All about Doors

With winter doing its best to overtake autumn, it won’t be long until there’s snow on the ground and we see long weeks of temps below freezing. While some people love snow, I can’t say I’ve ever been a fan. The cold and wet everywhere somewhat inhibits my ability to do a lot of things. Luckily, I have a covered and heated shop where I can do some woodworking and blacksmithing well into the dark of winter.
I obviously can’t do much work on my trailer while it’s buried under several feet of snow, but I can do a few things to be ready to jump right into work once the snow melts.

My first project will be creating my own door for the tiny house. I have a few reasons for building my own door rather than purchasing one:

  • Doors are really expensive- even an unfinished Masonite door can be well over $200
  • I have more options and ways to customize the door if I make it myself. Finding an energy-efficient, solid wood, outward-swinging door in a finish and design I like would be difficult
  • I don’t put a price tag on my own time put into building something
  • I’ve never made a door before and look forward to the challenge
  • And finally- I’m just itching to get something done

I knew early on that buying a new door would likely be out of reach for my budget, and even a used door from architectural salvage would run me more money than I’d like to spend. So I’ve spent some time looking into what it takes to build a door.

There are basically three types of exterior doors: Layered, Batten, and Joined. Layered doors are most common in residential homes, with foam or some other dense material sandwiched between layers of metal, fiberglass, or wood. Batten doors involve vertical planks held together by horizontal/diagonal battens. Think of a typical ‘X’ barn door. I plan on making a Floating Panel Joined door. This style uses a solid wood frame with panels of joined wood slotted between them. The reasoning behind the floating panels rather than a solid door is that exterior doors are bound to expand and contract as the weather changes. Including space for the wood to move prevents warping.

Most manufactured doors include a layer of foam insulation somewhere in their design, but I don’t plan on using any. While it may seem counter-intuitive, solid wood has a higher ‘R’ value than most foam, especially at the thickness a standard door is at. The advantage of foam cores is that they provide better insulation than empty space while keeping the door light. Solid wood doors, on the other hand, are noticeably heavy. Weight is certainly a big factor when building my TH (Tiny House), but the place where I plan on putting the door is just about centered over the axles, and the door itself will be smaller than a typical residential door (another advantage of making a custom door!).

Here is a good graphic as to how a joined panel door is put together. I’m still torn on whether a window should be included or not, and also on the actual door pattern. I like the look of ‘Old World’ doors, especially those with speakeasy windows.  I like the idea of being able to make some of my own door hardware at the forge, and the old world style lends itself to that wrought iron look. These are some designs I like right now (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).
I especially love the look of birdseye, knotted, and spalted woods. Choosing a final design is difficult at the moment, since I still haven’t decided on siding for the TH and/or how it will be finished!

I anticipate I’ll have to purchase some wood for this project, especially since I might want some specialty wood worked into it. As abundant as cheap/free wood is, a large majority of it is stuff I wouldn’t want to make any sort of finished carpentry out of. I can pick through the dump’s pile of 2×4’s to make furniture and other things, but I want this to look nice. That being said, I’ll have to get some practice with my router, joiner, planes, chisels, and dado blades before I can get too far with this. Mahogany can run upward of $15 a board/foot, so I’d rather not mess up on my fancy lumber.

Once my door is complete (or during the building process) I also will be looking for windows for the tiny house. Windows are super expensive, especially energy-efficient ones like I would want for the TH. So I will be checking craigslist and the architectural salvage (man I love that store) regularly throughout the winter, looking for a deal on a set of matching windows. The windows are the last thing holding up the finalization of the plans, since I can’t design framing for the walls without knowing how many windows I will have and how big I need to make their rough opening. I hope to buy 5-6 matching  double-hung windows for under $300. We will see how well that goes.

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