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Building Your Own Cabinet Doors: Part 1

You want a new look for your kitchen but aren’t ready to plunk down $20,000 or more for a total kitchen remodel. If the cabinets are in good condition one option would be to reface the cabinets and install new cabinet doors and drawers. Now you could purchase your doors from a cabinet builder or a home store or you could build them yourself. Cabinet doors are not all that difficult to build with some patience, the right tools and a little know how.

This article will instruct you on how to build your own cabinet doors. We will be building cabinet doors for traditional face frame style cabinets. Later articles in this series will deal with building drawers, re-facing the cabinet carcasses, and building countertops.

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There are many ways to build cabinet doors. You may like slab doors, frame and flat panel doors, or frame and raised panel doors. Slab doors can be the simplest cabinet doors to build but are often the least desired these days. A simple and stylish cabinet door that you can build is the frame and flat panel door. Most wood working workshops likely already have most of the tools needed to make these doors.

The minimum tools you will need are a table saw, and a router mounted in a router table. With the router table I suggest using a coping sled for safety when making the cuts for the cope joint. You need a set of cope and stick router bits to cut the joints. You will also need an assortment of pipe clamps or bar clamps that can handle up to about 24 inch wide doors. It is helpful to also have a thickness planer and an edge jointer but not necessary if you purchase lumber that is surfaced on all four sides.

Lets get started building your new cabinet doors. One note before we begin, please follow all safety rules when using your tools. If you are not familiar with the tools needed, practice on a few easier projects to get a feel for the tools before building your cabinet doors. Take your time and enjoy the work. The pleasure is in taking your time and building something you will be proud of.

Red oak is a very popular wood to build cabinets with. Other woods that are often used are maple, birch, poplar, elm and even knotty pine. I chose red oak for my cabinet doors. You will also need to purchase a sheet of ¼” red oak plywood for the panels. White oak is slightly different but is just as beautiful. I do not suggest mixing white and red oak in the same project although some woodworkers say that it can be done without notice.

Begin by looking for boards with lots of straight grain. It is more expensive to buy but buying rift sawn oak will maximize the amount of straight grain you get from a board. Straight grain is important because it will minimize the natural seasonal movement of the wood from temperature and moisture changes. Straight grain boards also give a more consistent look.

If you have purchased rough sawn boards you will need to joint a straight edge and flatten one face. You can then take the board to your surface planer and plane to a thickness of ¾”. If you do not have a jointer and a surface planer, most mills or lumber yards can surface your boards for you for an additional charge. Another option is to purchase boards that are surfaced on all four sides; you will commonly find this at home stores.

Once you have your boards surfaced to a thickness of ¾ of an inch it is time to move to the table saw. Begin by ripping your boards to a width of 2″. Some may prefer a width of up to 2 ¼” or more, but I like the look of 2″ wide boards for my frames. If you will be making curved or cathedral doors you will need to rip some boards up to 3″ to 3 ½” wide. We will not cover cathedral doors in this article but at a later date I will cover this popular style of cabinet door.

We need to dig out the tape measure and measure the openings in your cabinets that you will be building doors for. For openings larger than 16″ to 18″ in width I prefer to make two doors to cover that size opening. The math gets a little more involved when making the double doors but still not difficult. Once you have measured the width and height of the openings and have written the dimensions down it is time to do a bit of math.

For single overlay doors you will need to add 1″ to both the width and height of the opening to allow for a ½” overlay on all four sides. For double doors you will need to add 1″ to the height and ½” to the width of the door. Here is an easy formula to follow for both.

For single doors use this formula. Width of opening + 1″ = Width of door. Height of opening + 1″ = Height of door. For double doors you will take the total width and divide for two doors. Use this formula for double doors. Width of opening divide by 2 + 1/2″ = width of one door. Use the same height formula above for single doors to determine the height. Remember for double doors you will be making two identical doors to cover one wide opening.

Let’s use some actual numbers to illustrate the above formulas. We have a wide opening of 28 ¾” wide by 18 ¾” high. This is too wide of an opening to build just one door to cover. The door would not be pleasing to the eye so let’s cover this opening with a set of double doors. Here are your formulas: 28 ¾” / 2 + ½” = 14 7/8″. This is the width of both doors. For the height let’s assume the opening is 18 ¾” high. Your formula is as follows: 18 ¾” + 1″ = 19 ¾”. Now we know that we will be building two cabinet doors to cover this opening that are 14 7/8″ wide by 19 ¾” high. Now right next to this opening is another opening that measures 16 ½” wide by 18 ¾” high. Simply add 1″ to each of those dimensions to build a door that is 17 ½” wide by 18 ¾” high.

Now a bit more math and we will get back to the fun stuff of cutting and building. Using the example above we will cut the vertical pieces from the 2″ wide stock to a length of 19 ¾”.

Now for the horizontal pieces you need to do a bit of math. Again here is a simple formula to use. Assuming the width of your verticals is 2″ as I suggested you will take the width of the door and subtract 4″ since you will have two verticals per door. Now add ¾” to that figure to allow for the cope joint cut you will make with the router. Most cope and stick router bits will cut a 3/8″ groove with a 3/8″ tongue on the cope joint. Since you will cut a cope joint on each side of the horizontal frame pieces 3/8″ multiplied by two is ¾”.

Let’s take the door that will be a finished width of 14 7/8″ and figure the horizontal frame pieces length. Here is your formula: door width 14 7/8″ – 4″ + ¾” = 11 5/8″. Thus you will be cutting two horizontal frame pieces for each door that are 11 5/8″ by 2″.

Now make a cut list for the double doors. You will need four vertical frame pieces that are 19 ¾” cut from the 2″ wide stock you prepared earlier. You will also need four horizontal frame pieces that are 11 5/8″ cut from the same 2″ wide stock.

We will move back to the table saw in Part 2 of this article. Look also for a slide show that I made illustrating the different steps in making the doors. If you are a bit overwhelmed at this point just stick with it and you will see in the slide show that it is not quite as difficult. You have made it this far, the rest is the fun part.

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