Thursday, June 11, 2009

White Oak and Black Stout

Building an Exterior Door by Hand

Well I've been at it this week, working through the door construction. So far so good as they say; the Oak is straight grained, heavy as sin and its aroma through my basement shop is intoxicating. A good start I'll give you a look at the process thus far. Enjoy...

The first step and biggest challenge in the basement wood shop is space, or lack there of. I started with making a full size pattern or template showing all of the door components to scale-the joinery, mortise depth, haunches etc...this will go far at eliminating any unforeseen challenges on my way through the lay out stage. Take your time with this and make things accurate! Skipping a step or cutting a corner would be completely counter productive, square, straight and true this is my map to Heritage Doorville...I have to follow the road. The 1/4" piece of Luan is great for this template, I screwed some hardwood offcuts on the underside of the pattern and affixed it to my shop bents in front of my workbench. Space is limited so I have to work clean. This project will really be a test of patience in this small work space.

With an accurate template it's time to start muscling the heavy planks of Oak around the shop, again the only hard part and sometimes frustrating thing about a small workspace. I'll begin by selecting my timber, carefully studying the grain patterns for a nice aesthetic and gentle flow throughout the finished piece. Again I'm drawn into the grain of this quarter sawn's amazing and humbling to think of this tree as a living thing-so beautiful I really feel lucky to be working with such fine stock. I clearly and carefully mark each component and begin cross cutting my lengths to just over finished sizes. My joinery for the rails consist of 3" mortise and tenons with haunches on the upper and lower rails. The middle or 'locking' rail doesn't have haunched shoulders but both the mid and lower one will be split into two tenons due to the width of the pieces. Cross cutting 7/4 stock is a challenge in itself so I have to consider my options here. Saw bench with panel saw? Hook on my work bench with a back saw? I tried both and decided I had much more control and a far more accurate saw cut with the back saw. My 12" Lie Nielsen Tenon saw is up for the challenge; these cuts are at the absolute top of the size of stock I could work with this saw plate. I actually had to make two cuts from both sides-a procedure I try to avoid but is my only option on this day. If I had my Bad Axe 16" or 18" back saws this would be a much better operation but unfortunately they're still a few weeks away...I'll go through the entire lot and get everything to size, from here it's over to the saw bench and my rip saw will be introduced.

Again, ripping 7/4 white Oak by hand is not for everyone...I purchased this lumber pre-dimensioned but as you can see I still have to 'work' each piece by hand. The pre-dimensioning really saves me some time early on; buying rough stock is great for my own work but a commission like this justifies the extra expense. You can usually be safe with a 10% increase on the total cut list when pricing a piece. For me the additional hundred dollars spent on my thousand for wood is well worth it. At least a week of time saved. By pre-dimensioned lumber I mean it's been surface planned on both faces and jointed on its edges. I'll still hand plane each square inch of this stuff but only to remove the mill marks. A good investment when you're trying to make a buck while working wood with only hand tools this is something I get asked about quite often. So consider that a trade secret revealed.

I'll start off with my new Lie Nielsen panel gauge to establish the width of the pieces. I find my regular marking gauge is great for thinner jobs but anything over the 5 or 6" mark and it tends to wander a bit. The marking gauge doesn't but my control over the cut can. This panel gauge is great for this procedure. My full size Corporate Kangaroo is just getting by with the job...I have a new Rip saw in my future for the next door project but you'll have to stay tuned for that one! In the shot above you can see my limited space here between the work bench and the tool cabinet; I usually do all of my sawing on the other side of the bench which is currently where the full-size door template is set up. Work clean and 'Patience of Job'...gotta keep reminding myself that!

Alright, the components are cross cut and ripped, from here it's on to hand plane alley. A welcome place to be after the day of sawing; my shoulders are thanking me already. I'll begin with my Jack plane and go across the width of the pieces taking a traversing/controlled tear shaving.

The same procedure when using a scrub plane this process will quickly get these planks flattened out. You'd be surprised at the slight hollows and tiny hills...even off of the fine machinery they have out at A & M Wood, there is still work to be done to get these things square on four sides.

A light cut is necessary with this cross grain technique and always be careful on the outside edge especially when running at the opposing angle to the grain. A few passes back and forth, end to end then I'll go with the grain to finish off. I establish the first flat surface and then I'll do the opposite side making it parallel to this first one. With two flat surfaces I'll get into the shoulder vise and get out the Jointing plane. Because I'm paranoid about keeping everything dead accurate with this project I'm using my Veritas Jointing fence. This is an accessory they sell that clamps onto the side body of their Bevel up Jointing plane and makes sure you're planning an edge square to the first registered surface.

A good day spent surfacing the Oak and I'm finally starting to see how the door will look. This is getting exciting, the grain flowing naturally across the heavy timbers I began to appreciate just how heavy and strong this door will be when finished. I can now move on to joinery lay out and the two long stiles are the place to begin.

As I mentioned they'll have haunched mortise and tenons with two at each of the locking and lower rails. The upper rail being only 5" in width will only have one plus the two outside shoulders. These shoulders or haunches will really help to avoid any twisting or winding in the finished door.

I'll clamp the stiles together and mark them off simultaneously ensuring a truly accurate lay-out. This is just penciled in and I'll come back with a deep marking gauge and knife to make the locations permanent.

With the mortises all laid out it's time to bet my brace and a bit together. Coincidentally about three weeks ago I stopped by a local antique store and found some nice old 8" Irwin Auger bits. These things looked like they didn't see much work in their life so a quick sharpening and they were ready to go. Good bits are still hard to come by but I did notice Tools for Working Wood sell some new ones that I'm interested in. These 8" antiques were a perfect length for this application, anything longer and I'd have to work with the timber on my floor.

A few hours of drilling and the bulk of material in my mortises is removed. For anyone interested in a good arm toning work out then this is it! I'm feeling the burn in the backs of my arms for sure. A good honest days work and I'm thinking about the tenons tonight. So to back track to the title of this post...a good black stout goes down some fine with the smell of white oak lingering. Stay tuned for more.

The stout was enjoyed after the tools went away for anyone concerned with my personal safety.


  1. Very cool post.
    An object lesson in not forgetting the basic principles.
    Any chance of a shot of the layed out template?
    Looking forward to following this project.

  2. I'm really impressed, Tom. Boy, that sucker's going to be heavy!
    What is your scrub plane? Is it more like a fore plane? Since you aren't hogging that much material I'm wondering about the amount of camber.

    Full-size templates are the way to go. I feel that my painted story sticks and boards are some of the most important tools in my shop.

    It would be great, if possible, to get a shot at the end of one of the planks after you have crosscut it to length. Do your saw cuts begin on a corner away from you and continue toward you and then around and around the board, or do you saw all the way through from one face? Since most of the end grain will disappear in forming the tenons, the end grain surface isn't important. Do you use a plane to correct any small amount of out-of-squareness?

  3. Tom,
    That is a lot of hard work in a day. What is the diameter of your brace? I have a 10" and I have really been struggling to use it on my Roubo build in Ash. I can't imagine drilling big mortises in White Oak. Is it a matter of leverage or just back out and clearing the chips more often to keep from tearing your arms off?

  4. Thanks for all of the comments...I'll post an update to address the questions asap.
    Busy week here in the woodshop!

  5. You deserve a good beer after working like that all day. I complain after using power tools all day for 8 hrs. My hat is off to you for keeping with traditional techniques, and quality work. I enjoy following, so keep 'em coming.

    nice work