How To Build It


Give Builder-Grade Cabinets a Custom Look

Give Builder-Grade Cabinets a Custom Look- super easy and cheap!

We had just moved into our new house and we were so excited, but it was driving me crazy that when you stood upstairs and looked down into the kitchen you could see the unfinished tops of our cabinets!  I personally think the builder should have finished the top of the cabinets, but some builders don’t.

This is how it looked from upstairs.


(Sorry about the picture quality, I took this with my phone, not intending to write about this)

I am sure that with most peoples’ cabinets reading this article you cannot see the tops of them.  If this is the case, it is a very easy project, all you need to do it a cut strips of wood that match the type of wood your cabinets are.  I recommend about 1″ or 3/4″ in thickness and about 2″ wide (if you have router bits that will do a larger profile, then the thicker the better).  Once the pieces are cut router a nice profile on one edge, I used a classical router bit, but pretty much any detail you prefer will probably look nice.  Then apply your finish at this point trying, be careful when matching woods such as oak, cherry, or maple     as they have a tendency to change color from sunlight exposure, so if you are matching the stain keep in mind that the wood will darken as well over time to eventually match the older wood.

Once the strips are finished to match the cabinets, cut them to length leaving the desired amount of overhang.  Then using a brad nailer just nail them into place.

Just like I do sometimes, I took a project that could have been very simple and made it more complicated.  I could have just cut several pieces of ¼” knotty alder plywood and laid them inside the individual cabinets and applied the finish and it would have looked fine.  But I thought it would be neat to make it decorative from upstairs, and also have it extend the crown from the view below to give the cabinets a more custom look.  So here is how I did it.

I essentially created a flat panel door for each section of cabinets, but in order to avoid having the end grain show like on typical cabinet doors, I used mitered corners and made them more like picture frame.  Inside each frame I put knotty alder paneling.  Then I routered the lower edge of each frame in a profile I felt complimented the existing crown molding on the cabinets.

Now I have to admit, I was able to contact the builder and find out both what type of stain they used and where they bought it and I purchased an exact match.  If that is not an option for you, you can bring in a door or another removable piece into a paint store and have them match the stain for you.  Keep in mind it can be very tricky to match stains and finishes if your cabinets are oak, cherry, or maple because these all darken over the years with exposure to sunlight, so if you match it exactly upon installing it, it will eventually be darker than the existing once the wood underneath darkens.

After I applied the stain I put two coats of lacquer on each one and using a finish nailer to secure them into place on the tops of my cabinets.

Here is a sad (with my phone) before picture:


Can you see how small the crown molding is?

I wish I had planned to post about this, and I would have taken much better before pictures.  Hopefully, you can get a feel for the huge difference it makes in the kitchen.  The crown molding was very small and unimpressive.

Here are some after pictures:






2 thoughts on “Give Builder-Grade Cabinets a Custom Look”

  1. I have those same ugly unfinished tops. You did a great job! Wish I had your skills. Just wanted to let you know how pretty it looks!

  2. You rock! your cabinets look amazing! i am so impressed with your building skills, you really did build sort of a mini door for the top. I am looking at two story home plans now and never thought of this problem arising. Thanks for sharing:-)


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