Q: I have some very boring builder-grade honey oak kitchen cabinets that I would like to dress up. I have seen cabinets with glass doors instead of solid ones and I want to replace a few of mine. I went to a cabinet company and they could not match the color of my cabinets’ door frames. Is there a way I could replace the panel inside the door frames by myself?
A: Not only can you do it by yourself, but you can save a chunk of money in the process. All you will need is a router and a steady hand to do the job.
A router is a versatile tool that can cut wood for a variety of applications. You will hold it with two hands as it typically spins the bit at 16,000 rpm, which allows it to cut wood like butter. It can cut decorative edges, grooves or about anything you can imagine.
A decorative edge won’t be needed; you will be using a straight-cutting bit, or a rabbet bit. This is a bit that simply cuts a groove, but in this case, you will be cutting off just a portion of the door to get the panel out.
The door frame is glued at the corners, but the panel “floats” inside the frame. The panel sits in a groove and is not glued. So to remove it, all you have to do is cut off the back of the groove and remove the panel from the rear. You want to keep the front of the door frame looking the same, but you can get nasty on the back since nobody will see it.
Remove the door from the cabinet and remove all of the hardware from the door. Get rid of the little door bumpers or anything protruding that might disrupt the path of the router.
Place the door face down on a flat surface, being careful not to scratch it. You can set it on a towel or other nonscratching surface, but clamp the door down so that it won’t move as you rout out the back.
Before you start, set the depth of the router bit so it will cut deep enough to remove the back of the groove but not so deep that it cuts into the panel. Not that it matters if that happens; it just takes longer and creates more debris. You can always make a few test cuts and, once you have the right depth, you can start plowing away.
Start the router and let it build up to full speed before you start pushing the bit into the wood. With the depth set, all you have to figure out is how much of the cabinet door’s lip to remove.
Cut into the door frame until you can see the edge of the panel and then continue at that depth around the inside perimeter of the door. As you move the router around the door frame, it will tend to wander as you push it. It won’t look pretty from the back of the door, but then again, who is going to see it?
If you are really concerned, you can buy a guide for the router to cut straight lines on the back of the door frame. What is important is that when you are done, you have a ledge that you lay a piece of glass in.
When you are finished removing the panels, take your door frames to a glass shop and select one of the gazillion choices. The cost will vary with the type of glass and the size of the pieces. I recently did four cabinet doors, and the glass shop charged me just under $100.
After you select the style of glass, the glass shop will cut the pieces and give them back to you. Again, lay the door frame face down and set the piece of glass in the frame. Use clear silicone and lay down a bead around the perimeter of the piece of glass where it touches the wood frame. Don’t glob it on as you don’t want to see it as you view the door from the front. Just a small bead will hold the glass in place.
Let the silicone set up for 24 hours and then you can reinstall the door back on the cabinet.
Mike Klimek is a licensed contractor and owner of Las Vegas Handyman. Questions may be sent by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, mail to 4710 W. Dewey Drive, No. 100, Las Vegas, NV 89118. His web address is www.handymanoflasvegas.com.
Project: Replacing cabinet door panel with glass
Cost: From around $25 per door
Time: 1-2 hours