Pinspiration: DIY “Vintage” Air Vent Covers

Pinspiration: DIY “Vintage” Air Vent Covers

I finally found the PERFECT solution for an ongoing issue with a DIY project in my home- an UGLY, beat up cold air return vent that was stuck right in the middle of my new(ish) board-and-batten mouldings! When designing the original project, the height of the base moulding was determined by the height of the cold air return vent which I hoped would help camoflauge that necessary evil but it didn’t work.  I had planned to simply replace it with a less-beat-up-but-still-homely new grill but found that the dimensions have changed JUST ENOUGH that the new one wouldn’t fit unless I went in and trimmed the millwork.  Ugh! I’ve been on the hunt for a better solution ever since and while perusing Pinterest the other day I was lucky enough to find it!

I kept meaning to replace this but couldn’t find the right size.


The perfect solution was created by Hillary of “The Friendly Home“.  Her idea is simple and brilliant!  She has a complete tutorial on her blog for how to create a basic version that any DIY homeowner can follow- go check it out for the quickest way to create this project.

My version was designed to complement the mouldings already in place on the wall and our previous tutorial so it’s just a bit more complex than the original.  If you haven’t read our tutorial yet on creating beautiful board-and-batten walls, check out the post here: “How to Add Wainscotting To Walls”.


1- 24″ x 36″ Sheet Die-Cut Sheet Metal

2- MDF Strips that are 5/8″ thick  x 1 1/2″ wide x 6′ long- can substitute pine firring strips

1- Can spray primer

1- Can spray paint

1- Tube Painter’s caulk


Miter Saw (table saw will work too) to cut wood to length

Pneumatic or hand-held staple gun to attach sheet metal OR use E-6000 glue instead

Pneumatic pin-nailer OR finish nails

Wood Glue

Hand-held electric sander OR sandpaper wrapped around a sanding block

Now Hillary of “The Friendly Home” used firing strips that are inexpensive and readily available- which is a bit easier than the method we’ll show below.  If you chose to go that route, you can skip the “optional” step below.


This one is made-to-match the mouldings and involves using a router and just a couple extra steps to get a “picture frame moulding” effect.I pulled out my router and the “Freud Wainscotting Router Bit” which is used to make a moulding profile that can be lapped over itself and form a perfect square (see photo #6 Overlay in the collage below for detail).


Use the old air vent to determine the size of your frame.  The numbered photos in the above graphic correspond to the steps below:

1. Gather the materials listed above.

2. Run the long side of 2 pieces of MDF on the router to create the edge profile.  For more instructions on this, please view the original wainscoting tutorial.

3. Measure and cut your two longer pieces.

4. Measure the side pieces as shown above in steps 4 and 4.5 (because yes I totally messed the ordering up in the graphic and didn’t notice until it was too late to fix it without a lot of re-doing!)  The side pieces need to align with the inside edge of the routed ogee- just where the wood transitions to being flat again.

5. Back-cut both ends of the side pieces.  You will do this with the trimed side UP so that you’re cutting in the opposite direction.

6. When properly backcut, the ogee will lay over itself in perfect harmony.  Not all profile edges will do this- it MUST be the  reverse wainscoting router bit referenced above to get this effect.

Cut the sheet metal to length.  The die-cut sheet metal is available at Lowe’s and some Home Depot stores.  Make the size of the sheet metal about 1/2″ from each edge to ensure that the final product will fit neatly against the wall.  You can either use staples to straddle the metal pieces in the design and attach it OR you can use a glue, such as E-6000, that will adhere to both metal and wood.


To finish the vent, sand the frame so the joints are smooth using either and electric sander OR a piece of sandpaper wrapped around a sanding block.  Smooth out the joints.  I have found that using wood putty with MDF doesn’t work that great so I’d recommend waiting to “putty” any cracks until after the sanding then using the paintable caulking for that purpose.  The caulking can flex a bit which is apparently helpful with MDF.  Learned this the hard way!

Sand joints and edges to ensure they are smooth- it will be noticeable in the finish.

To paint, make sure you lift the project off the ground on cans or something so that excess paint can fall through the holes and not gum up the project.  Prime it first with 2 LIGHT coats of primer then spray paint with the final color.  The finish of the spray paint was close enough to my trim color that I felt comfortable just leaving it that way.  You can, however, paint it to match your trim work with the same paint you used on the trim.  If you’re going to do that, use a smooth foam roller for painting.

Prime and paint.


I placed a couple of pennies underneath my vent to use as spacers between the air vent and the floor for installation.  I debated about whether or not to apply painter’s caulking and afix the thing to the wall OR leave it uncaulked and stick it to the wall with screws.  Either way is acceptable but I didn’t want screws in the face of it.  I decided to simply caulk it in place then commit to recaulking it once a year when I remove the thing to vacuum out the vents.  There is probably a better solution than either of the above (and if you think of one, feel free to mention it in the comments) but I just wanted to be done with the project so I took the easy route. You can do whatever works for you!

Painter’s caulk the edges to create a seemless transition between the existing mouldings and the new vintage-style air vent cover.



How fun! This project was featured on the SNAP! Creativity site- love those SNAP! ladies- they are hardcore DIY’ers over there and it’s an honor to have this project mentioned!  Check out the SNAP! Creativity site for more fun projects and ideas!

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About cynthiab

Cynthia is a landscape designer who recently ditched her consulting biz for the opportunity to work for a local botanical garden where she gets to teach others about all the things she loves and connect with people of similar interests. She believes the joy of a garden is not in the product but in the process- and sometimes her process is messy!


  1. It looks gorgeous! I’m so impressed with your work — way better than how I did mine. :)

    • Are you kidding me? Your idea is genius and easier for people to replicate than mine. I smile everytime I look at the vent now (and it’s in the line of sight from my reading chair in the living room so I see it frequently) which is the exact OPPOSITE reaction I had to the old vent. Thank you so much for the awesome idea! I can’t wait to see what else your creative mind comes up with!

  2. miley woods says:

    Hi have the same exact homemade vents in our home we put a magnetic strip on the wall and magnets on the cover because we have radiators behind them. No screws no re caulking!

  3. Cynthia Wilson says:

    Love this idea! Where can I find the die cut sheet metal?

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