Entry Door Wood Choices

What's the best wood species for a custom exterior door?

I am looking for suggestions on the ideal wood species for a paint grade entry way (exterior) door. I have made many interior doors out of everything from 2'' MDF to quartersawn bubinga, but thought you might have suggestions for material for the door I am proposing: 2" thick (maybe 21/4), 36" wide x 84" high, 3 rail with inset panel in bottom half and glass in top. Like a lot of people, I often use poplar for paint grade cabinet doors, but maybe there is something more stable for this situation? I also need to construct the accompanying jamb/stop/transom. Any suggestions are greatly appreciated.

Forum Responses
(Architectural Woodworking Forum)
Douglas fir is a very stable wood for exterior door use and paints well. Other options would be mahogany or, for lighter weight, redwood. All paint well.

Remember that when using 2-1/4" thickness, your door will need to be beveled severely on the knob side, as it will bind in the jamb, or bevel your jamb to the inside as well as beveling your door.

Also check the hardware you want to use, as normal locksets are made for 1-3/4" max doors.

I hung a set of 2-1/4" French doors a couple years ago. The customer wanted brass rim locks, so they were not as much of a hardware issue. But I did have to bevel the door and the astragal to accommodate the extra thickness.

It sounds as if you are already onto it, but poplar would be the absolute last species to use for either the door or the frame. In the Midwest, I have seen poplar sprout mushrooms after just two years on well painted exterior finish work. We refuse any exterior work that is spec'd in Poplar.

I guess I won't be using poplar! Mahogany was considered and probably will be my choice for this project. I am using a Baldwin mortise lock that is spec'd for a 2" door - that should be thick enough. One more question: should I consider the use of ball bearing hinges (5x5), and if so, any recommended brands readily available in the NYC area?

I'd highly recommend stave core rails and stiles, veneered in your choice of wood. I'm building two exterior doors 4x8 and to tame temperature difference between exterior and interior, stave core is the only way to go. You can either make them or buy them from Foremost Wood Products, 1-718-447-5836.

Stave core is the way to go. Last time I did a door I used stave core, then I used marine epoxy to apply the 1/4" wormy chestnut. Should you decide not to go with stave core construction, I recommend Spanish cedar, as it costs less than mahogany, is just as durable and is available in a variety of thicknesses.

Poplar is not nearly as "exterior proof" as it used to be. In old (100yrs+) structures around here, it is not uncommon to see poplar siding and all sorts of poplar exterior work. It is all of the old - first growth - timber, dark green or purple, dense and seemingly very weather and rot resistant. It was also the dominant species in the forest at the time and "in the way" and available.

New poplar seems to be high in sapwood, with very wide spacing of the rings, and quite the opposite of weather-resistant. I worked in a small shop at the time western pines broke the $1.00 a foot barrier and as a result, the shop switched to poplar to save money, since it seemed a good substitute considering all the historic houses we saw that had poplar. Within a year or two, problems started showing up. New poplar has a lot of movement in service (less stable) and doors and sash stopped fitting, and had to be fiddled with quite a bit. Then, shutters started twisting and joints opening. Then mushrooms and other things started sprouting, even though everything was properly painted and fit. One customer threw a panel on the counter, with a nice fresh bloom of pretty pink mushrooms coming out of the lower rail/panel plow. We went back to pine soon after.

A few years later, I worked for a greedy owner that wanted us to make poplar doors to sell for builder grade (only a one year warranty in this state). When I advised him of the problems, he said the sales staff would handle complaints. It was still a nightmare, since the builders and/or their customers would find me and want replacements, and demand to know why we would make an inferior product. I was powerless except to walk out the door, which I did. Haven't made an exterior poplar door in 13 years, and haven't ever had a serious problem with any of our doors.

First choice for PG exterior: vertical grain Douglas fir, old growth. You might want to consider finding some recycled fir lumber or beams from a demolished house built before the forties. Look for the old lumber that was not planed smooth on the sides. 2" lumber will measure 1 7/8" to 2 1/4" thick. This stuff has been well seasoned and it stays straight forever. Just remember to use a chip-breaker when using your shaper for Douglas fir. Otherwise it can splinter badly. Also, I'd stay away from redwood - way too soft for a front door.

What ever happened to using good old C select pine? We use it all the time on paint grade exterior doors and have never had a problem. Use a good marine glue and you're all set.