Glass panel doors are a great way to equip a cabinet to highlight a favorite collection. It’s not much more difficult to install glass panels than it is to install solid insert panels made from plywood or another wood product. If you’re installing real glass panels, it’s always safest to purchase tempered glass for any door application. If you aren’t too bothered by it aesthetically, you can also use clear acrylic or polycarbonate panels. These won’t shatter, of course, but they tend to get scratched and to start to look a little cloudy over time.
Make and join the door frame rails and stiles the same way you’d do it for a plywood panel door, but assemble the frames without the panel and then install the panels in recesses you cut into the completed frames.
Assemble the door frame as you would any face frame. If you have the capability and equipment, use mortise-and-tenon joints for the frame. The back, inside edges of the frame opening must be rabbeted to create a recess for the glass to fit against. Place the door frame face down and secure it to your worksurface. Use a router with a piloted rabbeting bit to cut 3⁄8 – x 3⁄8″ rabbets in the edges of the frame opening. Use a wood chisel to carefully square off the corners of the recess.
Using the same wood stock you made the frame from, cut ¼- × ¼” retainer strips to hold the glass panels in the door. Cut enough retainer strip stock to cover the perimeter of all the glass pieces. Sand and finish the doors and retainer strips to match the cabinet.
Cut the glass pieces (or have them cut for you) so they are 1⁄8″ shorter than the rabbeted frame opening in each direction. Place a sheet of glass in each door. Cut the retainer strips to fit along each side of the glass. Bore 1⁄32″-dia. Pilot holes through the retainer strips, spaced 6 to 8″ apart, making sure the pilot holes are positioned so the brads will not contact the glass panel. Place the strips over the glass and attach them to the frame with 3/4″ brad nails. Use a tack hammer to drive the brads and then set the heads below the wood surface by striking them with a nail set.
Glass panel inserts transform a cabinet from a hulking mass to an open, airy furnishing that showcases its contents while providing protection from dust build-up.
Create the panel recess. First, install a 3⁄8″-dia. bottom-bearing rabbetting bit in your router. Secure the assembled wood frame to your worksurface. Engage the router and cut a 3⁄8 × 3⁄8″ recess around the entire back inside edge of the frame opening. Make these rabbet cuts in multiple passes of increasing depth.
Finish the cuts by using a wood chisel to square the corners. Remove the waste wood a little at a time, taking care not to split the wood or damage the corner joints.
On a table saw, rip-cut wood stock (the same type used for the frame) into 1/4 x 1/4″ lengths and then cut them to fit inside the frame opening, creating retainer strips. Use a push stick to move the narrow pieces across the blade.
Use a brad pusher or small tack hammer to drive 1/32″-long brad nails through 1⁄32″ pilot holes in the retainer strips and into the vertical surfaces of the frame recess opening. Then, set the nail heads with a nailset. Tip: Set a piece of cardboard over the glass surface to protect it.