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Building Your Own Exterior Wood Door

StrawClayMark's picture

Hi All.

We are currently building our own house. It is a timber-framed, light straw/clay construction house in Southern Alberta. I have been toying with the idea of trying to build my own wooden, front exterior door, especially after looking at the price, and dullness of factory pieces. The entrance is very well sheltered from sun and moisture but the door is still of course, subject to RH variation, both in the exterior environment and the huge gap between interior and exterior environments here in arid Southern Alberta. I have never built a door before.

Does anyone have any good web tutorial sources or specific advice? Is it worth that time, hassle and risks of it not turning out?

I included a few pictures of the project.


(post #109065, reply #1 of 59)

It depends on the type of door you're looking for.  I had a neighbor who made a "slab" door from 2X6 tongue & groove cedar cardecking.  He held it together with 2 tapered sliding dovetails on the back which were anchored at one end only.  The big crosspieces and wrought-iron nails on the outside were just for decoration.  Took him an afternoon to build.

(post #109065, reply #2 of 59)

I think that would an amazing project to undertake, the only problem I could forsee would be squareness and flatness, if you could overcome those two obstacles the finished product would be amazing. A large router with a 1/2" upcut spiral and a jig could make you some really nice mortises, would hold the door together no problem. go for it.

(post #109065, reply #3 of 59)

Do you know anything about core construction? I have seen some techniques where you glue your panel pieces to a stable core, but then leave expansion and contraction room in a v-joint to absorb wood movement due to RH changes.


(post #109065, reply #4 of 59)

What type of door are you looking at making? Picture?

(post #109065, reply #5 of 59)


I'm starting on the same project within the next couple of weeks.

3-6 by 7-0 with door with possible sidelights for a covered front entry. Have the plans drawn out but am tweaking, especially the sidelights. If no sidelights then the door will likely be a 4-panel with two light. If sidelights the door will likely be a 4, 5, or 6-panel with no lites.

My wife is still scratching her head over what exactly she wants.

Will likely be solid lumber, not veneer over a core. That does depend on the lumber available though, in regards to the grain. Prefer VG over flat sawn, etc.

I'm doing floating tenon construction. Most likely either mahogany or spanish cedar. Went to the yard last week and the pickings were slim, they're getting another 600-700 bdft in this week.

If your table saw is properly tuned then the door fabrication and assembly should be fairly straightforward and turn out well.

Unfortunately I don't know of a website that provides a tutorial, though while I was at the lumberyard they had a New Yankee Workshop show on that showed Norm building an entry door. I saw bits while waiting, his final product looked nice. Here's the URL to that episode:

The irony is that I was contemplating bulls eye glass, there's a glassblower a few towns over that makes it.

There are 10 kinds of people in this world; those who understand binary and those who do not.

(post #109065, reply #6 of 59)

Hey Mongo.

Thanks for the encouragement and advice. I feel a little intimidated by some of the warnings I have read over what considerations need to be included.

I have some 80 year old, old growth Douglas Fir in big beams from a grain elevator salvage. I could resaw this and get something close to vertical grain if I was extravagant in how I cut down a beam or two. Any tips on that?

Would love to see the plans you are working with.

I will check out the link later.

Take a look at our project on our farm website and go under "new buildings".


(post #109065, reply #7 of 59)


If you've got a good window/door place in town go there and take a look at some cutaways of door construction. You'll see the cope and stick joints on the rails/stiles, and the large reinforced dowels.

I'm with Mongo on using solid lumber over veneer. And hearing that you have some old beam stock made my eyes light up. Definitely use that. VG fir is a great wood for an exterior door, the majority of the old doors in the NW are going to be made out of that nice, old VG fir.

When you're milling that beam down for rail and stile parts, here's a couple things:

•Avoid knots and any "special" looking grain areas. These may contain hidden stress areas of the wood and will want to warp or twist when you mill through there.

•Mill your stock to rough dimensions first and then let it acclimate for a bit to make sure that there are no stressed ares that will move. Then mill it down to final size and double check that everything has stayed nice and straight. That old DF is really nice stuff to work with IMO. I pull out old stairs, studs, and lumber and keep it just to use for building doors, windows, and cabinet parts. In one of the pics below you can see some old DF stair treads and handrails sitting up on one of the shelves. The ones above it are overflowing with beautiful old studs.

A few other things to think about:

•As you're planning your door remember to think like water. Shaker style is real nice looking but if it's exposed to the elements water will have a nice little shelf to sit on and collect. If you're doing some sort of panels, the coped part will probably have some sort of ogee or bevel which should help move water downward.

•Also may want to pre-finish your panels, at least around the edges, so that they are protected all the way down as the wood expands and shrinks. Otherwise as it shrinks, you'll see a nice halo of unfinished wood around the perimeter.

•My local door and window shop restricts their individual pieces to about 5" or so max width. That means if you want a 9" bottom rail, you'll want to join 2 or more pieces together. This minimizes the chance of warping, cupping, or checking over time.

Here's some pictures from an exterior screen door I built a few months ago. NOt a true exterior door, but some of the same principles

The bottom rail is 12" high, made out of 3 pieces joined together with loose tenons and copious amounts of waterproof glue (The top is beveled somewhere around 8 degrees or so to shed water). The rails are joined to the styles with a stub mortise and tenon reinforced with loose tenons. Door manufacturers, like Marvin, use big honkin' dowels instead of tenons, but that's easier for them to do, and plenty strong. If you take apart old frame and panel doors, a lot of them have a cope and stuck joint reinforced with mortise and tenons, sometimes through, sometimes not.

Here's a pic of the finished product:

Hope any of that helps some. The 2 biggies are just to make sure you've got nice straight lumber that won't twist/warp once you've milled it down, and plan your door so that water is always moving down off of it.


(post #109065, reply #8 of 59)

Hi Paul.

Thank you for the great reply and the encouragement and for the excellent pictures! I went out to work on the house today thinking, "I've got so much to do out here, I don't have time to build a door. I will just have to buy one, no matter how uncreative and expensive they are." However, thanks to yours and other letters of encouragement, I am dreaming up doors again.

Your work looks beautiful. I wish I could spend more time just doing wood working, rather than wearing all the hats I do.

I see you do a little timber frame work too. We are hosting a Japanese timber framing seminar next June and July. We are having a temple and tea house apprenticed timber framing friend come over from Japan to help us build our new 4000 square foot organic food store/organic bakery & bistro/alternative health center and will have him offer a couple of workshops while he is here.

If you want to see more about the project, go to our farm's website, and look under "new buildings". It is just a few of us doing all this stuff, so everyday is ... interesting to say the least.

Thanks again.


(post #109065, reply #17 of 59)

I've got so much to do out here, I don't have time to build a door.

When we built, put the cheapest doors on to start with.  After we moved in and got all else finished, then went back and replaced the outside doors (5 of them).

It was 20 years till all 5 were replaced <G>   Will post some pix later today, all were made out of salvaged materials, none cost more than about $10, hardware included. Probably most of the $$ was glue.   

You may be suprised what you can do with salvage and almost no $$. 


(post #109065, reply #21 of 59)

Since you are planning to buy I suggest you make a trip to Black Forest in Calgary.  They make some beautiful custom doors and have a carver on staff that will make custom carvings to your liking.  An acquaintance is building a timber frame house and they dropped $10k on their door, but it was worth it in my mind.  Building your own is big undertaking.

good luck

(post #109065, reply #31 of 59)

Nice work. Did you do a thread on this door before? I'd be interested in seeing more on how you handled the arched top.

And, are those homemade dominoes?

'Man who say it cannot be done should not interrupt man doing it' ~ Chinese proverb

'Man who say it cannot be done should not interrupt man doing it' ~ Chinese proverb

(post #109065, reply #41 of 59)

Hola Sr. Roman,

I think I posted some pics of it before when Huck asked a couple questions about it, but never did a full blown thread on it. Maybe I'll start a new thread on it so I don't hijack this one too much. I'll look for the pics I have of it and see what I can throw together.


(post #109065, reply #27 of 59)

I don't have the ability to resaw logs or beams, but the idea or resawing your own sounds terrific. There will always be a nice story to the door, where the wood came from, etc.

My scanner doesn't scan to my macs, so I can't scan the drawings to file and post.

There are 10 kinds of people in this world; those who understand binary and those who do not.

(post #109065, reply #9 of 59)

My advice would be to make something quick and temporary. You seem to have a lot on your hands, and making a nice entry in a one-off mode is quite time consuming.

The production guys buy kiln dried wood and work in a tightly-controlled, mechanized environment; and they rely on volume. You don't have any of that going for you.

I've made a few doors, some were good, some were cr@p. Either way, they take time, especially if you want to do something nice.

Good luck,


(post #109065, reply #10 of 59)

Doors are not difficult to build, but require a certain level of tooling to be able to produce straight and square components and to cut the joinery required. Floating tenons and router cut mortises make a strong door. Solid panels can easily be set in a dado in the rails and stiles, lites are a bit more complicated because they need to be removable so must be set in rabbets and held in with keeper strips. That can involve mason's mitres or matched and opposing rabbets in rails ends and stile. I've often used twelve inch VG stock for the bottom rails with no issues and this is coastal BC with much greater humidity swings and interior/exterior differentials than you'll see in south AB. I do tend to build with at least one centre stile so panel size is limited to about 12". Just make sure the wood starts dry and be sure it is well finished 6 sides.

You might find it more economic in the long run to just find a supplier of 2" VG stock than to spend the time to resaw beams to VG, and the beams do have greater value as beams than as lumber. VG doug fir is easily available in BC at ~$6 BFM so should be accessible in AB.

If it doesn't turn out you can always try again or buy a replacement. Just make sure your frame is standard sized so purchased doors will fit. If it does work, you'll be some pleased with yourself and have a nice door, a new skill and a few extra bucks in your pocket

(post #109065, reply #11 of 59)

>>>VG doug fir is easily available in BC at ~$6 BFM

True. I've always wondered how 6 bucks a board foot (retail) for materials resulted in $600 to $700 door (unfinished). I know it's a competitive market, so I'm not about to argue with anyone about costing, but I don't understand how the value gets added.

Seems to me that the material cost for a solid DF door should be around $100 to $150. Can you help us understand how the final (unfinished) product ends up in the $700+ range?



Edited 10/26/2009 1:16 am by Scott

(post #109065, reply #19 of 59)

I can get nice VGDF wholesale at that $6 price. Figure a 3' x 6'8 door is 20 square feet at 1 3/4 thick for at least the frame components and you're up to 30 to 40 board feet before adding in waste and cutting. That puts mat'ls cost between $200 and $300.

It is straightforward to build the door, but there is time involved and I want to be paid for that time. That $6 - $700 is not at all an unreasonable price for a custom door.

(post #109065, reply #20 of 59)

My clear alder door ended up costing me over $600, just in materials.

The 8/4 clear alder was about $5 b/f, the art glass panel was about $250, and the lockset was $120.

My labor was wayyyy much, just because I'm no professional, but even a pro would have had hundreds of dollars in labor, at least 8-10 hrs, maybe more.

(post #109065, reply #22 of 59)

Thanks. I figured you'd know.


(post #109065, reply #12 of 59)

If you have a shaper or heavy-duty router in a solid table, buy some cope-and-stick bit sets that can handle up to 1¾"-thick stock, and make your joints that way. If you don't, get a biscuit cutter or the Wolfcraft biscuit attachment for a 4" angle grinder, and use doubled #20 biscuit sets to make the joints.

Make the door just like a frame-and-panel cabinet door, only bigger of course.

The expansion/contraction factor isn't that big a deal except for glass lites; the door framing will expand and contract at about the same rate as the wooden door, and you usually leave an eighth to three sixteenths clear side to side, a bit more on the vertical depending on the type of weatherstripping you use.

If you glaze any glass into the door, use pieces of 3mm rubber screen spline in the clearance gap between the glass and the sides of the rabbets. The rubber spline will keep the glass centered and help cushion it from shocks when somebody slams the door. It will also compress as the wood door contracts seasonally, and will absorb that movement without transmitting it to the glass.

You need an eighth clear all round per 3 feet of width for standard ¼"  glass, according to my glazier.

If you have the budget for CVG wood, that's your best bet; otherwise use clear or select...and be very selective about any select you use. ;o)


How now, Mighty Sauron, that thou art not brought
low by this? For thine evil pales before that which
foolish men call Justice....


How now, Mighty Sauron, that thou art not brought
low by this? For thine evil pales before that which
foolish men call Justice....

(post #109065, reply #13 of 59)

there was an article in FHB 2 or 3 years ago, about the time I was finishing up building one the same way .. basically skip the mortise and tenon and make it out of 2 or 3 layers of 3 or 4 quarter stock, then alternate the layers so that if the rails are full width in one layer, the stiles are full length in the other.  Similarly, reverse the cupping so that they keep each other honest.  Keeping it flat wasn't hard at all, just level out your bar clamps, and do a practice run of your glue up.  The article left the layers on the edge exposed, however I cut out an inset a piece to give it a solid look.  The other comment about time was a good one, in the middle of a reno your not going to have time ..

(post #109065, reply #14 of 59)

Looks like you've got a great project going.  How about backing up a ways and showing us construction from the beginning?  I would love to learn more about the straw walls!

You get out of life what you put into it......minus taxes.


You get out of life what you put into it......minus taxes.


(post #109065, reply #28 of 59)

I built one base on that article too. Birch plywood in the middle and fir on each side. It turned out very nicely but was thicker than a standard exterior door. A very easy and forgiving system.

(post #109065, reply #15 of 59)

I had fun making my boathouse doors myself.. I used black walnut timbers with black walnut plants T&G'd together as an overlay on the extrerior and Hard maple planks on the interior.. massively heavy doors! 6 ball bearing large hinges on each side (double doors)  For the doors to the portico I'm making simple z braced panel doors with black walnut. 

 All the exterior timbers and trim are balck walnut.. The interior timbers are all white oak.  For photos go to




 on the advanced search part over to your left.  

(post #109065, reply #16 of 59)

Norm Abram made a very nice entry door as one episode of The New Yankee Workshop.

I have a copy of the DVD of the show, with scale drawings, still in its plastic wrapper waiting for the next home I build for myself.   It's #0702D and can be purchased through the above linked web site.

I've built a few doors and re-built a few more, over the years.  Norm's method really impressed me so I put that DVD on my Christmas wish list.

(post #109065, reply #18 of 59)

I had the same long-standing ambition for years, and finally built ours last Fall.

It has been through the 4 seasons here in the upper Snake River valley of Idaho, whose climate is very much like southern Alberta. Dry and cold in winter, hot and dry in summer, with occasional wet periods.

The door has stayed flat and true, but it is sheltered much like yours--not in direct sun or wind-driven rain for the most part--it's on the N side.

Mine is of clear alder, frame and panel construction in the Craftsman style, with an art glass insulated panel in the upper part.

My "teacher" for this project was a book I highly recommend to you: Building Doors and Gates by Alan and Gill Bridgewater. Great design ideas, and it walks you through the building process, step-by-step.

P.S. If you decide to go with the ledge and plank style door, which would blend perfectly with your handsome frame and timber style, go to the trouble of buying real door nails. There's only one company in the US currently making them, the Dormont Nail Co. of Massachusetts. The rose heads and double clinching make an authentic installation. I used this style door for my wine cellar.

(post #109065, reply #23 of 59)

Alright D,

I'm particularly interested in your take on this. Figure you're just the creative genius that would take a project like this on.

Aside from the carpentry, if you build your own, how do you handle something like low-e glass? Can you get that from somewhere and pop it in?

'Man who say it cannot be done should not interrupt man doing it' ~ Chinese proverb

'Man who say it cannot be done should not interrupt man doing it' ~ Chinese proverb

(post #109065, reply #25 of 59)

I can order insulated and low-e from a local glass shop. About $40 per sidelight-sized pane. I think the quote was $110 for lites to fit the uppers in a 4-panel door.

There are 10 kinds of people in this world; those who understand binary and those who do not.

(post #109065, reply #30 of 59)

Thanks. Not sure why I assumed I wouldn't likely be able to source that kind of glass. I've got a great glass shop nearby. Sounds like a good excuse to stop in on the next lunch run down that way.

Look forward to see what you come up with on your door project. That mousehole bed of yours is still on my list for when my daughter's old enough for her own bed.

'Man who say it cannot be done should not interrupt man doing it' ~ Chinese proverb

'Man who say it cannot be done should not interrupt man doing it' ~ Chinese proverb

(post #109065, reply #29 of 59)

>>>Aside from the carpentry, if you build your own, how do you handle something like low-e glass? Can you get that from somewhere and pop it in?

Allow me to step in, seeing as I've gone through a summer with the glass industry.

Yes, you can get custom cut low-e glass from any glass shop, but if you are dealing with any sort of volume try to get it directly from a manufacturer; you'll save a considerable margin.

Depending on your climate, you might want double-glazed, low-e, sealed units, maybe even argon-filled. In this case you definitely want to deal directly with a manufacturer if possible. See my story in the middle of this thread:


Edited 10/27/2009 12:55 am by Scott