Tools & Materials
If you’re living with builder-grade slab-style doors, just think of them as so many blank canvases. You can mimic the look of a traditional panel door simply by applying frames of molding. It’s an easy project with endless possibilities, since you can match the moldings to any existing ones and re-create the look of any panel style you like. Follow along as This Old House contributor Christopher Beidel, owner of Pernt, a handmade-furniture company in Brooklyn, New York, leads us through the simple steps of adding character to a plain door.
Molding: Poplar nose-and-cove molding, $1.20 per linear foot; at home centers.
Overview for Dressing Up a Hollow-Core Door
SATURDAY Cut and install the panel frames (Steps 2–11).
SUNDAY Hang the door and install the lockset (Step 12-13).
Download and print the cut list.
Cut List for Dressing Up a Hollow-Core Door:
1⅛-by-1¾-inch poplar nose-and-cove molding for the rails: eight @ 8 inches
1⅛-by-1¾-inch poplar nose-and-cove molding for the top stiles: four @ 28 inches
1⅛-by-1¾-inch poplar nose-and-cove molding for the bottom stiles: four @ 18 inches
Draw the Stiles
Use a flathead screwdriver to remove the hinge pins, and remove the door from the jamb. Set the door on your work surface, unscrew the hinges, and pop out the lockset. We opted for a traditional four-panel look using heavy nose-and-cove molding that complements the built-up door casing. (See note on proportions, below.) Use a combination square to mark the outside stiles of your panel frames along the stiles of the door, as shown.
Note on proportions: A typical interior four-panel door has three equivalent stiles with a matching top rail and a deeper base rail. Mock up simple patterns cut from cardboard to see what size panels will look best on your door.
Draw the Rails
Use a framing square to draw perpendicular lines for all the rails. Now your door is marked with three of the four sides of each panel frame. You’ll fit the fourth side—the inside stile—between the other three.
Take the measurement of the rails from your door layout, and add 1 inch to account for the miter. With your miter saw set at 0 degrees, straight-cut eight blanks to that length from your molding stock.
Miter One Side
Set the blade on the miter saw to 45 degrees to cut the left inside miters. Make your cuts, as shown.
Make a Template
You’ll want to set up a stop block to make all your like pieces identical. Place one of the blanks on your door layout, and mark where the right inside miter should be cut. Make that cut and double check it against the pattern. Now you can use it to position the stop block. Clamp a piece of scrap wood to the miter saw’s fence. Set the blade to a right inside 45-degree angle, and cut one end of the scrap, as shown.
Clamp the Stop Block
Set the template against the scrap piece and match up the right-hand miters. Then clamp a block to the scrap at the left tip of the template, as shown.
Make the Right Inside Miter Cut
Set a blank in your miter saw with the left miter against the stop block and cut the right inside miter. Repeat the process on the remaining rail blanks. Then repeat all of Steps 3 and 4 to make the stiles.
Lay Out the Pieces
Dry-fit all the pieces on your pattern to make sure the corners are tight and the frames are even. Begin installing the molding, one frame at a time, starting with the outside stile. Install the two rails next, then the inside stile. Apply wood glue to the back of each piece, as shown, and press it in place.
Nail the Molding
Use a pneumatic nail gun to tack each piece in place, shooting nails in at opposing angles every 2 or 3 inches. Make sure you have good contact between the door and the molding. Repeat the process on the other three frames.
Check the Miter Joints
If any miter joints have gaps, use your finger to apply wood putty, as shown. Fill visible nail holes, too. Once the putty has dried, use a piece of 120-grit sandpaper to smooth any sharp edges or excess putty. Paint the molding and the door with a latex primer and a finish paint, and let dry.
Chisel the Mortise
We upgraded to a lever handle more in keeping with the look of a four-panel door, but its latch required a larger mortise. Trace the outline of the new plate on the edge of the door. Use a rounded chisel and a mallet to cut a mortise, as shown. Screw the hinges back onto the door. Stand the door in the jamb and pin the hinges to rehang it.
Tip: for a clean, rounded mortise, use a ⅜-inch drill bit to make a hole ⅛ inch deep at each corner before chiseling out the rest of the field for the latch plate.
Install the Lockset
Place the handle assembly through the face bore, aligning the spindle with the opening in the latch mechanism, as shown. Fit the handle in place on the opposite side, and use a screwdriver to hand tighten the screws on the escutcheon plate.