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.
OK I’ve not read the article yet but I’m trying to figure out vehicles, what are you driving? is it easy to get the heavy tools in and out of? I will read the article I enjoyed the last one.
He’s driving the Miata!
Hi Dave, It’s a GMC 4500 with a 12′ Utilimaster body having four door compartments on each exterior side. Loading tools and stock, in and out is a breeze. If you notice I like keeping the floor space as empty as possible so I can move around in it. Keeping it that way makes my projects run as smooth as possible knowing where all my tools are.
How much do you expect this door to expand and/or contract during the year?
By securing the door slab as one,I know there will be movement.I left a 5/16″ space on the latch side and a 1/4″ space on the hinge side.I did this project in early August and have been by there recently for other projects.( about 1 week ago )Door spacing is the same as the day I installed it.
Door looks great. I do have a question on the pocket holes. Did u use any fillers or plugs or did u leave them exposed?
I wanted to use the pocket screw plugs but didn’t have them with me. I used an exterior filler to fill the holes. I filled them twice in order for them to be flush. Then I lightly sanded them smooth.
Very cool project Emanuel. Nicely done. Did you use plugs for the pocket holes?
Thanks Aaron, I didn’t use plugs, instead I used exterior filler and sanded smooth.
Emanuel, the door looks great. How you got there would be slightly different over here. We would probably have tongue and groove jointed the boards.I rarely see pocket screws over here other than occasionally in a work shop.
Your over sight on taking the lap joints into account has worked in your favour in my opinion as I think the finished product benefits visually with the two outside boards being slightly bigger.
Thank you for another fine insight into a carpenters project in the USA.
Striking end product…nice attention to priming any and all raw wood…built an exterior entrance door like this years ago…customer wanted me to hammer old nails from exterior through interior battens & “clinch” them over…puts a new meaning on old school work… I remember finding similar hinges in the customer’s old dairy barn…If you would post link to your hardware source…
Thanks for the comment. http://www.historichousefitters.com Their craftsmanship and customer service is excellent. I was very impressed with them. I will definitely use them again.
If you want the door to never move, consider roasted poplar. It doesn’t move in any weather! Just be careful with screws since it is a soft wood.
Thanks for the info. I will keep that in mind for the next one.
Nice door, also wondering about the pocketholes.
Brilliant. I love it!
Now I’m going to go out and get myself a customer and copy your job!!!!
Looks good Emanuel. I liked your attention to detail. Did you use any sort of door closer or other restraint to keep the door from hitting the adjacent pilaster or light fixture? Is this the main entry door?
Thanks Bob, No we didn’t use any door closer. I think the door should have one. The owners are thinking of some kind of chain for restraint.This is the front entrance which they hardly use, but if someone opens the storm door and doesn’t close it properly there could be problems.They use the side entrance all the time.
A check chain would be awful on this nice door. Instead, look into a concealed commercial holder/stop. Nice work on the door.
Thanks for the product info. I will run that by the client.
I like the use of pocket screws I suppose its ok with expansion and contraction to fix the boards together ??
Depends on what your securing and how much space you leave for movement.
Nice job. what did you use to fill all of the holes? And just a thought–couldn’t you have used a guide and kerfed the slots between the face boards with a power saw. Using a hand saw looks pretty tiresome to this old carpenter!
Thanks Paul, I used an exterior filler and making those small grooves was an after thought. I just wanted a very small groove in between the boards to slightly show and using the hand saw worked great and only took me ten minutes.
I just wanted to point out that Latex primer WILL not work on exterior wood work, go back 1 or 2 years later and the end grain will suck moisture like a sponge, ALL good painters use OIL/ Alkyd to prime exterior woodwork and finish with a top quality marine varnish paint.
That’s not true at all.
Sarantos, I’m not a painter, but smart enough to know that all bare wood must be primed. I have done many exterior projects in the last fifteen years using latex primer and they have been holding up great.
Thanks for showing us how you did this. And your customer got just what she wanted–can’t beat that. I would want a small window in the door so you could see who’s on the other side.
This is a fine looking door Emmanuel. However, at the risk of sounding too critical, your project brings up a number of points that deal with wood movement (particulary in exterior projects) that I have studied and struggled with as a carppenter for over 25 years. I thought it might be worth looking at a bit further.
If your attention to sealing door is 100% successful and the door never acclimates to fluctuations in temperature and relative humidity it should hold up fine. However, given the type and size of material used, the type of fastening schedule employed, and functional nature of door, chances are there are going to be a lot of built up stresses within your door as a result of inevitable moisture content changes in the wood. This,in turn may result in premature paint film failure and, worst case, grain checking.
I understand your desire to meet clients expectations of an authentic colonial solid wood panel door. However, the way you have joined these pieces, as pleasing as the asthetic may be, I believe results in the wood fibers of the exterior skin acting much like a solid pieces of plain sawn wood (with all it’s accompanying & problematic fiber stress characteristics). Further, the manner in which the strapping is attached to the back attempts to hold these fiber stresses in check at exactly the point they are maximized. In a moisture content change scenario (which almost certainly there will be at some point)there will be an epic battle going on between the stress of the wood fibers swelling and the wood screws keeping them in check. In my experience and studies, the wood fiber stress always wins. It may not be a “shock and awe” victory where the wood checks down the center of each 9″ board, but the paint film can will surely be compromised. This can lead to further (and more rapid) degradation if not resealed immediately.
See attached sketch as to how I see your authentic colonial style door being assembled in a manner that attempts to achieve the aesthetic your client desires while recognizing the battle that can take place and minimizing the carnage that can possibly result.
The sketch would utilize your ship lap joint for visual and weather purposes (nice detail), but I would submit that they should not be edge glued or pocket screwed together. If you do that, it seems to me that you might as well use a sheet of plywood (thick or built-up) for the exterior skin. In a paint grade situation, it’s cheaper and you can just as easily “V” groove route the vertical lines your client desires. Also note that on the back strapping, screws would optimally placed at the center of each intersecting panel (at a point where stresses are theoretically zero. If you feel a single power head screw would not give you enough moment resistance to panel(along with your diagonal) then you could place two screws at that point spaced apart about an inch). This would be a trade off between the expansion and contraction and structural optimization.
I’ve read some of your reviews and I agree with some negativity. Wood species and proper finishing.
I would’ve liked to see your project made of Spanish Cedar,Honduran mahogany or something of that nature.
Other than that I commend your finished quality.
I think the end result works just great and there is no sense in over engineering a project like this…
In historic restoration work it’s generally good practice to use the materials that would have been used at the original period; cedar, poplar, birch (Silver) may all have been used over the heavier oaks, elms etc. and the fast growth ‘lightweight’ mahoganies weren’t around back then – genetically engineered for today’s sustainable needs…!
With respect to the use of screws in the main panels, we would have used a tongue and groove with brass screws for the Z bracing along with a dry mortise and tenon joint.
Ditto. Would have been a perfect application for a Domino and loose mortises. Gary
I don’t think anyone has suggested that Emmanuel should have over engineered this project. In fact, some of the fastening suggestions I made would have simplified (i.e. not taking the time to edge lock the wide face boards with pocket screws) the fabrication process; not made it more complicated or costly. The main critique I offered was to consider the placement of his fastners and strapping with respect to the nature of wood size and enivitable movement. A ship lap joint used in a vertical condition (as Emmanuel has here) acts much like a board and batten with regard to weather. The only other reason I can think of to use a ship lap joint is to increase surface area for glue up, which would be even more counterproductive to wood movement. So if the ship lap is chosen for weatherability, then think about how battens are traditionally fastened. I believe they’re fastened to allow movement of the wider sub-siding boards underneath. If that is true, then Emmanuel’s fastening method works counterproductive to wood movement. My point (and maybe that’s what you found over-engineered) is that it doesn’t have to. He could have strategically located his fasteners on backside so as to avoid a greater chance of premature failure on frontside; failure in either the weatherability of the boards (checking) or the paint film.
Emmanuel obviously takes great pride in his work. His set up is impeccable. He chooses quality materials and he uses quality tools. The final product at the completion of the job is a result of that and, no doubt, looks fantastic! However, I think a craftsman’s work is also judged 5-10-20 (or hopefully many more) years down the road. This perpetual judgement process that happens whether we agree to it or not. I know I’ve poured heart and soul into many of my early projects that I thought couldn’t have been executed any better. It was only many years later that I had the opportunity to observe shortcomings that could have been prevented had I known more about the nature and science of the materials and tools I work with. Also, as a remodeler, I have pulled apart many other projects done by others where I’ve recognized other degrees of premature failure and worked to avoid them. That’s called learning (with most of it coming from sources other than my own trial and error). I believe that is what this website and comment section is mostly about and that is how I choose to participate.
Let me explain something; on this type of door or gate the z brace is not generally there for fixing the main field boards to it, it is there to stop the door from sagging in the vertical. No amount of ‘maximum moment’ screw placement and thought regarding ‘tangential radial’ analysis etc etc etc will stop this door material from moving. My points that rather than over analyzing a simple detail like this it’s better to do what has always worked which is allow the wood to move, in all directions. Just because a tool like a domino cutter or biscuit joiner or pocket screw has been invented doesn’t always mean it show the better way to build something.
Steve (just an old fashioned joiner from the UK)
Nice looking door. Where did you get your hardware? It looks like you did it last summer. It would be nice to see photos of it now. Red cedar is a fairly stable wood, my bet is the door will hold up fine.
Hi Maurice, I’m glad you enjoyed it. You can get the product info at http://www.historichousefitters.com. I’ll see if I can post a picture of how the door is now, also the door looks the same as it did the first day.
You did a good job Emanuel. The comments by others about wood movement and material selection are very good. I would also like to suggest that everyone try a product I have been using for 19 years on exterior woodwork. It’s called CPES (clear penetrating epoxy sealer) manufactured by Smith & Co. It is the best primer I have ever seen, for use under any type of finish. Also, your jobsite being so well equipped and organized was very impresive.
Good luck on future jobs.
In our climate that door would fail due to movement. No amount of paint will stop the natural change in size due to weather. T&G with space for movement seems like a better solution than glued shiplap. Time will tell. I’m also curious about the traditional appearance of the pocket screws?
Larry, It’s been six months with humid, hot, rainy, cold, and snowy days and the door still looks great. I filled the pockets with exterior filler and sanded them smooth.
How long did this project take? What did you charge?
Just interested to see if all that set up was worth it,(tent, fan, etc…). It looks like you did this last summer, so, have you seen the door this winter? Is it still hanging straight and closing tight? Just wondering..
The job took me two days of building and installing it.After the first day of cutting, priming and assembling the door,we put two finish coats of good quality exterior paint. We let it dry over the weekend. Came back for a second day and installed the door to the opening with the hardware. As for all my tool set ups, along with my tent and anything else needed, it helps keep the job moving at a great pace which helps me do the best quality work I can which shows at the end. Doing this project for the first time took me a little longer, but we all live and learn from the first. I always say do the best quality work you can no matter what, because it will always lead you to more work in the future.The door is hanging straight and closes tight as I mentioned in other responses.
Having grown up with a saw mill in my front yard and in a family of builders I have to agree that I would not have built this door like it was built.. Nice looking job and well done but Sonny Wiehe has hit the nail right on my head by pointing out the fatal flaw in the design..
Our family felled, sawed, dried, re sawed, shaped and then we built houses and furniture from that wood…
Wood expansion and shrinkage has been a part of my life since I was old enough to sweep the shop..
We used a ship lap for a lot of siding, both interior and exterior and it’s beauty is it allows the wood to move.. Typically we would chamfer the dressed edges of the ship lap and leave a 1/4 to 1/2 inch reveal between the boards (adding the reveal dimension to the underlip so it was almost tight on the back side) so the seasonal expansion and contraction went unnoticed..
Unless you’re dipping this product in epoxy to stabilize the moisture content or you’re using a wood so dense it wont take on and release moisture to a noticeable degree, pocket screwing a ship lap joint on an exterior door is just asking for trouble down the road..
Great project and article, even more interesting comments.
Thank you for the effort in writing this piece, I learned a lot.
I have thoroughly enjoyed your article and all the thoughtful comments and I have learned both. I have been without a community of peers who wrestle with the details and figured that ‘real’ professionals simply know what is the correct way to execute each project. I really appreciate the open discussion and each persons efforts to make their comments a critique of method and not of character.
keep your articles coming.
Very nicely done. Quality workmanship and your attention to detail on priming speaks highly of your work.
I may have missed it in your article description, but did you use any glue in building or did you rely strictly on mechanical fasteners? Did you use any glue on the z-bracing, or did you again rely strictly on mechanical fastening?
Keep up the working and writing! Enjoyed it very much.
Thank you for your nice comments. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I only used glue on fastening both small side pieces to make up the difference on not accounting for the ship laps when I ripped them all to width. Other than that I used screws.
Great article and great discussion too; I learned a lot from both. It appears that the main point of contention is wood movement and how to account for it. To that end, are there any thoughts on adding bread boards to the top and bottom end grains? I would envision a glue-free, tongue-and-groove joint with dowels keeping everything together (and maintaining consistency with the historical aspects of this project). Would this be considered over engineering or simply another measure to make sure the exterior door withstands the elements and the test of time? What other methods could be used to achieve the same utility? A bread board could easily be affixed with glue and pocket screws, but, based on the discussion, that might not be the best approach.
What I was looking for in appearance was as if the door was built from some left over materials,like when they built these doors years ago. As for building this door, I wanted to keep it simple, but wanted to make sure this door will stand for many years. Like I mentioned in other responses, after the last six months of hot,humid,rainy and snowy days the door looks great.
Emanuel, good door…. make that good looking.
congratulations to both you and your customer.
a suffolk latch with strap hinges. it “looks right” and it is right
tom, limey carpenter
Thanks for the comment. I’m glad you enjoyed the article.
Great looking door with great detailing.
My theory on the door is this: I would build it more or less like they would have 150 years ago with a few modern ideas like priming all the hidden edges.
They would have ship lapped or T&G the edges so when the wood did expand and contract it wouldn’t have left gaps for weather to get in. They would have installed a Z brace just like you did with nails or screws.
I think all the talk of the boards blowing themselves apart due to expansion and contraction is over blown IMO assuming you used decent dried lumber and didn’t install a million screws in the Z brace
Pocket screwing the boards is neither here nor there, they will all want to expand or contract at the same time and act as a single board as someone else already pointed out. All the attention your paid to priming and sealing should really help to stabilize the boards and minimize any movement.
A single year here in New England should let you know really fast if you have a problem or not.
Thank you, it’s been six months and the door is doing great.
Nice door it remindes me of project I did years ago. I like your attention to the details.
Sometimes there’s a better way to do something and sometimes the better way has already been worked out through the experience of past work. A tongue & groove or ship-lapped, double batten & Z brace or triple batten and two Z braces has been around for centuries. Cut nails or brass screws to assemble the planks, cedar as the wood of choice in the US and full length forged strap hinges is all that is needed.
This is not a weather tight storm door. It’s more an appurtenance for decoration with some protection from rain and snow.
With either a tongue and groove plane set, or a router bit for tongue & groove, the planks could have been formed and joined within a brief time. Same goes for the battens. Cut nails hammered in with the cut across the grain or brass screws in slightly oversized holes to support and brace the structure.
This has been done and I’ve done it. Typically, one day at the most to a finished plank and batten door.
Why create something that already has been done and that works?
Nice door! Did your client have any plans for a screen door at this entrance? Does adding this storm door mean they would be unable to have a screen?
Thank You, My client doesn’t like the basic storm door, she said that it takes the look and feel away from the home. This door was built to give back the look and feel as it was back years ago. They use their side entrance as their main and that too has no storm door. The wooden storm door does open and close. They sometimes leave it open to show their exterior door that we installed at a later time. Thanks Manny
Very nice job. Could you tell me the paint color you used?
Thanks in advance
Hi Emmanuel. Great work…amazing craftsmanship! Just an inquiry… on the 5th picture, what do you call that particular planer machine? Thanks.
Follower of your work from the Philippines
I’m glad you enjoyed the article. The machine is called a thickness planer. It helps make all my pieces the same thickness. I just recently wrote another article on another wooden storm door. Hope you enjoy it.
I love your work and this wooden storm door!!! We just bought a 1760’s Saltbox in Setauket, Long Island NY and want the same door to match our home!! Can you recommend anyone in our area please?
Nicole and Phil
I’m having a wooden storm door built as my front door is wood with the rounded top. It is stained and varnished. I want to do the same to the wooden storm door, so would appreciate advice on how to do this and waterproof it. Not covered by porch, just over-hang.
I would apply a few coats of stain to all the boards before assembling them together and when finished assembling the door and installing it, I would then follow up with a couple of coats of varnish. Good luck with your door and keep me posted if you can.
Do you take custom orders?
Yes I do. Just about all our doors are made custom. I always find myself fitting these doors to older homes.
Can you recommend me someone else to do it here in El Paso, TX?
Your door looks beautiful! Where did you get the hardwar (hinges. Handle, etc.)? I’m trying to make a similar door and like the look of those.