Why? To match the style of the Arts&Craft house, in design and quality.
Yes, doors are available at the DIY stores. But, the quality of these products isn’t a good match for the era:
- Many are made of something like cardboard. Trying to saw or plane these, to fit them into a settled frame is like trying to cut a fresh baked loaf of bread with a dull knife. Mush results.
- They may be hollow, not solid wood. Can’t be cut down to fit a non-standard door opening (old houses have lotsa non-standard door openings).
- Hinges cannot be attached in a non-standard way because there is nothing to hold a screw.
Doors made from solid wood are more adaptable, and feel more solid.
I’ve been watching for a couple years, at resellers like the ReStore, which is the best place to get period fixtures (not sure if doors are fixtures, but they aren’t hardware or furnishings). That’s where I found one closet door but no others.
Goal: To have three matching doors in the main hallway. Making a couple would be a fun, right? Having one original (confirmed in the design book), made design decisions easy.
Plan: Based on wisdom collected on YouTube, there are two main ways of making interior doors. The traditional way involves routing boards. Since I didn’t have the tools for this, and there was a lot of cost and learning involved, I opted for a simpler approach.
I used 1/2″ plywood to achieve the desired effect. My local lumber yard make the cuts, shown in the diagram. Their fee was less than the tools and set up needed to make doors in the traditional way. Each door was cut from a single sheet, birch, as that was the best quality in stock.
The rails and styles (horizontal and vertical bits) were glued to the solid sheet the size of the door, on both the front and back of the door. Thus, three layers of 1/2″ plywood make a standard 1 1/2″ door (standard from the time my house was constructed to now).
Assembly: Doors are big. And solid wood is heaver than hollow, wood-mush doors. I did most of the assembly in the dining-room1, to avoid carrying the materials down the narrow, turning stairs to the basement. The dining-room table became a work bench.
The order of assembly is important. Gluing the styles first and then fitting the rails between them was hard, even though the cuts were accurate. Worked much better to add the final style after the rails were in place. When all the pieces were glued on, and the resemblance to the original door started to show.
Even with well cut pieces of plywood, and careful alignment when gluing, there were still minor deviations (less than 1/16″ but enough to see) on the edges. Used a power planar to smooth these out. Checked the fit of the doors in their frames at this stage. Tidied up the joints between the rails and styles, with a little chiselling and sanding for flatness and filler for small gaps. (This photo shows repairs after planing the trim (see below), which made more mess than I would like. However, the door at right was done second – my technique was improving.)
Finishing: Next step, the edges.
Applied iron-on edging around the outside edge of the doors. Never used it before but it is exactly that. Thin (less than 1/64″) strips of wood with heat-activated glue on one side. Use a regular clothes iron (watch fingers), trim overhang with scissors (against the grain) or utility knife (with the grain) and sand (100 grit) to finish. Doors almost look like a solid piece of wood. The one nearest the wall has the edging, the one on top shows the bare plywood edges.
To finish the interior edges, I purchased the closest piece of trim to the original style I could find. It wasn’t that close. With 80 feet of it, I was determine to make it work. The power planar quickly levelled the trim out with the door surface. As the corners were particularly hard to do well, for trial #2, I glued the trim on in one direction first, planed, then glued the rest of the trim, and planed. I got better with the planar (focusing on the position of the tool relative to the work piece helped avoid the ‘whoppes’). More steps, but actually faster as I figured out to start taking a lot off ( 1/24th inch) and finish with a small amount (1/64th inch).
A bit of sanding, by hand, rounded the top of the trim. The profile isn’t exactly like the original – it’s missing a step, but I can live with it. As the trim is pine, it sands a bevelled edge to a smooth curve nicely. A router would have made quicker work of this. I’m learning.
As can be seen in the face-on picture of the doors above, the first trial wasn’t ideal, but it was the inside of the closest door, which should be mostly out of sight. There were a few ‘whoopses’ into the plywood surface as I learned how to use the planar. Since the door will be painted, these were easy to fix with filler.
After what seems an eternity, it’s time to prime. Used my go-to for everything – Stain Blocker. It’s stinky, oil-based, but seems to be the best base for what passes as paint these days.
The final challenge is the mounting hardware. Need to decide this early to do the cuts to mount the hardware before the final painting.
The closet door is easy, as there will be a direct transfer of what is already there. I’d worked this adaptation out previously, as I wanted a 45 degree angle (a nod to Art Deco styling) and the only way to mount doors is to face screw the hinges. The latch is magnetic, mounted at an angle.
The complicated part of the bathroom door is deciding if the door should swing into the room or out into the hall. If the hall, from the left or right? Either way into the hall is intrusive: To the right, it blocks a window and natural light. To the left, it impedes the flow into the rest of the house.
Having the door open into the bathroom seems the best solution, except it’s tight in there. Eliminating (pun intended) the litter box (it’s ok, the cat is accommodated elsewhere) allows more open floor space to manoeuvre the door closed. As it turned out, it worked great having the door inside the room.
But wait, there’s more about hardware. Aesthetics: All the metal in the bathroom is what’s called brushed nickle – a non-shiny silver finish. But, the hall hardware is rubbed bronze – a rusty shaded dark brown. Houses have all the same hardware finishes when they’re originally built. Things change over time. A quick run around my house finds hinges of brassy finish, black and stainless steel. Door knobs are all possible colours. Went with hardware colours to match those inside the room: white hinges and brushed chrome door knob for the bathroom.
Making the cuts into the door to accommodate the hardware was more challenging that anticipated, because the door is made of layers of plywood, and harder to chisel and more stinky to drill2.
This picture also shows the bit of dowel I glued through the door, perpendicular to one screw per hinge, to improve the grab into the plywood layers. *Used longer screws than provided with the hinges.
Chiselling into the existing door frame to mount the door: Whatever the original wood, it was hard as rock, and looked like solidified peanut butter, but eventually all hinges got mortised.
And then to hang. Door was well balanced, vertical in all directions with no agenda of its own as to where it would swing (it stayed where it was left, an awesome sign). One small detail was wrong. It wouldn’t close.
Although the door dry fit, even with the hinges on, when inserted into the frame face on, it was too tight to allow that extra space required to swing a square object through a fixed dimension. The fix is easy-ish: take the door down, plane 1/8″ off the hinge side, adjust depth of hinge mortise accordingly, remount.
Psychologically, the task is bigger, because I screwed up. Lesson learned: do more planning. I based the dimensions of the door on the one I took out, but it was on the other side of the frame. Should have done more measuring and checking the size of a door to fit a frame. Now I understand the popularity of pre-hung doors.
Overall, I’m happy with the look of the doors in the front hall and they function well. (Original on left, newly made one on right.) I spent a lot (time and money) on this ‘easier’ way. If I had to do it all again, I would invest in a router and learning to use it to make the doors out of solid boards, the traditional way.
Working with plywood was annoying. Closing the door on this project.
1 In retrospect, fine for gluing, not a great idea when using power tools to plane or drill. The cement floor of the shop or basement is great to cool random sparks created when high velocity metal meets wood (drilling and planing). The dining-room had carpets, upholstery and wood floors that were all more likely to sizzle into flame.
2 Especially with the hole saw, required to cut holes to mount the door knob, the plywood smoked in a different way than wood. This is related to its structure, with glue holding layers of wood products together.