A step-by-step tutorial on how to update kitchen cabinets without replacing them by adding MDF trim to the door to create a DIY shaker style cabinet.
Do you love the look of the classic shaker style cabinet doors? I do! It’s classic and fits almost any style of home. Our kitchen cabinets were dated, but I could not bring myself to rip out these solid wood cabinets, plus I did not want to spend the money on new ones. In the end, we decided to update the kitchen cabinets without replacing them by adding MDF trim to create a DIY shaker cabinet door then paint everything.
Yes, that is the same old kitchen cabinets!!
Can I make cabinet doors out of MDF?
Now you might be wondering, can I make cabinet doors out of MDF? I had the same question, and I explain the whole process below on how I decided even to use MDF on my cabinets.
But the answer is YES. You can use MDF on cabinet doors as long as you are painting the doors. If you are not painting the cabinet doors, use a different material.
As a bonus of using MDF, it will also cut back on the amount of prep work needed to give you a smooth surface.
If you are still not sure if you should use MDF on cabinet doors, see my post on how the kitchen cabinets are one year later, or better yet visit my post about would I paint my kitchen cabinets again, which after 4 years.
Want to see how to create DIY shaker cabinet doors too, here are the supplies you will need.
Disclosure: This post contains some affiliate links for your convenience, click here to read my full disclosure policy.
DIY Shaker Cabinet Doors
- 1/4″ MDF sheet or Cabinet Grade Plywood (I used one cut to 3″ for the doors & 2″ for the drawers)
- liquid nails or wood glue
- 5/8″ brad nails
- wood filler
You can print the material list and instructions below.
Information about MDF trim
You have probably seen tutorials on how to DIY a shaker style cabinet door because I have, and I used other tutorials as my inspiration to start my project.
But something that worried me about the other tutorials was using 1/4″ plywood.
If you have ever used cheap plywood before, you would know that it splinters easy, and there can be gaps in the sides of the wood (you could use a more expensive cabinet grade plywood and not have the gaps). Meaning there would be some prep work to the plywood before it would be ready to add to the cabinet doors.
Because of this, I was putting off buying the plywood for a month, trying to look at my options. But finally, I decided it was time to get started on the doors.
I went to Home Depot (love my local store) and asked a worker to help me. I explained to him what I was doing and asked what his thoughts were.
And guess what, he had the same concerns I did about using plywood. He told me it would take a LOT of prep work to get the type of finish I wanted and that we should look for a different/better product, maybe MDF.
Time to be honest, MDF scared me because of what water does to it, plus I have never used it before. But he calmed my fears and told me it would work.
He had me SOLD, so I had him cut the 4’x8′ sheet of 1/4″ MDF into strips of 3″ for the cabinet doors and 2″ for the cabinet drawers. So that you know, one side of the MDF I used has a white vinyl finish on it.
PREP CABINET DOORS FOR TRIM
Before added the MDF trim to the cabinet doors, the doors need to be prepped, so they are ready for paint. And step one would be removing them from the cabinet bases.
Then clean the doors with TSP cleaner or regular Dawn dish soap.
SIDE NOTE: I decided to strip all the old paint off my cabinet doors because they were not painted very well before (paint drips).
Also, if you want a completely smooth surface, make sure to fill in any imperfections with spackling paste (wood grain) or wood filler. Then sand the door with #220 grit sandpaper, wiping clean after with a cloth to remove any dust.
DIY MDF SHAKER CABINET DOORS
Now the MDF is cut, and the doors are sanded, its time to add trim to the cabinet doors. I found this process to be simple and fun!!
STEP 1: PREP THE MDF
The first step is prepping the MDF strips. To do this, sand the edges with #220 grit sandpaper to give them a smooth finish after cutting, this takes no time at all.
SIDE NOTE: I did find the white vinyl side to sand funny (it took it all off), so I decided to place that side against the door.
TIP: Be careful when handling the 1/4″ strips because the corners can dent if you are not careful.
STEP 2: CUT MDF TRIM FOR SIDES OF CABINET DOOR
Next, place the MDF strip flat on a sheet on the ground. Then put the cabinet door, right side down, on top of the strip.
TIP: Remember to use the correct MDF strip, 3″ for the doors or 2″ for the drawers.
Move the MDF to be flush with one of the longer sides of the cabinet door. Take a pencil and mark where the end of the door will be on the MDF strip.
Do this for both long sides of the door, placed an “H” on the MDF strip that will be on the handle side. Will help you remember what piece goes where.
Then take the boards to the miter saw and cut right next to the line.
TIP: Cut next to the line to make sure there will always be enough trim on the door, the extra will be sanded down.
After cutting both long trim pieces, place them on the top of the cabinet door (right side up this time) to check the fit.
STEP 3: INSTALL THE MDF TRIM TO THE DOOR
Now you are ready to attach the trim to the door.
Take the MDF trim pieces off the cabinet door and place them right next to the side they will be installed on, putting them right side down.
Then take a dry cloth and wipe both MDF trim pieces and cabinet door. This will remove dust to help the liquid nails or wood glue adhere.
With the liquid nails (or wood glue), apply a small bead in a zig-zag pattern along the MDF strip, making sure to stay 1/2″ away from all sides.
TIP: Only apply to one trim piece at a time.
Place the MDF trim piece onto the cabinet door, making sure everything is flush like before.
Take the nail gun (I would suggest using an 18-gauge brad nailer) and place a 5/8″ nail in one corner of the MDF trim.
TIP: Keep in mind that some cabinets are inset by 3/8″, so make sure you miss the groove with the nail, or you will have a nail sticking through both sides.
Move along the same side and place more nails, making sure everything is flush as you go.
Place nails on both sides of the trim piece, I liked to have at least five nails on one side.
Complete this process for the other MDF trim piece.
STEP 4: Cut inside MDF trim pieces for cabinet door
Once both side pieces are attached, you can add the inside trim pieces.
To do this, take an MDF strip and placed the edge against the newly added trim piece. Then take a pencil and mark the strip right above the other trim piece (make sure it is marked directly above). Also, mark which side is top or bottom to know where they will go after cutting.
Back at the miter saw, cut the MDF strip right next to the markings.
TIP: It is better to have this cut bigger than smaller, you can always trim the strip down later, which I usually did with every piece.
After cutting the trim pieces, take them back to the cabinet door and see how they fit. If the trim piece is too big, cut a little bit more from the MDF.
Your goal is to have this piece fit perfectly with a minimal gap. The example below was the piece I cut that had the most significant gap.
Once the pieces fit perfectly, wipe everything with a dry cloth, and attach the trim pieces the same way as the side pieces (liquid nails & finishing nails).
Now complete all other cabinets doors and drawer fronts the same way.
TIP: Do one door at a time and do not assume the sides will be the same length because almost all of mine were not.
SIDE NOTE: Please follow the method of using the cabinet door as the guide to get the same look as the doors shown.
STEP 5: Sand the MDF shaker cabinet doors
After adding the trim pieces to all the cabinet doors, sand the edges of the trim to make everything even. See the picture below for the before and after sanding.
Then it’s time to fill in all the holes and gaps with wood filler (or spackling paste).
SIDE NOTE: You do NOT need a stainable wood filler, plus the stainable one cost more money and is a little harder to apply. You can even use spackling paste.
Taking a putty knife (or finger, yes it works), fill in all the nail holes and the sides of the cabinet doors where the trim meets against the door, plus where the trim pieces meet on the front of the door.
Once the filler has dried, sand every door with #220 grit sandpaper to give you a smooth finish. After see if you need to reapply any wood filler to get you the finish you want (cannot see where nails were placed). Let that dry then sand the doors again.
TIP: Make sure all your trim edges and sides are level with the cabinet door to make sure you have no trouble with your doors closing when they are reassembled to the cabinets.
When everything sanded smooth, take a vacuum to all the doors and then wiped with a dry cloth to remove all dust.
Next, apply white caulk sealant to the inside of the door where the new trim hits the cabinet door. See the white around the inside panel on this door. This is where the caulk will be placed.
SIDE NOTE: This cabinet door was made using the same method, but I used only MDF to make cabinet drawers from scratch.
STEP 6: Paint the cabinet doors
At this point, the cabinet doors are all ready for some paint and primer. But because this post is all about installing trim to cabinet doors, be sure to visit my post about how to paint kitchen cabinets with a paint sprayer or use Young House Love’s tutorial on how to paint kitchen cabinets.
But let’s show you the difference.
Let me give you the cost breakdown of this project without the paint.
– 1/4″ MDF sheet = $26
– liquid nails = $3
– 5/8″ finishing nails = $3
– wood filler = $6
– caulk = $4
TOTAL = $42
If you add paint & primer = about $120 (that’s 2 gallons of paint & 1-gallon primer)
What do you think of our cheap DIY shaker style cabinet doors? Anyone else doing a kitchen makeover? I hope this helps you to update kitchen cabinets without replacing them.
Interested in more Kitchen renovation projects? Here are some other posts you might enjoy:
- DIY pullout baking sheet drawer
- DIY cage pendant light
- DIY painted backsplash to look like subway tile
- Industrial pan storage rack