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Change Your Cabinet Hardware From Pulls To Handles

I have a pretty standard system when it comes to cabinet hardware, and pretty much the only time I deviate from my standard is when I’m making my own hardware.  But generally, I like to put round knobs on doors, and handles on drawers.  I like the combination of two different styles of hardware, and that way just seems to make sense to me.

But what happens if your existing hardware isn’t what you want, and the holes are in the wrong place?  Well, if your cabinets are painted, and you have touch up paint (or if you’re planning on completely repainting your cabinets), then the fix is quite simple.

Before I started working on John & Alice’s kitchen, every single drawer and door had a small round shiny brass knob.  The holes were fine on the doors, since I planned on replacing the brass knobs with updated pewter knobs.

j and a kitchen pewter door knob

But I wanted to use handles on the drawers instead of knobs, so I had to do a bit of reconfiguring.

knob to handle 1

I started by using wood filler…NOT CAULK…to fill in the existing hole.  I use wood filler because it’s sandable, and will result in a perfectly smooth finish.  Caulk is not sandable, and it is virtually impossible to get a completely smooth finish on a flat surface with caulk.

knob to handle 2

Then I used my finger to push the wood filler into the hole and spread it around on the surface. (Now that’s the hand of a DIYer, am I right?!) Open-mouthed smile

knob to handle 3

As you can see, I used quite a bit of wood filler, and I wasn’t concerned at all about it being smooth.  I actually tried to build it up a bit.

knob to handle 4

Once it was completely dry (I generally let them dry overnight), I used 150 grit sandpaper to smooth the surface.  Note:  Always, ALWAYS be sure the wood filler is completely dry before sanding.  There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to sand slightly damp wood filler!

knob to handle 5

I’ve actually found that sanding in a circular motion results in the smoothest finish.  I know that’s completely contrary to the “sand with the grain” instructions we’ve heard repeated over and over, but it seems to work the best for this particular purpose.

knob to handle 6

When I’m doing several drawers at once, I always seem to have at least one drawer that has a pit in it once it’s sanded.

knob to handle 7

If that happens, then I just repeat the process, using wood filler to build up right over the pit.  This dries quite a bit faster than the original wood filler since it’s a thinner coat, so I can usually sand after a couple of hours.

knob to handle 8

Once everything was dry and sanded completely smooth, I primed the sanded area.  Note:  It’s very important to NOT skip the priming step!!  If you do, the paint over the wood filler will probably have a different sheen than the rest of the drawer, and even if the drawer front is perfectly smooth, the sheen difference will draw attention to the fact that it’s a filled hole.

knob to handle 9

If the wood filler was sanded perfectly smooth, then the hole should be undetectable.

knob to handle 10

And next (obviously), I followed up with paint.  The result was a perfectly smooth drawer front.

knob to handle 11

Then I was ready to drill new holes for the new handles.

knob to handle 12

And voila!  I don’t think anyone would be able to tell that these drawers once had knobs right in the middle.

knob to handle 13

Of course, the same method can be used if you’d like to switch from a handle to a knob, or if you’d like to use a handle with a wider or narrower spread than the existing handles.

In other words, if you have painted cabinets (or are in the process of painting your cabinets) don’t let existing hardware holes in your cabinets limit your choices in cabinet hardware!



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  1. Wow. I always feel like I've been sleeping my life away by comparison to the 500 things you seem to accomplish every day! I would hate you, but you seem like such a sweet person….!

  2. No, please don't hate me! If it makes you feel better, keep in mind that I don't have kids, and I completely neglect my house cleaning and laundry. 😀

  3. Hi Kristi!
    Great article… Hope you don't mind I reposted it on our FaceBook Page for others to enjoy. We are a cabinet hardware supplier called http://www.simplyknobsandpulls.com and carry thousands of cabinet knobs and pulls. If you'd ever like to be featured, or write about us I'd be happy to send you some products!

  4. Great! I really love reading DIY blogs like this! It inspire me! 🙂 Thanks for sharing this!

  5. Hi there,
    I really loved the gr8 job you did,
    but could you pls. describe me step by steps how did you finish painting on drawer. I feel gr8 if you mention the color reference, and what types of color it is? is it water based color or oil based?

  6. This might sound stupid but, I’m replacing the handles on two drawers, and I can see that it has already been patched once so after I do it, it will be twice. Do I need to be careful not to drill the new holes where it’s previously been patched? It’s a bit area to try and avoid. Its a very old dresser.