How To Add Glass To A Solid Wood Door

By Todd Fratzel on Doors

picture of wood doorToday Jacky emailed me with a very interesting question and design idea about modifying salvaged doors. Jacky said “We live in 1940 house, and are remodeling our unfinished half-lit basement. Currently we are in search of interior door w/small glass for our new 2nd bathroom. Since the bathroom has a big window, would like to use some of sun light thru its entrance door’s glass panel to the dark hallway area. We have found a couple of salvaged doors we love, but they are solid hemlock/fir doors without glass. Now we are wondering if we could cut the top panel out and install a reed glass instead. I know we could just order brand new one like that, but it will cost $400/door, it’s outside our budget.

Well I’ve never done this but I have seen it done a few times and it’s a great way to recycle / salvage a great solid wood door and give it new life and some added functionality. Solid wood doors are very expansive and honestly aren’t as good as the older doors. This modification will work well because the doors back then were indeed made out of solid wood and built with craftsmanship.

picture of wood door with glassThe process is actually pretty simple. First you’ll need to remove the wood panel that will serve as the window pane. This can be done several ways. Probably the best two ways that I can think of are to use either a circular saw or a router with a straight cutting bit. If you’re going to use a router you could make a simple jig to clamp to the door that would ensure you cut the exact size you want. The key here is to make sure you don’t cut too far into the corners. With both methods you’ll need to finish the corner cuts with a handsaw in order to get nice clean corners.

Once you cut out the panel you’ll want to sand the edges and treat the raw wood with either paint or urethane in order to protect the wood from rot. Next you’ll need a piece of glass thats slightly smaller than the window opening. I suggest making the glass approximately 1/4″ smaller in height and width to accommodate thermal movement in the wood. It’s important to note that most codes require tempered glass in doors. You may even want to purchase an insulated piece of glass (this could be quite expensive for a custom size).

In order to hold the piece of glass in place you’ll need to use some decorative moldings. The moldings will need to be sized based on the thickness of the door. For instance, if you have a 2″ thick door with a piece of glass that’s 1/8″ thick, you’ll need the moldings to be no greater than 7/8″ thick. You’ll also want to try and find a wood species thats similar to the native door species.

Nail the decorative trim into the opening on the outside of the door (you’re creating a sandwich effect, wood stop – glass – wood stop). You want to make sure that the molding is positioned so that when you insert the glass it’s centered in the door. Next apply a bead of silicon caulking around the inside of the molding. Set the glass inside the opening up against the first row of molding. Apply another bead of silicone caulking around the edge of the glass. Finally install the inside layer of molding up against the glass panel to complete the sandwich.

Once you’ve finished installing the glass you can apply a finish to the door to match it’s existing finish or you can re-finish the entire door. I hope this explanation offers sufficient information for you to try this interested door conversion.

Have any of you tried this? Do you have any before and after pictures? Email them to me and I can post them for others to see.

About the author

Todd Fratzel

I'm full time builder for a large construction company in New Hampshire. I run their design-build division that specializes in custom homes, commercial design-build projects and sub-divisions. I'm also a licensed civil and structural engineer with extensive experience in civil and structural design and home construction. My hope is that I can share my experience in the home construction, home improvement and home renovation profession with other builders and home owners. I'm also the author of Tool Box Buzz and Today's Green Construction. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions, suggestions or you'd like to inquire about advertising on this site.

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14 Comments

  1. Marilyn says:

    I don’t get it. These doors were assembled with rails and floating panels. Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that one of the side rails should be removed, the panel slid out and the glass slid in and the rail put back? Of course, this is simplified, I didn’t say how the rail was removed, but these doors are not “solid wood”.
    Marilyn

  2. sarah says:

    Haven't tried it but we were thinking about it – for some reason, I was thinking about pulling the top of the door apart, pulling out the wood panel (which should be floating), and then sliding glass in & putting the door back together. But your way seems a bit easier, especially if the door is still together and in good shape, not needing to be reglued. I was trying to avoid adding moulding – every time I need some, we have to make custom since our doors are fir & nobody around here carries any fir mouldings.

  3. Todd says:

    @ Marilyn – You could take that approach. All of the parts of a door like this are solid wood. They use mortise and tenon design. This approach allows you to remove the panel without damaging the door.

  4. Jacky says:

    Hi Todd,

    Thank you so much for featuring my request/question!

    We don’t have router, but maybe we can use our zigsaw and handsaw to cut the panel??

    Tricky part for us would be to find the right size glass… I have found one reed glass panel at salvage store, but it was too big for the door…

    I’ll have to ask around to see what local glass stores can offer…

    I don’t know when we can start working on this project, but will send our before/after pictures when we got it done!

    Thanks again!!

    -j

  5. Jennifer says:

    I’ve toyed with doing this with doors… we have single panel doors now so it won’t work, but I’ll keep this info filed away.

  6. steve says:

    Does anyone know of a good site to order the leaded glass inserts (ie 9″ X 9″)?

  7. Johne931 says:

    When I originally commented I clicked the Notify me when new comments are added checkbox and now every time a comment is added I get 4 emails using the same comment. Is there any way you may take away me from that service? Thanks! kkcbccedekkk

    • Todd says:

      There should be an unsubscribe link at the bottom of those emails. There’s only been 6 comments, can’t imagine you’ve had many emails.

  8. P Numan says:

    Can a decorative glass window be installed into a solid wood exterior door? The door has no panels

  9. julie says:

    I have french doors with approximately 16″ x 66″ glass inserts. About 1 year after the contractor installed, the glass insert separated about 1/2″ at the top from the door frame. After 6 months went by, contractor replaced the glass insert (BuildersSource-have receipt) which now I realized was not “broken” but just slipped down. Another year went by and now the new insert has slipped down, leaving about 1/4″ gap at top of insert and door frame. Why is this repeatedly happening? Installation of glass inserts seem fairly easy-but something keeps going wrong with the inserts slipping. Any info or instructions on how to keep this from happening would be greatly appreciated.

    • Todd Fratzel says:

      Sounds like the inserts need to be set with silicon or some adhesive to keep them in place in addition to the frame.

  10. Linda Durec says:

    I have six panel solid oak doors. Is there a way to remove all six panels leaving just a solid wood border and replace the rest with one large piece of glass.

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