detailed Layout and Construction Instructions

The actual construction details are covered in depth in this article on building a recessed medicine cabinet. Many photos are included for simplification.

The average cabinet door is made of a frame which is constructed to fit just inside the cabinet opening, with molding surrounding the edges to lend a decorative effect and to be a stop, making it flush to your cabinet, and maybe an inlay; this will give the door depth.

Cabinet Door Construction
Cabinet door under construction

Hardware for Cabinet Doors

All your cabinet doors have hinges. There are many styles available on the market today and they’re quite affordable. You may use hinges that are recessed, spring loaded, flush mounted, etc. The more complex the hinge is, the more complex the installation will be.

What’s the Catch?

Your cabinet doors will need to have some catches. There are fundamentally two kinds of catches: magnetic and friction. The basic idea is to keep the doors snug within their frames. This keeps the doors from swinging wide open unexpectedly. It will also keep your family pet(s) from exploring your food hidey-hole.

If you have a toddler, there are a slew of products on the market intended to baby-proof kitchen cabinets. This isn’t only a recommendation; it’s an obligation. In fact, it is every bit as important as the rest of your home security systems.

Finishing Your Cabinet Doors

There are quite a few good methods to finish cabinet doors. Doors should be finished the same way the cabinets are. If they’re going to be painted, make sure to use a high quality primer. Then finish them using a gloss, semi-gloss, or satin sheen paint. For an extremely smooth finish, use an airless paint sprayer.

The most attractive cabinets are finished with a clear finish that showcases the expensive hardwoods that were used in their construction.

You can stain kitchen cabinet doors prior to applying the finish coat if you like, or just finish with tung oil, polyurethane, or varnish. In my opinion,Tung oil is recommended for kitchen situations because it has excellent water repellant properties. Spar varnish is also an excellent choice.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at Considered Opinions Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Do you need an article or blog post written? I offer these services at reasonable rates. Contact me for a quote!

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