Steve's Cabin - Building the Doors

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"I need some doors"...

So it began. Sure, I told Steve, just get me the lumber, and I'll make you some. (Hey, I've got a wood shop, how hard can it be?)

Well, it turns out he took me up on my offer. A whole truck load of 1" and 2" rough cut white oak was soon delivered to my doorstep. Hmmm, OK, where to start... Well, it all needs to be planed before I can do anything else, so start there.

Several full-size trash cans full of planer shavings later, I had nice, smooth boards of uniform thickness. But they were neither smooth or straight along the edges. So I attached a long straight edge to each and ran them through the table saw. I ended up with straight smooth edges, but narrower boards.

Planed and straightened Lumber

Steve had bought extra lumber to make sure I had enough. But, now that the straightened boards were narrower, I had less than before. Time to slow down and cogitate for awhile. So my next step was to get to know each board on a first name basis, starting by giving each a number and measuring and recording it's width. I had two doors of different overall widths to build, so some caution was needed on how to combine the various board widths.

Numbering the boards

After more cogitating I came up with a layout that would give me enough width for both doors with a little left over. Then I laid the boards out to test those calculations. After confirming that edges matched and widths were sufficient, each board got additional arrow marks on both ends so that I could keep straight which side was which. Each edge also got the number of the board next to it. Now I had a system where I could work the boards individually and yet be able to reassemble them in the same order. (I also wrote it all down in my notes, and took pictures like these to record the layout).

The doors laid out

Now it was time for serious thought. The original idea was to use tongue and groove joints to join the board edges. That ran into a severe setback when it was discovered that very few (if any) router tongue and groove bits were made for nearly 2" thick lumber. Some shaper bits were available, but they were very expensive, and I didn't have a shaper. After trying and discarding some other ideas, I finally hit on the idea of using a spline to join the boards. Essentially just make a groove in both edges, then plane a board to the exact thickness to fit the groove - sort of a double-tongue. I set up the dado blade and tried it with a piece of scrap wood, and it worked beautifully.

Testing the spline idea

Of course, anyone who has ever built anything is keenly aware that having a good idea and executing that good idea don't always go hand in hand. 1/32" doesn't sound like much, but when two boards that are supposed to be flush are mis-aligned by that much, it seems huge. So more cogitating on how to keep the 20 grooves I would need to cut uniform across the full length of all the boards. In the middle of an operation like this is when the little beads of sweat start popping... The Prime Directive states you must be Consistent and use Repeatable Processes if you have any hope of success. Fortunately all the boards were planed to the same thickness, so I could set up the table saw with a guide that would locate them exactly. There may be many schemes for perfectly centering a cut, and they sound good until you flip one piece upside down next to the other and try to match them - even the slightest imperfection is doubled. So here is where I paid very close attention to those arrows I had put on the board ends earlier. All 20 cuts needed to be made with the arrows always pointing in the same direction. Which meant you had to be very careful in how you turned the board to do the second edge. Before every cut I made it a requirement to stop, look at the arrow, and think about it. I'll just say I barely saved myself from making mistakes more than once by strictly adhering to that!

Cutting the Spline grooves

It was a great sense of relief to reassemble the door boards and find that they all fit - at least close enough!

Spline Edges test fit

Now came the more mundane task of gluing the door boards together. They were glued in pairs at first, then the pairs assembled, until both doors were completed, except for one board on each. In a flash of rare foresight I realized it would be easier to make final width trim adjustments, fit hinges, etc. if I was working with a single board instead of an entire door (by this time I was fully aware that these doors were going to be close to 200 lbs each!)

Gluing the door boards

Thing were starting to get exciting now - I no longer had stacks of boards - I now had doors that just needed to be trimmed to size!

Glued Door Assembly

Now that I almost had doors, I needed something to put them in, so I set the glued door assemblies aside and went back to the pile of rough cut white oak boards - the 1" ones this time. Another trash can full of planer wood chips and some basic carpentry and I had two frames to fit the cabin opening dimensions Steve had given me (you are sure about those dimensions, aren't you? :)

Door Frames

Steve had already bought and delivered some nice hardware, so the next step was mortising the hinges into the door frames. A small trim router, a pattern bit, and a home-made template made this a fairly straight forward (if somewhat nervous) operation. Finally, a self-centering drill bit located the pilot holes for the screws.

Frame Hingle Mortises

At this point I installed all 6 hinges into the frames.

Hinges attached to frames

Remember that flash of insight I alluded to earlier, regarding not gluing on the last board for each door? At this point is where that paid off beautifully. Now that I had the finished frames and the glued-together door boards, I could make accurate measurements and calculate the exact width required for each of the last two boards. As they were not yet attached to the rest of the doors, they were easy to trim on the table saw. Next they were trimmed to the right length to fit the frames, and finally the edges were mortised and hinges installed, using the same methods as for installing the hinges in the frames. I could easily adjust and fit the single boards in the frames, without wrestling with the full weight of a whole door.

Fitting the Edge Boards

At this point I just had to stand the door frames up and exercise the hinges and edge boards - just for the fun of visualizing an actual whole door filling the opening :-) Then it was back to work - the edge boards were removed and glued to their respective door panels.

Gluing on the final edge boards

Once the glue dried, the longer boards were trimmed to match the length of the hinged boards. It was actually kind of a bittersweet moment, as the trimming cut off all the numbers and markings that had made each of them the individual boards I had come to know - now their individual identities were lost and they simply became part of a "door".

Trimming the doors to length

Now, theory says the doors should fit perfectly in the frames and the hinges work properly. Of course, everyone who has ever built anything knows full well the nervousness that can accompany the confirmation (or not) of all your grand theories. As it turned out, right about then Steve stopped by to check on progress. So he helped me assemble them. The door panels were laid out flat and the frames placed on edge next to them, so the hinges could be reattached. Finally the moment came to try closing the door into the frame, will it fit? (you know, of course, if something is going to go wrong, it is always most likely to happen when you have an audience!) Here we go...

Testing the door fit.

YES!! You can only see Steve's smile in the pic, but I can assure you mine was much bigger!

Yes, it fits!

Steve and I both breathed big sighs of relief, for similar, yet different, reasons. Steve could finally see that he was really going to have some doors for his cabin, and I could feel confident that I was actually going to be able to deliver on all my big talk!

Checking out the doors

But, after awhile, reality set it - the Ample Madam had not yet sung - there was still plenty that I could mess up with installing the locksets. So I came back to earth and started plotting out my next steps. The first one was to do a complete test installation in a scrap board - to make sure all my measurement were correct, and that I could properly drill the required holes straight and in the right locations.

Lock test fit

Only after I was fully satisfied with my test fit did I take the still-anxious step of drilling the door panels. Once I could see those were correctly located, I was able to use already proven techniques to mortise the lock plates on the door edges (although still with ample caution - "don't mess up now" was repeated so often it almost became a mantra...)

Fortunately, Mr Murphy was kind and there were no major messups...

Finally, the door frames had to be drilled and mortised for the remaining lockset hardware. Fortunately again, no major messups...

And it was none too soon - the doors were completed just in time for the work week Steve had scheduled to install them.

Back to Part 4 for the installation