Exterior Sapele Door and Sidelites

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Project by John Brien posted 04-07-2010 12:09 AM 3462 views 5 times favorited 11 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Massive project and massive job for this one, by far the largest project to exit my shop. This is a stave-core built door measuring 96”x42” and a pair of 21” sidelites all with riftsawn Sapele. The arch running across the top is a 160” radius arch with matching trim and of course jams. Every piece of Sapele here is from the same log allowing for some pretty easy matching of the grain as you might imagine.

All the components are pinned mortise and tenon construction, The door is 6” rails and stiles with an 11” kick rail, Each sidelite has a matched stiles created by doing the staves all the same and splitting them down the center to create the bookmatched look and the 3” stiles required for them. The glass is a double paned unit I outsourced to a glass company as to not have to support any moisture issues later down the road.

This is complete on my end though the interior needs to be trimmed out by the finish carpenters, as this is a new construction, and additional decorative iron work will be added closer to the move in date for the client. Please feel free to ask questions below, I really don’t know what details you all might want to know about the construction.

-- Handcrafted, Healthy, and Sustainable Custom Works of Wood -

11 comments so far

View Frankie Talarico Jr.'s profile

Frankie Talarico Jr.

353 posts in 3528 days

#1 posted 04-07-2010 12:53 AM

excellent, I know qaulity when I see it. I like working on projects that will awe people forever. Did you have this stuff dried in a kiln?


-- Live by what you believe, not what they want you to believe.

View Jim Jakosh's profile

Jim Jakosh

21504 posts in 3277 days

#2 posted 04-07-2010 01:06 AM

Very nicely done. Great craftsmanship!! Thanks for sharing….....

-- Jim Jakosh.....Practical Wood Products...........Learn something new every day!! Variety is the Spice of Life!!

View Thos. Angle's profile

Thos. Angle

4444 posts in 4134 days

#3 posted 04-07-2010 01:21 AM

Excellent design and execution. Very well done. I can see more of these in your future.

-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

View Konquest's profile


171 posts in 3616 days

#4 posted 04-07-2010 02:29 AM

Wow. People are really ramping up the quality of the projects on LJ’s lately. Stunning. I hope the owner appreciates teh workmanship that went into this…

-- 9 3/4 fingers remaining.

View WistysWoodWorkingWonders's profile


12758 posts in 3329 days

#5 posted 04-07-2010 03:49 AM

simply amazing… love the look and design..

-- New Project = New Tool... it's just the way it is, don't fight it... :)

View KnotCurser's profile


2026 posts in 3240 days

#6 posted 04-07-2010 01:02 PM

Fantastic Job! The wood is very nice and you let it speak for itself – great job!!!!


-- Robert Rhoades WoodWorks / Email: /

View John Brien's profile

John Brien

9 posts in 3218 days

#7 posted 04-07-2010 02:53 PM

@socialwood (and to all that might be of interest) I do all my tenons traditional in this case the door’s top and lock rails contain a 4”x”5”x3/4” tenon at the shoulder, I haunch the tenon 1” from said shoulder by 1/2”. The kick rail is a double haunched tenon following closely to the above. Then pinned twice in each from the interior of the door, the pin stops just shy of going all the way through the door as to not expose the end grain of the pins. I never want to run the risk of splitting the faces.

In the lite details the inside “trim” is integral to the door’s rails and stiles allowing me to silicone the window to provide the water barrier with the lite itself. The lock rails have a 3-degree bevel and the lower exterior trim piece is only glued at the miters and just using brad nails to secure this trim part and allowing for any water to evacuate pretty much unimpeded. The floating panel is set in silicone and cut a 1/4” smaller than the opening to allow 1/8” expansion gap in all directions the bottom of the panel has enough silicone to fill any gaps that might allow water sit (100% silicone only and make sure it’s rated for your climate extremes). I should note that I have requirements in the contract and warranty / care instructions to provide an overhang of at least 5’ for North-facing doors and 10’ for south-facing, additionally I required regular cleaning and make a very bold reference that a hose or anything but a lightly dampened cloth never be used to clean it. In-fact I actually provide my clients cleaning supplies on delivery containing a Norton lint-free cloth pack, an Almond Stick for any scratches and Method wood cleaner for general wiping down of the door.

Sapele was not the original choice by the client, they actually wanted Mahogany but at the time of the contract Genuine Mahogany (South / Central / Honduran) was put on the CITE list for endangered, and was really expensive. (I do believe they now are referring to African Mahogany as Genuine). I also always throw in a curve ball to a client for wood choices just to show other options. In this case I did a prefinish of African Mahogany, Domestic Cherry, and Sapele and they immediately gravitated to the Sapele both for the rich brown and contrasts, I then reenforced it by telling the it was much more dent-resistant and generally more dense than traditional Mahogany doors (It’s very close to the durability of Oak). As you can see from the main pic, the house is many, many shades of brown and as Sapele ages is just gets darker not “Orange” as does African Mahogany, they wanted nothing to do with the Cherry as it wasn’t unique enough for them, lol. Besides if you’ve never worked with Sapele I would highly recommend it, it is an absolute joy.

Now for the Stave Cores I will provide a link to one of my suppliers whom provides these for those who don’t want to take the time to make them, trust me you need to plan ahead when making them. Depending on how busy I am, and here in the N. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania region things are really picking up, I have outsourced the construction of the cores to them, sometimes just the core itself and occasionally the entire unit if I have multiple doors to provide, and they do absolutely fantastic work for unbelievable prices. Wolf Lumber and Millwork

I hope that helps, and if you want to do an exterior door and / or window sidelites I would highly recommend you outsource your first stave cores to get a feel for their construction (it’s really not that much more expensive). There is no other way, in my opinion to construct an exterior door than using the stave core technique, I have never had one warp or cup bad enough to be cause for alarm. It is wood so yes it moves, my mantra on that is Get Over It =D and my clients know that, as it is both reenforced prior to any contracts and very clearly stated in my warranties.

I have been thinking about proposing a book on doing doors as the only one of any value has been out of print for almost 20 years and is one of my prized possessions. Is a book like that something the community at large would be interested in? I am curious.

-- Handcrafted, Healthy, and Sustainable Custom Works of Wood -

View John Brien's profile

John Brien

9 posts in 3218 days

#8 posted 04-07-2010 03:49 PM

@socialwood You may laugh but I actually do all my large tenon work using my band saw with a 3/4” resaw blade and an infeed roller for support. I then fine tune the tenons and shoulders with a couple of specialty shoulder / side escapement planes (two 1” blade and two 2” blade planes each with a left and right configuration), I make all my own planes so this wasn’t a problem or major expense. I work in a small 20’x24’ shop in of my home, though if things keep progressing as they have this may have to change very soon. When I installed this door, believe it or not, it was the very first time I got to see it upright. This was to the brink of the absolute limit that I could handle in my current shop which made for a “fun” time and a lot of effort to maintain confidence in my skills.

I can PM you the details. Do you have publishing ties?

-- Handcrafted, Healthy, and Sustainable Custom Works of Wood -

View John Brien's profile

John Brien

9 posts in 3218 days

#9 posted 04-07-2010 04:38 PM

Having every tool in the shop on a mobile base makes things much simpler to reconfigure the shop as a project may dictate. In the finishing situation the entire shop was essentially stacked to the back to make room for spraying. It just goes to show if you are smart about how you plan and what projects you take, knowing your own limitations and having some creativity always helps, there is no requirements for tons of space and tons of tools. You will find the only “one trick pony” in my shop is my Delta hollow chisel mortiser. Everything else doubles as space of some kind. I truly has taken me years to get my shop where it is 100% functional.

-- Handcrafted, Healthy, and Sustainable Custom Works of Wood -

View John Brien's profile

John Brien

9 posts in 3218 days

#10 posted 04-07-2010 04:40 PM

Oh you can’t be afraid of hand tools either. Those raised panels on the door are 100% “cut” by handplane.

-- Handcrafted, Healthy, and Sustainable Custom Works of Wood -

View WarEagleTodd's profile


3 posts in 3704 days

#11 posted 08-17-2012 06:11 PM


Those are beautiful entry doors. What type of finish did you use and can you explain the finishing process?


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