Solid Wood Door Basics

A few tips for a cabinetmaker considering whether to try building man doors. April 10, 2009

I run a small shop and build mostly cabinets and entertainment centers, etc. I have been asked a few times to build doors. I don't know much about it but would like to give it a shot. I am looking for a website or info, and was wondering if someone could point me in the right direction. Most of the doors I am interested in are solid wood, style and rail.

Forum Responses
(Architectural Woodworking Forum)
From contributor D:
Cabinet doors, interior doors, or exterior doors?

From the original questioner:
Interior and exterior passage doors.

From contributor L:
Just like building a cabinet door but bigger. You need to pick out premium stock for the styles and rails to make sure over the years they stay straight and true. You need to flatten everything over the jointer to make sure it is true. If you can, use quartersawn for the styles. Seal everything to prevent moisture infiltration. You just need to have the proper cutters or just make it tongue and groove and use molding to make recessed panels. Good luck.

From contributor L:
As soon as you start laminating stile and other parts you are now working with staves. I do not consider that "solid wood" even though it really is. I have been building solid wood man doors for decades. Most of them are probably still in service today. The only ones that wouldn't be are the earlier ones made from eastern white pine. Some have suffered from decay. The basics are still the same. If you use mortise and tenon joinery they will last much longer. Doweling would be next in line, then waterproof epoxy. I don't see the huge jump in difference between the cabinet door and the man door.

From the original questioner:
Thanks to all the insight so far. I have no doubt that I can make a beautiful looking door, the question is will it stay that way. I live in western Canada where the temperature may be 30 C in the summer and -30 C in the winter. This is the reason why I am looking for insight on the best joints and best adhesives, etc. I know of a few shops around here that plane down 8/4 for their stiles and glue up 3 pieces for their rails. I am not sure why they don't use 8/4 for everything.

From contributor B:
I am reluctant to add to this discussion as there are many other contributors that have far more experience than I, but I see you are not getting many responses so I will add some of the things I have learned.

I know you are planning for solid wood doors, but if you use the search term "stave core" you will find many very useful discussions of passage/exterior door and this term will weed out the cab doors. The production guys have big dollars invested into equipment and tools. If you are planning to use a shaper or CNC for many of the tasks you might want to take a look at the Garniga website for the tooling. Titan Equipment in the Vancouver area sells them and Mike is great to deal with. There are many other shaper cutter manufactures, but Garniga has one of the better websites in my opinion.

I suppose the guys you mention that are doing 3ply rails are trying to make them more stable, save on stock costs, or they donít have the money invested into tooling or a dedicated tenoner. You will find many other very useful discussions about this topic here.

The door stock and fabrication are one aspect, but the details are extremely important for longevity. I suggest you sit down with and draw out the complete details for a sample door. Think through the materials (quarter sawn/flat sawn/stave core/species), joinery (cope and stick/applied moudlings/raised panels), finish details, weatherstripping (where/type/grooving to fit them) and glazing options.

From contributor K:
For what it's worth, we build most of our large doors with inserted tenons and epoxy, with 3 ply or veneered over fingerjointed core stiles and rails. Many find dowels adequate, and PVA glues can work well with tight fitting joinery and simple designs with short assembly times. Many fine doors have been built with solid wood parts, but you really have to pay attention to stock preparation and moisture content (applies to engineered core as well). Don't think that you can build a long lasting strong door with just stub tenons; you need a good mechanical joint as well as a good glue bond. There is more to it than building cabinet doors.

From contributor S:
Examine doors you know for details that appear to make them last - or fail. An architectural salvage yard is one good place to snoop unhindered. There is a very large difference between interior and exterior doors in construction - consider their environments. Exterior doors have to deal with wide variations in temp/humidity, seal well, be secure and perform flawlessly. Every detail becomes critical on exterior doors - panel movement, water management, joinery, sills, weatherstrip, hinges, latches, finish, even warranty. Not for the faint of heart.

I recommend against the casual production of exterior doors for hire unless you have a good, long track record of interior door success and a solid plan to overcome any and all problems such doors encounter, and are familiar with and tooled for doing it right. This is why they are expensive, and why some potential buyers search out inexperienced shops to do this work at bargain rates.

From contributor L:
I don't do anything with the exposed ends of the staves. Leave them like they are. If I've built the door to the exact height then I take my left over west epoxy that was mixed for the glue up and seal the ends with that.