Installing Decorative Glass In Cabinet Doors General Woodworking

One of the things that needed attention in my house when I bought it was the dated, worn out kitchen. Shortly after moving in, I set out to renovate it and came up with a good plan for the layout. I also had an idea of how I wanted the kitchen to look – modern, with clean lines and very few decorations. To this end, I made the cabinet doors as simple flat slabs from 3/4″ maple veneer plywood. What I failed to realize at the time was just how much plain, flat plywood there would be and how it really needed something to break it up. After it was complete (months later…), I was just happy to have everything done, so I left it as it was.

Fast forward four years
The kitchen has built-in appliances and this certainly helps to provide variety to the look, but it really wasn’t enough. With a total of 54 doors and drawer fronts, I felt that some of these should be different. I considered the options that would appeal to me and be economical. Doing something to improve the existing doors was my preference:
– I could change some of the doors to frame and panel, but I believe that this would look out of place with the overall style of the kitchen.
– Another possibility was to change the colour of some of the doors by choosing a contrasting shade and painting them. This was actually the way I was going to go originally, but couldn’t decide on a suitable colour.
– The last option I considered was adding glass panels to some of the doors. In the end, this seemed to be the most practical and I chose seven doors (one single and three doubles) to change.
I located a local
source for the glass (tip: look for “stained glass” when trying to find a retailer for decorative glass). They had a dizzying selection but one in particular caught my eye and I ordered it in the sizes for the seven doors.

Cutting The Doors

This article is not so much about the results, but how to get them. The procedure I used to cut the openings for the glass may not be the best way for some doors and there is a level of precision required that may be beyond the abilities of some builders. There is the real possibility that perfectly good doors could be quickly turned into firewood with one wrong move. If there was ever a really good time to measure twice and cut once, this is it.
First off, I ordered the glass to size first, then cut the holes accordingly. This way allows me to cut the hole for a perfect fit – I really trust my own ability to cut the opening to suit the glass over their ability to cut the glass to fit the opening. I can also cut the holes to a tighter tolerance, so that the trim piece that holds the glass in can be smaller. Of course, this leaves very little room for error, since a mistake while cutting the opening means a new piece of glass. The safer way is to cut the openings first, then order the glass to fit.
Before starting, I had to decide how I was going to install the glass. My preference would be to cut the openings to form a rabbet on the front side of the door to receive the glass. The opening would then be trimmed with a small strip, flush with the outside surface of the door. In order to do this, I would have to be able to cut extremely clean edges, without chipping. To confirm this, I cut a sample in a door that was removed earlier (the cabinet it was from was modified and the door became redundant), to see if the cut would be clean enough. Fortunately, it was and I had the confidence to proceed. As mentioned earlier, some types of plywood will not route cleanly and this can also be true for the finish. The router bits I used were new and very sharp; this goes a long way to ensuring a clean cut.

Since I would be doing the cuts with a router, I needed an accurate template to guide it. I cut pieces of 1/4″ hardboard on the table saw in “L” shapes:

cutting the template
two l shaped pieces

These L’s would make an adjustable template for the three largest doors.

The template is cut to size and carefully lined up:

clamped onto the door

Masking tape is effective for holding the corners together. The inside opening of the template is just slightly larger than the cutout will be, to accommodate the guide bushing in the router.

The router is equipped with a 1/4″ straight cutting bit and a 7/16″ outside diameter guide bushing. The first pass cuts 1/4″ deep:

using the router to cut one side
the hole is cut

The second pass from the front takes the cut to 1/2″ deep. I then remove the template, reduce the inside length and width by 1/2″, flip the door over and make another 1/4″ deep cut. This is the final pass, after which the centre comes out, leaving a neatly cut rabbet in the door.

After I check to make sure the glass fits well, I stain the cut edge the same colour as the door. This part is important, since it not only darkens the wood, it also helps to seal it:

stain the cut edge
full size template

For the four smaller doors, I cut out individual templates from single pieces of hardboard. This makes it easier to position the templates accurately. When making a template like this, I make sure that there is enough space for the baseplate of the router to ride on without hitting the clamps.

The cutouts:

the cutout parts

Routing out the centres is dusty work, and my router has no dust collection capability. A fairly thick layer covers the floor, and much of everything else in my shop when I’m finished.

After I reinstalled the door, I carefully applied clear polyurethane to the cut edge (without getting any on the finished door face) and left it to dry overnight. This completely seals the cut to prevent moisture intrusion that can lead to swelling – a good idea in a kitchen.
The next day, I put the glass in:

with the glass installed

I used some dabs of clear silicone to set the glass in place. This will also keep it from rattling, when the door is opened and closed.

With the door on and the glass put in, I turn my attention to the trim pieces that will hold in the glass and cover the cut edge of the plywood doors. These are strips cut to 1/4″ x 3/8″, planed to a consistent size and sanded smooth:

making strips to hold the glass in
staining the strips

The strips are then stained and left to dry overnight.

The next day they are sprayed on all sides with satin polyurethane:

the strips

I gave them 4 coats, sanding between the third and last coat. I made sure that I cut more than enough to do the doors. The last thing I want is to have to make an additional piece or two of this.

Once the finish is fully dried, it’s time to fit the pieces. I made a small mitre box from plywood and used a fine blade to cut the pieces to length. I then used a knife and sanding block to form the radius on the ends:

rounding the end
closeup of how it looks

This is necessary since the openings were cut with a router bit. The strips are held in with pin nails only. This makes it easier to replace the glass if it is ever broken.

The finished doors:


I still need to stain the front edge of the shelves that are visible through the glass but otherwise, the job is complete.

Overall, a very worthwhile improvement to the look of the kitchen and I’m finding it hard now to imagine it the way it was before.