Vertical-Board Solid Wood Door Techniques

Top craftsmen chime in with a diverse set of ideas and illustrations for building solid wood doors with vertical boards, in ways that can withstand wood movement and look great. March 25, 2009

One of my customers is having a problem with this door. It was built out of car-decking material by one of the carpenters. It has rollers at the top that travel on a track. The bottom of the door is grooved to slide over a track on the floor at left side.

The door that the carpenters produced is warped too badly to use the track at the bottom. He would like us to build him a new one. My initial idea is to produce individual staves out of ripped and re-laminated lumber. We do this all the time for cabinet doors and can produce dead straight sticks with this method.

I am thinking about hanging the individual staves kind of like a curtain. What I am stuck on is how to join the individual staves to each other throughout the width of the door. Would a cable through the middle be pliable enough to allow individual staves to move without warping the whole system of staves?

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Forum Responses
(Architectural Woodworking Forum)
From contributor M:
You don't say what size, but we would either vacuum bag thin chamfered boards on a solid engineered billet, or edge glue engineered stiles and v-groove on the router after. Wood species or look might be the final determining factor. If this is an interior application both sides, which it appears, I don't think any other treatment is needed. Sealing top and bottom is critical as usual.

From contributor V:
Neat door. I think the one thing I would change is how the bottom tracks. Maybe a channel or a bolt-on mechanism design that helps hold the door flat. This along with the new (flat) door. Have you considered looking for a prefab door that might fit well, one designed to stay flat and/or one you might add to or size down, decorate?

From contributor R:
I'd breadboard it. Hidden or exposed.

From contributor T:
Why not just dowel it about 8-12 times throughout the height?

From contributor I:
Laminate thin 3/8" to 1/2" V-groove material to both sides of a 1 3/8" solid core flush door.

From contributor K:
I did this about 25 years ago but did not have the track at the bottom to contend with. I would build with dry car siding. Most car siding is not dry to cabinet grade specs unless it has been sitting around a lumberyard for a few years. You can make your own from cabinet grade lumber, as I did. The big problem with this style as a door is that as the strips of lumber swell with seasonal moisture change, they tend to bind against each other and the door warps in one direction or the other. What I did was lay up the planks of car siding with about 1/16" of gap between each plank and face down on the bench. Cross band with a 1x6 flush with the top and bottom ends and one in the middle, screwing each cross band to each plank. Fill the vertical edges also with a 1x2 or 1x4. You have now created a 4 sided frame with a midrail and 2 panel areas. Within each panel area I also screwed diagonal braces to keep the door from sagging, since it was on hinges, but you may not need this since you are hanging straight down.

From contributor B:
I have a book detailing a craftsman door such as this and it shows dovetail or T grooves on the backside with T shaped cross bands at approximately 16" on center, if I recall correctly. Given the offset for the hardware, that would fit fine in your case.

From contributor K:
Now that I have looked past the door, is this a timber frame home? If so, did you build it? Looks like pine posts and beams.

From the original questioner:
It is a timber frame house. The timbers are Douglas fir. We only built the cabinets.

From contributor D:
Proper tongue and groove v-jointed boards with horizontal (and z or x) battens across one side or both. Nailed, screwed, dovetailed, recessed or proud. Kiln dried and accurately processed lumber - jointed flat. Vertical boards placed with 1/16" gap for movement. Battens hold the width and keep it diagonally stable. I like to make these doors with two 5/8" faces and a 5/8" core for heft and no exposed bracing.

Typically the bottom of the door has a plow that receives a short length of u-shaped metal mounted to the wall by the opening that keeps the door from swinging in or out, scraping the wall, smashing fingers, etc. This keeper is also sometimes a bearing wheel in larger doors - like real barns. This plow can also be stopped with hidden blocks to keep the door from running off the end of the track in either direction and keeps the pull from hitting the jamb. Better quality hardware will also provide stops as well as swing control. There is no need for track on the floor.

From contributor K:
Don't let the edges of the individual planks of the door touch each other. This is where doors of this design can go wrong. If they gain moisture, they are going to want to grow, and if touching, they can't. The only thing they can do is force the door to warp. Now this is assuming that the ledgers are fixed in some fashion to the planks that would resist free movement.

From contributor B:
I would be interested to hear why the previous ones failed. It looks like the door is covered from the elements pretty well. I take it you must be in a humid region? It could be a case of poor previous construction techniques.

From contributor J:
We build these type doors a lot. For interior we usually are close to what contributor D suggests. 3/4" thick core, ladder or substrate. Outside paneling 1/2" thick with T&G or spline between the boards. Quartered or rift grain is preferred. The spline or T&G is never glued, but the boards are glued to the core. That way the boards can shrink or expand in width without causing any problems. Thicker is easier to build, but not everyone wants 2 1/4" interior doors.

In the case of undesirable materials (from a construction standpoint) like barn wood, we go thinner on the plank faces. Usually 1/4" or 3/8". If budget permits, it's nice to miter the outside planks into the edges to give the appearance of solid planks.

A lot of the old houses here have the ledge type doors. Most of them are still straight. I think that is a possibility for smaller or sliding doors like the questioner has. Of course the old timers had better wood to use.

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This door with breadboard ends is a different technique. These are solid wood with the verticals stub tenoned and doweled into the breadboard. The planks are splined together but not glued so they can shrink or grow a little. For tall doors in this style we usually use stave cores for the planks.

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From contributor H:
Okay, here's a totally different approach. I built an entire kitchen's worth of doors this way about 20 years ago and last I saw they were still straight and sound. One modification would have to be made to accommodate your situation though.

These doors were made to look like they were built of individual 4" to 6" wide v-groove boards. They were 3/4" thick by typically 18" to 24" wide and 26" to 32" high... so a lot smaller than a house door. However, the plan should still work.

The trick was to make the door blank as one full size solid wood flat 3/4" thick panel by edge gluing individual boards together, just as though you were making the blank for a raised panel. After the blank was made, I created the v-grooves slightly off line from the glue lines. These v-grooves were about 1/4" deep.

I then ran the door panel over the table saw with a very thin blade. The fence was positioned to cut a slot about 3/4 of the way through the 3/4" thick door slap, exactly lined up at the deepest v-point of the v-grooves. Looking at the slab after these slots were created, you maintained the v-groove appearance even though there was a thin slot running down the length at the center of each v-groove. This was the first step.

The second step was to repeat the process on the back of the panel, with the V-grooves on the back offset from those on the front by about 1/4". The result was that the slots cut 3/4 of the way through from the front were about 1/4" away from the slots cut 3/4 of the way through from the front of the door, in effect creating an accordion bellows type of effect. This created individual boards between each pair of v-groove cuts that could expand and contract individually. The pairs of front to rear slots (offset from each other by about 1/4") kept the entire slap from cupping or warping and each "board" now worked independent of the others. This of course made a very weak panel that was somewhat like our modern wacky wood when picked up. The final step was to put an upper and lower 1/2" x 2" stretcher across the back face of the door.

Now this stretcher is where a change in the construction would have to be made. Obviously you can't have stretchers on the back of the door. Instead of the stretchers you could machine a 2" deep slot in the top and bottom edges of the door. Insert either wood or metal and fix it in place with a doweled screw at either end. This should hold the door flat and force any expansion or contraction to take place within the doubled up accordion slots, holding the door flat and at a constant width.

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From the original questioner:
Wow - thanks for all that information.

Contributor J, those are some handsome doors.

Contributor B, that is an interesting premise. More so since it actually works.

There could be a bunch of reasons the original door warped. I'm putting my money on moisture migration from one or more staves. At the very least I will send the customer all these inputs. That way he won't think I just make this stuff up.

From contributor E:
This is a door I built years ago. Have had no problem with it. I made if from 2x6 white pine like is used for log home ceilings. As you can see I put stays on the back of the door. They are inset into the door.

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From contributor G:
Lots of discussion on the door design/construction... I would also focus on the hardware issue (a different lower track system). PC Henderson, Hafele and Kristrack all have great options among others. Sometimes in this situation the hardware is what makes the door.