Custom Fabricating Louvered Shutters

A long and chatty thread about whether, why, and how to build your own louvered wood exterior window shutters. April 24, 2006

Can anyone recommend a good way to make wood shutters, such as using jigs to do the joints quickly?

Forum Responses
(Architectural Woodworking Forum)
From contributor A:
In my opinion, you should buy them – it is cheaper, faster, and better quality.

From contributor B:
Do you have any suggestion on dealers? I was planning to build some as well.

From contributor A:
I don’t have any personal contacts for them as I have never needed them, but I just did Google for wood shutter suppliers, and found 380,000 links. I am sure you can find someone close and at right price. To me the setup would negate any possible benefit of doing them yourself, unless you need huge quantities, and even then I would bet it is still cheaper to buy them.

From contributor C:
For the woodworkers who might like to make their own fixed louver panels, there are three levels beyond buying them:

First suggestion, for a pair or two, use a hollow chisel mortiser set on angle and make single 1/4" mortises where a slat will go. Tenon the slat stock for a 1/4 x 1/4 x 1/2" long tenon and build the stiles and rails as you like.

Second, for a few pair every now and then, make a router jig that makes a slot for the router base to slide back and forth the width of the slat. Make two of these spaced apart and at the angle you wish the slat to sit, relative to the stile. Use a 1/4" single flute bit to route about 1/4" deep. We make an index stick with saw kerfs that runs between the two stiles, and an index bar on the bottom of the jig locates the jig. The index bar is screwed to the bench, and the stiles are clamped or tacked in place. Rout left, rout right, move the jig a notch, repeat. You feel like an ant in no time. Size the slats to the mortises, or the mortises to the slats. My jig uses two rotating bases that hold the router so the angle can easily be changed, and the fences adapt to different thicknesses of stiles.

Third, for lots of louvers, find a used or new louver groover. Griggio, Festo and others make them. These are really fast and accurate, and run from old index bar types to CNC savvy.

Know-how is what makes for a better, more flexible woodworker in today's and tomorrow's marketplace. Buying requires no know-how, and doesn't elevate you from the crowd.

From The Staff at WOODWEB:
You can do a search on the WOODWEB site by typing in the word "shutters" into the search field, located at the upper right corner of most of the WOODWEB pages. I just did the search, and the results do give a list of companies who may be able to help.

Also, you may want to check out our Woodworkers Directory at the link below. Again, do a search there by typing the word "shutters" in the search field - you'll be given a list of companies that may offer what you need. Related Link: Woodworker’s Directory

From contributor A:
To contributor C: As I said, mine is an opinion. If anyone wants to build for the knowledge or fun of it, go for it. In a business context it doesn’t pay to reinvent the wheel.

From contributor E:
I agree with contributor C. Too many times I see someone post asking about methods of work, only to have three guys say, "Why don’t you just buy it?" Somebody has to build this stuff!

From contributor C:
I have spent over 35 years in daily close contact with hands and head in problem solving with wood, machinery and related materials and situations. I am a far better and happier person for it. I hope it will keep me young in the future. I can think more clearly than many and enjoy the physical, spiritual and metaphysical aspects of woodworking. I love the challenge of solving that problem. Any personal, professional or financial success I have has come from the problem solving arena.

Re-inventing the wheel? Sure, but damn, I love it. I do my work in such a manner that I get the drudgery out of the way so I can play - and I do mean play - with an aspect of the job I truly enjoy - maybe making a jig, drawing full size, or rethinking and evaluating a weather stripping scenario and then finding ways to make it happen, even with curves. If we can't get excited by our work, then what the heck are we doing here? Given the opportunity to hire a person who found a way to make louvers vs. a person that used the phone to make shutters, I'd always hire the problem solver who works in wood. Granted, our work is a bit different than many shops, but it is our work, and we have made it ours by the way we do it. We don't outsource, not only because of the potential loss of craft, but because there is absolutely no one else out there who cares about our work more than those of us who are in this shop.

Again, I don't mean to dump on anyone. I am very passionate about our work and the state this profession is in. Therefore, I have very strong opinions that may make it sound as if I only want to clash with those who hold different opinions. Try one or two of my suggestions on a limited scale, add your own thoughts and twists. You may find a new direction or two.

From contributor F:
I got my millwork chops 25 years ago working at an old shop with an old guy too arthritic to squeeze mustard, but man he knew doors and sash. By shutting up and doing as told, I learned how to recreate antique pieces both plain and fancy. One part of the deal was making louvers (mostly shutters) with identical frame parts, slat sizes, and slat count. They had an old machine that hopped and slapped and milled the slots in the stiles. We had to make a 1/2"by 1-1/2" hardwood rail for each new job with teeth sawn in one edge to match the location of the slots. As the slot runs never were perfect (+- 1/4") at their end, we left the mortising and final width of the rails till after the slots were run. Small variations were invisible to the eye. That shop, old guy, and machine are all long gone now, but my interest is still hot.

To the point, I have planned and could build a louver groover I am sure could zip out highly accurate, clean cut louver rails with no need to fabricate a custom tooth rail each time. Stile size, louver size, louver angle, and spacing are all dial-in. There are even some variations that I've never seen made that could offer something wildly different in design options. This can apply to entry doors, cabinet doors, even room screens. What I need to know is what will the market be? Can I recoup the heavy investment of time and money? Do any of you have some sense of what a wood product like this can bring? Sorry to hijack this thread, but it has awakened my interest. Currently I am a one man, incorporated, full time commercial cabinet and millwork installer. I have experience in making custom equipment and machinery, some even successful.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for all the advice. I will build the shutters this winter. I am involved in a large restoration project so that is the interest in doing them in house.

From contributor G:
I build my own doors, drawers and any other feature in my business that the customer wants made of wood because I, in my humble opinion, consider myself a woodworker. You have to work the wood to be a woodworker, not just job it out and assemble the parts.

I have a JDS Multi-router I use to do mortise and tenon work on face frames, furniture and doors. I love this machine and what it can do. You can use this machine to cut a round tenon on the end of a square stock or in your case louver slats, as well as make the mortise in the stiles of the frames. Or if you are making fixed louvers, you can slot mortise and tenon. That is what this machine does best - slot mortising. With a template attached to the special location you can create a very accurate template system for louvers. This machine is not cheap but I find it to be one of the most enjoyable machines in the shop, and can't find enough uses for it to satisfy me.

From contributor H:

Here in New England, you can't swing a cat without hitting an old house where the shutters are falling off. There is a huge market for the fabrication and installation of these shutters. The problem is the price point. These units are incredibly labor intensive without the aforementioned mega-dollar production machinery, and the materials and finishing can be a budget killer. You need to start this project from the homeowner's standpoint. How much are they willing to spend to restore an essentially expendable part? There are people who will spend the money, but you will need to advertise in the appropriate places to find them. Once you get an idea of your price point, you can proceed with your production and material issues.

From contributor F:
As contributor G points out, a multi router is a viable low end option, with a cnc router rig at the upper end. I have no idea how much it would cost to set up a CNC program for a run of one and then another for a hundred, along with the means to secure the stiles with varying sizes.

From contributor J:
We have come up with an elegant and fast system for machining louvers with our CNC router. It involves an outboard jig in which the stile is mounted with the machined edge at the level of the table. We rout the louver mortises and a larger mortise for the joint and then put the rails in and rout a corresponding mortise for a floating tenon. This is not a system for mass inexpensive production but it works beautifully and profitably for shutters and louvered doors in sizes that are not available from stock, or where the required materials are exotic. We just finished a run of 60 30-60 louvered maple doors for bathroom stalls in a casino. Another option is to make the louvers in a lightweight frame pin nailing the louvers in place and then assembling the unit into a dado in a heavier frame. We have done this successfully on large runs of doors, pre CNC.

From contributor K:
Full service lumberyards can find them for you at a reasonable price. We buy them From Burry Millwork in Ohio. Then we spend the rest of our time making what we make good money on - cabinets, countertops, doors, moldings, entertainment centers, mantels. Shutters are not one of them.

From contributor L:
There is another way. I have taken on the task of producing Plantation Shutters (3-1/2 inch wide moveable louvers) for my house, after paying $800 for a commercial set (4 panels) for one window. It's a nice package done in Basswood vice Poplar and sprayed with white lacquer. I wanted to do some in Mahogany and/or Red Oak.

I am only at the point of completing my first test panel. There is quite a bit of work involved - as noted by many of the previous posts. But, I enjoy doing it and making the product to my specifications.

From contributor M:
Are you going to stain or paint the shutters when you are finished building them? Building shutters unfinished is one thing but if you what a "thing of beauty" such as a well finished shutter, buy them. You will spend an eternity trying to do the finish (paint or stain) on the shutters and what should you use for the coatings, lacquer, precat, waterborne, conversion varnish? You would not believe the time it takes to hand sand and produce a finish that you would be proud of. Our market is so low cost you would be surprised to know how cheaply you could buy them! Some people use a biscuit joint on the stile and rail, a drill press for the stile holes on inch centers (be it 1",2",3",4",5" etc.)

From contributor N:
On a side bar, does anyone have an opinion on good woods to use if painted? I have some louvered panels to make for a gallery to cover a machinery space. My main concern in stability – that they stay straight and do so for a long time. Would you suggest poplar, fir, or pine?

From contributor C:
Basswood was the wood of choice before the plastics came along. We also used Western Sugar Pine. Once the slats are sawn and rough sized, let them sit for a few days to see if any of them do things you don't want them to.