Bathroom Closet Shaker Doors

Bathroom, Blog, Home, Woodworking / Wednesday, February 14th, 2018

When I started the bathroom closet conversion project, I knew I needed to build a custom door for the closet and I knew I wanted to create shaker doors, but I didn't know I'd need to build two. The original plan was to build a single door to cover the old shower space in our bathroom. I toyed with the idea of getting a glass shower door and hanging it on the wall, but I knew that would look tacky and that Ellie would not approve (it would, however, cover the opening with very little effort).

During the closet conversion, Ellie pointed out that there wouldn't be a good way to open the door because of where the closet would be located. There isn't enough space on the wall the closet is located on to have a door swing wide open. There are somewhere between two and four inches on either side of the opening. On one of the adjoining walls to the bathroom closet is the pocket door to get into the smaller bathroom space. On the other wall, there's a window. The door I needed to build would need to be at least 24" and either way it opened, it would cover the doorway or the window.

Ellie came up with the elegant solution, just build two doors instead. So that's what I did.

For the bathroom closet conversion, I had laid everything out in SketchUp for how I originally wanted to approach the closet build. I didn't end up sticking to those plans because of the metal surround for the old shower, but the plans came in handy for building the doors. I had the measurements I needed for the opening and I could then mock up what I wanted to do in a nice, neat, and precise way.

What I came up with were two tall and narrow shaker doors. If you're not familiar, shaker doors are a very simple design. There are two vertical stiles running from the top to the bottom of each side of the door and there are two or more horizontal rails which connect the stiles. Inside of the rails and stiles, there are flat panels to fill the void. Lacking in ornate details, shaker doors are very easy to put together.

Building Shaker Doors

Before I started this process, I had never done most of the techniques needed to create the shaker doors. However, I have done extensive research by watching hours and hours of seemingly mundane YouTube videos about cutting tenons and dados and rabbets. I had all of the pieces of knowledge I needed, it was time to put it together.

Because this was my first attempt at making doors, I didn't want to spend more money than I needed to in case I made mistakes and had to scrap the work I had done. So, with that in mind, I went to the local hardware store and picked up some quality pine 4x1s. These would be used to make the rails and the stiles. I also picked up some 1/4" plywood to use for the panels on the shaker doors. I think in the end, each door cost less than $10 to build.

Car loaded wood
My car loaded with supplies for the closet build

The first step I took was to cut my rails and stiles to length. The stiles needed to be 74" long and the rails would be 10". These measurements took into account the width of the wood as well as a 1/2" tongue on the ends of the rails. I cut these using the radial arm saw. The plywood panels were cut to 10×34" and 10×35" (I could have made these even but I miscalculated at one point in the process). I cut these using the circular saw with the 4×8' sheet of plywood balanced on a sawhorse.

After everything was cut to length, I needed to trim the width of the rails and the stiles. I didn't want 3 1/2" wide boards because they would dominate the door, making it look heavier than it needed to be. I trimmed all of the rails and stiles to 2" wide. In SketchUp, this proved to be a very balanced look for the tall shaker doors.

The next step would be to cut the grooves to fit the tongues of the rails into as well as the plywood panels. There are a few approaches I could have taken to accomplish these grooves, and I tried two of them. The first method I tried was to use a regular saw blade and cut the edges of the groove with it before knocking out the remaining wood. My low-powered motor on my ShopSmith had some issues with this and kept getting stuck halfway through the long stiles. As a result, I switched to the second method. I set up a dado stack.

For some reason, a dado stack intimidated me. I think I've watched too many YouTube videos where the host avoids using the dado because it's easier/quicker/simpler to use their regular saw blade to cut their dados. I was under this impression that there were an art and science to set things up right. There isn't. Setting up a dado stack is very straightforward and if you have one available, definitely use it to make your life easier. The dados I cut were beautiful and saved me a lot of time compared to cutting away the wood with the saw blade.

Shaker door mock up
Dry fitting the shaker doors

After cutting the dadoes in the rails and stiles, I needed to cut tongues in the rails to fit into the dados on the stiles. This involved a lot of futzing with the depth of the dado blade on scrap pieces until I had a consistent cut for a snug fit. I cut the tongue 1/2" deep on the rails and ran the rail a few passes on the blade to chip away all the excess wood.

For each shaker door, I now had two stiles, three rails, and two panels. It was time for a glue up. Gluing up was very straightforward. I just applied glue to the grooves and fit the pieces together. I only had enough clamps to glue up one door at a time, which is probably for the best because I would have ruined both doors by accident. I learned the hard way that you can clamp a shaker door too tight during glue up and it causes the wood to twist and warp. One of my doors was plagued with this. It bothers me so much, I'm planning to rebuild the door sometime in the future because it doesn't sit flat.

Bathroom closet shaker doors pre-paint
The doors, glued up and ready to be painted

For the time being, I used the doors as is. I applied a coat of primer on all faces of the door and once dried I applied two coats of white paint.

Installing the Doors

Hanging a door is not something I've had to do before and like all things, it intimidated me. I knew I needed to hang it level and centered and balanced and it seemed like there were a lot of moving parts to go wrong in the process. What ended up being problems during the installation, however, were not things I would have foreseen.

For the hinges, I made sure to install them evenly spaced from the ends of the doors. I think I chose 12" in from each end and since these shaker doors were 74" tall, they seemed to be nice and balanced and were not too close together to cause the door to be unstable.

I also added brushed nickle handles to match the vanity handles in the bathroom. These were installed centered with the center rail.

When screwing the hinges to the wall, I ran into a problem. It stems back to the main reason I had to pivot while building the closet. I had left the metal surround in place and apparently, it wrapped around to the outside of the closet as well. Since I needed to drive screws into the metal to secure the hinges, it was time to figure out a way to put holes in the surround. As it turns out, if I used a small enough drill bit and applied enough pressure on my drill then I could punch small holes in the surround which I could then bore out to be big enough to securely install the hinges. It wasn't the easiest, but it also wasn't the hardest.

Bathroom closet doors opened
View of the closet from the porcelain throne

Now, Ellie and I have a beautiful space to hide all our extra bathroom stuff. We took a space that wasn't being used and turned it into something functional. The process also paved the way for many more updates in the bathroom's future. I'll let you know once we've tackled those.

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