From Hollow Core Bore to a Beautiful Updated Door: DIY Slab Door Makeover using Trim and Paint

Let me start this post by saying how much I loathe hollow core "slab" doors. I really do. There is not one redeeming quality about them. whoever came up with this sorry excuse for a door should be shot.

Ok, maybe that's a little harsh. 

Hollow core doors are great for the budget conscious or for cheap contractors that are building construction grade homes. But really these doors only save money initially. They quickly drive down the value of your home. Especially if you've updated the rest of your house. 

They are so cheap and so ugly it's enough to drive anyone to the edge, kicking and hitting wildly in a fit of rage at those hideous veneered boards (that don't even deserve to be called a door). But then we all know you would have destroyed all of your thin doors (that can't even stand up to a punch from a hormonal teenager, much less your wild abandon) and be in a worse pickle than before, now having to buy all new doors.

Oh, sorry. I went off on a bit of a tangent there.

If you have boring, flat, hollow core slab doors you know exactly where I'm coming from, especially if you don't have loads of cash laying around to buy solid wood paneled doors. We could cry on each other's shoulders, or we could do something about these atrocities. I'm all about the doing ;).

I'm sure you've seen pictures and posts floating around the Internet of completely transformed slab doors from people like me who were almost tearing their hair out from the sheer awfulness of their flat slab doors. I of course googled and pinterested around checking out other bloggers door projects and the most inspirational for me was a video from Ron Hazelton If you haven't seen any of these dramatic door makeovers (heck, even if you have) I'm here to show you an easy (and awesome) door transformation that I did for $20 or less a door. I don't have a video to show you all but I do have tons and tons of pictures of the process.

Here's a before shot of the two doors I decided to start with first. Of course Jackson's bathroom door is one of them since it's the last step to finishing that bathroom up and the guest bedroom right next door.

So first things first I had to paint the doors and of course the trim. Painting all the woodwork and doors is a huge job to say the least. With 2700 square feet of trim, multiple closet doors and 16 slab doors in my house I have my work cut out for me. I'll be lucky if I get done with it in a year the way I am with projects. Of course that's not saying I won't try! Wish me luck ;).

Here's a pic of the in-progress painting of this small section of my house.

Painting trim is easy but tedious work. Although painting trim with carpet under it is a whole new ballgame for me so I had to come up with a way to work around getting any paint on the carpet. I came up with an easy fix using painters tape and an extra large putty/drywall knife. I took some pictures of how I got the tape to easily fit under the carpet so I could possibly save someone the trouble of figuring out how to paint trim with carpet.

Step one, I gathered my putty knife and painters tape. Step two, I placed the tape on the carpet with a little overlapping on the woodwork. Step three, I placed the putty knife at the base of the wood where it meets up with the carpet. Step four, I pushed the taped under the woodwork. Step five, I leaned back and admired my painters tape on top of the carpet and underneath the woodwork, just perfect to not get any paint on the carpet but to still manage to paint the whole piece of woodwork.

Ok, now back to those pesky slab doors. I painted the bathroom door while it was hung but took the guest bedroom door off the hinges and painted it in my pseudo work space in the kitchen on top of two sawhorses just to see which way would be easier. I found taking the door down to be the simpler way. After painting the door it was time to work my magic and transform a flat door into a masterpiece.

Supplies for making a flat door into a paneled door

  • door
  • decorative trim
  • tape measure
  • T-square or carpenters square
  • pencil (I used a dry erase marker for the first door, not the best idea)
  • miter box with saw (or just a saw if you're good like that)
  • liquid nails, or other comparable wood glue
  • tape
  • paint
  • level (not necessary but if you want to check how awesome you are at putting level panels on your doors this will reassure you ;)
  • time

First you need to measure and mark where your trim for the panels will go. I found that I didn't even use the carpenters square (Cory suggested it), just the T-square because the length of the blade was great for drawing lines and the head was perfect for keeping everything straight and right where I wanted it to be by resting it on the edge of the door.

Here's a picture of the panels drawn out. I wanted a pretty standard panel look for my doors so I used 5" in everywhere except on the bottom of the door where I did 6" up.

After you have your panels drawn out it's time to measure them to cut your trim. I bought my trim from Home Depot. They have some decorative trim pieces that come in 8 foot sections for $5 a piece. When I bought my first batch (about a year ago) they were only $4 a piece. When you snooze, you lose, I guess.

I got out my trusty miter box and saw (that you can buy at any home improvement store for under $10). The miter box makes it very easy for an amateur like myself to cut mitered cuts. It also is very convenient since I wanted to cut the trim inside while I had Jackson playing right by me. I put the miter box on my kitchen table and cut the trim at 45 degree angles. After I was done I simply wiped up the sawdust and put the miter box and saw away. No muss, no fuss.

I placed all the cut trim pieces on the door where I would be gluing them down like so. I used approximately four 8' trim pieces per door for making panels on both sides. For the smaller doors it will be less and for the four small pantry/closet doors I will only do the front of the door that faces out. So essentially I'm spending $20 or less a door. Much less than buying a solid wood paneled door from the store!

I then gathered my liquid nails, tape and a damp paper towel for any glue seepage. I put the glue on quite liberally since I really wanted the trim to stick well with no gaps. I simply placed the trim with the glue side down on my drawn out lines and taped it down for about 24 hours or so.

 Depending on if your trim is warped or not you may have to apply more tape. This is a picture of Jackson's bathroom door and it needed twice the amount of tape as the guest bedroom door. After you have removed the tape all that's left to do is paint the trim to match the door and hang the door back up.

Here's a pic of just one door done with panels, one door just painted and one door untouched. You can see the difference it makes. It looks much more refined and "finished".

And here's the finished doors complete with my "new" DIY spray painted doorknobs.

Here's a couple of close up shots of the finished door.

One more shot. I just love how these doors have turned out!!

Updating these doors has given me hope that my hollow core doors will stop bringing the value of my house down and possibly add some profit when we eventually move on to bigger and better things(sweat equity for sure!). Hope you become inspired to change your own hollow core doors into something you love!

Until the next time,