Facing a Flush-Panel Steel Garage Door

A ton of advice on attaching paintable wood faces to an insulated steel garage door, including advice on fasteners, adhesive, and door track hardware. November 2, 2010

We need to face a flush panel insulated steel garage door for a client with horizontal ship-lapped paintable boards. I am thinking about using smartside trim over 1/4" exterior plywood screwed to the steel garage panels. The garage sub will upsize the track and hardware for the added weight. Any thoughts?

Forum Responses
(Architectural Woodworking Forum)
From contributor S:
Tons of thoughts... nightmares, actually. If this is a residential-grade door, don't count on the screws holding in the sheet metal, as the metal is about 30 ga thickness. Use Liquid Nails between the steel and the plywood and give it plenty of time to set up. Wipe the door face with acetone to remove any oils from the paint. And don't use some brand of Liquid Nails wannabe - use the real stuff.

I'm not familiar with Smartside trim, but 1/4" plywood is very thin - it won't hold much of a nail or staple.

I'd suggest you lay the door out on the floor and completely side it, then cut it apart. You'll need wood spacers between the door sections the same thickness as your saw kerf so the sections come back together after you've cut it apart.

If it's a double-wide door, it's best to build in a little bit of bow towards the outside. If you lay the door out on a flat floor, place a 1x4 under the middle of the door, running from top to bottom. Hopefully the ends of the sections will be touching the floor - they may or may not, depending on the inside skin on the door sections. Ideally, when a double-wide door is in the open position, the door sections should show a little bit of crown - time, gravity, and the forces applied by the electric opener will cause the crown to come back down to flat and level.

You will also need a flat border around the perimeter of the siding so the jamb weatherstrip will have a flat surface to seal against.

I'd suggest you draw it out carefully on paper and design it so your cuts at the section joints will be in an acceptable location with respect to the shiplaps. If you want the horizontal lines of the door to exactly match the horizontal lines of the house, forget it - it's not likely gonna happen. For starters, you lose 1/8" with each saw cut - and with each cut, the error accumulates.

Make sure you use a competent door company and don't crowd them on headroom - architects are notorious for that. The electric opener needs to be hung from the ceiling so it's as close to the door as possible. If you study the physics involved, you'll see that an opener that is hung too high above the door actually pushes down on the top section in a vertical direction as the door is closing. You don't want that. Instead, it needs to be pushing in a horizontal direction as much as possible - but then, a good installer will know all that. An opener hung too high above the door will damage the top section and in your case, cause the siding to pop loose.

From the original questioner:
Thanks a ton - that was a fantastic explanation.

From contributor S:
You're welcome.

I just looked at some of the installation instructions at the LP website for Smartside. I hope you don't spec that flat siding that has the pie-shaped air space under each piece - that would be tough (maybe impossible) to make work on a garage door.

With all due respect, I wish you architects would get away from the fake, rough-sawn look. To me, it's like sheetrock texture - it's a cheap, easy way to hide sloppy framing and sheetrocking workmanship. And us old-time woodworkers go to great lengths to sand wood so it looks smooth as plastic - this fake wood grain stuff really makes us cringe!

From contributor S:
I agree 100% and am planning on using their smooth trim product. I'm not actually sure who it is that likes the wood grain, because most architects that I know do not. I think it is likely the mass homebuilders who see it as a VE option from real wood siding, and not for the material that it is. The ridiculous part is that the wood grain on most of these fake products is far heavier than real wood anyway, and it just looks fake. For years, if we had to use a hardi-board or similar, we would have it primed both sides and then install it backwards so the smooth side was exposed.

From contributor D:
We no longer face garage doors, since the attachment is a big problem, long-term. Both glue and mechanical attachment helps, but the problems still outweigh all but one advantage - they are cheaper. We see lots of doors (mostly those done on site by carpenters) being reworked as soon as one year down the road with screws and plugs, more glue, etc. Inexpensive at the outset, but not good.

I suggest making all wood doors and partnering with a willing garage door installer. This gives the maker, the designer and the owner more options in design, and will give better than a throwaway product. This also helps the green factor.

As for expense, I'm old enough to remember when people laughed at stone countertops as lavishly expensive. Now they are practically standard, and the expense is absorbed - the customer has their expectations.

From the original questioner:
Thanks. I'm worried about that, but the client wants to have a better R-value to help the room above, and they want to get the tax credit if it is still available. I'm not sure why someone doesn't make a base panel that is made to carry the load with plywood on the exterior, with polyurethane insulation and a steel skin on the interior. In our applications we just want horizontal cedar or Smartside TnG siding with no windows. I can imagine that adding windows makes things a lot more complicated and a lot heavier.

From contributor S:
What are the door sizes and what is the application - residential, commercial, parking garage? Are the door(s) going to be the main egress/ingress? What are the ceiling heights at the door locations?

From the original questioner:
Just a standard residential garage door. The ceiling height in the garage is 9', and the door size is 16' x 7'6".

From contributor S:
7-6 high did not used to be available in a steel door - I'd suggest you verify *in detail*. A door can overlap the header, i.e. an 8-0 door can be installed on a 7-6 high opening. Doing so in effect reduces the available headroom, and any outside lock or lift handle will likely hit the header as the door is opening. And you do not want the top section to be less than 18" tall or you'll create other problems.

If the door is the main ingress, I recommend you spec 50,000 or maybe even 100,000 cycle springs and bearings - standard is 10,000 cycles (or less). A cycle used to be defined as any change in the door's position. In the garage door world, you can't solve one problem without creating three additional problems, and then ugly things snowball rapidly from there.

From contributor S:
OHD Corp has a 599 series door that has a 20 ga, smooth exterior skin, high r-value, between-section weatherseal, etc. That door could be ordered with end caps that would accommodate double end hinges - military-grade stuff. Anyone with decent woodworking skills could build wood-framed windows into it.

One could even bore the door and fasten the plywood substrate from the inside out. The holes on the inside face could be easily plugged with plastic plugs. If properly done, such a door would way outlast the homeowners.

The only problem I see, aside from cost, is that steel-skinned doors like this will always bow towards the warm side. Steel expands as it is heated, and the insulation is so good that the inside and outside skins are going to always be at different temperatures. The wider the door and the greater the temperature variation, the more it will bow. Such doors need to be installed loose to allow for that.

Never build a garage without a window or skylight or some means of allowing natural light inside. No matter how well the door is built or installed, there will always be a glow of daylight leaking in from every joint, especially if the door must be installed loose in order to function. If you have a dark garage, the door will look horrible from the inside. A simple window will totally eliminate an unpleasant, time-consuming education session with an ignorant homeowner.

From the original questioner:
I was thinking along the same lines. I found a Wayne Dalton commercial sectional with 20 ga face. But to avoid drilling out the back, I was thinking of blind riveting the plywood to the panels, which should hold better than screws.

From contributor S:
I like rivets - rivets are good.

If the Wayne-Dalton door is steel skin bonded to a polyurethane core, the plywood and siding needs to slip and give, or you might cause the steel to delaminate, but I suspect you already know this.

I'd suggest you spec double end hinges, 13 ga track with the horizontal tracks (factory) reinforced with angle iron, 2-inch long-stem rollers with 10 ball bearings (you don't have enough headroom for 3-inch track), 100,000 cycle counterbalance system (which should include flange-mounted pillow-block bearings), solid (as opposed to hollow) shaft with couplings, and require an engineer's certificate from the manufacturer along with detailed shop drawings. Be sure to spec your required windload. As with any product, there are a thousand ways to cheap it out.

You will need to provide the manufacturer with the exact (there is very, very little fudge-factor) weight of the material you plan to add. When they (the manufacturer) find out what your plans are, they'll likely refuse to warranty the product.

From the original questioner:
One problem I already found with 3" track is that 3" nylon ball bearing rollers are super expensive! I'm glad to know you think heavy gauge 2" will work, but I'll add up the weights just to be sure.

From contributor S:
Given the same ball bearings, the actual weight rating of the rollers, as well as the windload rating of the rollers, is greater with 2 inch rollers than 3 inch - has to do with the moment arm. It's just that tall tires roll with less resistance than do short tires. Two inch rollers will work just fine for your application.

From contributor G:
Does having one side of the wood heavily glued to metal unbalance the moisture/humidity movement of the wood enough to get into serious warping on a large door?

If this is a double door, do you need to upgrade the opener because of the extra weight?

From contributor J:
Contributor S, don't you mean long stem rollers with double end hinges?

From contributor S:
Contributor G, I would avoid using continuous, 16 foot wide sheets of siding for the exact reasons you mentioned. If the siding has some butt joints that allow it to expand/contract, that's probably as good as could be expected.

Electric openers are not designed to make up for a door that does not work properly. Certainly, the heavier the door, the more heavy duty the opener needs to be, and that does not just mean horsepower rating. Some manufacturers simply use a different start capacitor to claim additional horsepower, even though the motor is the same. Some call it creative marketing, others of us call it b-s.

If possible, the questioner needs to spec an opener that can be double hung. In other words, the center of the opener boom needs to be hung from the ceiling as well as the motor end. This will keep the boom rigid during operation and make the opener safety mechanisms more reliable and consistent. Residential opener safety devices work by monitoring changes in the amperage draw of the motor and/or physical slack in the chain or drive belt. When things work smooth and easy and consistent, life is good and irritated homeowners are not calling you twice a week.

Since the opener is going into a residence, there really is no choice but to use an opener made for residential use, complete with all the required safety devices built in. If the door is such that a residential opener won't function, then you have a door issue - not an opener issue - that needs to be addressed. It would not make sense to endanger people's lives by using a commercial-grade opener without the safety devices just for the sake of aesthetics.

The heavier the door, the more important it is to get a good installer.

And as a disclaimer: I've been out of that industry for a number of years, so everything I say/claim may no longer apply.

Contributor J, you are correct - I should have clarified that double end hinges get long stemmed rollers. The advantage to double end hinges is that the hinge anchorage (to the door) is about 12,000 times better than with single end hinges. The entire weight of the door is supported by the bottom fixtures, so those fixtures need to have a large anchorage surface area and be built very sturdy as well.