If I had a backup career in woodworking, it would be making doors and windows for historic homes. It’s not that I especially enjoy making such objects more than others. (I’ve never even made a window sash.) It’s that it’s virtually impossible to buy an interior door that looks like it belongs in an old house.
I thought about that a lot over the last few days. For years, I had been meaning to replace my dining room door:
I really don’t need to explain why, do I? Between the dog, the cats, the kids, and time, this door could almost be seen through.
I could have just gone down to the home center and bought another hollow-core door, but I don’t think it would have held up any better than this one did. Furthermore, my dining room walls are paneled with beautiful, antique knotty pine, so I decided to build a door from similar pine that would fit into the aesthetic of the room. After drawing out a few different designs, I settled on something that would be simple, sturdy, and pleasing to the eye. An additional consideration is that this doorway provides almost the only airflow between two big areas of the house, so when the door is closed, the HVAC can’t recirculate air from this part of the house. I decided to include a small air vent in the bottom of the door to accommodate airflow when the door needs to be closed.
Here’s a preview of the results:
From here on out, I’m going to let the pictures tell the story as much as possible and keep the text to a minimum.
Stock Selection and Preparation
I had laid up several southern yellow pine boards for this project months ago. The bandsaw helped me cut them to width, but after that, nearly everything was hand work.
I made a whole garbage bag of wood shavings at this stage. When the knots are minimal, this wood really does plane down nicely.
The frame-and-panel construction requires grooves around the insides of the frames. The grooves will eventually guide me in placing my mortises and tenons.
My Veritas small plow plane performed exceptionally well here. Using the conversion kit (with the extra skate), I plowed grooves 1/2″ wide and 3/8″ deep. The extra skate kept the plane very stable in the cut, even in reversing grain.
My daughter managed to get an action shot.
This plane makes so many cool shavings!
The younger kids love to play with the “wooden springs.”
The cat, on the other hand, is not so sure.
Mortise and Tenon
The most exacting work in this project is cutting the tenons and the mortises.
I’ve always been a tenons-first kind of guy. In southern yellow pine, when the grain is straight, you don’t even need to saw the tenons out. Just saw the baseline with a backsaw and split out the tenon cheeks. It’s faster (and a lot more fun) than sawing them. Just don’t try to split off the entire cheek at once. Split off half the waste, then half again, until you can only pare to the line.
I used the tenons to lay out the exact locations of the mortises. These mortises are about 3″ deep and 1/2″ wide, which is too big for me to chop. Instead, I bored out most of the waste with an auger bit.
With mortises this deep, it’s critical that you bore straight down. With the work up on the bench, it’s too easy to tilt the bit and brace to one side or the other. So I put the workpiece on the floor and straddled it to keep it steady. Sighting down the groove, it was pretty easy to keep the bit straight up and down. The real trick was to place the holes so they just overlapped each other.
Then I squared up the mortises with chisels.
A lot of woodworking articles/books will say things like “now square up the hole with a chisel.” Well, it’s not quite as simple as the books make it sound. First I used a 1/2″ chisel to chop down across the end grain on each end of the mortise. Then I used a broad chisel to pare down each side. Finally, I used a narrower chisel to pick out the waste pieces. Repeating the process three or four times got me down to the 3″ depth I needed on each of the eight mortises in this door.
The bottom stile of the door is so wide that it requires a double tenon, which is an added complication in getting everything fitted just right.
If all goes well, the tenon should go all the way in with only hand pressure. It shouldn’t wiggle around in the mortise, but it need not be a piston-fit either.
I used my bandsaw to rip down two panels to about 5/8″ thick, then planed them to a (somewhat) consistent thickness. That operation got me another garbage bag full of shavings.
The dog got to enjoy the shavings before I swept them up.
After penciling out the depth of the bevels on the panels, I started planing them down with the joiner plane set to take a heavy cut. I planed them to finished depth with the smoothing plane.
I used an offcut with a groove (saved from my tenon cutting) as a “mullet” to check the fit.
With the joints cut and the panels shaped, I was able to check the overall fit.
At this stage, I bored the holes for the drawbore pegs, one or two per tenon.
I also realized that I had cut the panels just a little bit short, either because I mis-measured or because I cut on the wrong side of the line a couple times.
The solution was to glue spacers into the bottom groove in order to raise the panels up just a little bit. That should keep gaps from opening up during dry weather. It was already unusually dry for this time of year, so I don’t expect the door to shrink much. Our normal weather is extremely humid. But wood does still shrink a little over the years, so you have to plan for it regardless of the current weather.
The only part of this door that isn’t pine is the drawbore pegs, which are red oak.
I’ve tried using other hardwoods for drawbore pegs, but oak is by far the best. It’s tough enough to pull the joint closed without breaking, but it rives cleanly enough to make a straight-grained peg quickly. I split the pegs out, then pared and planed them to the right thickness, pointing the ends with a knife.
Drawboring mortise and tenon joints without glue is so relaxing compared to gluing up an assembly. There’s no rush at all. You can take your time and make sure everything is coming together exactly right. There are no clamps to fuss with, and you don’t have to wait for any glue to cure.
It’s a beautiful sight (to my eyes, at least) to see a drawbored assembly come together.
I use my dovetail saw to trim the pins almost flush.
Running the spine up against the wood keeps the teeth just clear of the surface. I trim them down just about flush with a handplane.
Holes, Hanging, and Finish
After all that work, it was a little painful to cut out a large hole in the bottom stile. At least this was one of the easiest operations to complete.
I bored a series of holes in two corners.
Then, using my narrowest handsaw, I sawed out the waste.
I had always wondered why I kept that pencil-thin handsaw around. Now I know! I then screwed a vent cover over both sides of the hole.
I put a couple coats of satin polyurethane on it (rattle can application) and let it dry overnight. Just to clarify, this was about day 3 or day 4 of the build. I worked on it for a few hours a day over about a week of vacation.
With the door construction complete, it was time to make even more holes in it. First I mortised in the hinges. (Sorry, no pictures–I was in a hurry at this point.) Hanging a door is awkward but not as difficult as some people make it sound. I was able to use the brass hinges from the old door and thus keep their original mortises in the door frame. Setting the new door in the door frame and raising it up to the right height with wedges underneath, I marked the location of the hinge mortises on the new door with a marking knife. Some careful chisel work got the hinges in exactly the right place.
Last, I installed the handle–also a part salvaged from the original door–which had taken on a nice, antique patina over the years. You can’t buy that look at the store.
My brace and bits have done a lot more work on this project than I anticipated.
And that brings us to the hung door. I did remove the door jamb and re-fit it snuggly around the door, as this door is a slightly different thickness than the previous one.
In five or ten years, the pine will have naturally darkened and match the color of the surrounding paneling perfectly. I’m happy to wait.