How to use molding to make plain doors look paneled

Updated February 21, 2017

There comes a time when a bargain is no longer a bargain. Plain hollow-core doors were a money-saving refresher when you bought the house, but they now look tired, dated and dull. Over time, home decor tends to reflect family growth. Just as slipcovers and rugs no longer have to survive daily spills, other elements of decoration need a more established and sophisticated look. Saving money may still be very important, and growing families find plenty of places for money to go. Continue economising while updating and refreshing the look of interior doors with a panelled look made from moulding.

Remove the door from its hinges, using a screwdriver, and place it on a flat work area. If this is impossible, a door can be updated in place but you should expect to spend twice as much time and effort to get the job done.

Examine the door for rough spots, nicks or scratches. Lightly sand the whole surface, giving a bit more attention to damaged spots. Use caution, however; the wood on both sides of a hollow-core plain door is very thin and will tolerate only light sanding.

Apply a coat of primer if wished. Primer will cover minor damage and create a somewhat smoother surface. Let it dry thoroughly.

Measure and mark out the pattern of "panels" you want to add to your door.

Choose a style of moulding that goes with the rest of your decor. Lightweight wood moulding comes in plain strips, half-round, quarter-round and embossed motifs such as egg-and-dart, rope and chain. Mouldings should in general be smaller than those used for woodwork or window trim. They should also be as lightweight as possible, to avoid dragging down the door.

Cut moulding strips with the saw and mitre box, which lets you angle the ends of strips to fit together like the segments of a picture frame. For panels, you need learn only how to cut a 45-degree angle to compose the rectangular "panels."

Coat each moulding strip with carpenter's glue, and put it in place on the door, wiping away any excess glue. Putting a piece of thin plywood and a couple of heavy phone books on top of the moulding will provide good pressure while glue dries.

Tap small finishing brads into the glued moulding after the glue has dried, for additional security. Insert brads at a 10 to 20 per cent angle, and tap them gently in place, so as not to create dents in the soft wood of the moulding.

Paint, stain or varnish the trimmed door, and rehang it. If it is easier to finish the surface in place, rehang the door before proceeding.


Inspect the hinges and hinge holes as you remove the door to begin working. Adding moulding is sufficiently quick and easy that you may be tempted to augment your original design. Take care that you do not add so much moulding, especially if decorating both sides of the door, that the extra weight could put a strain on the hinges.

Things You'll Need

  • Screwdriver
  • Sandpaper
  • Primer paint, optional
  • Measuring tape
  • Straight edge (ruler)
  • Mitre board and saw
  • Carpenter's glue and applicator
  • Small 1/2-inch finishing brads
  • Tack hammer
  • Paint or stain
  • Paintbrush
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About the Author

Janet Beal has written for various websites, covering a variety of topics, including gardening, home, child development and cultural issues. Her work has appeared on early childhood education and consumer education websites. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from Harvard University and a Master of Science in early childhood education from the College of New Rochelle.