Advice on Big Carriage Doors?

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Forum topic by AlbanyTim posted 06-14-2010 07:36 AM 3042 views 0 times favorited 5 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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5 posts in 2931 days

06-14-2010 07:36 AM

Topic tags/keywords: carriage doors rail stile panel question

I have a rather interesting project that I’d like to share with you in hopes of getting some helpful advice. I purchased a classic 104-year-old firehouse from the city of Chicago and am renovating it to be a video production facility (Video production is my day job). Originally the main doors for the fire engine were in the style of “carriage doors,” 2 large, swinging doors. At some point, they were replaced with a roll-up, overhead, “garage style” door, which – with its large gaps on the sides – is both energy inefficient and allows street noise to easily come in and contaminate the sound of our video shooting. So I am building new carriage doors to match the original design (I have the original architectural drawings from 1906).

I want to do it right and have some questions/concerns. I want the doors to hold up well, not sag, etc.

The doors are large – each approximately 11 feet high, by 5 feet wide. The style is classic rail and stile, panel construction. For the rails and stiles, I would like to use old wood planks that I salvaged from a barn floor in Wisconsin. They are nice and thick 2+ inches, and plenty long. They are a softer, lighter wood (perhaps White Pine?).

Two questions:
First, do you think the softer, lighter wood will be a problem for me? I realize that softer wood is not as structurally strong as hardwoods, but I feel that the much lighter weight will offset those worries. (There would be much less weight to cause any sagging issues).

Second, what is your recommendations on joining the rails to the stiles? I’ve thought about mortise and through tenons, but with my situation, I feel that two thick (3/4”?) and (long 12”?) hardwood dowels might be the best option. Also – if you agree with my plan – do you have any advice on how to drill 6” holes in the rails and in the stiles that accurately match up?

Note: I will not personally be hanging the doors. I am letting a professional handle that tricky task.

You can see a photo of the building at
And a picture of my design at

Thank you for any thoughts you have to offer.

-- Tim, Albany Wisconsin

5 replies so far

View Don's profile


517 posts in 3100 days

#1 posted 06-14-2010 04:48 PM

I wouldn’t use dowels, it’s difficult to get them to line up correctly and they don’t provide much glueing surface. I recommend using normal style and rail cutters but with an extended tenon. Freud makes a good set and I’m sure there are many others available. I’ve done doors that big before with much heavier woods and the style and rail joint held up fine, I don’t think Pine will be a problem.

-- Don - I wood work if I could. Redmond WA.

View a1Jim's profile


117126 posts in 3604 days

#2 posted 06-14-2010 05:03 PM

My father in law made doors and windows for over 50 years and what he would do is finger joint short pieces of wood together 10-14(“for stability and minimise wood movement) for the stiles and rails and then veneer 1/4 wood over the top and always used mortice and tenons. Dowels for even 3’ doors is a very bad idea. On extremely wide doors he would build in threaded rods across all the rails. I have built several large church doors this way and the look great and held up well or more than 10 years

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View AlbanyTim's profile


5 posts in 2931 days

#3 posted 06-14-2010 07:20 PM

Thanks guys!

I am definitely using large rail and stile router bits and using standard techniques. Any other joinery would be in addition to that.

Jim, I’m curious why you think dowels are a very bad idea compared to mortise and tenons. It seems to me that having nice strong 3/4” dowels, 12” long, would help create a good bond and really help minimize any gravity-caused sagging (to go along with the rail and stile joinery). Also, do you happen to have any suggestions on where I could learn how to do “threaded rods across all rails”? I’m not sure how that would look/work.

-- Tim, Albany Wisconsin

View a1Jim's profile


117126 posts in 3604 days

#4 posted 06-14-2010 07:35 PM

Hey Tim
I didn’t think you were using dowels that large but I still know M&Ts are stronger and a time proven method.
How you have threaded rods go across the rails is that you make them in halves and router a groove for the rods on both halves and glue them together, then you drill through the stile and counter sink the nut and washer and use a plug to hide it . If you use the 1/4 veneer approach no plug is necessary.This approach of having the rails allso helps on the wood movement issue which is a big issue on large doors. I have also seen on old original fire house doors were the placed metal straps on the out side of the door to hold it together .
hope this is of some help.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View lilredweldingrod's profile


2496 posts in 3134 days

#5 posted 06-14-2010 10:01 PM

Tim, have you thought about draw-bore M&T. This method makes a very tight and strong M&T joint. and it works great in cedar, so it will be fine in pine. Rand

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