New doors on an old house!

This summer marked the first full year in my new home. I finally got around to changing out the two front doors. When I bought the house one of the original doors was replaced with a modern insulated fiberglass door. The other door was the original 1920s solid wood six lite door with dentil detail. I shopped around for months looking for a match. I visited every antique store in Boston including Restoration Resources on Washington Street.

Finally I caved in and decided to replace both doors with two solid wood doors that match. I want to share some of the steps involved with doing that. I have to say, that I am humbled by the amount of work this takes… plus the new doors were HEAVY!

First a list of some of the tools that I used:

  • Safety gear (glasses and ear muffs)
  • Router
  • Sabre Saw
  • Circular Saw
  • Flat Head Screwdriver
  • Phillips Screwdriver
  • Power Drill
  • Shoulder Plane (see image below)
  • Utility Blade
  • Scrap plywood
  • Saw Horses (two pairs)
  • Metal break (I made my own)

The key to it all is planning ahead. The two doors were not the same size. One was about an inch thinner than the other. Why? I have no idea! The key to measuring the doors is to measure the existing door frame. Not the door. After measuring the opening I cut the doors 1/8” on both sides to allow for clearances in the hinges and latches. However, on the latch side I cut back the excess with a 5 degree angle to allow the door to close and clear the jamb as it closed.

To trim the doors back — and this was the more frightening aspect of the project as I was cutting back brand new doors! — I used a track. I don’t own a fastool track system so I made my own. Take a look at the track below. Simple but it got the job done. The key is using a circular saw blade with more teeth. It leaves a cleaner cut. I also scored my cut with a utility blade to help eliminate tear.

To open the letter slot I used a drill and saber saw. This part took a lot of planning. I even
drafted a template to help guide me. During this drawing process I discovered that both doors
were not built symmetrically. I still do not now why but between the two doors the discrepancy
was consistent. If you know why… let me know!

My letter slot hole was less than fair so I decided to buy a liner for them. What I discovered then
was that the liner I wanted didn’t exist! So I made my own using sheet metal and a home made
metal break.

By this time my simple door replacement is two months behind schedule….

Finally after completing all of the required preparations I sanded the doors and painted them.
Solid wood doors were primed with oil based primer twice on both sides and sanded in between
coats. The top coats were acrylic.

There’s a bit of a debate about when the doors should be painted vs hung. A) One school of
thought says the doors should be hung first then taken down to be painted. B) The other school
of though says paint the doors then hang them up.

Here’s the pros and cons. With A) if you ding the door, you can patch it and then paint it. with B)
You have to be careful not to ruin the paint while you hang it up.

I went with option B. I took care of all of the prep before hand and then just did touch up paint.
To hang the doors I lined both old and new next to each other and transferred the hinges with a
template (scrap 1/4” plywood). The doors have to be hung in the same place as the old doors.
The existing door frames are integral the wall. Would have been a longer project.

And now I have to finish the exterior of the entry. Maybe that’s another blog post!

— Josh