Choosing Wood for an Exterior Door

What species will provide good looks and durability? Craftsman trade opinions. July 2, 2005

I am looking for suggestions on the best wood to use for a front entry door that will be stained and varnished. The door will have east exposure, and we can get high humidity during Michigan summers and sub-freezing temperatures in winter. The door, transom, sidelights, and frame will be constructed of the same wood. I am looking for a wood that will last without binding/warping/splitting or other potential issues. So far we're leaning towards solid mahogany or oak. Any insight would be appreciated.

Forum Responses
(Architectural Woodworking Forum)
From contributor D:
You may want to look into Honduras mahogany (also known as genuine mahogany). It is the best commonly available wood. The other mahoganies - Philippine, African, Indonesian, etc. are not mahogany at all, just named that to sell and impart quality, and they do not have the stability, rot resistance, strength, durability or beauty. Teak is truly the best, but is not normally finished, and can look ragged. Teak is also pretty expensive at about $15.00 b/f.

White oak is a close second/third. I wouldn’t look into Red oak due to its porosity and movement in service. We typically use a white oak sill with Honduras frame, trim and sash-work. Be sure to adhere to all the rules and know the moisture content as well as EMC for exterior/interior work in your area. Everything comes together in a door - temperature extremes, humidity, moisture, use, security, beauty, and the sense of home.

From contributor R:
Jarrah, which is from Australia, gets good marks for exterior use. It is a variety of eucalyptus and was extensively used in the re-production of the HMS Endeavor (one of Captain Cook's ships). It was specifically used in areas of high exposure and has held up well for the last 7 or 8 years at sea, as tough an environment as any front door will see.

From contributor D:
Jarrah is a good wood, though very heavy, and rare to find in 10/4 thickness. Any good entry install will include heavy plate ball-bearing hinges sized for the door weight and thickness. A good hardware supplier can help. We typically do 40"+ x 96"+ x 2-1/4" doors and use 5x5 heavy plate hinges and mortise type latches. Of course, this makes the jamb and the jamb mounting the weak point, so it must be set right to avoid problems.

From contributor C:
We just used African mahogany for the first time on some exterior doors. It seemed to be just as dense, and more stable than some of the South American mahogany we have been getting lately.

From contributor W:
Spanish cedar would be a good choice. Many lumber suppliers even have pre-made door parts like stile and rail stock that is built up from several pieces to prevent warping.

From contributor J:
Genuine Mahogany is your best choice. It's readily available, very stable and accepts stain and finish nicely. I've built several entry systems with this species at an oceanfront environment and it's proven to weather well.

From contributor S:
Unfortunately, any reddish-brown species gets labeled mahogany, so it is best to get the Latin name and check it out.

Swietenia macrophylla is American Mahogany (Honduras, Brazilian, Costa Rican, Peruvian, etc.) Khaya ivorensis is African Mahogany (along with K.anthotheca K.nyasica).

The American is more durable than the African, but both have the same low level of movement in service. As long as the timber is moderately durable or better, with a small movement in service, any species will do.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor E:
Honduras mahogany is the best, in my opinion. It is from Central America and has stability, rot resistance, strength, durability and beauty. However, it can be expensive. I am a woodcarver and have been making handcarved doors out of Honduras mahogany for 20 years.

Comment from contributor H:
I have a cherry door on the front entryway to our home and it faces west. It was custom made locally 20 years ago. It is solid cherry with upper frosted glass decorative panes. It is finished with many coats of Danish Oil, sun dried between coats, and lightly coated each summer. I add a touch of cherry stain to the oil on the outside to renew the cherry tint lost by sun bleaching. It is strong, heavy and beautiful, and still looks new. The drawback is that it was expensive, but it’s been worth the price.