Ideas for the Kitchen: Cabinet Door Inserts

Dress up your kitchen with easy-to-add door panels

Remodel your kitchen quickly and easily by cutting out old wooden door panels and installing new, striking materials, like metal, glass or fabric. Do it yourself to keep the cost low.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Step 1: Decide on new door inset material

Installing new panels in old cabinet doors can really dress up a kitchen (and new panels are a lot cheaper than new cabinets). Insert materials include glass, translucent plastic, copper, metal, fabric, wicker and many others. Adding “feature” inserts to just one or two of your cabinet doors can be striking and very inexpensive. Our homeowners decided to install perforated metal inserts in all of their upper cabinet doors. They initially wanted to use stainless steel to match their appliances, but went with aluminum after discovering that it costs a third of the price and has a similar look (see “Buying Metal Inserts,” below, for tips on ordering).

Homeowner comment:
“Perforated metal inserts kicked our 15-year-old cabinets into the 21st century. Once I got the hang of using the pattern bit, it was a cinch to remove the center door panels and replace them.”
Steve Johnson

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Step 2: Remove the old panels

To cut away the lips that secure the door panel (Photo 1), you'll need a “pattern bit”—a straight bit with a bearing that's the same diameter as the cutting diameter. You can buy a pattern bit for about $25, but most are too long to use with a 3/4-in.-thick guide. You may have to shop online to find a shorter bit. One source is routerbits.com. (Search for “3001” to find a bit with a cutting depth of 1/2 in.)

If you're working with just one or two cabinet doors, the only guide you'll need is a straight board. If you have a stack of doors to rout, a more elaborate guide will save you time (Photo 2). The stops automatically position the guide without measuring, and you can rout two sides without repositioning.

Examine the back of the door before you rout. If you find any nails, pull them out so they don't chip your router bit. Before you start cutting, set your router depth so the bit just touches the panel. After you cut away the lips, simply lift out the door panel. The router bit will leave rounded corners at each corner of the door frame; square them off with a chisel or utility knife.

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Step 3: Install the metal inserts

Prefinish 1/4-in. quarter-round molding and use it to secure the inserts (Photo 3). When you place the insert into the door frame, make sure the punched side is face up (the punched side will feel slightly raised around the holes). Fasten the quarter round with 5/8-in. nails or brads. If you don't have a brad nailer or pinner, you can use a hammer; just be careful not to dent the metal.

Buying Metal Inserts

Some home centers carry sheets of metal (including perforated) and will cut them for you for a small fee. But you'll find a much bigger selection online. Look for metal in the 16- to 20-gauge range. We bought directly from McNichols Co. (mcnichols.com) and did all our ordering over the phone. Its Web site is full of information (and a bit confusing). Look at its “Products” drop-down menu and go from there.

Do your measuring after you remove the cabinet doors to get accurate insert measurements. Order inserts 1/8 in. shorter in both the length and the width so the inserts just fit in the opening. If stainless is out of your price range, consider aluminum or plain steel (called “mill finish”). You can spray-paint your metal any color you want. No matter what finish you order, wash the metal with paint thinner to rinse off the manufacturing oils. If you choose not to paint the steel, spray it with a clear lacquer to prevent it from rusting.

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Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

  • 4-in-1 screwdriver
  • Router
  • Clamps
  • Brad nail gun
  • Tin snips
  • Hammer
  • Miter saw
  • Utility knife
  • Wood chisel

You'll also need a pattern bit for the router.

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.

  • Door inserts
  • Quarter-round trim