At long last, the only thing remaining was the door. Now, as I have mentioned earlier, my daughter Eleanor (10 yrs old) has read The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, and she really wanted me to put a round door on the barn like a hobbit hole.
Well, as luck would have it, I found a free Craigslist posting for a company that had what appeared to be a side of a massive construction spool: it was a huge circle, 7-1/2 feet in diameter and 1-1/2” thick, made of of 1” x 6” pine boards in two layers set at 90 degrees to each other. In other words—it was exactly how I’d make a round door if I was building it myself!
The logistics of a round door are interesting, though. How do you hinge it? When you put a round door in (basically) square wall, how do you frame the empty corners? How do I latch it but keep with the central doorknob look that iis iconic of hobbit doors? How much strain would a nearly 8’ door put on the door post when the thing is swung open? And on and on…and remember, this is the main door of the barn, that I will be using several times a day, every single day!
The first realization I came to was that a single door nearly eight feet wide opens very slowly! I would have to back up nearly four feet in order to open it enough to get inside, and that would be a huge pain on a daily basis. I decided that functionality trumped form in this case, so I cut the door vertically into two unequal parts (sort of a 60/40 split), given me a 3’ wide left door and a 4-1/2’ wide right door. This would also really reduce the load on the hinges and doorposts, too.
The second challenge was hanging a door with a round hinge edge. Here I took advantage of an item of serendipity: a concentric circular groove cut into the face side for whatever need the original builder had. I stained the inner part of the circle to match with window I built (a Minwax Gunstock) and the outer part of the circle I stained much darker (a Jacobean stain, also from Minwax). This gave the illusion that the inner circle was the real hobbit door, while the outside was part of the coaming or frame. After that, I sheared off part of the door frame edges, giving me a straight, flat edge about four feet long on the wall edges. This would give me a easy place to attach my hinges.
Because I would be muscling this door into place either alone or with only the help of my wife (a lovely woman with a game soul, but I would not describe her as “burly”), I needed a way to hang them true and level as easily as possible. I solved this by hinging two four-foot 2×8s together with 3 heavy-duty door hinges. The post plate was then lag screwed into my maple wall posts, and the other plate would be attached to the door itself. Once the hinges plates were attached to the posts, Melissa and I muscled the doors into position, marked and drill bolt holes through the hinge plate and door, and bolted the door onto the 2×8 hinge plate with 4 strong bolts. Worked like a charm:
The next challenge was the surround—those awkward arc-shaped corners that the door didn’t fill. Conventional wisdom (and the Peter Jackson movies) would dictate that these should be part of the door frame, but I hated the idea of installing permanent foot-catching sills that I’d have to step over or negotiate every time. So, I simply cut them from 3/4 outdoor ply and screwed them to the back of the door! Again, this worked visually (I think) because I had stained the door to look like the entire outer part was a raised frame anyway. Now we had this:
The last piece was the doorknob/closure mechanism. Again, the central doorknob is the classic look for a hobbit door, but how to make it work? Luckily, smarter heads than mine—specifically Matthias from Woodworking for Engineers—had already figured this out! From his oh-so-cool site, I download an app that let me design a rack and pinion gear, which I cut from 5/8” birch plywood. When the spindle of the pinion gear turns, the bar shoots across the doors into a socket, locking the two doors together! I have a video of the action before I installed it, but unfortunately I can’t figure out how to upload it here. I finished off the mechanism with a “doorknob” cut from an alder branch. The finished product:
With that, the barn is nearly finished, though of course, a woodworker is never really done…I’m sure there’ll be plenty of internal improvements, external embellishments, etc, etc. etc!