Building a Half-Door (with What I Had On Hand)

As tomorrow is the 12th day of Christmas, and the next day we celebrate the gifts of the Magi to the infant Jesus, I thought I’d show off my big gift to my wife this Christmas: a door.

My wife’s “office” is the seldom-used back entryway, and for several years, she’s been asking me to find/build a half-door to keep the kids out of her stuff. I kept not getting around to it, until things came to a head and I started building it over Thanksgiving break.

I have no photos from the first part of the build, but it’s pretty standard frame-and-panel stuff joined with drawbored mortise-and-tenon joints. I ripped the pieces for the frame out of a couple pine 2X10s I had in my lumber stash, and the panels are leftover plywood from my kids’ bunk beds that I built over the summer. I usually try to avoid plywood, but it was handy, and I figured I could make it work. (More on that in a moment.)

In November, I got as far as dimensioning the stock, plowing the grooves, and cutting the tenons. It took me until mid-December to get the rest finished. The mortises are 3″ deep, and I now think I know why most old doors had through-mortises. They’re stronger, yes, but it’s also easier to cut a through-mortise than it is a deep, blind mortise. With a through mortise, you just bash the middle waste through and exit hole, but with a stopped mortise, everything has to come out the top, which requires scraping the bottom with the tip of a chisel. I’m pretty sure I could have cut these joints faster if I had opted for through-mortises. Oh well. I’ll know for next time.

The plywood panels presented some, um, interesting challenges. Every time I try using a bit of plywood in a project, I have regrets. I don’t exactly regret using it this time, but it did complicate matters. The ply layers were relatively thick, and I thought I could just bevel the plywood on both sides to fit into the grooves without exposing the inner layers and introducing changes in grain direction.

Wrong. Perhaps I mismeasured (I do that a lot), or perhaps I was just being blithely optimistic, but I ended up beveling the edges back considerably on the front and rabbeting them on the back. (Don’t ask why. I don’t even remember what was going through my head at the time.) Of course, working with hand tools in plywood can be difficult, mostly because the grain changes direction as you cut down through each layer.  But this time there were additional problems.

First, I had forgotten how many voids there are inside construction-grade ply. So when I beveled and rabbeted around the edges, I ended up revealing several large voids.

Out came the home-made wood putty–matching sawdust and PVA glue. The color match isn’t as precise as I would have liked, but at least the voids are level now.

The second issue was that, when I beveled the edges, it revealed a very dark layer of adhesive between the layers.

But now that the door is assembled, I think the dark, irregular border looks kind of cool.

Anyhow, the drawbored joints went together very well. For the pegs, I used some dry pecan I had, and I’m getting better at shaping the pegs. There’s not a drop of glue in any of the joints, and the door is rigid as all get out.

Then came a significant design opportunity. I decided to chisel my initials and the current year into the bottom of the door frame, where it would only be seen if the door were removed. I figured it would be a nice surprise for somebody in the future. Then I realized two things at the same time: first, that I had chiseled in the wrong year; and second, that I had done it on the TOP of the door, where I would see it EVERY time I used the door.

First, I was like

Then, I did what all of us do in such a situation: I turned it into a design opportunity. I chiseled out my initials and the typo.

Then I inlaid a piece of black walnut. Finally, I got out my V-chisel to do some real carving.

Looks intentional, doesn’t it?

Then came hanging the door. It wasn’t as hard as everybody makes it out to be. Awkward, yes, a little bit. I first mortised the hinges into the door, promptly figured out I had cut them WAY too deep, and cut a scrap of wood to shim them. I propped the door up next to the frame and marked the location of the mortises in the door frame from the mortises in the door. Cutting out the mortises in the frame was simple enough: just a little chisel and mallet work. (Router planes don’t work well when held sideways, in case you were wondering.)  I then used the hinges to mark the pilot holes in the frame before installing the hinges on the door. Finally, it was simple enough to set the door up next to the frame and put in the screws.

I also got to install a doorknob, which was another new one for me. Not hard at all with a brace and a couple bits.

Best thing was, I salvaged all the hardware from an old interior door I had lying around, so my cash outlay on this project was exactly $0.00.

I expect the wood will darken significantly over the next few years and will eventually match the surrounding wood a little more closely.

Most importantly, my wife is happy with it.

This entry was posted in Build-Alongs, Home Improvement, Wood and Woodwork and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Building a Half-Door (with What I Had On Hand)

  1. Bob Jones says:

    Should be good for pets too.

  2. Steve Massie says:

    That turned out nice and you know what the constructions is, built like a tank. I think it looks good and I love to see projects made with “leftovers” nothing wrong with that. I am starting to like pine more as I am getting used to it, but I do try to avoid plywood especially using hand tools, but that’s just me.


  3. Dave in Ohio says:

    As you have satisfied the requirements of your wife, this project earns an A+!

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