A simple guide to hanging cabinet doors
Although you can install cabinets yourself, you may want to enlist a helper.
A few years ago, I turned the refrigerator alcove in our new house into a pantry, but never got around to adding doors. I made a pair a few months later, repurposing free doors I got from a cabinetmaker who was going out of business, but they gathered dust in the basement while other projects took priority. Finally, I got a free weekend and some motivation, and decided to actually install them.
Hanging cabinet doors is a project that’s harder in practice than it is in theory, particularly if you don’t do it a lot. The job could take 30 minutes or less, or you could end up fighting with it for three hours, like I did.
Before you start, take some time to size up the task. I, for example, had a couple of things working against me that likely increased the difficulty of this DIY. First, I built the doors myself, cobbled together from scrap lumber and other doors not made for the space. If I had to do it again, I’d build new doors to fit, rather than repurposing existing ones. Buying custom-made doors is another option, but we got a quote for close to $1,000, which was absolutely not happening.
My second challenge was that the refrigerator alcove itself isn’t square—it is off about a quarter of an inch from one side to the other. This means square doors either don’t fit or don’t look right in the non-square opening. I had to work hard to shape the doors to fit and give the illusion of being square.
And finally, get someone to help you out. Professionals might be able to hang cabinet doors easily by themselves, but since neither you nor I are professional cabinetmakers, another pair of hands will be invaluable.
Warning: DIY projects can be dangerous, even for the most experienced makers. Before proceeding with this or any other project on our site, ensure you have all necessary safety gear and know how to use it properly. At minimum, that may include safety glasses, a facemask, and/or ear protection. If you’re using power tools, you must know how to use them safely and correctly. If you do not, or are otherwise uncomfortable with anything described here, don’t attempt this project.
- Time: 30 to 90 minutes per door
- Material cost: $5 to $30 (not including the doors)
- Difficulty: moderate
- Cabinet hinges that fit your door
- Door handle
To hang the door
To trim the door
- Table saw
- Flush trim bit
- Hand plane
- Block plane
- Orbital sander
- Sanding discs
- Straight edge cutting guide (or a long scrap of plywood with a straight edge)
How to hang a cabinet or pantry door
1. Buy the proper hinges for your door. I was shocked and confused by how many different hinge styles there are. To find the one that’s right for you, pay attention to the overlay—how the door is positioned relative to the cabinet frame. Inset doors are flush with the front of the cabinet and rest fully inside the opening. Partial overlay doors sit in front of the cabinet face and cover up part of the face frame. Full overlay doors go in front of the cabinet face and cover the entire face frame. Each of these three types of doors requires its own style of hinge.
Once you’ve identified the type of door, check how the hinge attaches to the cabinet. Some screw flat to the sidewall, which is how ours work. Others wrap around the face frame of the cabinet. And finally, think about how visible you want the hinges to be and what features you need, including adjustability, opening angle, soft-closing, or self-closing.
- Note: BobVila.com has a quality guide to the different hinge types. If you’re a more visual learner, Rockler put together a good video guide.
2. Measure and mark how much to trim the doors. If you’re lucky, your door perfectly fits the opening you have, and you can skip steps 2 and 3 entirely. If not, you’ve got some work to do.
First, bring the door to the opening and figure out exactly where to trim. Hold the door in place, using shims or another person to help, and use a pencil to mark the material to remove. You may need to slim down an entire edge, or knock off a few inches leading into a corner, particularly if either the door or the opening aren’t perfectly square.
How much and where to trim depends on what kind of overlay your door has. If you have a partial overlay and adjustable hinges, you’ll have quite a bit of wiggle room because you won’t be constrained to the size of the opening. An eighth- or even a quarter-inch oversized probably doesn’t matter, though you will have to keep in mind how the door lines up with other cabinets nearby.
[Related: The surprising woodworking tools you already have around the house]
Full overlay doors have to be a bit more precise, because they’re supposed to completely cover the face frame, without hanging over. However, chances are that no one will notice if the doors overhang a 16th or even an eighth of an inch.
Inset doors require the most precision, because they fit inside the cabinet opening. Generally speaking, they need about an eighth of an inch gap on all sides to open and close, as well as to fit the hinges. But make sure you read the manufacturer’s instructions for your hinges, as some require different spacings.
3. Trim the doors down to size. There are many ways to trim cabinet doors, depending on what tools you have, how much needs to be shaved off, and where. To remove an eighth-inch or more from an entire edge of the board, your best bet is a table saw. Set the fence to the final width and run the board through. Depending on the style of the door, you may want to trim along both parallel edges so the door’s proportions remain the same.
If you need to remove a decent amount of material from part of the edge, as I did, you can use a router with a straightedge and a flush trim bit. I took a strip of plywood with one flat edge, and clamped it along the shallow angle I needed. Then I used the flush trim bit to remove the material.
If you have a small amount of material to remove, turn to a block plane or hand plane. Make sure the blade is properly sharpened and set up so you don’t tear the wood. Keeping the edge you’re working facing up, clamp the door in a vice or get someone to hold it in place. Then run the plane along it, keeping the tool perpendicular to the face of the door. You should get long, curled shavings of wood.
For those who don’t have a hand plane or who aren’t comfortable using one, use an orbital sander with 60-grit paper.
4. Install the hinges on the door. Different hinges connect to the door and the cabinet with different methods, so it’s important that you read the instructions included with your hardware. Some hinges screw directly to the surface of the door, while others require a mortise cut into the door to sit in. There are jigs available for different kinds of hardware to make this setup easier. If you’re only hanging one or two doors, though, a jig might not be worth the investment—some of them can be expensive.
Regardless of how your hinges work, pre-drill any screw holes. The last thing you want is your door to split during the final installation.
- Note: Some hinges may say to attach them to the cabinet first, rather than the door. Absolutely follow the manufacturer’s instructions, not my recommendations here.
5. Measure and mark where the hinges attach to the cabinet. If possible, hold the door in place to measure where the hinges attach to the cabinet. Shims can help with this, particularly on inset doors. Then mark the center of the hinge on the cabinet and take the door down. If you have extra hardware, center a spare on that line, and mark where the screw holes go. You can also make a drilling template out of a scrap of plywood by marking a “center” line as reference, and use a hinge to position and drill screw holes in relation to that line. Then bring that template to the cabinet, align the centerline to the mark on the cabinet, and drill the holes in the cabinet.
If it’s not feasible to hold the door in place to mark the hinge positions, you can use a tape measure to find the locations of the holes. Just remember to factor in the size of the gaps or overhangs as you measure—if you don’t, then your hinges will be too high or too low.
Once the positions are marked, pre-drill the holes for the screws.
6. Screw the hinges to the cabinet. This is one step where a helper is worth their weight in gold. Hold the door in place, most likely in the open position, and screw the hinges to the cabinet. Start with the top hinge, because that one can carry the weight of the door without flexing and ripping out of the wood—this might happen if you start with the bottom hinges.
7. Make adjustments as needed. Many hinges have hardware that allow you to make minute adjustments to perfectly line up the doors for equal spacing and straight lines. Fiddle with those as needed to get your door to fit. If those adjustments aren’t enough, you may need to further trim the door. You can use a block plane or sander to peel off small amounts while it’s hanging, but you’ll need to take the door down to remove more material.
[Related: How to build a DIY beer flight board]
While you’re at it, ensure that any drawer slides function properly with the doors in place. My pantry drawers on one side got stuck on the door—I’d installed the slides not knowing how thick the doors would eventually be. The fix is easy: Use a chisel to carve a slide-sized channel in the back of the door so that the drawers can open and close freely.
8. Install the door handle or pull. Installing the door pull last lets you install it exactly where you want it, after all the final adjustments have been made. Whether you position it in the middle of the door, lined up with other pulls in the room, or simply at a comfortable height to grab, you can be more accurate once the door is finished and in place.
Knobs and bars are the two most common types of door pulls. Knobs require you to drill a single hole through the door to slide a bolt through that the knob screws onto. Pulls need two bolt holes. Like hinges, there are jigs that will help make measuring the hole locations easier if you’re planning to do a lot of doors, but all you really have to do is measure from the top and closest edge of the door, and mark your hole locations.
And that’s it. Your door is hung and ready to use. If you’re planning to paint, stain, or otherwise finish the door, take it down and get to work. But if you’re anything like me, it’ll be a few months before you get around to that. For now, just enjoy not having to look at whatever is in that cabinet anymore.