Build a Solid [Yet Playful] Entry Door
There are few houses with a truly special entry door. Learn how to create a unique door that can be customized with just about any shape or motif imaginable.
The mandate here was for a door that was simple, yet elegant and majestic. It would also include some of my customer’s hallmark symbols, namely the household cat, a pair of ravens and the nearby ocean.
After making the sidelights, Rodeck finishes them. Here they are only partially finished, as the final interior and exterior colours are different.
The rails are joined to the stiles with through mortise and tenons. The final joint is very strong, and is pleasing to the eye. In this photo, the tenons are not machined on the ends of the rails yet.
A curved template assists in laying out and cutting the curve on the panels of the door and curved rails of the sidelights. The template can be temporarily fastened to the parts with double-sided tape, then a rout and flush trim bit can be used to trim the workpieces.
Ready for a Finish
With all the machining on the door complete, the panels can be finished, before the door is assembled.
To bring some of the natural world into this door, Rodeck cuts and shapes two ravens out of wood (above), then adds them to the door (below).
A Watchful Cat
To add a playful element, an intarsia cat is added to the interior side of the door, above the ravens. Rodeck routes a 1/8" deep cavity into the door’s surface and glues the cat into it. On the exterior side of the door, the opposite is the case; the cat is down on the ground, while the birds watch from up in a tree.
Nice and Strong
Once the door is assembled, Rodeck glues contrasting wedges into the slots in the tenons. This helps lock the joint in place and creates a nice-looking detail. Once dry, the joint can be trimmed flush.
A personal quote was added to the outside of the door’s stile before the finish was applied.
Start with the design
The first step was to create a few designs to present to my customer. Through ongoing feedback between the client and myself, this design was eventually solidified. Take some time to consider what your perfect door would look like well before machining any wood. Lots of sketching will be in order. At this stage of the project, I prefer to focus on the design and the artistic aspects, rather than the construction details. Things are too often made to fit the available materials, machines and existing jigs, and this can impede the creation of a truly unique piece.
Only when the artistic design is complete is it time to think about how the door will be crafted. For this stage, Sketchup is a great option. Each piece of lumber, as well as each joint, is simulated with this CAD tool. This not only helps create a detailed list of materials needed, but it also forces one to think about the critical construction details.
One example of these details is how the door will be glued together. Even though the technicalities have been sorted out at the CAD level, I chose to adapt some of the exact dimensions to accommodate each of the pieces of wood that was carefully selected. The final creation will be dictated by the character of the wood, and not by a three-dimensional design on the computer screen.
The sidelights are made of 3″ x 4″ stock to ensure the door is held in place solidly. Most of the construction of the sidelights is straightforward; the trick being to ensure the entire appearance comes together nicely. A piece of plywood was used to make the template for the curved glass and the short curve rails of the sidelights. I made that now, then used it to shape the curved sidelight rails.
When the parts were machined, I cut 1/8″ deep x 1/8″ wide rabbets along the outer exposed edge of the sidelight rails, so any movement between the rails and the stiles would go unnoticed.
After machining all the pieces that make up the sidelights, I used large dowels to join the sidelight members together and assembled everything with Titebond III interior/exterior adhesive.
There are many ways to incorporate weather stripping into this project. I machined, then attached, weather stripping trim to the front of the sidelights, so the door would close against it. There is a rabbet in the trim that is made so when the trim is fixed in place there will be an appropriately sized gap for the weather stripping to fit into. For this door I sourced the weather-stripping from Draft Seal (draftseal.com). I used their DS431 weatherseals. I could have added a rabbet to the door side of the jamb for the door to close against, but generally speaking I would add wood rather than remove material from the workpieces I’m dealing with.
A solid sill (I find many commercial ones are not substantial enough) is also crucial to the overall impression of the door. I machined it at this time, out of oak, along with the sash. With the sidelights complete I can now obtain an accurate measurement for the door. I aim for a finished gap of 1/8″ on the sides and top, 1/4″ at the bottom.
For this door I favoured visible joinery; a traditional through-wedged mortise and tenon joint. Once assembled, the tenon will show through the stile. It’s a bit harder to make than a regular mortise and tenon, but it results in a very strong and beautiful joint. After breaking out the four frame members I cut the mortises with my mortising machine, then cut mating tenons on the rails.
The door panels are made of a 3/4″ rigid insulation core with marine quality plywood glued onto each side. I used LePage’s PL300 foamboard adhesive for this. On top of the plywood is 1/8″ thick fir veneer, which is fixed in place with epoxy. This makes for solid, stable and light construction. The finished thickness of the panels I made was 2″, for a number of specific reasons, but I would recommend making your panels’ finish about 1-1/2″ to 1-3/4″ thick so the groove in the door frame can be narrower. This results in thicker and stronger groove sides in the doorframe.
I break out the plywood panels about 1″ over finished size in width and length. I then glued the outer plywood skins to the rigid insulation in my vacuum press. When the adhesive was dry, I cut the panels to finished size. I needed to be exacting with my tolerances at this stage. The panels fit in the grooves in the door stiles and rails, butting right up against the inner surface of the groove in the rails and stiles, where adhesive helped to lock the panels in place. I then used a router and trim bit to shape the panel’s curved edge. I could now apply the outer 1/8″ veneer to the panels in my vacuum bag and flush trim them.
The curved glass piece will fit into the groove in the stiles, as well as into a groove that needs to be machined into the curved ends of the panels. I used a router with a three-wing slotting cutter for this. This piece could also be made of wood if you wished.
I like to install the handle before assembling the door. I find working with one smaller piece is much easier than working with a large, heavy door. To complete the door machining, I cut 1/8″ deep x 1/8″ wide rabbets along the outer exposed edge of the door rails, to hide any future movement.
The key to a successful glue-up is to prepare ahead of time. Make as perfect a joint as possible, so the joinery assists in holding the pieces together during assembly. Also make sure to have a perfectly flat surface on which all the pieces can be assembled.
I envision the glue-up process in detail before I actually start doing it. I also finish the panels before gluing everything together, for two reasons. First, the panel of this door called for a different stain than what the door-frame was going to be. The second reason is to visually protect against wood movement. I did not want to see any unfinished lines between the panel and the door stiles/rails as time works its magic.
Since the glass is thinner than the two panel assembly’s filler strips must be used to fill the gap between the left and right sides of the glass panel and the door stiles. Either install them during assembly if your door is unfinished at this stage, or install them before applying a finish.
Once the door is glued together, the wedges were inserted into the tenons. When the glue was dry, I machined a groove for the door sweep with my router, straight bit and edge guide. I also sourced the sweep from Draft Seal. I used their
Next was to cut a 7° bevel on the handle side of the door, so the door doesn’t bind when it’s opened.
The artistic touches
Once the door is glued together, it’s time to work on the artistic additions. The outside boasts a pair of ravens made of metal (cut by a plasma cutter), taunting the household cat (also made in metal) from the branches above.
For ease of future clean-up I simply screwed these figures onto the door panels. To ensure the cat is properly level with the door panel I routed the tail into the bottom door rail – practical, yet also aesthetically pleasing.
On the inside of the door, the tables are turned; the cat rules the roost as the ravens conspire below. These pieces are cut out of walnut and eastern maple. The cat is made as an intarsia; that is, composed of different pieces of wood. I cut these pieces on a scroll saw and then sand them accordingly. Then an appropriate texture is also carved onto each of the pieces. The ravens are made of one piece, carved for fitting texture and then stained dark.
The precise shape of each of these creatures is meticulously routed into the door panels so each one is shallowly inserted about 1/8″ deep. This ensures no glue spill-over will happen and provides a tight fit.
A personal quote is also carved into the outer door stile. The next critical part is finishing the rest of the door. After making the mortises for the door hinges, entry set and automatic door sweep, the piece was ready for a final sanding. I sanded all parts of the entry down to 220 grit, then covered the panels and prepared the door sidelights. An added challenge with this design was that each door side had a different stain. To address this challenge, I covered one door side while spraying the other. I used Bomol Cedar as a topcoat, but there are many good finishes available.
Any fine craftsman wants to avoid excessive fine-tuning on site. For this reason, I fully assembled the door and the sidelights in my workshop first, testing for the proper operation of all parts. For example, I made sure the door was the same distance from each of the jambs/sidelights, and that the door opened smoothly and closed perfectly on the encompassing weather-stripping.
The only thing I left for the installation was establishing the exact position of the door latch. This was done on-site in order to get a perfect closing on the weather-stripping. A smooth yet secure close is the mark of honed expertise.
On site, the sidelights were assembled first on a flat surface, then the assembly was inserted into the door opening and screwed in place. This included making sure local code requirements are satisfied, as well as making sure everything was plumb. Finally, the door itself was hung. A little more fine-tuning ensured the door did not swing closed on its own.
The long-awaited moment has arrived. Installation complete, it’s time to step back and admire this unique door from inside and out.
After every project I take the time to look back and reflect on how the project went. Did I learn something new? What is working, and what can be improved?
This design worked well; the door gives an excellent impression and is always a conversation piece. From the construction perspective, the glue-up and installation also went very well. This project again confirms for me the importance of properly envisioning the details ahead of time, then taking the time to double-check them before final installation.
A key thing to consider is the wood itself. Though I used kiln-dried wood, it wasn’t dry enough to crystallize all the sap. Once exposed to the sun, it started leaking sap. Fortunately, this is relatively easy to clean, and once all the sap leaked out, there were no more problems. Next time, I intend to pre-finish a few pieces and leave them in the sun to observe their behaviour before constructing the door.