How to Give Hollow Core Doors A More Custom Look

September 27, 2016

For those of you who saw my newly painted kitchen cabinets, you already know that we simultaneously upgraded the pantry door as well. Today I want to share with you how we did it.

Ok, so here's the blah "before." Not very impressive. Which is why I really felt the need to give her an upgrade. At a minimum, we knew that we would have to paint her white to go along with the newly painted kitchen cabinets. But I wanted more of an upgrade than that.

When I started looking at door prices, I was amazed at how expensive they can be! In my search I came across this two panel square solid core door, which is the look I was going after.

As much as I love doors like these, it just wasn't in the budget. While most of these doors have the detail work indented into the door, creating the look of panels, that's not something I believed was necessarily DIY-able (without adding actual panels). So we improvised, went with more of a 3-D upgrade instead, and I think it worked out really well.

Don't let my detailed instructions fool you. It really was rather easy! The worst part was finding the right sized molding for the project. So read on to the end! And tell me what you think.



hollow core wood door
3/8” x ¾” x 7’ shelf strip molding (you determine how much, depending on the look you want)
paint brush
measuring tape
painter's tape
150 grit sand paper and/or electric sander
Liquid Nails
Alex Plus All Purpose Acrylic Latex Caulk

spray paint for hardware (I used brushed nickel)
new door knobs (versus spray painting old ones)
stain blocker
mitre box
hand saw



Before painting, you’ll need to measure out your desired 3-D upgrade. I went with two decorative "boxes," one short box on the bottom half of the door, and one taller box on the top half of the door. Feel free to get creative here.

Measure Twice
Cut Once 

For your reference, our door is 80"x 24", or approximately 6 1/2 feet tall. Here are the measurements I used, as well as placement of the boxes:

Box Sizes

Both boxes width: 15 inches.
Top box length: 36" L
Bottom box length: 27 1/2" L

Box Placement

Top box: 5 inches from top of the door.
Bottom box: 6 inches from bottom of door.
Both boxes: 5 inches from either side of the door.
(Leave 5 1/2" between the two boxes.)

So basically the bigger box was 36”x 15” and smaller box was 27 ½”x 15”. Now that you’ve figured out your box sizes, you’re ready to move forward.

You can see my measurements up close and personal here. It's always good to draw the design out on a piece of paper in advance to prevent any unforeseen problems. 


1. Take the door off its hinges, being careful to keep the hinges and screws together. Some people I saw who tackled this project had doors that were already painted white so they added the molding while the door was hung. Since our door needed to be painted first, we had to take if off the hinges either way.

2. Remove your door knobs, setting them aside with screws for later (unless you're replacing them with new doorknobs).

3. Find a spot with plenty of room to lay the door out flat. I placed ours on a table in the garage.

Here you can see the masking tape that I used initially to tape out the dimensions of the boxes I wanted to create. More on that below.

Because of the angle at which this picture was taken, it looks like both boxes are the same size but they're not. The top box is longer than the bottom box. These pictures were taken after I sanded the door.  See step 4. below.

4. Sand the entire door, including the two narrow “sides” of the door. You’ll be painting them as well since they can be seen even when the door is shut.  (I used 150 grit sandpaper and an electric sander but you can sand it manually as well.)

5. Wipe down the entire door to remove all the dust. Damp paper towels work fine for this.

 6. OPTIONAL: If you're painting a darkly stained door white, you might want to invest in a stain blocker in addition to a primer. The goal is to not only cover the dark door with the primer but to keep any tannins from seeping through the white and marring your beautiful paint job. If you decide to go with teh stain blovker, now is the time to apply one coat and let dry. I used stain blocker then primer.  

7. Now prime the front and two narrow “sides” of the door (one coat).: you may choose to prime and paint both the inside and the outside of the door. But in order to preserve any sanity I had left at this point in the project (after painting 31 cabinet doors) I chose to paint the outside only. Obviously, if you're doing this on a very prominent door in your home that opens into anything more than a closet, you'll want to paint both sides. 

 8. Paint the door with at least two coats of your favorite paint after stain blocker and primer have dried.

Here's the door after stain blocker, primer and once coat of paint. 

Once the paint dried I re-taped (this time with painter's tape) my boxes onto the door to be used as placement guides for the molding application.


Can we talk about molding? I had a really hard time finding molding that was narrow enough and flat enough for this project. I was led astray more than once by some online tutorials that sent me on a wild goose chase looking for a certain type of molding that I never did find. That's how I ended up using decorative oak molding instead - because it was the right size - 3/8" x 3/4".

I finally found it in the third store I visited. I hadn't planned on using molding with any type of pattern on it, but as I said, it was the right size.

The molding was sold in 7 foot long strips. After measuring the outside of the two (taped) boxes I wanted to make, I knew I needed 188 inches, or approximately 15 and a half feet of molding. Since this molding was sold in 7 foot lengths, I needed to buy 3 strips of molding total. (When adding up the dimensions, to be safe, you'll want to add an extra two inches to each piece. For example, if one side of your box is 15" in length, call it 17" so that you're sure not to come up short.)

At $5.99 per strip of molding, it cost me approximately $18.00 for all three strips. That's more than I wanted to pay, but I was unable to find a cheaper substitute that was the right width and height. One inch wide would have been ideal. The height should be just a bit raised above the flatness of the door. 

After the goose chase ended I was quite pleased with myself for finding it (with Mr. CBD's help). But lo and behold, I later came across it at - of all places - Michael's. Seems they have a whole section filled with similar decorative molding pieces, including the one I had already purchased. Live and learn. However, I didn't take note of the length of their wood strips (although definitely less than 7 feet long) so I'm not sure whether it would have been cheaper there or not.

I know I already said this once here, as well as in my Rule Number One When Painting Kitchen Cabinets post, but I'm going to say it again because I cannot stress enough how important it is:

Measure Twice
Cut Once 

Enough said.

9. Cut molding to desired lengths with hand saw and mitre box using 45 degree angles.

*NOTE: I believe most big box hardware stores will cut the molding for you as long as you know your dimensions. However, the size of molding we used (3/8" x 3/4") lent itself to being cut at home pretty easily, so that's what we (Mr. CBD) did. Since this post is already long I will be writing a separate post on how to use the mitre box and hand saw to cut the molding yourself.

Before gluing the wood pieces into place with Liquid Nails, place your cut strips of molding on top of the blue painter's tape to be sure they were cut to the right size and proper angles. Assuming they were cut properly, start by pulling off the tape underneath one strip of molding and replacing it with the same strip now covered in Liquid Nails. You do have a few moments to rearrange the position of the strip since it takes a little while for Liquid Nails to fully dry.

Once you have all your pieces glued in place you can tape them down with painter's tape until they're completely dry.

Don't be shy about using all the tape you need. (I certainly wasn't!) I left it on for 24 hours.  

Once the painted strips have all been glued and taped into place, you'll see that the corners probably don't match up perfectly. There may be a few little gaps that need to be filled in. That's where the caulk comes in.

I think you can see how caulking those small spaces between the corners can make your end product look much more professional. And it doesn't take much caulk at all. I will be doing a whole post on caulking as part of my DIY Kitchen Upgrade series of posts, so stay tuned for that.

Now all you have left to do is put the door knobs on and hang her back up! (We replaced the old brass door knobs with new brushed nickel door knobs we found at Home Depot for around $7.00. I spray painted the old brass hinges with brushed nickel spray paint.) 

And voila.

So what do you think?

To recap:



I hope you enjoyed reading 
How To Give Hollow Core Doors A More Custom Look.
Thanks for spending time with me today! 

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Leave a Comment!

My thrift store addiction said...

Kathleen, I've been wanting to upgrade my doors and this is a great tutorial. Thanks for the inspiration!

Linda @ Itsy Bits And Pieces said...

The door is totally transformed, looks beautiful!

Grammy Goodwill said...

You did a great job. I love paneled doors. Our first house had beautiful solid wood paneled doors. I must confess that I took them for granted. When we moved 25 years later, our house had plain, very plain, cheap doors - 13 of them, to be exact. I hated them for 8 years. Then we moved for our last time and I'm happy to report that this house has paneled doors. I can live happily ever after.

Daniela @Frugal Aint Cheap said...

I have had this on my list for a long day I will get to it :) I really like the type of trim you choose

handmade by amalia said...

A great tutorial. And how great the doors looks.

Unknown said...

Such a difference! Your "new" door looks great, Kathleen. Thanks for sharing, Cynthia

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