Like many carpenters, I’m always looking for an interesting challenge. I like tackling something I’ve never done before—and succeeding. Not only is it satisfying to push yourself, but a satisfied customer means good word-of-mouth, which (hopefully) leads to more work. Win-win. This is exactly what happened when one of my best clients approached me with an interesting project.
I have done several projects for this client before—mostly windows and exterior trim work. She had always wanted a wooden storm door for the front of her house, to make her colonial home feel historical. This new storm door had to look like it was built 100 years ago. She drove around a couple of nearby towns and found a few designs she liked, took some photos, and passed them along to me. After some discussion, we came up with a plan:
The door must be made of solid wood, preferably cedar. It should look like it was made from some leftover material from when the house was originally built. She liked the look of a couple of boards secured side-by-side. She also did some digging and found some vintage hardware that would complete the design. I used Historic Housefitters for the hardware. I was impressed with the quality of their products, and their customer service is excellent. I’d definitely use them again.
In order to figure out the depth of the ship lap, I ran a test piece. It’s better to try this on a scrap piece than the actual stock. After a few adjustments, both pieces met and laid flat to each other.
We decided on 5/4 x 12 cedar, which allowed us to cut the boards as wide as needed in order to have fewer visible joints. We ripped them down to nine inches, and later ran a sander down the edges to remove any minor saw marks.
I wanted to join them together to create one panel which would have the look of four boards side-by-side. I chose to ship lap them together. I tossed a ship lap bit into my router and made a couple of passes on a scrap piece to determine the depth for each piece. Then I clamped each board to my work table and ran my router down each edge to create my ship lap.
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Sometimes we have to change our plan when mistakes are made. When I was ripping down the boards to size, I didn’t account for my ship lap joints. I only realized this after routing all my pieces and laying them out side-by-side. Experience has taught me that it’s much better to remain calm than freak out when confronted with this kind of situation. After some thought, I was able to solve the problem: I ripped down two equal pieces and secured them to each of the end boards.
After routing all my pieces, I ran them through my thickness planer to clean up any minor defects. You’re probably thinking, “He should have done this first,” but this material was special-ordered and all the boards came planed to the same thickness.
Before I assemble any exterior project that will end up being painted, I always prime all of the parts. I lay a sheet of plastic on my work table to keep paint from getting on it. I think it’s very important to keep all of your tools as clean and neat as possible. I know that it helps me to stay better organized, and that means doing better work.
It’s very important to prime all bare wood. Any exposure to outside elements is a direct road to rot. I’ve seen many homes around my area rotting due to lack of priming.
On this project, we primed all sides and edges, then let them dry on spacers. I like using latex primer because it dries quickly and keeps the project moving along. Today’s latex primers are more durable than they used to be and are available in many different types.
When it came time to secure the boards together, I chose pocket screws. Using my table saw as a table, I was able to clamp my portable drilling jig to each board and drill my pockets.
After drilling the pockets, I clamped the receiving board down to the table and slid the other board against it. The ship lap created a clamping device; the pocket screws drew the boards together, and the joint tightened up perfectly flush. I also used weather-resistant screws—I always use them on exterior projects.
After securing all the boards together, I cut the door to size, leaving it a couple inches longer than necessary so I could cut both ends flush. I cut one end square using my track saw, then hooked my tape measure on the cut and took a measurement.
Then I laid my track saw on the cut line and cut the other end to size.
I didn’t want the door to look like a solid piece of wood, like plywood. Running a fine-tooth handsaw between the boards created a small groove. The grooves gave a shadow effect, showing off each board as if they were spaced side-by-side.
I wanted to strengthen the door to keep it from cupping or warping. On the back side, I applied boards in a Z-pattern. To cover more surface area, I made the boards as wide as possible, thereby making the whole door stronger. I had to keep the boards inside the edges of the door so it would fit into the opening. One inch on each side gave me the clearance I needed.
After securing the top and bottom pieces, I ran a board diagonally across both and marked for my angles.
I then cut the board and fit it into place. I pre-drilled all my holes and secured them with stainless trim head screws. All the boards were pre-primed on all edges before installation.
I laid all the hardware and hinges on top of the door to see if any parts were missing. It is important to make sure all parts are accounted for before you start installing them. You don’t want to get half-way through the installation only to discover that there’s a piece missing (trust me).
We laid the strap hinges on the door and moved them up and down to see what looked best. We decided on about nine inches and marked those measurements on the door. Then I cut a block as a spacer to keep the hinges at 90 degrees.
I pre-drilled for all the screws on the door. In order not to drill all the way through, I made a gauge on my drill bit by applying tape at the desired depth. I then applied a lubricant to the screws to make them easy to drive in.
In order to make both hinges line up perfectly in the opening, I taped both parts together and pre-fit the door.
Then I marked them on the jamb and chiseled them out.
I primed the bare wood to protect it from the elements.
We pre-drilled the holes, applied lubricant, and screwed the hinges to the jamb.
Then we hung door in the opening.
It was important that we install the door handle in the right place, so it wouldn’t interfere with the main door’s lockset. I made my measurements on one side of the door and transferred them to the other side.
Clamping a piece of scrap to the backside of the door kept the drill bit from tearing the wood.
I drilled for the handle and pre-drilled for the handle’s latch.
I screwed them together, and then did the same for the catch.
Then I slowly closed the door to see if it latched properly; it did.
After stepping back to see the whole picture, I was pleased to see that the final product looked exactly like my original vision. The client was also pleased, and kept saying, “That’s exactly what I wanted!” That made me feel like I could accomplish any tough project. Can’t wait to see what comes next.