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DIY Interior Design: Door Paneling

Updated: Jul 10, 2022

Our front closet door was looking old, dirty, and damaged. The veneer at the bottom was peeling away which was just becoming a hazard. Instead of buying a new door I went ahead and upgraded the current one by adding paneling.

I had some leftover 1/4” thick MDF boards from previous projects ripped to 3” wide pieces (this was done at my local Ace lumber yard), these are what I used. (They typically come in 4x8 foot boards - many lumbar yards and some big box stores like HD and Lowes will make cuts for you). I made sure that these additional pieces wouldn’t affect how the door sits within the jamb, luckily there was no issue as the door sat deep enough that there was plenty of room for another ¼”.

Prep the door

You’ll want to clean you door and handle of any first/grime or whatever has made its way onto the door over the years. give it a good wipe down. Then you’ll want to at least scuff sand the door with 150 grit. This will take off any sheen that the door has and help allow for adhesion of primer/paint. I actually ended up doing my sanding after applying aqua coat to smooth out the crackling of the doors veneer, but if that step isn’t necessary in your case then go ahead and do your scuff sanding now.

Making the cuts

I started with the borders, long pieces along the sides and shorter across the top and bottom. I made the measurements and the appropriate cuts with my miter saw. I sanded the boards with 220 grit to make them smooth.

I used my dremel saw tool to make small notch cuts to accommodate the door hinges - I’m sure there’s a better way to do that but that’s how I went about it and it worked well. Then I realized that because the door knob sits more medially on the door than my 3” wide MDF vertical panel, I needed to put a board horizontally in that space too. I removed the door knob and through the hole on the inside of the door traced the shape onto my board and used my jigsaw to make the cut. (Luckily the existing knob still fit despite the added 1/4”). This changed my plans for the overall look of the door, I had originally planned to do a funky design with the paneling, but didn’t think it would like right.

Using dremel saw for door hinges.

Placing the panels

The door after the initial pieces are placed. I used liquid nails and a brad nailer for this.

Next I applied aqua coat to the entire door. This is something I could’ve done before adding any paneling, and probably would’ve been smarter. Aqua coat is used for cabinets to smooth out some of the wood grain that would still be obvious beneath paint. The door’s veneer was looking dry and crack-y so I filled that with the aqua coat. This is not a necessary step if your doors are smooth.

I measured out the spacing of my remaining boards and used tape as markers. I filled in the joints with Bondo wood filler. *Something I’ve learned by doing these paneling makeovers is to use something like Bondo wood filler, a putty plus a hardener, for large cracks and seams. You *do not* want to use spackle or Elmers wood filler as these products are subject to temperature fluctuations and will crack over time. Make sure the area is well ventilated and use a good mask when sanding this smooth.

After this I placed the remainder of the horizontal panels again using liquid nails and my brad nailer. The spacing isn‘t exactly equal between the boards but it’s close enough that it doesn’t matter.

Next I caulked the spaces where the panels meet the door. Then I primed the whole door using Kilz primer, adding primer gives the paint something to stick to and also evens out the pre paint finish which is necessary since I had two different materials to cover - wood and mdf. This was followed by paint. I chose Soot by Benjamin Moore in semi gloss finish. I also spray painted the handle then dry brushed black Rub n Buff to give it a more antique look.

The finished product

Link to products:

Aqua coat

Bondo wood filler

Rub n Buff

Kilz primer


Spray paint

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