Canadian Woodworking

Refacing Doors & Drawers

Author: Dale Winhold
Published: October November 2006

Don’t replace all your kitchen cabinets – save money and time by refacing the doors.


  • Akfix

Many people would like to replace their entire kitchen with a new updated one. Of course this is a very expensive endeavour, as it involves not only the cost of new replacement cabinets, but removing the old cabinets, and the invariable changes to plumbing and electrical fixtures. There is also the inconvenience of not having use of the kitchen for several days, if not longer.

An easy way around all of this is to replace the doors and drawer fronts of the old cabinets. This process is quite easy and is a good project for even the beginner woodworker. Following the process laid out here, you shouldn’t have much of a problem completing a project you can be proud of, while adding value to your home.

No mortise overlay hinge

European style hinge

Hinge plate for European hinge

Hinge installation

Measuring For New Doors

Measuring for new doors is quite easy – you just measure the old ones. Measure the width and then the height of the existing doors and drawer fronts. Taking accurate measurements will ensure a minimum of adjustment when installing the new doors and drawer fronts.

Other considerations include

• Are your kitchen cabinets face frames or case mount style?

• Are the sides ⅝” or ¾”?

• If you have a face frame kitchen, how much overlay do you want for the doors?

• What type of hinges do you want to use? (European style hinges, inset hinges, etc.)

Face Frame Cabinets

In this style of kitchen, frames are attached to the face (the front) of the cabinets. The doors are then attached to the face frames or between the frames.

A common width for face frames is 1½”.

Overlay is the width that the door overhangs the frames. A standard overlay width is ⅝” on each side of the opening. Too large an overlay would result in the doors hitting each other as they are being opened and closed.

If the rail between the door and drawer front is not the same width as the rest of the frame, you will have to make an adjustment to your measurements. By doing this, you will have the same reveal between the doors as well as between the drawer fronts.

Your cabinets will look better if you have the top of the door line up with the top of the drawer front.

Make sure you purchase your hinges before you begin replacing the doors.

European hinges are very popular and are made for many different styles of doors. Make sure you buy overlay hinges that match the overlay width you will be using on your doors. For example, for a ⅝” overlay you will need to purchase a matching ⅝” overlay hinge. The staff at your local hardware store, building supply centre, or speciality supplier should be able to help you select the correct hinges.

Here is a good example of how to measure for an opening. Let’s say the opening between the frames is 18″ wide and 30″ high. The replacement doors would have to be 19¼” wide: 18″ opening + ⅝” overlay each side. The height would be 31¼” (30″ opening + ⅝” on each end). The finished door would be 19¼” x 31¼”. You will need to calculate the size for each door and drawer opening in your kitchen.

Inset Face Frame Cabinets

Another type of door and drawer front for face frame kitchens is the in-set style. This is when the front is recessed into the opening between the frames. To get the size you need measure the opening and subtract 1/8″. In the example of an 18″ x 30″ cabinet, the door size would be 17⅞” x 29⅞”. For these types of doors you will need inset hinges.

Case Mount (Frameless Cabinet)

In case mount cabinets there is no face frame (which is why this style is also called a frameless cabinet). In this cabinet, the door is mounted directly onto the cabinet. To replace these doors you will have to know the width and height of the cabinet.

Begin by measuring the width and height of the cabinet from the outside. If the cabinet receives one door or drawer front, subtract ⅛” from the width and height of the door or drawer front. For a cabinet 18″ wide and 30″ high, the door size would be 17⅞” x 29⅞”. For cabinets that receive two doors you have to divide the opening in half, and then subtract ⅛” for the size that is required. A cabinet 30″ wide and 30″ high would receive two doors. The door sizes would be 14⅞” x 29⅞” (for standard sizes of drawer fronts, see: Sidebar).

Choosing Door and Drawer Styles

Most of us don’t have the machinery or time to make all our own doors, so a good alternative is to buy them from a local kitchen shop. The style of door is important to the look of your kitchen. There are many different styles, and pricing varies widely. Melamine flat panel is the least expensive, while solid wood is the most expensive. Before purchasing your doors take careful measurements. This is very important, as most manufacturers will not refund for measurement errors.

Installing the Doors and Drawer Fronts

It’s a good idea to purchase the hinges at the same time that you purchase the doors. Because the hinges have to be in a specific spot on the door, the instructions that come with the hinges will specify the correct placement. Fortunately, for door replacements, you will be putting the hinges in the same location as on the old doors. If you intend to reuse the hinges, make sure they are appropriate for the new door. Best take one to your door supplier.

European hinges are a bit trickier to install, as you have to drill a hole in the back of the door to allow for the hinge. The width of the hole is normally 35mm, but double check manufacturer’s specifications.

Once the European hinges are on the door, hold the door in place (in its opened position) with a ¼” spacer between the door and the front of the cabinet. Then put a screw through each hinge plate into the cabinet side. Remove the door, then finish screwing the plates on, one at a time. Continue this same process for the rest.

Installing fronts on wood drawers is different than on metal drawers. For wood drawers you may have to screw the front on through the drawer box itself. For metal drawers there are usually holes in the spot where you need to attach the front. The drawer front usually isn’t centered on the box, so make sure of the location before you attach the front. There isn’t a standard location for where the front is located; only that it is usually centered left to right. For a vertical location you would normally want a ⅛” gap between each front and above a door. If it is a bank of drawers you will want the bottom of the drawers to line up with the bottom of the doors. Make sure that the sizes of the screws that are used are not going the go through the front of the drawer.

Installing the handles is the last thing to do. Place the handles exactly where you want them. Ensure that you drill the mounting holes straight and accurately, as this will make the installation easier. The hole size is normally 3⁄16″ diameter.

What You Will Need

You don’t need any special tools to replace the door and drawer faces in your kitchen. All you need is a drill, drill bits, hammer, screw driver, tape measure, pencil and paper. In addition, you’ll need the doors (purchased or shop made), hinges, handles or knobs, and appropriate screws.

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