Build a Wooden Door: Three Ways

Using one of three classic patterns — batten, layered or joined — you can build a strong, sturdy, beautiful wooden door.

| November/December 1990


The batten design, one row of parallel boards held together by perpendicular and diagonal battens, is most often found on barn doors.


Of all the exquisite moments that pass unnoticed in daily life, coming home to your own front door is the second best. Behind you, a day’s work and hard knocks in the smelly, stony world; ahead, a portal leading to warmth, soft sounds, familiar smells, slippers and a gathering of spouse, children and/or pets into your arms.

The very best moment? Closing that door behind you, hearing the blessed latch bolt slide along the striker plate and click into its mortise. Psychologically, you’re home at last only when you have a solid door between you and the outside world.

If you’ve never built a door before, perhaps you’ve been intimidated by one word: rustic. Contaminated by the science of real estate, its close synonyms are shoddy and ugly, which is regrettable, because a useful handmade door can be owner-built strong and sturdy, using one of three classic patterns: batten, layered or joined. All are well within the range of average skills and abilities, and can be as beautiful as any panel door without being as difficult to make. If you have an odd-sized opening, you can make a custom-fit door for less money than a mill charges. You’ll need only a flat, wide workbench and fairly unremarkable tools.

Another nice feature of handmade doors is that you can build them slightly larger than their intended openings and plane them to a perfect fit. In fact, you should. And after they’re mounted in place, you can easily take them off the hinges to slather every square inch — top, bottom and sides — with paint or spar varnish. In fact, you must. Water intrusion is the No. 1 killer of doors; don’t let it murder yours.

Another caveat: Acquire the intended lockset before you build any handmade door. Some of these doors are thicker than the standard width of just under 2 inches, and may need special hardware or modifications to the latch-bolt area. For a barn or outbuilding that doesn’t need to be burglar-proof, you can invent a latch of your own design; but a house or garage door should have key locks. When you’re ready to install the lockset, use a holesaw to cut the lock hole, a drill to make the latch-bolt hole, and a sharp chisel to flush-mortise the latch bolt.

Installation of any door goes a lot easier if you mount the hinges on the door first rather than on the jamb. Hinges usually go 8 inches from the door’s top, 9 inches from the bottom, and at the exact midpoint. Set the door in place with blocks underneath, to raise it to a proper top reveal (spacing) of 1/8 inch; a steel flatbar works admirably to jockey it around and avoid finger-pinching.

5/9/2016 2:51:00 PM

Love to do this one myself! made one for my dogs but great ideas here

5/9/2016 2:49:17 PM

Love to do this one myself! made one for my dogs - great ideas here

mother earth news fair


Oct. 21-22, 2017
Topeka, KS.

More than 150 workshops, great deals from more than 200 exhibitors, off-stage demos, inspirational keynotes, and great food!