Board-and-batten doors are a mainstay of the oldest and simplest North American homes. The originals were probably painted, and required a bit of rope or a thumb latch to stay closed. This type of door is rustic, light-duty, and simple to make. On the other hand, board-and-batten doors are about three steps above animal skins stretched over a stick frame. Putting them in your house may elicit accusations of advanced camping, as they’re thin, don’t insulate well, and aren’t dimensionally stable. But they do look nice, so they’re great in situations where insulation and stability aren’t primary considerations, such as in pantries, closets, or sheds.
These doors have a definite front (the boards) and back (the batten). You can butt the boards together, but over time, they’ll shrink and leave gaps. A better method is to shiplap or tongue-and-groove them. The traditional way to secure the boards to the battens was with clinched nails. These can be decorative if you use rosehead nails or cut nails. The more modern alternative is to use screws that can’t be seen from the front.
Board-and-batten construction isn’t particularly rigid, and allows the members to twist relatively easily. Exterior doors won’t seal well against the jamb. You can clinch nails through most hardwoods, but pine is easier to work with and more traditional.
• Six 1-by-6 pine boards, 10 feet long
• 1 pound (about 35 to 40) 3-inch rosehead nails
• 2 strap hinges
• Colonial-style latch
• Five 81-inch-long boards
• Two 23-inch-long battens
• One 70-inch-long batten
A good variation on this door is to use thicker wood, either 5/4 or 6/4 hardwood, from a species with a little more interest, such as butternut or chestnut. A door using 5/4 boards and battens could still be made with 3-inch nails, but I’d use 31⁄2-inch or 4-inch nails for a 6/4 door. Using heavier stock will also increase the door’s weight and rigidity. You may also want to add a horizontal batten at the center, and use two diagonal battens between.
Using wider and fewer boards is fine as long as you make deeper grooves and wider tongues. The movement across a 12-inch board can be substantial, so expect gaps as large as 1⁄2 inch in the driest part of the year. Don’t use fewer than three boards. Using more boards can look good as well; it just adds a lot of extra work. Winnowing the principles of this door down to the basics, you’ll just be using metal fasteners to hold boards together while permitting them to move in response to changes in humidity. For larger doors or with heavier woods, you can use screws or carriage bolts.
The finished dimensions of the door you’ll build using these instructions are 24 inches wide by 80 inches tall by 11⁄2 inches thick.
Step-by-Step Guide to Building a Door
1. Pick out six relatively flat 1-by-6 pine boards that are 10 feet long at the lumberyard. I use the common grade because this is a rustic project that doesn’t require paint. For a painted finish, use select boards to avoid large knots, as sap can seep through paint.
2. Crosscut five of the boards to 81 to 82 inches long, just longer than your finished dimension. You’ll trim the door to its final length after construction.
3. Rip the boards to 51⁄8 inches wide on the table saw.
4. Lay out five boards in an arrangement you like. I used the straightest boards with the fewest knots on the sides. Mark them so you know which edges get a tongue, which edges get a groove, and which edges get nothing. Number the boards or draw a triangle across them so you can put them back together in the same arrangement later.
5. Use a router with a 1⁄4-inch-wide slot bit to cut the grooves on all edges marked “groove.” The groove should be between 5⁄16 inches and 3⁄8 inches deep, but no more. The exact width of the groove isn’t important, but it should be centered. I get the bit approximately centered, cut the groove from the face of the board, and then flip the board over and cut the groove again. This approach produces a groove about 5⁄16 inches wide and perfectly centered.
6. Use a rabbeting bit on the router to cut 1⁄4-inch-wide rabbets on both sides of the edges that need a tongue. (Sometimes you can use the same slot bit to cut your rabbets, but I favor a slightly deeper groove than tongue.) First, set the depth of cut a bit shallow and test the fit. You’ll want the tongue and groove to fit snugly. Then, make slight adjustments to the cutting depth to fine-tune it. Remember that each adjustment will be doubled as you cut from both sides. You can cut both the tongues and the grooves on a table saw, but if the boards are warped, a router will be more accurate.
7. Lightly chamfer the edges of the tongues with a sanding block, hand plane, or chisel, so they go into the grooves easily. At the same time, chamfer the front-facing edges of the boards if you’d like. I prefer a light 1⁄16-inch-wide chamfer between the boards to hide the joint. More often, you’ll see a heavy 1⁄4-inch chamfer. This is a purely aesthetic feature to hide the joint, so chamfer as you like.
8. Clamp the boards together to test the fit. Sand the fronts of the boards to 220-grit before assembly, as you won’t be able to sand them with the rosehead nails in place. I didn’t sand the interior surfaces of this door because they’ll be inside a closet, but by all means, sand the backs if you prefer.
9. Lay out the locations of the two horizontal battens (and sand them, if you’d like) on the back side of the door. I put them about 4 inches from the top and bottom.
10. Clamp the 23-inch-long battens to the door, and drill pilot holes for the clinched nails all the way through the battens and boards. Where do the battens come from? The offcuts from the boards, of course. That’s why you’ll start with 10-foot-long boards. Locate the pilot holes at least 11⁄2 inches from any edges to reduce the chance of splitting.
11. Hammer the nails in partway from the front, so that about 1⁄2 inch emerges past the batten. The 3-inch nails should stand about 3⁄4 inch proud — and don’t hammer them any deeper. As you won’t want to nail the door to your bench or, in my case, bend the nails against a steel bench, use the other offcuts as backers. If you accidentally nail the door to the backers, no worries — they’ll be easy to pry off.
12. Flip the door over and bend the nail points flush with the battens, hammering them from a strong angle. The door will stand on the proud nail heads, which is fine. Nails bend easily, and this is one situation in which bending a nail over is a good thing.
13. Flip the door over again, and hammer the nail heads all the way in. I like to leave the rosehead nails a little proud to give the front some texture, but hammer them flush if you’d like.
14. Flip the door onto its face and hammer the bent points of the nails sideways again, clinching them into the battens. This is the trick that will keep them from ever coming back out again. There’s nothing pretty about clinching a nail. You’ll get occasional split and hammer marks if you’re not perfectly careful, all of which will be part of the rustic appeal, and not “mistakes” the way they would be in a more refined door. So go rough on the door and easy on yourself.
15 The third batten crosses the boards diagonally, giving the door more resistance to racking and twisting than a third horizontal batten would. The top of the diagonal batten should be on the lock side and the bottom should be on the hinge side. Oriented this way, the batten will also help prevent sagging. If you have twisting or sagging concerns, you can add a second diagonal across the first, forming an X pattern, but this will be more work and put more weight on the hinges. Use a sliding T bevel to find the correct angle to trim the ends of the diagonal batten. I use the miter gauge on my table saw for this angled crosscut, but a chop saw, handsaw, or circular saw would also work.
16. Attach the diagonal batten to the boards with clinched nails, in the same way you attached the two horizontal battens. Locate the nails at least 1 inch in from the edges of the battens and the boards. I find it easier to lay out the location of the batten on the door front to ensure I’m not missing the boards or battens, and drill from that side.
17. Crosscut the finished door to length by trimming the top and bottom. I use a track saw, which I find extraordinarily useful for jobs like this in spite of its expense, as it gives a chip-free and accurate crosscut. Feel free to carefully use a handsaw or circular saw with a temporary fence clamped to the door to ensure a straight cut.
18. Prep the door for finishing with 180-grit sandpaper. A soft eraser works well to get rid of pencil lines before sanding. I used a single coat of Danish oil, following the directions on the can. The oil soaks into the wood for a matte finish that doesn’t protect the door from wear, allowing it to gain a natural patina from use pretty quickly — perfect for a rustic door. The oil also darkens the nearly white pine to a gold that will continue to darken with time.
Congratulations! After completing these steps, you’ll be the proud owner of a board-and-batten door.
Strother Purdy began woodworking nearly 30 years ago. He worked as an editor prior to opening his own business designing and making furniture, cabinetry, and doors. This excerpt is from his bookDoormaking: Materials, Techniques, and Projects for Building Your First Door