Kitchen Cabinet Reno
Comments 8

Kitchen Cabinet Reno – Door Design

The big challenge with the renovation of my kitchen cabinets: How to make new doors that look good but don’t take forever to build. Also, I want to spend as little money on them as reasonably possible. I get very little shop time during the week and when I can build things on the weekends, I usually have just a few hours at the most each day to spend in my workshop. I don’t want this project to take forever, but the reality is renovating my kitchen cabinets is a big job for a weekend woodworker. So speed will be most important as I consider the design of the doors.

If you take the basic door design which today is called Shaker, each additional detail added also adds time to the build process. But I don’t want just basic doors. In fact, I don’t like most Shaker doors. They are too plain. So I do want to add some visual interest. But again, these details should be as simple as possible; nothing too complex. Remember that I will be building 29 doors and five drawers (see the first post in this series here).

So, my door design starts with the basic Shaker style with a flat panel. I’ll simply use 1/4″ MDF for the panel (remember these doors will be painted which allows me to mix materials in each door). Over the years, I have used beads to surround drawers and also to line the interior of panels; panels for both doors as well as similar molding to the sides of bookcases. With SketchUp, I created a Shaker style door and then added a bead to the perimeter of the panel. This instantly moves the design from Shaker to something more traditional.

It is also important to note that these will be overlay doors. This means they will be positioned on top of the face frame. Overlay doors are faster to install than inset doors which fit within the face frame door openings. Inset doors require fine trimming to ensure they fit well within the door opening. I will be using common 1″x material which means the doors will extend outward from the face frame by 3/4″. This is a little too thick for my liking, so instead of making thinner stock, I decided to make the doors look visually thinner by adding a cove along the outer edge of each door. Here is how the design turned out…

The frame and panel overlay door.
Close-up, lower right corner showing the panel bead and cove.

The addition of the bead and cove turns a pretty simple door into something more classic and more visually interesting.


With the design nailed down, I had to decide how I would actually build the doors. I took time to think through various joinery options and came up with something that is mostly simple, but quick to build and sturdy as well.

The frame and panel door exploded.
The same image in x-ray view. Note the slot or groove cut into the frame components to receive the panel which has rounded corners. Also shown are the pocket screw locations.
Orthographic view – note the pocket screw placement.

I decided to use pocket screws to create the frame. Once the frame is completed, I will then use my plunge router to cut a slot in the frame. With the slot cut, I’ll partially disassemble the frame and insert the MDF panel with glue and then glue and pocket screw the frame back together. Next, I will create the bead, glue it in place and finally cut the cove with my router.

Concerning the pocket screws, I thought long and hard about the joinery. I normally would create a stub tenon with frame and panel doors. But getting the tenon to fit well can be a fussy business, slowing the construction process. Pocket screws certainly are fast and easy, but they usually leave ugly pockets which are visible as soon as the door is opened. And will pocket screws be strong enough? I decided that pocket screws would be strong enough with the help of the MDF panel being glued into place. This process means that the door’s strength comes from the frame components being glued to the MDF panel. The pocket screws simply hold the frame in place while I rout the slot for the panel. I also decided I would plug the pocket screw holes, plane and sand the plugs flat and with a couple of coats of paint, no one will know screws were even used except us.

The only other thing to decide was how best to add the panel beads. I have created beads in the past which were formed as part of the frame components; not as separate pieces of bead material. Doing this well is also a fussy process if you want to get it right with no gaps at the corners. And creating separate bead material is a little time consuming. In the end, I decided separate bead material would be faster. This step will add construction time, but I am willing to add a little complexity to get a pleasing look for the doors.

With the design figured out, it is time to start milling parts. See that in my next blog post.


  1. Chuck B. says

    I’m about to embark on the very same project in my new (to me) house. I’ve always read that the panels need to be free floating to allow for seasonal expansion and contraction. Is MDF dimensionally stable enough to allow gluing fast to the frames?

    • Yes, MDF does not expand or contract making it a good choice for this project. If you plan to use a wood panel, it needs to float within the frame (no glue).

  2. Good looking design. I use pocket screws for a lot of basic cabinetry projects. Always found the strong enough and they make assembly fast. Most times I can hide them on the back or underside but some times you have to do the filling thing.

    If I was doing fine furniture I likely wouldn’t choose pocket screws but I like your reasons for doing that here.

  3. I like the design as that is probably what I will replace my cabinet doors with. I think the added bead is more time consuming but that is probably just me.

    • No, not just you. It is definitely more time consuming. I wanted something more than just a flat panel. Gluing the bead in place is the most time consuming part of it.

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