Crafting a Custom Door

From the moment we moved our first belongings into our house two years ago, I knew I wanted to replace our back door.    It may have been fine for the people who lived here before us, but a custom wooden door maker just cannot have a fiberglass door.  Like almost anyone who wants a new door or even knows they need one, we put off making the change until we could not take it anymore.  A major renovation of our kitchen did it.  It changed the sight lines within the house, and the door which I had been able to ignore became very visible.  When my wife said our interior designer’s photographer would be taking pictures, I took a weekend, and the woodwright’s wife got her door.

Here is an image of the existing door and a close up of the applied muntins.  Unlike my custom wooden doors, fiberglass doors are lighter and they are molded together rather than pieced together.  There are no joint lines in a fiberglass door or even an extruded composite wood door.  Wood composite doors are actually made from glued together sawdust; they are sold as “wood doors” because sawdust comes from wood, but know that composite doors are not made from hardwoods which is why these doors do not show the joints of the pieces which came together to make the door.

The old fiberglass door.
We wanted true divided light.









My first step is to measure the existing opening.  I sketch the existing opening and then my wife and I talk about things we would like to see in our new door.  We decide upon two lights on top and two panels at the bottom.  I have some plain sawn Sapele at the shop which would be great.  Sapele is a reddish brown African wood that is similar to mahogany.  It is a rot resistant and stable wood and when it is plain sawn can have interesting grain patterns.

Selecting the lumber.

Before I start any project, I create a layout stick.  This stick allows me to examine the available pieces of wood and see which ones are best suited for the doors I am making.  Using my layout stick for this project, I find a piece with a lot of pattern and color in places which will work perfectly with the door I want to create.

Bringing the lumber into the shop.

I move the piece of wood from the warehouse into my workshop.  In a few hours it will be our door.

I use the layout stick to see where to cross cut the large board into workable pieces.

Cutting the lumber into workable pieces.








Then I run each piece through the jointer.    The jointer straightens the boards to create a smooth and flat surface for the planer.  Each of these steps makes the wood flatter and cleaner so the pieces of the door will fit tightly together and will have as little movement as possible – but don’t forget our family saying – “wood moves and metal rusts.”  The question is not whether your wood will move, it is has your door been built to accommodate that movement.

The jointer.

After going through the jointer, I can really see the beautiful patterns and swirls in this piece of wood.  It is going to be great when it comes together.

The grain of the wood.
Measure twice; cut once.

Before I plane the wood to its final thickness and cut it to its final length, I go back to my layout stick to recheck my measurements.   The planer dimensions the board to the proper thickness. If the door is too thick or too thin, it will not fit properly into the door jamb.  The door jamb is the frame into which the door is hinged and locked.

The planer.

Once the wood is the proper thickness, I start to cut it into the seven pieces needed to make the door.  In this image I am cutting one of the two stiles to the proper width.

Cutting a stile.

The stiles are the doors vertical pieces.  They work with the rails to create the door’s height and width. Once I have finished cutting the wood, I have the seven pieces I will use to put the door together: two stiles, three rails – the top rail, the lock rail, and the bottom rail, and the two panels.

The seven pieces.

One of my favorite things about working with wood is using its grain and pattern to provide a pleasing flow to the look of the doors  I create.


Rather than just hoping the grains flow together, I take time with each door and even a series of doors to mark which piece should go in which position.  In this image, I bookmatch the two stile pieces (cut from the same piece of wood they have become mirrored images of each other) and then determine exactly how I will cut the length of the door.



When the pieces of the door are put together, the grain in the stiles and rails are perpendicular to each other so it is impossible to run a finished door through the large sander.  Instead, I run each piece through the sander before the door is put together, then it only needs a light finish sand before painting or in this case, staining.

Carolina bore


To fit the door together, I use a Carolina bore to drill the dowel holes.   Then I use one of my shapers to cope the rails.  Coping the end of the rails enables them to join with the sticking on the stiles.



The second shaper profiles the edge of the stiles and rails with the stick. The stick profile is done on the inside edges of each stile, both sides of the lock rail, the bottom of the top rail, and the top of the bottom rail.

Shaping the stick profile on a rail.

Bore, stick, and cope on a rail. Each of the door’s puzzle pieces are ready to fit together.

Bore, stick, and cope on a rail.
Dry fitting the door.

I start by dry fitting the door.  The first picture shows the three rails into one stile waiting for me to use the dowels to fit the second stile into place.  Our door will be vertically divided into two panels and two pieces of beveled glass with center muntin rails.  Because I like the depth it gives the door, I’ve chosen 3/8 ” thick tempered glass with an inch and a half bevel.

Clamps make certain the epoxy glue dries in place.

Dry fitting the door allows me to make certain everything fits together perfectly before gluing.  When it comes together the way I want it to, I glue it and clamp it to dry.




Without glass.
Door with glass

Before the glass and after it. I love the way the wood’s grain points up and towards the middle.

Finished door in place.