Sequencing the Work for a Stain-Grade Door and Trim Install

Woodworkers and installers discuss the timing of steps in a job that involves pre-finishing and installation of door jambs, doors, and trim. April 22, 2014

We are getting ready to build 15 interior rail and stile doors with matching jambs and casings, all in stain grade sapele. We are doing the finishing in house to an approved sample with stain, dark walnut Watco, then 3 coats of poly/tung/spirits mix. (I mention these details of the finish because it is feasible that we finish things on site!)

I was thinking of the following sequence, but am beginning to question it.
1. hang the prefinished jambs
2. apply prefinished casing
3. mortise jambs for hinges with template to match door hinge locations
4. fit and hang unfinished doors
5. bring doors back to shop and finish them
6. reinstall doors

These doors are 1.75" thick and approximately 36 x 84", so I am not super excited about moving them that many times, but I think it will be much more realistic to fit and hang them before finishing. Any thoughts or suggestions to streamline this process for the best results will be greatly appreciated!

Forum Responses
(Architectural Woodworking Forum)
From contributor D:

Yes, that is one way we have done it before. Unless you have a site guy who can hang them very carefully, I would cut the hinge locations on the doors and jambs ahead of time and match them all up in the shop prior to finishing. You can temporarily hang them in the shop as well and knock down the jambs, then finish. Are you afraid the rough openings are out of plumb?

Worked on another job that had JeldWen doors and frames all prefinished with brass hardware. Very expensive doors in mahogany and the install guy did a great job with no scratches.

From contributor L:
If you are building doors and jambs, there should be no fitting, just installation. I would probably stain them and give one coat of poly to protect them from dust.

Hang them and then you can fill the nail holes with Mohawk crayons and then the final two coats of poly to finish them off. If you get some scratches you can put the Watco back on the affected areas and poly in three days. But the doors will be protected while you wait.

From contributor E:
I'm not sure I get why you would have to fit them and then bring them back to finish them? Here's how I do them. Everything is machined and fit in house using templates. One side of the casing is pre-attached to the jamb and sprayed as a completed unit - no knocks downs for me.

Once you bring to install, the only thing you might have to do is trim the bottom. There should be no other cutting of the door or jambs! If you do have to trim the bottom, I would use a Festool which leaves a nice clean edge. Then you can just apply some finish to the bottom to seal it up. However I have rarely had to even trim the bottoms.

I use screws in the areas machined out for hinges on one side of the jamb. In the other side I use trim head screws in the area where the door will be when closed, and use colored wax fill to hide the holes. Then I attach casing to the other side (which is already assembled as a unit and pre-finished as well) to the jamb with 2" brads which are also easily filled with wax. It's helpful to track where each door is going to be placed so you can arrange to have the cleaner casing (the one that is attached and sprayed in the shop), towards the side most viewed. So for example closets and bathrooms always have the loose casing on the inside.

I also always do the measurements myself with my levels in hand. If rough framing is off I can allow for some extra room. Also if the floors are really off I can allow for that. It's not uncommon in one building I do a lot or work in, to be over 1/2" out of level over a 32" wide RO on concrete slab floors!

From the original questioner:
I appreciate your input. Sometimes I get lost in my own thoughts and need a reality check! I think we can hang pre-mortised and pre-finished jambs with the proper degree of precision that the doors can be built and finished prior to install.

One of the other (annoying) issues on this rather high profile job is schedule. I need to install jambs before the doors are completed so we can also get started on the wainscoting that lies between the casings. So it will all be about proper templates and good measurements, but that's how we roll anyway!

What is a realistic gap at the floor? I'm shooting for 1/2" but need to verify the openings for level. I've heard people going as far as 7/8" for rug considerations. Of course we will have a Festool saw there for trimming.

From contributor L:
Modern houses with forced air usually use 1" under the doors so the airflow won't be interrupted with the doors closed. They should have returns in all rooms but they don't always. 1/2" is good, I like 1/4". 3/4"-1" for rugs depending on the shag thickness.

From contributor R:
Have you used that finishing schedule before? I would never try to put anything poly on top of it. Isn't the Watco going to bleed back from the open pore sapele? Isn't Watco about the slowest drying material out there? I guess you can tell I'm no fan of Watco. Oh yeah, be sure to not burn the place down with improper disposal of Watco rags.

From contributor K:
Watco and poly, nailed on pre-finished casing, when to fit the door: the whole thing sounds a bit naive, not intending to be disrespectful.

The finishes are strange and incompatible, like a Rockler sales person suggested them. Nailing on casing, then finishing - what about raw wood lines? Setting door jambs, then setting the doors? No way can you get them the same square as the door - it is just not reasonable.

Do all the machining, beveling, sizing and sanding in the shop for the doors and jambs, with all the hardware. Pre-finish the casing, loose and long, all except the final step or two. Take it all out to the site and set the jambs with the doors in them. Remove the doors. Fill jamb nail holes with Famowood or similar hard filler and sand. Nails should be one both sides of a 4-5/8 or 6-5/8 jamb, not only in the door area. Then start the finish program.

With one or two final steps to go in the finish, add the casings, sink nails and preferably hard fill the holes and touch up. The casing should have a glued spline if they are mitered. Then do the final spray (or two) on the units. Set the doors and hardware them. Use dummy hinge screws for the setting of the jambs so you don't bugger up the real screws. Use them again when the doors are finally set, then back each one out, putting in the real brass screw, preferably with a proper clutch and feel. I assume you are using architectural grade, square corner hinges, please.

You seem to have a mix of production run techniques with a few custom accommodations. I do not believe wax filler has a place in better work, and pre-finishing is a production accommodation better left in the tracts from where it came. Yes, I have been called a snob, or naive, or worse.

I suggest you aim for the top. You are asking the right questions, just don't cut any corners or make blind assumptions.

From contributor E:
It's fine to be a snob, as long as you can still make a living at it!

If you don't use filler, how do you fill the nail holes in your casings? As much as it would be nice, I still haven't found a way to hang a door with casings on both sides. So you're always left with one that has to be nailed and filled on site. And since you usually are not going to be allowed to finish on site…?

I learned some of my techniques from working for an architectural shop that does high end commercial projects - museums, restaurants etc. I'd be happy to come close to that kind of tract work and I'd have a heck of a lot more money in the bank.

From contributor K:
Contributor E, I didn't mean to downgrade your work, or anyone else's. I have always tried to find alternate, more evolved methods of doing things that help our shop stand out against the status quo. Believe me, it is an uphill battle, though it has brought us to a level that I did not know existed when I started out. And not everyone gets it, so the money to pay for it is part of the struggle. I'm not so much a snob as I'm a sucker for pain.

We use Famowood to fill holes in raw wood. We do not do site install or finish, so we have learned to integrate what we do with other tradesmen. It does require training. Again, uphill.

The nail holes are filled in the field on casing and jambs that are halfway through the finish process. They can tolerate some touch-ups and handling marks, and still be cleaned up. The installers like the idea of not having to wear white cotton gloves to work with the stuff. The pre-finishing helps keep raw wood from ever showing, and the final on site spray unifies everything in place.

I understand lots of things are prefinished (beyond the tract projects), but unless they can be installed as a unit, nail holes, etc. are required, then I think we need to change our perspective a little. Residential certainly has a whole different mindset than commercial. I have also done museum displays and such where everything is prefinished - but even those are set up in the shop and sprayed as an assembled whole to help unify the look of the finish. Then when taken to the job, they can be assembled and done. Our display work could never have a wax filled nail hole - it is sold as furniture grade, where no nails are allowed, or any kind or fill - in exposed members. Things may have to slide or lock together - like a puzzle. But never a nail.

From contributor E:
There's always room for improvement and always something new to learn!

My only point is that there are times when you cannot spray a finish on site. Most of the buildings I work in have so many hoops to jump through just to actually do an install, forget about trying to get permission to spray a solvent finish! Just not going to happen. I'd love to be able to just do suburban homes or smaller buildings where you have free reign. But for better or worse most of my work is still in the city and predominantly in high rise buildings with more bureaucracy than Washington DC! So when I do passage doors there's no patching holes and spraying, it has to be completely finished and ready to install. Same with cabinetry as well, crown, base, and any other kind of trim has to be pre-finished and pinned on site. Only exception being paint grade which they can have their own painter brush on a latex finish.

From contributor S:
You want to use removable stops. Finish everything two coats, screw behind hinges and stops. Pin and glue stops back into place, then a wax stick would be all right, wholes are so small. Then the only real holes are in you casing. Last coat wipe on poly no brush marks and looks great. The doors should be all done in shop. There are always more ways to skin a cat.