Canadian Woodworking

Entry door

Author: H. C. Sakman
Illustration: Mike Del Rizzo
Published: April May 2005

A beautiful set of hand made doors can have a significant visual impact to the “first impression” visitors have of your home.


The front door of your house is one of the first things that visitors see when they come to your home.  This quartersawn white oak front door is easy to make and is sure to improve the look of your home.

A door like this can be constructed in a number of different ways, many of them requiring heavy duty commercial tooling, and power feeders for precision milling. However, the construction method I describe here does not. This method greatly facilitates and speeds up the process, so that even if you don’t have a lot of experience, you can still make a great looking door.

When building a door the most important tool is your jointer. Although it’s an easy task to face joint, handling the long stiles can be a cumbersome task, so some additional care needs to be taken when you joint these pieces. It’s crucial that the rails be straight and flat in order to eliminate warpage of the door frame.

You can build the door with all solid wood or you can use a lamination of ½” plywood and ⅛” shop sawn hardwood veneer. The laminated technique has a couple of great advantages over the solid door version. It will be much more warpfree and more likely to retain its shape over the years. During the construction though, a dead-flat surface is absolutely essential for lamination glue-up. Also, since you’ll be using shop sawn veneer, you can virtually use any wood you like.

You will not have to use 8/8 (or 2″) lumber and dress it down to 7/8 (1 ¾”) thickness. The laminated version also eliminates the machining of 2″ deep mortises and tenons, yet allows very tight fitting 5″ to 6″ deep mortise and tenons (with no machining at all). The only downside of the laminated version is that it takes longer to build. Available time versus available tools seems like the equation here, so suit it to your own condition. For these doors I used the laminated technique.

Cutting the Plywood

First, choose good quality ½” plywood. It needs to be flat with no tension in it at all. Follow the cutting diagram for the plywood. Please note the dimensions of this door are a standard 36″ x 80″ x 1 ¾”. You can alter the measurements to suit your need.
Begin by ripping the upper and lower rails (UR1, UR2, LR1 and LR2). Then cut the center rails and finally the stiles (S). The cut-off pieces in the diagram, marked (F) are not scraps! Put them aside; they will be used as fillers on both sides of the centre rails (CR).

Cutting Parts to Size

All parts need to be cut with stops to ensure that their sizes are identical. A cut-off box is the perfect aid to accomplish this, unless you have a sliding compound mitre saw or radial arm saw. You may find it easier to clamp the stiles together when cutting them.

Gluing Tips

I use a painter’s 4″ trim roller for applying glue. Apply the glue in a uniform pattern, as you would when painting a wall. This method creates minimal glue squeeze-out.
You can use an outdoor glue like LePage’s Outdoor Glue or Franklin’s Titebond III, or you can use a polyurethane glue. Personally, I like Titebond III’s longer open time (especially for this project). It also rolls on easily with minimal mess. You can keep the glue roller in a Ziploc bag. I’ve been keeping mine for the last six months in four or five different bags. The roller does not deteriorate and the glue doesn’t dry up.

Gluing Sequence

Apply glue to (F1) and (F2) only. First, glue down (F1) to the edge of (UR2). Then glue down (F2) to the other edge, using (CR) in between (F1) and (F2) as a spacer. You may use screws and/or nails to position all these pieces to prevent creep (as the veneer will cover the screws/nails). Once (F1) and (F2) are secured on (UR2) then position (CR) by checking with a ruler. Make sure that (CR) overhangs (UR2) 6″ on each end. Once you’re happy with how (F1), (CR) and (F2) are glued on (UR2), you may proceed to glue (UR1), sandwiching (F1), (CR) and (F2) in between (UR1) and (UR2).

The Rails (horizontal door frame members)

Use one of the three edges as a reference, and make your cuts either on the table saw or with a router equipped with a bottom bearing flush-trimming bit. In the case of upper or lower rails, it’s wiser to use the centre piece (one of the (F) pieces) as a reference since the table saw fence or router bit bearing will ride on the longest and continuous edge.

Repeat the same process for the lower rail. Once both rails are laminated and trimmed, glue piece (E) to the outer edge of each rail (on the top edge of the upper rail and on the lower edge of the bottom rail). You may also screw and plug these solid wood pieces. Make sure you drill countersunk pilot holes first. Note that these pieces are oversize (1 9/16″) and they need to be trimmed with a bottom bearing flush trimming bit. Once they are trimmed, glue your shop sawn veneers (⅛” thick) on both sides, together or one at a time. In case the plywood you have is undersized, increase your veneer thickness to 5/32″ or thicker as required. The goal here is to reach exactly 1 ¾” thickness. After the veneers have been glued, trim the edges and it’ll be ready for the last step, creating the shoulders. An oversize mitre slot slider is the perfect jig to cut the shoulders. Simply butt the end of the tenons to the fence and trim cut the shoulders on your table saw. Make sure you don’t cut into the ‘built-in’ tenons.

The Stiles (vertical door frame members)

The stiles are more straightforward. Cut two of the six (S) pieces together down to 66 ⅞”, making sure that the ends are perfectly square. These two 66 ⅞” pieces will make the centre layer of the left and right stiles by being sandwiched between the 80 ⅞” outer (S) pieces of plywood. You can use the cut offs on the end of the stiles, leaving them a little oversize; they will be trimmed once the frame is glued together. Glue the plywood layers, then the ⅜” edging and finally the ⅛” veneers the same way the rails are done. The ⅜” solid edging should only be glued, since they will be highly visible every time door is opened. You can use the completed upper and lower rails to check the fit of mortise spacing and overall symmetry of the pieces that make up the left & right stiles. That way, there won’t be any surprises when it all comes together.

On the stiles, don’t use the centre plywood piece as a reference edge for trimming, because it has spaces to accept the tenons. Use the outer top or bottom layers, since they have continuous edges. Also, for both rails and stiles, laminate the plywood layers first, trim and cut them to final size, then glue ⅜” solid edging on the outer edges of each piece. After trimming them out, apply the ⅛” veneers and trim them with router.

When all four members of the door frame are done, you’ll be amazed how tight those tenons slip into the mortises. No brute force is necessary, but the tight fit can create a vacuum when you want to take them out. Make sure you trial fit the pieces without using glue. You can drill some ⅛” holes into the tenon cheeks to facilitate glue distribution. I use polyurethane glue inside the mortises and put Titebond III on the tenons. This seems to create an excellent bond.

The Centre Panel

Now it’s time to fill the inside of the frame to complete the door. First, you’ll need to mill eight trim pieces (¾” x 9/16″). Trim four of them to about 66″ or 67″ and the other four to 24″. These pieces are trimmed and glued inside the frame with a 1/16″ reveal using a shop made gauge for consistent results. I pin these in place with a pneumatic air nailer using 23 gauge nails, which are hardly visible.

The next step is the centre panel. I used slats milled down to 1 ⅛” from 5/4 (1 ¼”) stock. Their edges are grooved on the table saw with a dado ½” width by ⅝” deep. I milled the ends of these slots with my router, carrying the groove on all four sides. I also milled ½” x 2 ¼” x 66″ strips, which went in between the slats (not glued, but free floating) and along the edges of the whole panel. Pay attention to the grain orientation of these pieces at the end of the slats.
Now you can drop the whole assembly on the glued trim, inside the doorframe.

Once everything is in place, apply the same strips on the other side, applying glue carefully on the trim or inside corner.
It helps to give some very shallow scoring cuts to the glued surfaces of the trim. This prevents glue squeeze-out.
You could also use plywood panels with insulation sandwiched between them, or raised solid panels.

I used Watco medium walnut stained Danish Oil, followed by Watco Marine Teak Oil. You can recoat the door with Teak Oil whenever is necessary.
If your door is facing the afternoon sun, you might want to increase the frequency of additional coats, or simply apply outdoor varnish or some other type of finish of your choice.

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