Wednesday, June 25, 2014

How to Install Cabinet Doors On an Armoire or Bookcase

I told you all in my last post here that I have finally been getting to all those "diamonds in the rough" gathering dust in my studio. Today's post is a piece of all that productivity. I will tell you more about the armoire itself in a later post, where I reveal it in all it's finished and staged glory. It has a great story and I'm doing the coolest stuff to it. But today we're just gonna learn how to fix the doors of an old, busted up, hand-me-down armoire. This would also work to attach new doors onto an existing bookcase, as long as both doors and bookcase are made of wood.

Let's just jump right in:

1. Find, buy, or "inherit" a junky, beat up wood armoire. This is actually the easy part. With the advent of flat screened TVs people are dumping really great, solid wood armoires on Craigslist for a song. Which makes no sense to me, because armoires are one of the most versatile pieces of furniture out there. Drill a few holes to add another shelf or two across that giant gap for the TV, and you have some seriously amazing hidden storage. Books, toys, extra clothing, towels, cleaning supplies. You name it, an armoire can hold it.

As you can see, mine is nothing super thrilling. But it holds all my random staging things and my awesome globe and favorite decorating books. When I got it, the doors were installed incorrectly and hung wonky, so I just took them off, filled them in with wood putty and started over. I now wish I had also filled the holes with toothpicks or wooden kitchen skewers, cut to the depth of the hole and then puttied. The extra wood reinforces the hole, so if you end up screwing the doors into the same hole, the new screw has actual wood to bite into. It will give you much more support than just wood putty.

2. Buy, find or make your doors, if you are using a bookcase, or installing new doors on an armoire that didn't have them before. Flat 3/4in plywood would work fine for this. Ikea sells doors to retro fit onto it's book cases. The Habitat For Humanity Restore or a local savage yard might even have doors you could retrofit to work here.

If you are using plywood, and you have taken all your measurements carefully, you could even have the guys at Home Depot or Lowes make your cuts for you. Smile pretty and say "please" if they give you a hard time. I find it helps to go when they aren't super busy if you want a lot of cuts made.

You will also need to buy at least 2 large (2-3 in) metal hinges for each door. Think in terms of shelves that fit in the segment you are building. If the door is large enough to cover 3 shelves, get 3 hinges for that door. My top doors had 3 hinges. My bottom ones had two. If you are doing two really long doors for a book case, 3 hinges per door will probably do you fine.

And you will need to get enough screws to attach each hinge to both the cabinet door and the armoire. Look at the hinge and count the holes. Buy that many screws for each hinge. I used 3/4 in and 1/2 in #6 zinc plated sheet metal screws.

3. If you plan on painting the armoire and the doors and the hinges, do it now. This may sound like an odd time to do this, but I find everything is much easier to paint when it is separate. I spray paint and prime my hinges. It's just easier. Be aware though, hinges move, so some of the paint is going to wear off. If you can deal with it, you might consider painting your brass hinges darker, rather than lighter. Oil rubbed bronze hides the rubbing much better than white does.

That said, I painted my hinges white and will be touching them up with chalk paint after the door are on. Why would I take my own good advice?

4. Figure out where you want the hinges to be on the door. I love watching wood working vids on YouTube and the rule of thumb from all the wood working guys on YouTube is that you want to line the hinge up visually with inner edge of the door cross boards. See how my Lovely Assistant is pointing to the section just below where the cross piece intersects with the side piece? That's where the You Tube guys tell you to put the hinge. But it's your door. Put it where ever you think it looks best, keeping in mind it has to shut easily and bear the weight of the door evenly.

See how the hinge is lined up with the groove? And pushed flush with the side of the door? This is what the hinge looks like when it's closed. The hinges shown 3 pics up are open, just to give you some perspective on how they fit on the door. How your hinge fits depends on the hinge you choose to use. These are what came with the armoire.

This is how the hinges line up on the front. See how the rounded top of the opening mechanism lines up with where the smaller molding stops? It's just kind of happy for your eyes if you do it like that.

For those of you using plywood, or who feel better when you measure things, I didn't take the hinges off the top doors. The top hinges came installed 3 in down from the top and 3 in up from the bottom. The YouTube guys also said that was standard.

If you have a third hinge, measure the distance between your top and bottom hinge and divide it by two. Use that amount and measure up or down from your other hinge and install the third one there.

5. Mark where your hinges will go. I use a regular pencil for this. Also, if your hinges have oblong holes like mine (these are used to adjust the door to be able to shut easily), I always make my mark right dead center, so I have some wiggle room if I'm wrong. This technique has saved me on more than one occasion.

It's up to you whether you mark all your hinges at the same time. Or mark one and then install it. Both approaches have merit. I marked one, then installed that one and then marked and installed the next one on the same door.

6. Drill your holes. I am a bit of a coward when it comes to drilling into things I can't go all the way through. So I used the smallest bit I had. It really is the smallest one I own.

Just keep in mind that unless you are using some humongous screw, all you need to do is give your screw a start in the wood.

Here is the size of my screw vs. the size of my drill bit. You want to go at least one size smaller than the screw.
And be sure BEFORE you start screwing, that your screws are shorter than your door is thick. For example, use 1/2 in screws with 3/4 in plywood. When in doubt, hold the screw up to the side of the wood. If the screw is shorter, you're good.You don't want to have the tops of screws showing through the front of the door..

7. Once your holes are drilled, screw in your hinge. I prefer to use a hand screw driver for this. I know a ton of people who use their power drills, but I find that tends to strip my screws. and it makes it a pain to make adjustments later, if they are screwed down that tightly. But it all works. Do what makes you happiest. If you love your power tool, have at it!

8. Once all the hinges are on one door, make sure they are in the same place on the opposite door. This is actually a really important step. Your armoire will look totally stupid if your hinges don't line up visually. And it can affect whether the doors line up and hang nicely as well. You can measure to do this if you want, but I found it easier just to line up the doors and make sure the hinges were in the same place on the doors.

Once things are all lined up, mark and screw things into place.

Repeat this process on any other sets of door. I got off easy here. The top doors were fine, so I just left the hinges where they were, and just redid the armoire side of things.

9. Measure the space the doors will be covering. You have hopefully already done this if you made your own doors. But the rest of us need to catch up.

Don't you love my Lovely Assistants? I am a big fan of putting Rising 9th Graders to work if they are interrupting my posting with their out of school-ness. Plus I couldn't shoot the pics and hold the tape measure. And they are super cute.

See how I measured from the base, not including the molding, to the bottom of the top molding? That is the range your doors can cover. You need to figure out where you want them.

Since my bottom doors are starting right at the base and have no play, I decided to work there. If your doors will be resting on cross molding on the bottom, like mine are a the the top, figure out how much of the molding you want to cover and start from there.

It's helpful to know the heights (and width, if you are making your doors- My doors came with the armoire, so I already knew they fit together across the space) of your doors, as this helps you to determine how much you want to overlap areas of flat molding. I tried to install my doors so that the stretch of flat molding visible at the top and in the center of my armoire were the same size. My bottom height was determined for me, as the door shut up against the bottom of the shelf. But by installing the bottoms doors first, I was able to use the top of the installed lower door to figure out where to install my top doors.

It sounds really complicated, but it helps a ton to know all this stuff before you start drilling holes in the frame. Take your measurements and make a plan. Start with the most obvious set of doors (the ones that require the fewest decisions) and then keep adjusting from there.

10. Dry fit your doors on the armoire. You will all have your own challenges here, depending on the design of your armoire. Look for all the potential problems your door could have opening and shutting. Then think of solutions.

Because my door rested right on the bottom of the armoire, I had to create just the tiniest space between the ground and the door, so the door would drag as it opened and shut. My Lovely Assistants had abandoned me by this point to go have way more fun being teenagers than bloggers, so I had to think of some way to keep an even space held level all the way across the bottom cabinet, while I marked it. This took some thought. The guys on YouTube would probably tell you to have a friend help you hold the door, with a level on top to be sure it's straight. While the friend is hold the door steady, you could mark the holes.
I thought of something else, something brilliant! when I walked upstairs and saw my messy table.
Junk mail! It was thin, but had just enough thickness to create the perfect amount of space between the base and the door for the door to slide, but not leave a huge gap. So I put the stack of papers under the door to create a gap. Then you get to reach in and mark it without moving anything. Not easy, but it works.

11. Once you've solved your problems for now, mark where your hinges go. You can see in the poorly taken picture to the left how I marked in the center of the oblong hole. Well it was the center before it slipped down. I shot this with my iPad while holding the whole door up with my right hand by one hinge. Hey, I'm in my 40's. I gotta live on the edge somehow.

It works well to mark all your hinges on a given door at the same time. But make sure you realign everything every time you move or slip. And check it again before you drill.

12. Drill your holes and start placing your screws. If you've never done this before, you just put your drill right up to the mark and drill a straight hole into the mark you made. You should still be careful, but you don't have to worry about drilling through the same way you do on the door fronts.

I always start with the top screw in the top hinge, to help hold the weight of the door for the rest of the screws. Then I add one screw in the bottom hinge. This frees you from holding the door in place.

In fact, I didn't add the other screws until I was done installing all the other doors, just so I could easily make any needed adjustments. Just don't forget to go back and add any missing screws when you're done adjusting everything.

13. Using the ALL same methods you used for steps 10-12, install the opposite door. Remember to only do one screw per hinge for now.

14. When both doors are attached, shut them and see what happens. Then make adjustments so they aren't too close or too far apart. This is what the oblong shape on the hinge holes allows for.

The gap between the doors should be no wider than this. And maybe even a hair smaller.

You can adjust how close the doors are to each other by loosening the screws on the door side of the hinge slightly, and moving the door closer or further from the armoire. Sliding the door towards the armoire body will make the gap bigger. Sliding the door away from the armoire will make the gap smaller. When you have made your adjustments and the doors shut the way you want, tighten down the screws again.

You can make similar adjustments with the height of the doors. Loosen the screws on the armoire side of the hinge and raise or lower as needed to allow for clearance or to align the doors on the top or bottom. Just remember to tighten the screws again after you make any changes.

At this point, I had both bottom doors on, and adjusted. Now I had to figure out how high or low to hang the top doors.

15. Measure the remaining gap and figure out where your remaining doors should go. I also measured everything between the top of the lower doors and the bottom of the crown molding. I also measured the height of the the door and the visible height of the central flat molding and the height of the top molding.

My door was 3 in taller than the gap. And the flat moldings I was working with were 2 in on the top and 2 3/4 in in the center. I wanted to have an even amount of each flat molding showing, so I opted to cover roughly 1 in on top and 2 inches on the bottom. I have no idea how this worked out, but I ended up with 1 1/2 in visible on both flat planes.

In this very elegant and flattering picture you can see how I lined everything up with where I thought it should be. Then I braced the door with one hand and my thigh and picked up the measuring tape I had sitting inside the armoire, locked at 4 in to measure both of the gaps. Once things were perfect, I put down the tape measure, grabbed a pencil, which was also laying inside the armoire, and reached inside without moving anything and marked the first hinge I could reach.

In this really terrible and poorly focused picture you can see my pencil marks. But they worked. From these you can hold the door with the hinges open in one hand and finish marking the other hinges with the other.

Once again, this is where the You Tube guys would tell you to get a friend. DK had offered to help me the night before, but it was about 6:30 am and I didn't want to wake him up or wait for him. So I just employed my tripod and timer and figured it out as I went.

16. Drill your holes. Notice the exceptionally straight positioning of the drill. That is a good thing. And probably just luck mixed with paranoia. It does help a lot though if you drill straight holes. Then your screws go straight in and you don't get screws at weird angles that have a hard time tightening all the way down. That's the kind of thing going on with this piece when I got it.

17. Screw in your hinges. Once again, easier done with another set of hands. I braced the door on my leg and held it with one hand while feverishly screwing it in with the other. No sniggering, you silly people.

And I started with one screw in the top hinge. Then I put one in the bottom hinge. Then I did one in the middle. It just makes the door more stable to do it that way.

Once you get screws placed in all three hinges, you can start on the other side.

17. Make sure your doors line up. I am super uptight about this kind of detail. it would drive me crazy if I looked at the armoire and the doors weren't lined up nicely, all level and such.

There are many ways to do this, I'm sure. The method I chose by myself in the basement at 6:30 this am was: line up the second door with the first door, making sure it was connecting with the side of the amoire that the hinges would screw into. Once the doors are aligned and look level-ish, open the first door quickly and mark where the other door's hinges should go.

If you are upset by this method, you could double check it by using a tape measure and level and then you'd be sure it was right. I jut needed it done. I've been working on this project for over two weeks now.

18. Mark your holes. Here I'm rechecking the markings on the door. The first time I did them, they seemed a little too close to the edge. even if I seem like I cheat things a bit, I always double check if I even doubt myself a little.

I was right to check. I was too close to the edge. Crisis averted.

19. Drill your holes and attach your hinges, top, bottom middle. You guys are pros at this now.

20. Close both doors and make any necessary adjustments up down, in or out to the hinges. You know what to do. Loosen screws, move door panel or loosen screws, move entire panel. Re-tighten everything. Done.

21. Now you can go back and add in all the second screws for each of the hinges. It may seem like a lot of work, but just think how much trouble you saved yourself when you made those little adjustments without all those extra screws in place.

22. Shut the doors and congratulate yourself on a job well done! Now go to Hobby Lobby and get yourself some amazing handles or pulls to jazz it up. You deserve a treat for doing such a great job.

I would rate this project as "medium" hard. Mostly because there are a lot of details involved and it is way easier with two people. But if you think it through before you drill holes, you can totally do it. And this is a very long explanation for something that will seem a lot more straightforward once you are doing it. I just wanted to cover everything so I'd remember to tell you all the tips and tricks I learned along the way.

Sadly, my armoire still has many steps until it's finished. But the only thing I'm telling you now is that I'm giving it a tattoo. With an overhead projector. Yes, folks. I have an overhead projector. And yes, I did take it out of my neighbor's trash pile. 

But that's another story for a different day...

Talk to you soon,
CM Shaw


  1. First of all...I loVestavia the word WONKY and have used it twice this week.

    Secondly...lone the blue nail polish, theorange nail polish, and the blue and green tie dyed socks.

    Thirdly, (I think that's right) you have found your calling in documenting detailed instructions. yes, i know you are an is your passion, you are good at it.... But you rock the play by play! PM me your address...I have something to send you!

  2. First of all...I loVestavia the word WONKY and have used it twice this week.

    Secondly...lone the blue nail polish, theorange nail polish, and the blue and green tie dyed socks.

    Thirdly, (I think that's right) you have found your calling in documenting detailed instructions. yes, i know you are an is your passion, you are good at it.... But you rock the play by play! PM me your address...I have something to send you!

  3. You are a true DIYer! I love how ambitious you are with your projects. So sad I won't get to hug your neck next month at Haven, but I'm thankful we had the opportunity to cross paths. Good luck finishing up your projects.

  4. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THIS POST. I have been looking for this information on and off for over the last year! Now I can put doors back on my armoire!

    1. I'm so glad to be helpful. There have been a few posts out there which have been life savers for me as well. And good for you for not giving up and getting it done.
      CM Shaw