Building Large Exterior Doors

      Advice on joinery and lumber choice for oversize exterior doors (5 out of 5 doctors agree: no Poplar!)October 17, 2011

I have a contractor who wants me to build eight exterior doors out of poplar. The dimensions are; 42"x96"x2 1/4". They will become four sets of double doors. I wonder if traditional joinery will be adequate for these scantlings, and is it going to be safe to build them out of solid lumber?

Forum Responses
(Architectural Woodworking Forum)
From contributor D:
We are in Southwest CT on the coast and would never use poplar other than interior woodwork. When we build exterior doors we use Spanish cedar or mahogany.

From contributor G:
These wide poplar doors are going to weigh-in at maybe160 lbs each (mahogany over 200 lbs)! I think you're right for wondering about traditional joinery and such. I would also worry about hinges, frame and door jambs. I am not a door maker but I would say that this project calls for some professional engineering (and probably iron reinforcement).

From contributor O:
Poplar should be avoided in all exterior work. White oak, mahogany, Spanish cedar, or white pine are all far better selections. At those dimensions, 2-1/4" thick would be recommended. Traditional joinery is vague - I'd use cope and stick mortise and tenon joinery, with full width integral tenons and about 3-1/2" long or more.

The door's weight is more of a concern for the jamb and hardware than for the door itself once the above conditions are met. Jambs, sill, weatherstrip, hinges, and latch all figure strongly into the success of an installation, so do not skip lightly over them.

If you are not familiar with and set up to do large scale joinery, consider subbing out the work or passing it by. I like a challenge as much as the next guy, but there are things I know to stay away from. I hear from shops all the time that after we quote work, the building contractor is polling them to see if anyone wants to make some doors. At a much lower cost than a professional door maker charges. More than once, we are asked to go back in a year or four later and replace what was not done correctly the first time. "Who knew? I thought a few biscuits would hold it!"

From contributor S:
Poplar? Do you want to make these doors several times? Poplar is a interior only product, unless maybe for the desert. Mahogany, sapele, oak, Spanish cedar, and even western red cedar are what you should use. Poplar will turn bad in a matter of days, and if you guarantee your product, then you're screwed!

I do 3/6 x 8/0 x 10/4 doors on a regular basis and wouldn't even consider poplar for them, that stuff is fine for interior uses, never exterior. As to the weight, figure around 180 lbs 10/4" with 6-7% mc. Use M&T joinery and figure out how to cope the shoulders to give that C&S look that everyone seems to want.

You can do it pretty easily with the Freud Ext door router set. They just came out with one that's for 2 1/4" doors. Just climb cut the stile and rail profiles and you'll be fine. Pre-cut the tenons in whatever manner that you use, but be sure to leave material to cope the shoulders with. Make a large coping sled and get to work. Don't be worried by the size. 3/6 x 8/0 isn't really all that big. 5/0 x 10/0 x 10/4 is pretty big. The largest I've done so far as hinged slabs, I almost got a hernia installing them! They've been up for nearly ten years and have barely moved no matter the weather.

Would you like to add information to this article?
Interested in writing or submitting an article?
Have a question about this article?

Have you reviewed the related Knowledge Base areas below?
  • KnowledgeBase: Knowledge Base

  • KnowledgeBase: Architectural Millwork

  • KnowledgeBase: Architectural Millwork: Doors and Windows

    Would you like to add information to this article? ... Click Here

    If you have a question regarding a Knowledge Base article, your best chance at uncovering an answer is to search the entire Knowledge Base for related articles or to post your question at the appropriate WOODWEB Forum. Before posting your message, be sure to
    review our Forum Guidelines.

    Questions entered in the Knowledge Base Article comment form will not generate responses! A list of WOODWEB Forums can be found at WOODWEB's Site Map.

    When you post your question at the Forum, be sure to include references to the Knowledge Base article that inspired your question. The more information you provide with your question, the better your chances are of receiving responses.

    Return to beginning of article.

    Refer a Friend || Read This Important Information || Site Map || Privacy Policy || Site User Agreement

    Letters, questions or comments? E-Mail us and let us know what you think. Be sure to review our Frequently Asked Questions page.

    Contact us to discuss advertising or to report problems with this site.

    To report a problem, send an e-mail to our Webmaster

    Copyright © 1996-2020 - WOODWEB ® Inc.
    All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any manner without permission of the Editor.
    Review WOODWEB's Copyright Policy.

    The editors, writers, and staff at WOODWEB try to promote safe practices. What is safe for one woodworker under certain conditions may not be safe for others in different circumstances. Readers should undertake the use of materials and methods discussed at WOODWEB after considerate evaluation, and at their own risk.

    WOODWEB, Inc.
    335 Bedell Road
    Montrose, PA 18801

    Contact WOODWEB

  • WOODWEB - the leading resource for professional woodworkers

      Home » Knowledge Base » Knowledge Base Article