Joinery and Hardware for Narrow-Stile Architectural Doors

Construction and hardware suggestions for doors with narrow vertical pieces, such as traditional French doors. September 15, 2011

I am replacing a window opening with a door. The opening is 3' 8" wide by 10' 9" tall. The architect wants the stiles on the door no more than 3" wide by 2.25" thick. I am a little hesitant on the width of the stile given the height of the door. I thought about laminating the stiles to minimize any movement. Also 2/3 of the door is glass. Does anyone have any thoughts?

Forum Responses
(Architectural Woodworking Forum)
From contributor G:
What about the hardware? Not much in door hardware is going to fit such a narrow stile.

From the original questioner:
You are right. I did find a plan in an old carpentry manual that had a full size stile up to the glass and then the stile cut across a diagonal to the reduced stile.

From contributor J:
I did a bunch of doors that way a few years back. It made for a fun joint between the stiles and mid rails. I ran my 3" stile with the sticking full length of the door, and ran the cope profile on the 2.5" piece with the diagonal scarf joint. This worked quite well. I was matching the storm doors to the existing primary door on an 1850's house that never had storms. Depending on the species spec'd, you would be fine with one piece stiles 2.25" thick. I hope its mahogany or sapelle, white oak?

From contributor D:
Hoppe multipoint hardware will work, and in my opinion the best fit for this application. The gearcase mortise is 2 1/2" deep. The tapered shootbolts also will help push the stile into alignment at the top and bottom upon engaging, if they are off up to about an eighth of an inch. Engineered stiles are an absolute must for this door.

From contributor O:
Historically, this was done frequently. So called French doors were mostly windows that went to the floor, and had narrow stiles to maximize light as a window wood. You can see great examples of this at the Biltmore House in Asheville, NC.

The original designs made up for lost stile width with thicker stiles, and used cremone bolts to fasten at the head and sill. Today, multipoint latching is available with as little as 1-1/4" backset, with a shallow gearcase as noted, and there are a wide variety of cremone bolts.

At the size you are describing, and as a single door, I would forego a warranty. Still, you need to place hinges carefully and try to minimize weight with the glass. The narrow stiles can distort laterally with the weight and make operation difficult. When discussing merits and such of unusual constructions, I look to history. There is a simple reason you don't see doors like this. They don't work.

From the original questioner:
Thanks everyone for your input. If given a choice would you use Spanish cedar or sapelle?

From contributor G:
I've made a lot of doors out of Spanish cedar, never out of sapele. I hate working with Spanish cedar because of the vile smell and taste of the dust. It mills well and holds up pretty well in the weather and the price is not too bad. Sapele is much harder and sometimes more brittle.