DIY Fretwork Panels For French Doors (Plus Tips On Using A Jigsaw)

This weekend I finished the most time-consuming part of my sliding French door project — cutting out the DIY fretwork panels that will go over the glass on my French doors. On Friday, I showed you my inspiration for these doors.

Evidently that building is somewhere in Las Vegas. Anyone recognize it?

Anyway, I took that design, scaled it down to fit my doors, and made the circles a little narrower and lighter looking, and this is what I ended up with.

fretwork panels 1

I’m pretty excited about how they turned out!  And compared to cutting out and sanding the panels, the rest of the process to finish up those doors should be a breeze.  I still need to strip the doors, fill the door knob holes, do some other wood filling and caulking, and then prime and paint everything.

How I Made The DIY Fretwork Panels

1. Cut 1/2-inch MDF to fit inside cut out opening in door.

I started with a piece of 1/2-inch MDF.  MDF comes in 4′ x 8′ sheets just like plywood does.  I had a guy at Home Depot cut the sheet of MDF into two pieces that would fit into my French doors (i.e., the same size as the glass I ordered).

2. Draw the design for the DIY fretwork panel on the MDF.

To create my design, I started by marking off a 1/2-inch border around the edge of the panel.  I just used a piece of 1/2-inch trim that I purchased to go on these doors, and I lined it up with the edge of the panel and traced.

fretwork panels 2

Then I drew the circles.  I searched for the largest circular object I could find and ended up using the hand rail from the wheel of one of Matt’s old wheelchairs. (My husband, Matt, has M.S. and uses a wheelchair to get around.) 

The wheel wasn’t quite large enough, so I used a hole saw (the type that inserts into a drill) and cut a circle of wood to use along the edge of the hand rail.  I put my pencil into the hole in the circle of wood, and ran it along the edge of the hand rail all the way around to add an extra couple of inches to the circle.

fretwork panels 3

Now obviously, if you don’t have a large circular item, you can just make a pattern out of paper, plywood, MDF, or cardboard using the old nail/string/pencil method.  Also, for this particular design, you really only need half of a circle.  You can see above where I marked the halfway point with painters tape, and those are the marks that I lined up with the border I marked on the panel.

Once I got the circles drawn on one side of the panel, it looked like this…

fretwork panels 4

And after I added the circles to the other side, it looked like this…

fretwork panels 5

Now here’s the kicker.  Those lines just gave me the basic design, but didn’t actually show me where to cut.  In order to create my cut lines, I had to make a small pattern the width that I wanted my circle design (1.25 inches).  I made my small pattern out of cardboard, and I marked the top and bottom center, and also the center point on the left and right sides.  I also placed an arrow to indicate the top of the pattern.

fretwork panels 6

And then using this pattern, I lined up the top and bottom center marks on the original lines I drew, and then placed small marks on the left and the right sides of the pattern right at the lines I drew marking the center of the sides.

fretwork panels 7

And then I went back and connected the lines.  These new lines gave me my cut lines.

fretwork panels 8

And here’s how it looked with all of my cut lines drawn onto the panel.

fretwork panels 9

And finally I was ready to cut out the design. 

3. Cut out the design using a jigsaw and a small blade for cutting curves.

I started by using my drill with a large bit on it (large enough to create a hole that the jigsaw blade would fit into), and I drilled pilot holes in all of the sections that needed to be cut out.

fretwork panels 10

In order to cut designs like this with a jigsaw, I always use what I call a “detail blade.”  This is just my word for it.  If you go to the home improvement store and look for something labeled “detail blade” for a jigsaw, you won’t find it.  But here’s what you need to look for.  The regular blade is on the left, and the detail blade (curve blade) is on the right.  You can see that the blade on the right is smaller, narrower, and has more teeth.

fretwork panels 11

Here’s what you’ll look for on the package.  In terms of the speed at which it cuts, it’ll be rated the slowest.  You can see on the scale from tortoise to rabbit, it’s rated a 1 (the slowest).  And in terms of the cleanliness/smoothness of the cut, it’s going to have a higher rating.  It’ll also have more teeth per inch than regular wood blades, and somewhere on the package it will probably say “curved”, meaning that it’s small enough to cut curves and designs with it.

fretwork panels 12

Now as far as cutting out a design with a jigsaw, there are a couple of things to keep in mind.  First, you will not ever be able to cut out the whole piece in one direction, not even with a detail blade on your saw.  (For that type of super detailed cutting, you would need a scroll saw.)

So I started at the pilot hole, and worked my way around the in a counter clockwise direction.  From the hole, I got over to the cut line as soon as possible, and then I followed that line all the way to the corner.  Then I backed up, curved around, got to the cut line as soon as possible, and cut all the way to the second corner.

fretwork panels 13

I continued doing that — backing up, curving around, moving to the cut line, and cutting all the way to the next corner — until I had worked my way around the entire section, and then I removed the center piece.

fretwork panels 14

Then I used my jigsaw in the other direction to make the cuts needed to clean up the corners.

fretwork panels 15

The main piece of advice I can give regarding cutting out detailed decorative pieces with a jigsaw is to remember this.  You control the saw.  It doesn’t control you.

I know that sounds like very basic, common sense type of advice, right?  And if you’re the one doing the watching while someone else is doing the cutting, it seems very clear. 

But if you’re anything like me, once you get that saw in your hand, and you press the button to turn it on, and that blade starts going 100 miles an hour, you’ll feel this natural compulsion to push the jigsaw forward as fast as it’ll go.  And believe me, it will go super fast through MDF, regardless of the fact that the blade is labeled “slow”.  And once you start going too fast, it’ll rattle you, you’ll get outside of your cut lines, and you’ll mess up your project.  I speak from experience here.  🙂

So the main thing is that you just have to fight that natural urge to push the jigsaw forward quickly.  You have to make yourself go slowly.  Once you get the feel of it, and learn how to have full control over the speed at which the saw cuts, you’ll be able to cut out detailed designs.

4. Sand the jigsaw cuts in the DIY fretwork panel until they’re smooth and even.

Now do keep in mind that it’s still a jigsaw.  Jigsaws don’t cut super detailed patterns (again, for really intricate designs, you would need a scroll saw), and they don’t cut perfectly.  So once your design is cut out, you’ll need to spend quite a bit of time sanding the item to give it a finished look. 

I think each panel took me about an hour and a half just to sand.  I did so using 150-grit sandpaper, and I sanded it by hand.  Any kind of electric sander is way too powerful for something like this, so sanding by hand is the way to go.

I hope those pointers help!  The main thing is that you have to practice.  Just get out a scrap piece of MDF or plywood, draw a design on it, and give it a go.  If you mess up, don’t get discouraged!  Just try again.  And again.  It took me a while to get the hang of it, so I know you can too!  🙂

5. Attach the fretwork panels to the doors.

To attach the panels to the cut outs in the doors, I simple placed them inside the cutout and then used my nail gun and 1.5-inch 18-gauge nails to nail them to the door. I nailed from the inside of the fretwork “frame” (i.e., the 1/2-inch frame that I left around the whole fretwork design) and into the edge of the cutout opening in the door.

fretwork panels 1

It still looks a little rough at this point, but I plan to add trim around the areas where the edge of the fretwork panels meet the inside edges of the door.

I’m really excited to get these doors finished!  I think they just might turn out better than I expected.


To see the next step in this rolling barn door-style French door project, you can see that here…

Update #2:

My rolling barn door-style French doors are finished! Here’s a peek at how they turned out…

You can see more pictures of my finished doors here…



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  1. Just lovely. What you can do with MDF is amazing. I love the design and I am sooooo happy that you chose the bird handles.


  2. I love all your work, and honestly most of the time I think, I Could do that. Not this, this is way too amazing. Great job and give your self a high five!

  3. I’m impressed with the amout of knowledge you share so openly with everyone. I’m proud to be able to follow your journey.
    Fantastic work and going to be just stunning when your finished!
    Be blessed, Hope

  4. Incredible! Will you have a matching set for both entrances? Can’t wait to see them installed, as I am sure you can’t as well, great job lady!!!

  5. I’m really impressed by your work here! I’ve done a fair bit of (rougher) cutting with a jigsaw and would have expected you to do this with a non-powered fret saw (my translation program says “jigsaw” for what I mean, too, I hope, you know what I mean…). So it’s great that your fretwork turned out so beautifully, because I can very well imagine how the tool runs away with you 😉 Well done, congratulations!

    1. Oh yes…I know what a fret saw is, and I’ve never been brave enough to try one. 🙂 That, to me, seems like the type of tool best left in the hands of a skilled craftsman/artist who makes beautifully intricate fretwork. I tend to think that about most hand tools like that. I watched a video just yesterday of a man building a dining table from beginning to end using nothing but hand tools. Not a power tool, or even a nail for that matter, anywhere in sight. He used all hand tools and created the whole thing to go together with the most perfect joints. It could be taken apart, transported, and put back together without any nails, wood glue, screws, or anything else. That is a skilled craftsman if I ever saw one.

      1. well, to me you are a skilled craftswoman, too! I do not think the way you get there is what makes you this, but the results – as well as the ingenuity with which you figure out how to do things!

        What would annoy me most about using a fret saw (and I haven’t used one ever since my woodworking class at school…) is how much bodily effort it is to cut with them (esp. a design as large as your fretwork there). I just couldn’t imagine such a perfect result with a a powered jigsaw – but again, you have me convinced, wonderwoman 🙂

  6. Wow. They are going to be so great. Love your handle choice also. Can’t wait to see this. Thanks for the “how to”… You make this look easy to do. I think I’ll be giving this a try once I figure out a project for it. Cheers

  7. WOW! You should be teaching woodworking at a community college. Your knowledge of tools and what they will do is just amazing. Maybe when you get your house done, you could teach one of those continuing education courses at a school. The doors are going to fabulous painted black. I have done a few so far in my kitchen/lounge area and everytime I go out and come back it my heart skips a beat! They are so dramatic and they make a space look so finished. Your application will be stunning and l love how the circles work with your kitchen light. Oh shoot! I had a question for you and I started talking and now I forget what it was. Maybe I will remember late, LOL. Hope today is a good day for you and you get everything done that you want to get done. Blessings

  8. You’re doing an amazing job! Your doors are going to be stunning and a great addition to your home. You really are an inspiration to all of us!

  9. What amazes me more about you than you’re phenomenal woodworking and decorating skills is your people skills! Your patience and kindness in response to posts being critical or asking the same questions over and over just blows me away. Kudos Kristi!!!

  10. Wow – these are going to be gorgeous!!! I love how your ideas have morphed over the space of a week’s time. And that you’re halfway done already!

  11. Wow, once again, I’m in awe of your ability to employ the tools and techniques available to you and navigate your way to your final vision, often a vision created through entirely different means. You are gifted in envisioning your goal, fearless in what you take on, determined in your efforts and incredibly generous in sharing what you’ve learned. Thank you!

  12. I’m so inspired (as usual). I have some old slatted doors which divide my living area from the bedroom area. I have never liked them. I stared at them all weekend wondering if I could remove the inside panels and do something like what you are doing. Now I have to! I can’t imagine leaving the nasty doors the way they are when they could be really beautiful like this.

    Now I have to finish all the other projects you have inspired to do so I can get to this one! I wish you would slow down!

  13. I have a scroll saw and the most amazing thing I’ve ever done with it is to create my own parquet flooring. This is outstanding and with a jig saw??!! You Rock!

  14. you are my new hero! you are fearless in trying projects and not afraid to fail. as the wife of a home improvement contractor, I can say that you are doing a great job. it may not be done the way that he would, but, you do get it done. keep inspiring us to try something new. blessings, Jeri

  15. As always, I am so impressed with your talent and tenacity. They look like a professional woodworker created them. They are going to be extraordinary with those peacock handles.

  16. New reader here- my mind went fuzzy just seeing you figure out the design! The sawing I think I could handle, but that calculating – I hate that stuff! I applaude you for that, and may I say, it is going to be amaze-balls! So glad I found your blog!

  17. I look forward to reading you blog every day! I love your style and what you have done with your house. When are you going to write a book? I’m serious!

  18. You did a great job with just a saber saw (that’s what my Dad always called it, so of course, I do too)! I have a scroll saw that I was able to use again over the weekend and it’s really fun. You might consider getting one sometime before you do the doors on the other side of the room. And then you’d have to justify the purchase by using it all over the house! I’d love to see what you could do with one.

  19. It’s AMAZING!!! Thank you for sharing! I appreciate all the details and tips on drawing out the pattern, on blades, how to go slow, etc… I do have a couple of questions… or really one question with a few related queries… lol

    what and where and how do you secure your board so you can cut it?

    do you have to clamp your board to something so it doesn’t move?

    – any further tips on how to secure your board and what NOT to do?

    1. I cut these on my front porch. 😀 I just let the part I’m cutting hang over the edge, hold it secure with my left hand, and cut with my right hand. I don’t use clamps unless I’m cutting something very small and it would be dangerous to hold it with my hand while cutting.

  20. You are so very smart do you realize how few people can do what you accomplish? Both the creative and mechanical to consider using a small disk to make the circumfrance bigger….gosh . CONGRAGULATIONS on a job well done.

  21. So cool! Thank you for sharing all the detailed info about what type of blades to use and the actual packaging. (But I don’t think this is on my to-do list anytime soon. (: ) These doors will be amazing! You have mad skills Kristi!

  22. I am so impressed by this! It’s going to look great. Question about placement of rolling doors: Obviously, this set has been installed inside the music room. Will the other set also be installed inside the music room, so that the hardware and open doors will be symmetrical when standing in that room, or will it be on the entry side of the wall so both sets of doors will be visible from the front door when they are fully open?

  23. Fantastic job, Kristi. I admire your skills especially with the mathematics and geometry that were necessary for laying out the part-circles. FWIW, I think you chose the right tool for this job. The scroll saw can do more intricate cuts, true, but its table is made for much smaller projects. You would have had to make an auxiliary table to use it on these door inserts.

  24. Love it for your house!! Such a great idea for your style and so glad you came to your “senses” with something that just fits you and your beauty of a kitchen.

  25. Wow, love the design! Are you going to try to seal up the cut edges of the Mdf before painting? They get kind of fuzzy without sealing!

    I have really have enjoyed reading your adventures in Home Decor!


  26. They look amazing. I’m very impressed. Question, are you going to have a way to latch the doors when they are closed. I am thinking of doing sliding doors in our basement. We are going to put in a window to get some air and light down there. We also want the area to have guest sleeping near the egress so it counts as a bedroom. However we don’t want to block off the light to the rest of the basement. So I figured a sliding door with glass would be ideal but they would need to latch for privacy reasons.

  27. Your design is fabulous and you make it look so naturally doable and I think you are awesome. Thanks for posting your wonderful work and imagination..

  28. Kristie, I LOVE this! I have always been a fan of fretwork and any furniture that has it is very expensive. 🙁 I had thought about doing this and using MDF, but for some reason I was worried that it would not be strong enough or something (such as where the two circle intersect). THANK YOU for the pointers and tutorial! Very helpful. Those doors are going to look gorgeous (heck, they already do) and I am sure you are aware of the price they would cost, if you had bought those doors already done with that type of design. Not cheap!

  29. Krisitie,

    Your doors are beautiful. I love them. They are going to look so beautiful . Cant wait to see the end results.

    I read your blog everyday. Its exciting to see each project come together.

  30. Kristi, I have only been reading your blog for a couple weeks but this is the first time I have commented…needless to say, the doors are outstanding! Your home is coming along beautifully- you have sooo much to be proud of. You are truly an inspiration.

  31. Kristi — I thought of you the other night while I was watching Property Brothers. They made sliding doors like yours, but the homeowner was an elevator mechanic, so he rigged them up to open in tandem, like elevator doors. I hope you can consider this possibility, and then discard it immediately. Otherwise, you’ve got yourself one more “how could I make this work?” task to add to your ‘to do’ list.

  32. Amazing, amazing, amazing! They’re beautiful! We have had a similar project on our back burner for several months now but are hung up on where to purchase such a large piece of glass without paying with our firstborn. Mind sharing where you purchased yours?

  33. These doors are absolutely stunning! I have a question though- how did you attach the MDF design and the glass to the cut french door? Thanks!

  34. I realize this is an old post but I am curious about something. Originally, I believe you thought these were hollow core doors. How would you go about securing the design to a hollow core door? I really love this post and look at it all the time! I’m finally ready to try it out on my doors! You are incredibly talented. Your blog inspires me constantly.