DIY Shaker Cabinets (from original doors!)

Step by step tutorial turning flat paneled cabinets into DIY shaker cabinets.

Oh, kitchen remodels. They always start out so simple and then turn into so. much. more. 

Cabinets are a huge focal point in the kitchen. They are also a huge cost in a kitchen makeover. When we bought our farmhouse, we knew the flat paneled dated cabinets needed a big face lift.

Luckily, I was able to keep the original cabinets which made things SO much simpler and considerably cheaper.

Before you begin, you need to decide if it’s worth it to keep your original cabinets. Are they in good shape? Do you like the layout of the kitchen? Once you decide if you can keep the cabinets, you can move on to the doors.

Our original cabinets were solid wood, so we opted to keep them and just add an additional cabinet where it was needed.

Types of Cabinets Doors

Shaker Cabinet Doors 

Swoon. I’m sure you know these cabinets are trendy right now. That’s why you are here right?

They are a flat door with a simple flat frame around them. Shaker cabinets can compliment any kitchen style from contemporary to farmhouse.

Flat Panel Cabinet Doors

This is what I had to start with. They are one flat panel, which may be solid wood or pressed. Luckily, these can easily be transformed into shaker cabinet doors.  

Raised or Recessed Panel Doors 

These types of doors have a raised or sunken in door with often a decorative border around them. They can be painted and look very nice.

However, if it’s shaker style doors you are hoping for I would recommend constructing new doors for your original cabinets. It will still be considerably less expensive than brand new cabinets. 

Build or Upgrade Doors?

I decided to keep my cabinets and doors and add a trim around them similar to shaker doors instead of building new doors for several reasons:

  • Time. Adding trim around them is only one step further than simply painting the doors. I did not need to measure and create brand new doors.
  • Money. Buying the trim and paint is far less expensive than buying the panels for new cabinet doors.
  • Experience Level. I felt far more comfortable tackling this project on my own based on my own woodworking skills. If you are a seasoned woodworker, you may prefer building your own doors.


(Affiliate links are provided below. This post was sponsored by Wise Owl. You may read my disclosure here.)

Prep Work

First, remove all the cabinets and drawers. Label where each drawer and door goes to make reassembly easier.

Remove all the handles.

Give the cabinets a thorough cleaning. I clean them with Krud Kutter to remove any grease, grime or junk that may be on them.

Hand sand the cabinets with 220 grit sandpaper enough to remove the shine and scuff the surface. This will give the paint something to grip too.

Measure the edges on the faces of the cabinets and drawers to calculate how many Strips of Trim you will need.

Or, you can just buy a bunch like I did and have several panicked trips to the hardware store like I did?

Adding the Trim

At first I tried using pin nails to secure the trim to the face of the cabinet.

Before long I realized this was more trouble than it was worth and that the construction adhesive was very strong all by itself.

Measure one side (measure twice!) of the cabinet and use a chop saw to cut the trim to size. I cut the two long pieces first, then the two shorter and then layed them out before applying any adhesive.

Apply a liberal amount of adhesive to the trim pieces. Lay flat, do not stack and let dry overnight.

Repeat on all cabinets and drawers.

After you are done they should look a little something like this.

flat paneled cabinet before trim and with trim added


When painting a high traffic area like a kitchen it is very important to prime. Priming will –

  • Prevent Bleed Through – This is especially important if you are painting the cabinets a light color. Tannins in the wood can bleed through and leave a yellow tint on your paint job.
  • Provide a Stronger, more Durable Finish – The base layer primer will help the top coat last longer and be less susceptible to peeling, chipping or cracking.
  • Saves Paint – In general, primer is much less expensive than cabinet paint. A coat or two of primer will cut back on the amount of paint you use, and save you money.

I used the Wise Owl Primer that they sent to me. It is pricey, but it is a great primer. Other good options are Rust-Oleum primer or General Finishes Stain Blocking Primer.

Brush, Roll or Spray?

I tried all of these methods to try to achieve a super smooth finish. The finish from a spray gun was very smooth, but cleaning parts in between coats and dealing with clogs was a lot of work.

The paint brush results looked OK, but there was definitely brush strokes. This also took the longest of the three methods.

I was thrilled with the results of the foam roller. No brush strokes, and applying was very easy and quick.

In the end I chose to use the foam roller to paint the majority of the cabinets with hand brush for any hard to reach areas.

Give the cabinet a wipe down with the tack cloth before applying primer. Tack cloths will pick up and lint or debris that remains on the surface.

Apply the first coat of primer. Make sure the foam roller is fully saturated with paint before applying it, and then apply like a normal roller.

Prime all the cabinets, drawers and doors. If you are painting the insides of the doors make sure you prime them as well.

Painting the Shaker Cabinets

After priming, I gave the cabinets a light sanding with 220 grit sandpaper to remove and brush strokes or drips. Then another wipe down with the tack cloth.

Use the foam roller to paint thin, even coats of paint. Because I was painting white, this took 3 coats. Read the instructions on the paint you are using to see how long you need to wait in between coats of paint.

After you are done painting it’s time to reassemble.

Heres the finished shaker style cabinets.

Not too bad, right? It sure beats buying new cabinets.

Heres the before and after of the kitchen.

shaker cabinet kitchen before and after

The kitchen isn’t complete yet (notice the framing!) but adding these shaker style cabinets made a HUGE impact on our remodel on a budget.

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diy shaker style cabinets