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Give your interior doors a facelift

Interior Door

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What can I do to improve the appearance of the plain, painted interior doors in my house? Can I use moulding to create a raised-panel look?–Ron O'Connel, Selkirk, Man.

This is a great project and well worth doing because it can improve the appearance of your doors so much. To achieve success, you need to deal with three things: the profile of trim you’ll use, the pattern you’ll apply and the way you’ll fasten the trim to your doors. This project involves some artistic judgement.

Astragal is the name of a profile that’s meant for application on flat surfaces. It comes in various widths and a few, slightly different shapes. An ordinary interior door typically looks best with a 3/4″- to 1″-wide astragal, but that’s just a guideline. Cut strips from scrap wood and hold them against your door to get a sense of what width looks proportional before you buy.

Experimenting with strips is also an effective way to come up with an optimal pattern of trim on your door face. But before you do that, try some scale drawings. For situations such as this, I often find that a scale combining metric and imperial measurements works well. A ratio of 3 mm to the inch lets a normal door height fill most of a regular-sized sheet of paper, and that’s what you want. Draw the outlines of your door first, then start fooling around with various trim patterns. The ones I think you’ll like best involve vertical rectangles–either one tall one above a shorter one, or two pairs of tall ones over two pairs of shorter ones. What you’re aiming to create is a pattern that’s reminiscent of the frame-and-panel construction of traditional solid-wood doors. When you’ve settled on a pattern you like, cut some scrap strips to length and use some double-sided tape to fasten them temporarily to one door as it hangs vertically. How does it look? Now is the time to tweak the arrangement, settling on what seems best to your eye.

Fastening the astragal moulding to the door is trickier than it looks, for two reasons. First of all, the door is probably hollow, so ordinary finishing nails won’t hold the trim well enough on their own. Also, you’ll need to seal the joint behind the astragal so it appears to be part of the door. Any gaps behind the trim look bad. The best way to meet both these challenges is with a pin nailer and a tube of latex caulking of the sort used to fill joint gaps on interior trim before painting. Cut pieces of astragal, dry-fit them onto the face of the door as it sits horizontally, then mark their position with a pencil. Lift the pieces off, apply a small bead of caulk to the back faces of the trim pieces, then place them back on the door and secure them with a  pin nailer. Ideally, you’d like to see a small amount of squeeze-out from the sides of the astragal, which you can smooth over with your finger.

Let the caulk dry for a day or two, then prime the trim and paint the door. You’ll be amazed at how much better it looks.

Steve Maxwell

Steve Maxwell lives on Manitoulin Island, Ontario and has worked remotely as technical editor of Canadian Home Workshop since 1990. He uses his experience as a cabinetmaker, carpenter and stonemason to prepare projects for the magazine, to write stories of his own, and to test and review products and tools in his workshop. Steve has a readership of about 2 million people across Canada and the US, and takes photos and creates videos to accompany his work.

When Steve’s not working with words, wood and stone, he likes to spend time gardening, cutting firewood, and showing his five kids how to make things.

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