Breathe new life into an old bath vanity with updated doors and drawers, or replace the drawers with shelves that hold decorative but functional baskets.
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Revive your vanity with just a weekend of woodworking and a few evenings with a paintbrush. For the new configuration, you can add a shelf unit where a bank of drawers are located, replace the door and drawer faces, or do both.
Measure the existing vanity door and drawer panel sizes. You will size the new ones to be the same as the existing ones. Also, measure the spacing between the assemblies and the distance from the edge of the vanity to the edges of the drawers and doors.
If you plan to build the shelf insert, measure the opening where it will be placed. Then remove the hardware and place the items in marked bags if you plan to reuse them later. Also remove the door and drawers, and label each with painter’s tape to identify its location.
If replacing the drawer fronts, pry the drawer face away from the drawer box. Take small steps – the faces are typically nailed in place, so gentle prying will help the nails slide out of the material and minimize drawer damage.
Work gently to remove the drawer faces without damaging the drawer box A chisel or stiff-blade putty knife works well for prying the pieces apart.
Clean the surfaces of the parts you will keep, including the vanity. A citrus-based cleaner works well to prepare surfaces for painting.
Evaluate the hardware and decide what you will replace, including any damaged or broken hinges.
When changing hinges, replace them with new hinges that work in the same manner. Subtle differences in the hardware will affect the operation of the doors and their position on the cabinet frame. There are three main types of hinges: Butt hinges attach to the edge of the door and cabinet frame, overlay hinges screw to the back of the door and the edge of the frame, and European-style hinges fit into a large hole in the back of the door panel and screw into the cabinet frame. If you have European hinges, you may need to adjust the width of the door trim stiles to drill the hinge holes.
Using a table saw, cut 1/2-inch-thick medium-density fiberboard (MDF) to match the exact size of the existing door, drawer faces, and false front that runs across the top of the vanity (Project Diagrams, Drawing 1).
If you have European-style hinges, measure the distance from the edge of the door to 1/8 inch beyond the hole. The large hole is typically 35 millimeters wide, or roughly 1-3/8 inches. If the hole is 1/8 inch from the edge of the door, you will need the stiles to be 1-5/8 inches wide. Match the width of the drawer stiles with the width of the newly cut door stiles to create a consistent look.
There are two trim elements to the doors. The vertical elements are called stiles, and the horizontal parts are called rails.
Cut the stiles to width and to match the height of the door panel. Glue and clamp each stile to the door. Now hold a rail in position between the stiles, mark the exact length, and then cut it to fit. Glue and clamp the rail in place, and repeat for the other rail.
Transfer the hinge location to the back of the new door panel. A carpenter’s square or combination square works well to relocate the center point of the hinge to the new door.
Measure from the edge of the door to the centerline of the new hinge hole and mark the location. Position the Forstner bit on the new center point, and drill the hole to a depth that matches the hinge cup.
To drill the new hinge hole the same depth as the existing one, compare the depths on the side of the bit.
Place the hinge in position and use a self-centering hinge bit to drill pilot holes for the mounting screws. If you try to drill without this bit, misplaced screws may cause the hinges to bind when the door swings.
Lightly sand the door with 150-grit sandpaper. The drawer faces are made in the same manner as the doors, build them to match the dimensions of the existing panels.
Use the existing holes in the cabinet to reinstall the hinges and hang the door (Project Diagrams, Drawing 2).
Clamp a scrap board level under the door and drawer openings to align the bottom edge of the drawer face with the door. A vertical guide can also be clamped in place to keep the drawer sides aligned.
Insert a drawer box in its opening. If you plan to reuse the existing hardware, position the new drawer face on the front of the drawer box, and use the holes in the box to mark the position of the drawer hardware holes on the inside face of the drawer front. Then drill the drawer front and secure the faces temporarily using the drawer pull hardware. Remove the drawer from the vanity and drive flathead screws through the drawer box front into the new drawer face. Slide the new drawer back in position.
Use spacers to stack the drawer faces evenly apart based on the measurements you took at the beginning. Slip the next drawer in position and attach the hardware and drawer face as you did in the previous step. Repeat for the remaining drawer faces.
For the top false front, use spacers and the existing hardware to secure the panel in position.
If you wish to make the shelf unit and eliminate the drawers, you’ll need to make a shelf insert from 1/2-inch MDF. This also requires removing the horizontal face frame pieces between the drawers. To remove the parts you may need to remove screws or possibly cut the rail with a hand saw.
With this trim out of the way, measure the opening created. Design a box that’s 1/4 inch wider on the inside than the width of the opening. Then measure from the floor of the vanity to 1/2 inch taller than the existing opening for interior height of the box. (The two layers of MDF at the bottom of the box make the bottom of the interior flush with the bottom of the opening in the face frame.
Cut the MDF parts to size and assemble the bottom, a side, and the back using glue and nails (Project Diagrams, Drawing 3).
Cut and insert spacers to position the shelf at the height that accommodates your storage needs. Secure the shelf with glue and nails.
Add the remaining side to complete the box. Repeat for the second shelf insert as needed. Sand the parts with 150-grit sandpaper.
Apply construction adhesive to the base of the shelf unit and set in position on the bottom of the vanity, center the units in the openings (Project Diagrams, Drawing 4).
For the shelves, cut a piece of 3/4-inch square dowel to fit between the cabinet frame stiles. Glue and nail the dowel to the front edge of the shelf. Repeat for the other shelf edge.
Remove the drawers and the doors, along with any hardware and sand any sharp edges with 150-grit sandpaper; fill any nail holes with wood filler, let dry, and sand smooth. Now follow the painting instructions that came with the product you are using to achieve the final color to complete your newly updated vanity.