DIY Panel Door

Panel doors do a lot to improve the richness of a home’s interior wood trim. Considering that the trim is one of the defining characteristics of finer homes, upgrading the trim is an excellent way of making a house look more valuable than it originally was.

One of the best such ways of upgrading a home’s woodwork is to change out solid slab doors for panel doors, usually six panel doors. But that can get a bit expensive, and one six panel interior door can range from $80 to almost $300. It’s a whole lot cheaper to remake the existing doors into faux panel doors; most people can’t really tell the difference.

Panel doors get their name from the way they are constructed. The door consists of a series of panels, held in a solid wood framework. Those panels can be flat or “raised panels.” The raised panel doors are more complicated to make, requiring a shaper, as the door panels are cut along the edges, so that the center part of the panel sticks up, while the edges of the door are recessed.

Panel doors have existed for centuries and were common during the Victorian times, when carpenters made the doors for a home, rather than buying pre-hung ones. Most of the time they were built back at the carpenter’s shop, but could be built on-site as well. These didn’t require the large presses required to make today’s commercially manufactured hollow-core doors.

There are several ways that those hollow core doors can be turned into faux panel doors, depending on the look that one desires.

Dealing with Fake Wood Grain Doors

If the home has hollow core fake wood grain doors, it’s a bit harder to turn them into panel doors. First, before adding the frames necessary to make the door have panels, the wood grain needs to be hidden. This is accomplished by covering the door with wood veneer. Either peel & stick or regular veneer can be used, both of which are available in sheets up to 4’ x 8’.

Regardless of whether using either peel & stick veneer or gluing, the most important thing is to avoid allowing the veneer to touch the substrate before it is positioned properly. Thin strips or wood or dowel rods can be placed on the door as spacers, as the veneer is put in place. Then, once it is properly aligned, the strips can be removed one at a time, allowing the adhesive on the veneer to make contact with the door’s surface. The veneer should then be pressed down with either a smooth pad (such as a bundle of rags) or a roller (a short-nap paint roller will work).

If the wood veneer is not peel & stick, it will need to be attached to the door with adhesive. Contact cement is most often used for this, just like mounting laminate on a kitchen countertop. Both the backside of the veneer and the face of the door will need to be coated with contact cement; a paint short nap roller works well for this.  Once the adhesive becomes tacky, the two pieces can be put together and pressed down.

There is some possibility that the veneer will bubble after installation. That’s from the wood expanding due to the moist in the adhesive. Allow it enough time for the adhesive to dry fully and those spots will disappear.

It’s always a good idea to cut veneer oversized for installation and then trim it down, flush with the edges, once properly located and dry. Edges can be trimmed effectively with a utility knife and then sanded to form a bevel or a small router with a laminate bit can be used to trim the veneer flush with the edges of the door. A bevel can be put on the veneer with a chamfer bit.

The hole for the lockset will need to be recut with a hole saw, once the veneer has been installed. Cutting from the backside, where the hole is visible, is best. To avoid splintering and tearout, as well as to protect the surface of the workbench, be sure to use a backing block of scrap wood.

Stick-on Faux Door Panels

There’s faux brick, faux stone and even faux wood trim, so why not faux door panels? Yes that’s a thing and there are a number of different styles available. These can either be frames for the panel, made out of architectural trim or raised panels. These come with the adhesive already on the back and are installed much like veneer.

To mark the door, without leaving pencil lines behind that can bleed through the paint, use masking tape to make lines for the panels to align with. It’s not necessary to run the tape the full length of the panel; a couple of small pieces make a very effective line.

To install the panel, start by placing wood strips or dowel rods to act as spacers over the area the panel is to be installed. Then peel the adhesive off and locate the panel, taking extreme care to locate it square with the edges of the door. Then remove the wood strips one at a time, pressing the panel down onto the door.

Making Simple Faux Door Panels

A number of styles of panel doors can be made out of nothing more than wood strips. The basic idea here is to add the strips to represent the framing of the door and allow the existing door surface to be the panels, looking like they are inset into the door frame. This can be done to make anything from two panels (upper and lower panels) to five horizontal panels to six panel doors. It’s just a matter of attaching the wood strips in the same pattern as the framing would be, if the door was an actual panel door.

For the wood strips, all that’s needed is a sheet of ½” Luan plywood. Cut it into four inch wide strips and then sand the edges smooth. If it is necessary to have the sheet of plywood ripped on the panel saw at the lumberyard, realize that it will need to be ripped again on a table saw at home, as the cuts may not be straight on the panel saw. They do not guarantee precision cuts.

Depending on the style, a wider strip, about 8” might be needed for the bottom horizontal strip. This is typical for two panel and six panel doors, although it is not always done on all other panel doors.

The strips are then cut to length attached to the door with glue and a brad nailer. Nailing the strips eliminates the need for clamp while the glue dries. For any panel door, the vertical strips at the hinge and lock sides should be installed first. Then the horizontal pieces can be cut and installed. Finally, the vertical center strips for six panel doors can be attached.

If the door is to be painted, the joints between the strips can be caulked. However, if it is going to be stained and varnished, a matching wood putty will need to be used for these seams, as well as the nail holes. Caulking the seam between the wood strips and the door face is not necessary, unless an antique painted look is desired. In that case, adding caulking will make the corner between these pieces less sharp, as would normally happen through the years as additional layers of paint are added.

Making Panel Doors Using Molding

A slightly more complex way of making panel doors is to use molding to frame the panels. This provides a “richer” looking door, without a whole lot more expense or the need for raised panels. The molding used for this is common base cap or chair rail molding, which can cost anywhere from $0.95 to $2.00 per linear foot.

The molding is cut at a miter, forming the frame sides. These are then laid on the door, gluing and nailing them in place with the brad nailer. It is unnecessary to nail the corner of the frame together, before nailing the frames to the door. However, it is a good idea to nail them together as part of nailing the frame to the door, as that will help ensure tight corners.

Before painting or staining the door, nail hole will need to be puttied. Hopefully the corner of the frames will fit tightly enough together so as to eliminate the need to putty or caulk the corners. In the case of painted doors, caulking the edges of the molding, where it meets the door surface, can help the door look older, by giving the appearance that it has been painted over several times.

Making Panels Using Molding and Paneling

A variation of this design can be formed by using wood paneling, wood paneling strips or beaded paneling strips to make the panel itself. The idea is to give the panel some texture. In this case, the panels of the door will actually end up being higher than the frame around the edges. While that is technically incorrect, if a thin paneling is used, it won’t be noticeable.

In this case, the molding used to frame the panels will need to be slightly different, using something like a ply cap, rather than a base cap or chair rail. Another option would be to cut a recess on the back edge of either of those types of molding, in order to allow the inner edge of the frame to overlap the panel, making a tight seam.

diy, panel door, painting
DIY panel door, Emily May

Reinstalling the Door

In the case of any door which has had veneer applied or to which the panel effect was created by adding wood strips, the door is going to be thicker than it originally was. In order to hang the door in the same frame, the door stop will need to be removed and reinstalled.

To remove the door stop, first cut the paint wherever the door stop makes contact with the door frame. This paint acts as an adhesive, holding the trim in place. With that cut, the door stop can be carefully pried off the door, taking care not to break it, so that it can be reused.

With the door stop out of the way, use a razor scraper or plane to trim off the ridge of paint and possibly caulking that will exist on both sides of where the door stop was installed. This needs to be removed, so that the door stop can be reinstalled flush to the frame again. Trim off any excess paint and caulking form the edges of the door stop as well.

The nails may come out with the door stop or may stay in the door frame. Either way, they should be removed and discarded, with new nails being used to reinstall the trim.

Once the door is hung, the door stop can be reinstalled, taking care to get the pieces back on the same side they were removed from. The door stop will be moved over from its original location, so if there is a lot of paint buildup on the door frame, it may be necessary to ship one side of the door stop to make it lay flat on the frame. Caulk the edges of the trim, if the door frame is to be painted.

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