Custom Wood Entry Door with Inlayed Stainless Steel

A customer's unusual entry door request gives rise to a discussion of wood movement and wood door construction techniques. September 23, 2008

I am supposed to build a solid wood entry door, 2 1/4" thick, rift oak, with the front of the door having the grain run horizontally. I considered two layers of wood 1 1/8" each, then I reconsidered to three layers of wood 3/4" thick each. Also, we are going to inlay solid 1 1/2 wide strips of stainless steel horizontally approximately every 12". The door is 42" wide and 93" high. I am concerned about the door warping and am looking for recommendations. The buyer wants solid wood and not engineered wood or veneers. Also, we considered making a stainless steel angle iron frame to go around the complete door and actually be tied into the horizontal stainless steel strips. Any recommendations? (The back of the door can have the grain running either horizontally or vertically. Also, we considered using heavy duty pivot hinges.)

Forum Responses
(Architectural Woodworking Forum)
From contributor L:
Tell your client that they are forcing you to build an unstable door. And you cannot - will not - warranty it against changing shape. Because if you make a solid door that way, it is going to move around and become unstable. Now if you could convince them to use a solid core, run in the correct direction, and use 1/8" skins you could make the door and warranty it. Otherwise I see a disaster waiting to happen. Having the client dictate how the door (or any item) should be built is asking for trouble.

I have a client right now reinventing how a window should be built. He wants a casement window within another casement window. This is so he can open it from the inside and clean it. He makes all these drawings and specifications and picks out weatherstripping, etc. I told him I'll build it. And it will function perfectly when it leaves my shop. But no warranty after my shop lights are no longer shining on it.

From contributor D:
Doing the math will tell you that 93" of rift white oak will expand about 3/4" as it goes from 7% to just 10% MC. On the exterior side only. It is likely the interior side will not expand much, if at all. Banana anyone?

Given that and the other restrictions imposed upon you, you have only one choice. Make the door out of 4-6" thick reinforced concrete, with the horizontal boards lag screwed to the concrete. The concrete will prevent movement, but the boards will, of course, still move.

Tongue and groove is designed for just such an application, but obvious joints probably are not what the customer wants.

If you were to put a 93" piece of solid wood between two (immovable) steel members, and add moisture to the air, the wood would try to expand, but be limited by the structure. Therefore, all the fibers would crush a little bit. Then, when the wood dries back out, it will shrink to less than 93", and fall out of the frame. If it is fastened at the ends to prevent falling out, the 93" board will still shrink, but it will then split in one or more places to accommodate the reduction in cross grain width.

None of the above takes in the notion of the stainless steel parts to complicate things even more. Wood moves. You or I cannot prevent it, we can only design around it and work within its own confines. No amount of finish will prevent, nor glue type or technique. While there are some things that can be done to placate the customer, this is not a warrantable situation. Why not send this out to an experienced door shop to see what they might say?

From contributor R:
A bit curious, the client doesn't want any engineered wood or veneer, but is okay with a whole raft of stainless members?

From contributor J:
Agreeing with the rest, this is a door that shouldn't be built. If you do it the way the customer wants you to, charge them enough to make up for the inevitable damage to your reputation that will occur when the thing disassembles itself.

From contributor U:
I second everyone's "wood moves" and "don't let the client tell you how to do your job," and I will add one more reason why this is a bad idea. The steel inlay, the oak and the inevitable rainwater will combine to form a black streaky mess. Just like when your bar clamps and a little glue squeeze-out magically leave a big crusty black stain. Aluminum would not cause this effect, however, and would weather much more favorably.

From contributor R:
He said *stainless* steel.

From the original questioner:
I appreciate everyone's input and I would like to add an update. The customer has agreed to have me build the door any way I want with no requirements on the materials. His only concern is that the door lasts a long time. But he does want stainless steel strips installed horizontally for aesthetic reasons (approximately 1 1/4" wide by 42 wide by 1/8" thick - these strips to run approximately 1 strip per foot only on the face of the door). I am thinking I use 1 1/4" engineered wood core with 1/2" thick rift oak solid wood on the face and back of the door and a solid wood banding (1 1/2" x 1 1/4" around the perimeter of the door).

From contributor C:
The closest thing I would propose is a stile and rail door with crossgrained quarter sawn panels with only an expansion cut, no ramp. It would look very flush and have a 10/4 kiln dried white oak quarter sawn frame. Face side full thickness floating panels, cross grained. This type of door would have loose tenons 3/4" thick by 6" long. A wide bottom rail. Special care must be taken on the finish of any exterior door and a western and southern exposure is the most difficult to cope with.

From contributor T:
Please consider this a gentle warning. AWI Quality Standards, 8th edition, does not recommend the use of engineered cores for exterior use. You might be better served by sticking to a stave block lumber core. I agree with you about the pivots. Something like a Rixson offset would swing the door similarly to butt hinges.

From contributor K:
You need to forget whatever it is that makes you think 1/2" thick veneer faces is somehow better. It is not. That much thickness is the main problem with this kind of door. I personally wouldn't use anything over 1/10" on each side, and would be even more comfortable down at 1/16". The thicker it is, the more tendency to warp, and/or tear itself apart at the glue lines. Changing from 3/4 to 1/2 is not any better. The only change is that you will be eating this door, rather than having them have to pay for you to do it wrong. And you will have to replace it, without a doubt.

From contributor D:
You have gotten some good advice here, most of which are based in science/reality/experience. While the 1/2" solid wood faces and engineered core should be changed as noted, I'm curious as to whether you will warrant this door. Warranties are not typically an important part of cabinetmaking - the apparent focus of your work. However, in real world exterior door situations, warranties are huge and quickly separate the serious from the casual. In fact, most occasional exterior door makers don't warranty their work, and most of them have never given it much thought. Until they get that phone call. Do you need to warrant your work on this door?

From contributor A:
I would build a conventional door with stiles and multiple rails. The stock would be 1 3/4 and the joints could be mortise and tenon or even biscuits. You can use blue or pink Styrofoam for interior void panels. I would vacuum bag 1/4" veneers on both sides. Use 1/16" gauge stainless that is bedded in a 1/16 of epoxy. I've built a couple of 36 x 96 doors this fashion with no problems. We didn't have the non-aesthetic stainless strips.

From the original questioner:
Yes, we warranty the door for a period of one year. We have built many custom wood entry doors but never one like the one described here. After reading all the comments, I believe there is a solution to building this door without having any warranty issues. I do not want to compromise the design of the door. I appreciate all the comments.