September 19, 2014

Two custom cedar storm doors

I needed two storm/screen doors for exterior entry doors at my house. Previously I had bought a custom spanish cedar door with matching storm unit from Vintage Doors, which was very nice but quite expensive. I got a quote from them for these two new storm doors for about $1600, which I felt was going to be painful to shell out. Pricing out two doors worth of 25mm spanish cedar at Anderson McQuaid indicated I would need maybe $300 worth of wood to do the project myself, and there are only a few joints to worry about, so I decided to just build them.

To make things go faster, I bought a Delta brand mortising attachment for my drill press. It works ok, but I am not entirely pleased with it. The clamping guide block for the table didn't really fit on my table, and the vertical hold down system was poorly designed and didn't work for the wider pieces of wood. The square chisel kept wanting to rotate out of position, and there was a bit of slop in the theta position of the chisel even when its set screw was holding tight. So I ended up needing to do a lot of cleanup with the hand chisel on the mortises afterwards, and the alignment of the holes to the wood faces was not stellar.

Probably the right thing to do is just suck it up and do it by hand, or else get a dedicated benchtop mortiser.

This is a test joint I made, which looks better than almost all the ones on the real doors:

The tenons I cut on my table saw with a dado blade and miter gauge.

These got a slight cleanup with chisel and block plane and a light sanding.

On the top and bottom rails, I needed to shorten the tenons a bit so there was more wood between the tenon and the top and bottom edges of the door. This was easily accomplished with japanese saws and a chisel.

The glue up was with West Systems epoxy.

Originally I was planning on doing a drawbore peg in each M&T joint, but I thought it was probably overkill with all that long grain contact and epoxy adhesive, and I was running short on time so I ditched it. Perhaps if any of the joints get loose in future I can reglue with drawbore pegs.

Though I thought I had enough wood for the two doors, I either miscalculated, mis-cut, or inadvertently used a piece for something else and in fact I was a little short. Doh! So I left out the lower vertical center element on one door, which also had to have some of it's tenons shortened. To compensate for the short tenons, I reinforced the joints with #10 stainless screws. The screws had their heads recessed and I cut some cedar plugs to glue over the top.

On the exterior sides, I put on a bevel on the vertical interior edges with a trim router, finished with a tiny bit of chisel work.

After gluing, I used some cut off strips to make a frame to hold the screen/storm inserts. This was epoxied and pinned to the main door.

The bottom element of the frame is thicker, with an integrated lip to hold the insert and drainage holes to let water through. Some plastic mirror clips from Rockler held in with stainless screws completed the insert mounting system.

The handle hardware and hinges were from Van Dyke's. They are decent if not outstanding.

The screen and storm inserts were from Glass & Mirror in Somerville. I have previously used them on a number of occasions and found their service to be good and prices competitive. But the glass storm inserts ended up being a lot more than I planned, on account of them needing to be tempered glass. For two doors worth of storm and screen inserts, I ended up spending about $650.

I installed the doors and adjusted some things to make them work in the doorways they needed to go in, then took them out again and removed the hardware for finishing. The swinging edges have a slight bevel, as doors should. Square edges are all eased with a bit of hand sanding.

I very much hope to someday get the exterior of my house fixed up, in which case these doors will need to be taken out and reinstalled. But I would be lucky to have that problem!

I have used the marine grade product from Waterlox on a few exterior wood projects I wanted to be clear, but have been discouraged by how fast it degrades (I love the regular Waterlox finish for indoor wood however). Reading online, this seems to be par for the course for clear exterior finish. Without the pigments of paint to block UV, the polymers in a clear finish just get destroyed by the sun and weather. One nice thing about using cedar is that even if I let the finish go too long between refinishing, at least the woodwork is rot resistant.

A product that got a good recommendation in an exterior clear finish roundup in Fine Woodworking was Sikkens Cetol, which also had some strong support in online forums. So I gave that a try on these doors. Conveniently it is sold nearby at City Paint in north Cambridge. I put on three coats everywhere, and an extra one on the horizontal surfaces and exterior face.

After spending a few weeks in the basement for finishing, I put the hardware back on and the doors back up. They look great!

Exterior access is now a slightly more difficult, but on the other hand it is nice to have a screen door so you can leave the main door open if the weather is pleasant. And the storms will help protect the main doors and sills, as well as perhaps slightly lessening heat loss from the house in winter.

All in, I probably spent $1K on these two doors including the mortising attachment. Start to finish, it took me more than a year. In retrospect I probably should have just bought the doors from Vintage Door. Have I learned my lesson? Somehow, I really doubt it!


Barb in British Columbia where it rains a lot ! said...

Sikkens Cetol - on my garage siding and doors for the last 10 years - 2 coats; and on a pergola - 3 coats for the last 4 years with no problems. All wood is cedar and it still looks 'rich'. You won't be sorry.

Holly Gates said...

Thanks for the tip Barb; I hope I have similarly good results with the Cetol finish!