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Making a Custom Door

At an almost commodity price

For almost fifteen years I’ve been meeting a friend of mine, Ken, on Friday mornings. He’s retired, but he still does a few small jobs. Sometimes he gets one that is a little over the top and asks me to help. Recently, he pulled out a picture of a door and said, “Do you think we could make one of these?” Another builder friend of his had a client who had to have the door, until they found out the price!

Original door-1

The original door (Note: Click any image to enlarge)

The concept

I started asking a few questions and found out that the door would be paint-grade, 3/6 x 8/0, and under a porch not directly exposed to the weather. I had a method in mind that I’ve used to make some interior custom doors before. But before I committed, there were a few boxes I wanted Ken to check off. First, although I was very confident my idea would work, we wouldn’t be able to provide a warranty on the door (more on this later). Second, the door had to be paint-grade. And finally, while we could make a door that closely resembled the one in the picture, it wouldn’t be an exact reproduction. I was confident we could make it work, but I wasn’t sure of the exact detail and I didn’t want to paint myself into a corner.

My idea was to order an exterior-grade, solid core flush, 1 3/4-in. Birch slab, and cut holes out (which is why there would be no warranty) to insert an upper and lower V-groove panel. In the past, I’ve used an exterior-grade composite panel (Extira) to create exterior details on houses. I thought it would be the perfect thing to use for the panels. It machines well, it’s very moisture resistant, and it’s dimensionally stable. Since it comes in several thicknesses, I was confident there would be a thickness that we could use once I figured out my final details. And we would hold the panel in place with a rebated panel molding.

Ken made a list of the materials to price out, and we estimated the labor and multiplied by 1.5—it’s always good to be safe on a job you don’t have to have. I reminded him to clearly cover our conditions for doing the job and to make sure they weren’t in a big hurry since this would be a weekend project. I also told Ken to get a 50% deposit before any materials were ordered.

When I met Ken the next week, he already had a deposit check (maybe we should have priced it a little higher!). He said it would take about three weeks to get the special order door so I had a little time to think through the details—always a good thing when you are doing something for the first time. I was confident that I could find or make a molding the right dimension to hold the panel in place. What to do about where the molding met the panel would be another story. I had to have a smooth surface at the point where my panel mold contacted the Extira panel. It would look terrible to just have a molding passing over the V-groove cuts, and that would funnel water to the inside of the door. I could just make a raised panel with V-groove cuts, but that really wouldn’t have matched the look in the picture. I started looking at the router bits in my shop and found a large Whiteside bit (#3296) that made an elongated ogee cut. It was just perfect. I had some scrap Extira pieces so I was able to make some test cuts. The bit gave me plenty of room for the panel mold but didn’t distract from the V-grooves.

The execution

Ken had the door delivered to the shop. I think we got a great deal because it seemed to weigh a ton! We put it up on a couple of metal saw horses with MDF scraps for protection. I’ve done similar work for interior doors and the first step is always to lay out the panels with dimensions that are similar to a traditional panel door. I laid out for 5 1/2-in. styles, a 9-inch bottom rail, a 6 1/2-in. lock rail centered on 38 in. from the bottom of the door, and a 5 1/2-in. top rail.

Next, I used my track saw to make a plunge cut right up to the layout lines. That left a little bit of material in the corners that I cut out with an Imperial Blades model T335 blade in my multi tool. DSC_0185-1

I really like that blade because it cuts aggressively but doesn’t tear up the wood.

DSC_0223-1 I cut partway through from one side and then we flipped the door to finish the cuts. A word of caution: Make sure you support the cut out piece when you cut out the last corners or you could end up with a sore toe!

With the holes cut out, I then shifted my attention to the panels. I decided that inch-thick Extira would work best. I cut the panels 1/4 in. shy of the door opening width and height.

I wanted to make the ogee cut around the panel before I tried to lay out the V-groove cuts. I knew, from my test cuts, that once I routed one side of the edge there wasn’t enough material left for the router bearing to ride on for the back side of each panel. DSC_0174-1

So I had to clamp on a straightedge and guide from the edge of the router base.

DSC_0176-1 The straight edge was set in 3 in., but I highly recommend doing a test cut on some of the leftover scrap once you’ve cut the panels.

Also keep in mind that a large router bit requires a powerful router with a huge hole in the base. You can always make a sacrificial base plate out of wood to replace the plastic one. Dust was everywhere even with a vacuum hooked up. The only drawback I’ve found with Extira is that it can make the shop floor slippery. I recommend sweeping up often.

Now I was down to the toughest part of the job: laying out and routing the V-grooves. I started with the larger upper panel (I figured, if I messed it up, there might be a chance I could turn it into the smaller panel). I was really glad to have Ken’s picture as a guide. It looked like a 5-in. spacing would match the picture, so I ripped a piece of pine to that width and started my layout.

I made a line right down the middle of the panel where the V-grooves would meet, and then I did the layout for the first grooves by measuring 12 in. along each edge from the corner. Once I had the first mark it was easy to just line one edge of my 5-in.-wide board up with the line and make another layout line on the other edge. DSC_0179-1

I repeated the process until I had the layout for the whole panel, and then I flipped the piece over and did the layout for that side while it was still fresh in my mind.

Cutting the V-grooves is an unforgiving process. I used a veining bit (Whiteside #1502) and guided my router off the edge of the base.


For most routers, that means setting a guide board 3 in. from the layout line, but it’s a good idea to make a test cut on a piece of scrap. There are some bits out there with a guide bearing above the cutter that would ride on the guide board instead of running the edge of the router base against the guide board. Most of the cuts stop at the pencil line in the middle of the panel. I suppose it would have been possible to make a jig with a stop block but I just eased my way up to the line and turned off the router. To keep things simple I set my guide board below (toward the bottom of the panel) the layout line on each side. The only downside to this is that on one side the rotation of the router bit will tend to pull the router away from the guide board, so you need to focus on keeping the router base tight against the guide. Unless you are really daring, it’s a great idea to make a couple of practice cuts from each direction in a piece of scrap MDF. If you do happen to make a mistake, or if there are any imperfections in your material from shipping and handling, I’ve made repairs with Bondo several times in the past.

Finding the right molding to trim out the panel openings and hold the panels in place was the greatest unknown in the whole project. I knew the molding would need to be around 1 in. wide and thick enough on one edge for me to cut a fairly deep rebate on the doorframe side. Also, the profile had to have a fairly deep step-down cut so I wouldn’t end up with a really thick edge on the panel side. First I needed to know just how deep the rebate would be so I subtracted the thickness of my Extira panel at the edge from my door thickness (1 3/4 in.) and divided by 2. I needed an 11/16-in. deep rebate so the molding had to be made from 5/4-in. material. The good news was I had enough narrow scraps around the shop to make it. Over the years I have collected a pretty wide selection of molding knifes for my Woodmaster, so I started sorting through them and found one that would work in a few minutes.

It had actually been ordered to make molding for a repair on an entry door several years ago. DSC_0251-1

I am very thankful to own a Woodmaster, but I know that’s not an option for everyone. It is possible to make a similar molding in two passes using a Whiteside #3282 cove and bead bit.

DSC_0408-1 DSC_0416-1

I always like to cover my bases (I’ve made plenty of mistakes in the past), so I milled up about 20 ft. more material than I thought it would take. I cut the rebate in two passes on the table saw. I only rebated enough of the material to do one side of the door in case I had to fine-tune the depth of the rebate once the panels were in.

Experience on similar projects has taught me that the best way to trim out an opening like this is to carefully cut pieces to exact length using a stop block… DSC_0225-1
DSC_0227-1 …and then nail the pieces together to make a frame with headless pins.

I cut the pieces to leave a strong 1/8-in. space between the frame and door opening. While I was making the molding, Ken was priming the raw edge of the door opening. I had him prime the backside of the frame and then I nailed it in place, checking the reveal as I went around the frame.

DSC_0231-1 DSC_0228-1

With the frame in place, we flipped the door over to see how the panel fit.



I used a small piece of rebated molding to check the fit. DSC_0235-1

The piece worked out perfectly on the second side.

While Ken primed the panels, I rebated the rest of the moldings and built frames for the second side which got a coat of primer, too. DSC_0238-1

When all the primer dried, I just had to nail the second frames in place.


It was pretty late in the day when we finished and stood the door up to admire our work. When I first looked at the picture I wasn’t exactly sure how to make the door, but I was pretty certain we could figure it out. When we finished, I was really thankful to be done with the project, but I was also very proud of how it turned out. I couldn’t help but turn to Ken and say, “Not bad for homemade.” The best part was when Ken delivered the door. The clients liked it so much they are now thinking about ordering another one for the back door! DSC_0259-1



Gary head shot-1Gary Striegler is the president of Craftsman Builders Inc. He has been involved in the custom home building business for over 35 years. Gary is frequently published in Fine Homebuilding Magazine and The Journal of Light Construction. Gary teaches at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking every summer, and he is a consultant for DeWalt, Grex Power Tools, Imperial Blades, Kreg Tools, Tenryu blades, and Woodmaster Tools. Gary also enjoys volunteering for Mercy International in Honduras.


A Day with Gary Striegler         

Come spend a full day with Gary Striegler on Saturday, May 30th, beginning at 9:00, at the Thaddeus Smith College of Technology: 750 East King Street, Lancaster, PA.

Gary will cover topics such as making custom and curved moldings, router tricks, perfect miters, frame and panel construction, and trim tricks.

The $50 registration fee includes lunch and entry in drawing for door prizes. To register, email your name, phone number and email address to If you are unable to register by email please call Robert Tobias at 717-391-7205 and leave message.

Check out the Thaddeus Smith College website to learn more about the Cabinetmaking and Wood Technology program.


14 Responses to “Making a Custom Door”

  1. kevin lane

    Think how nice my cnc router would be for cutting the V grooves!

  2. Tim Raleigh

    Great article.
    If this was exposed to the elements, would a solid core (stave core) door been appropriate as well and/or more expensive?

  3. Derek Huegel

    Great door. I like how you take new products to solve old challenges such as warping cupping etc. Its fun to see.
    Great article.

  4. Bob

    Question: so what was the price differential between what the initial manufactured cost and your price?

  5. Mark Hayes

    One of the nice things about woodworking is how you can see one project and it will give you the idea to fix another problem. I have an odd size rear entry door with a window in the top part, we were not happy with this door because of security issues, now instead of dumping the door I’m going to install a panel in the place of the window. Thanks again for the tip..

  6. Lanya LaPunta

    I very much enjoyed the article. The photographs were nicely done and, in my opinion, a great deal in following the verbiage (which by the way was well written).

    PLUS … I learned a new term, “rebate”, as I’ve always referred to that as “rabbet”. I actually went to a search engine. The description seemed like a “rabbet”, but I wanted to make certain.

    In any event, highly enjoyable article.

    Many thanks!

  7. Nick Rosser

    First let me say I have watched the authors web presence and been certainly educated from his experience—- but I cannot get behind this door. Why not make the frame out of poplar and use mortise and tenon joinery.? A door made in a traditional way will last 100 years. Applied moulding? There’s a reason why doors are coped right into the rail. (So it does not fall off)
    I don’t mean to be snarky like I said Gary is the man, his wood master videos on curved moulding really opens up curved trim for me. Alright thanks

  8. Kyle Ross

    This is a great post, and I appreciate your detailed description of the entire process. I’ve been wanting to make a custom door for the front of my house, but I wasn’t sure how to approach the project. I’ll definitely employ some of your techniques and suggestions. Thanks for sharing!

  9. Sam Fisher

    I’ll have to show this to my dad who is a big woodworking buff. I’m sure that once I do, we’ll have a new front door within a week. It really is amazing what you can do with a little bit of time.

  10. Robby Myer

    Yet another example of the many ways to skin a cat. We are often asked to find more cost effective ways to provide custom solutions to customers requests. While there is always a better way, the right way, or the way I would do it, sometimes you have to find a way to make the project fit the price so you get to do the job. Nicely done. Well executed custom results from standard tooling.

    • Gary Katz

      Perfectly said! Sometimes life is like that, huh? When you can’t do something the ‘best’ or ‘perfect’ way, but you have to to it anyway anyway!


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