Exterior Door- Part I

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Blog entry by Troy posted 05-19-2010 06:44 PM 4936 reads 4 times favorited 5 comments Add to Favorites Watch

The Commission
A door doesn’t sound like a significant project, until there are other details added like annual outdoor temperature fluctuation of 150° F, 90-100° F temp difference between in/outdoors, and a sporadic humidity level.

Approved SketchUp Design
One day I received a phone call from a lady who wanted an arched, solid wood door for her daughter’s upcoming new construction this May. Not one to turn down a challenge, I agreed and began a ton of research. Building a stylish, 36″ x 80″ door isn’t a problem. Preventing said door from exploding and/or tearing itself apart in Interior Alaska conditions is quite a problem.

Resawing Hi-Grade D-Fir
  The Frame
I initially tried to obtain a sheet of material specifically engineered for this purpose; a laminate core, dead-flat @ 1 3/8″ thick made just for exterior door construction, but it proved out of reach for all of my local suppliers (I even gave them the number to the corporate HQ).

Creating the half-lap joints
So on to plan “B”, which was to make a plan “B” if needed. After considering a few options, I went with a marine-grade approach. The idea was to make the inner core frame from Douglas Fir and sheath it in marine-grade 1/4″ plywood. The D-Fir we got was incredibly gorgeous. I was picking through a standing stack of 16′ long 2×4 boards instinctively looking for the best boards, but that was unnecessary. At 16 feet long, every board was dead flat. I’ve never seen anything like it. Across each face (the radial grain) ran 20-30 parallel, tight grain lines the entire length of the board. What could possibly be considered more stable than this?

Tune ups
We got the boards back and prepared them for the frame. In order to create a door at normal 1 3/4″ thickness within the clients requirements, the inner frame had to be 1/2″ thick, with 1/4″ sheathing on both sides and 3/8″ hardwoods on each face. We re-sawed the D-Fir to a little over 1/2″ and ran them through the planer and sander. The results we exceptional.

Accuracy counts

Inner frame
The next step was to identify, mark and cut out the lap joints that would interconnect all parts for the frame. Before glue-up, we tuned up each joint using a classic, and most effective process. My Lie-Neilsen rabbet block plane is my favorite tool to perfect joints like this. Prior to adding the plywood, we had to cut out the window hole for a 10″ x 12″ dual pane, gas-sealed (argon), inch-thick assembly, safety glass window.

Sheathing glue up
We left the plywood proud along each edge which allowed us to center the window hole and trim each edge of the plywood to the frame after glue up (again with the favored block plane).

1/2” insulation, decreases weight also
Before the second sheet of plywood was added, we took a little time to add R-Max insulation between frame parts.
  The Panels
Now that the frame was assembled, secured and dead-square it was time to prepare the hardwood face panels. The choice material was Red Oak which has favorable low characteristics concerning movement (contraction and expansion).

Laminating upper and lower panels
Regardless, this type of construction requires allowance for any and all movement, so the door face panels were prepared with 1/4″ tongue and groove with 1/8″ spacing between all boards. In order to create the arch, we figured out the radius in accordance with the designs and made a compass to scribe the upper and lower arcs.

T&G Ops
The arc for the bottom of the top face panel was completed using the band saw and oscillating spindle sander. The door arch will be cut later. Once all T&G and arch cuts were done, we sealed the back of the boards with three coats of a catalyzed vinyl sealant using our HVLP system, in under one hour.

Initial Arcs
The next challenge was securing the panels to the core frame. Flexibility remained key so silicone and nails became choice which worked out very well. Hardboard strips made for excellent 1/8″ spacers.

Silicone application
After several dry-fits, we got the clamps out and lined up everything. Happy with the overall fit, we turned over all the boards and spread the silicone carefully away from all edges (this is not the time for squeeze out). I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the boards sat nice and flat on the frame while the silicone provided just the right amount of adhesion and movement. A generous number of nails finished the job and locked everything in as well as I could expect.

Satisfying progress
This ends Parts I of the door construction. Hopefully it’s done in a few days cause despite what you may think, there is still very much to do.
Thanks for reading!

Your Arctic Woodworking Friend,

-- Troy Bouffard || Master Sergeant, US Army (Retired) ||

5 comments so far

View lew's profile (online now)


12061 posts in 3755 days

#1 posted 05-19-2010 06:51 PM

Very informative, Troy!



-- Lew- Time traveler. Purveyor of the Universe's finest custom rolling pins.

View sras's profile


4799 posts in 3129 days

#2 posted 05-20-2010 06:22 AM

Excellent progress on a challenging project! Alaskan weather has to do a number on doors.

-- Steve - Impatience is Expensive

View Jim Bertelson's profile (online now)

Jim Bertelson

4174 posts in 3164 days

#3 posted 05-22-2010 01:40 AM

Watching closely….......don’t think I will every try this…....the exterior doors for our remodel are already bought and in the house, sitting in the garage the last 2 years.

-- Jim, Anchorage Alaska

View Mark Shymanski's profile

Mark Shymanski

5621 posts in 3713 days

#4 posted 06-13-2010 05:43 PM

I am surprised that there are not doors available locally for that climate. We easily get that range here in Manitoba ( a 60 to 70 degree Celsius variation between outdoor and in and seasonally 75 to 80 degrees is commonplace), we’d just zip down to the local Rona or HD and buy an insulated pre-hung door. Now yours is a beautiful door and that alone is worth the extra effort you expended, but the environmental conditions should not present a challenge to any decent door manufacturer…just surprised I guess.

-- "Checking for square? What madness is this! The cabinet is square because I will it to be so!" Jeremy Greiner LJ Topic#20953 2011 Feb 2

View Linc's profile


1 post in 1956 days

#5 posted 01-17-2013 12:09 AM

Hi Tony,
The door looks great and the details were of great interest as I am on track to receive a commission for a door.
The client requires a door that will be in keeping with a 1940’s “modern home”
As you noted , their are a mountain of details to be addressed before I even start. My design includes a generous amount of carving on the exterior side and my design. The design was the result of discussions with the client after spending some time walking around the grounds.
My client is now reviewing the clay model that I submitted and I am eager to meet with him again to review details and costs. Following a successful meeting I would like to review some details that you must have already considered. I hope to avoid or minimize possible errors.
Would you have time for a few exchanges?
Regards, Linc

-- Linc,NY

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