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Build a Front for an Existing Cabinet

Building Smarts

In this project, I've listed the ideal tools for each step. Here are a few alternative techniques if you don't have those tools:

  • Make the doors with a simplified design, using corner moldings and plywood. You'll save a ton of time. Definitely choose this option if you don't own and can't borrow a bunch of clamps.

  • Instead of routing the dado for plywood and/or the rabbet for glass, cut them on a table saw.

  • Instead of cutting the door parts with a power miter box, use the table saw's miter gauge (the angled gadget that rides in a slot on the table).

Did a previous owner leave you a mixed blessing—a built-in wall cabinet with a way-too-ugly face? Do you have a closet that could be turned into a good-looking cabinet? Are you interested in building an attractive china cabinet in a dining-room wall?

If so, keep reading to learn how to make a hardwood cabinet face and doors. Although you'll have to work accurately, the process is straightforward: Strip off the old face, if there is one, make a new hardwood face, and then make doors to match. I'll explain how to make doors with wood panels and glass inserts.

Step 1: Make the Face and Frame

Start by removing the old doors, molding, and face. Then plan your course of attack. The cabinet shown here is surrounded by four edgewise pieces I call jambs, for their resemblance to window jambs. Before attaching the jambs, I narrowed the opening so the new doors would be more graceful than the old. I divided the opening into four smaller openings with rails. After building the face, I attached drywall to the ugly plywood seen in the early photos.

You may have to improvise to attach the face. If, like me, you have an existing cabinet, the jamb attachment should be obvious. Otherwise, as shown in the diagram, attach the side jambs to the studs at the edges of the cabinet.

Install the Jambs

The jambs must be wide enough to hide the framing, and extend 114" above the finished wall surface. That leaves 12" protruding past the 34" cove molding that joins the jambs to the wall.

Dave's Don'ts

Accuracy is everything in this project, and that starts with the jamb installation. Don't rush. Take your time, and make sure the frame is rectangular. The easiest way to do this is to set the jambs plumb and level, using shims if necessary.

The top jamb must be wide enough to cover the header above the cabinet. Fasten the top jamb with 2" hardened trim screws. As with all screw holes in this project, countersink the screw head so it will rest below the surface. At the end, hide these heads with wood filler.

Cut the ends of the side jambs square, and butt them under the top jamb. Check that the side jambs are plumb and screw about every 16" into the studs and/or filler strip.

Cut and fasten the bottom jamb under the side jambs.



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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Simple Home Improvements © 2004 by David J. Tenenbaum. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


August 31, 2014



Leftovers make deliciously healthy lunches, and save a lot of time. Use last night's dinner leftovers as the basis of your child's lunch — adding just one or two extra ingredients can make it seem like an entirely different meal.


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