How To Install An Exterior Door Slab

by Darwin Hall

custom exterior door install

After making repairs to a popcorn ceiling, I moved on to replacing an exterior door at the side entrance of the church I’m working on.

The pastor wants to replace the existing wood door, because of water damage to the bottom portion of it.  The door is totally shot.

I determined that having no gutters installed above the door partly caused this problem.

When it rained, water hit the ground, then splashed back up on to the door.  And with snowy winters Michigan has, all of this moisture was more than the door could handle.  Keep in mind, this problem didn’t happen overnight.

It happened along the course of many years –its likely this door is original to the building.  Eventually, the door completely rotted at the bottom and left the building totally open to the outside weather.

See also:  Review Of DAP Plastic Wood Professional Wood Filler

Parishioners had placed bricks and a piece of plywood along the bottom of it to keep the critters out.  The damage was also a safety hazard: someone could have easily broken into the church — had they known the door was rotted at the bottom.

Fast forward to today.  I got the new slab from a local lumberyard.  It’s a solid-core wood door made from birch, which is a quality, domestic hardwood.

It was reasonably priced and the type of wood has been used for all sorts of woodworking projects.  High-end furniture, toothpicks, toy parts, and kitchen cabinets are just a few uses for this rock-solid species.

I recommended a steel, pre-hung unit, but the cost was too prohibitive for the church to afford right now.

Besides that,

  • the existing steel frame is in good condition;
  • the wood door won’t cost as much,
  • and the original door is also made partially of wood.

The old door is not really the same material thru and thru.  The door has a cementious core and wood veneer on the exterior of it, which is the only way I can describe it.

I began this project by determining if I could install it without having to board up the opening.  I didn’t know if this job would take several hours or a few days to complete.  I ended up just going at it, with a plan to temporarily board up the entrance if I needed to.

Step 1

Removing the old door.  I began by un-screwing the hinges from the door, starting at the top hinge, removing the wooden screws that held it to the door.  I left one screw in the top hinge.

I went down the side, removing all hinge screws.  When that was completed, I removed the top screw from the hinge and set the old door out of the way on a pair of sawhorses.

old door removed

badly damaged old doorI then placed the new door slab on a different set of sawhorses, right next to the old door so I could accurately visualize all the old hardware on the new slab.  It also allowed me to measure precisely the positioning of each hinge, which will be very important to get them right.

Step 2

Measure the old hinges and create them on the new door.  Since the top of the old door did not have any water damage, I used it as a reference point for all horizontal measurements.  In other words, I’ll start at the top, then take my measurement from that.

The sides were in fairly good condition, so I took vertical measurements from them.  I then measured each individual hinge’s placement and marked them on the new door slab with a speed square.

using router hinge mortiseAfter that, I used a mortising jig for making the hinge cut-outs with the proper thickness.

I adjusted the width on the jig to 4 ½ inches (the size of each hinge), then mortised each one out with a router.  I also cleaned the corners of the cut-outs with a hand chisel to make the hinges fit perfectly.

hinge mortise with screw holesI then used a random hinge, set it into the mortise, and marked the screw holes with a pencil.  I’ll later pre-drill all the screw holes to prevent the wood from splitting when I install the screws.

If you don’t have a special hinge jig, use a simple hammer and chisel.  Mark the outline of each hinge with a pencil, then use the hammer and chisel to remove material.  Check the depth of the mortise frequently to get it right.

Step 3

Remove all the hardware from the old door.  This is a commercial door installation, so at the top area of the door is a tension-holding door closer, and midway from the top rests a push bar.  They need to be removed.

The push bar is made of high quality brass, which I’ll polish after finishing the project.

The closer is held into place with four lag screws placed in the door jab, with four more machine screws holding it to the door by way of special hardware inserts.  The push bar assembly is held by eight machine screws and inserts.

I removed everything.  There’s also an alarm magnet at the very top of the door which was taken off too.

With all the hardware gone, I simply had to measure all of the holes and mark their places on to the new door slab.  They say, “measure twice and drill once”, which is totally true, because I don’t want to make a mistake.  However, I have a can of wood filler just in case. 😉

holes drilled for doorI made the correct pencil marks and drilled away at it.  For the inserts, I measured the thickness of the piece, then used an appropriate drill bit for the holes.

Step 4

Install all the old hardware on the new door.  Next, I started this phase of the project by installing the outside door handle and lock.  There were five holes that I inserted the hardware’s face plate into.

On the inside of the door, I installed the corresponding screws that held the plate to the door. After that, I put the lock assembly in the large middle hole, and screwed in two more screws that held the lock in it’s place.

The door closer was next.  I simply tapped in four inserts, then placed the closer assembly on the door and securely fastened it.

door closer installedOnce I had all the old hardware attached to the new door, it was time to test the fit on the jamb.  I lifted the heavy door into position.

At the threshold, I used a 1 x 4 piece of wood as a shim, which easily allowed me to place the hinges in their final resting places.  Luckily, all the hinges fit the first time.  Yes!

door test-fit

I then screwed the door to the jamb and tested it for proper closing.  The bottom was stopped by the jamb’s threshold, which means that I need to cut the bottom of the door so it will close shut.

I took the door back down and placed it on the sawhorses again to make the cut.

To cut the door, I used my circular saw and a metal straight-edge.  I first determined the proper amount I should remove by measuring from the top of the jamb to the threshold, then I drew a straight line on the new door and cut the piece with the saw as straight as possible.

cutting bottom of doorI then lifted the door in the opening for the second time, fastened the hinges to the jamb, and checked to see if the door closed properly.  It shuts perfectly!

However, there’s a slight ¼ inch gap at the bottom of the door that’s letting in sunlight.  I’ll later install weatherstripping, once I finish staining everything.

Step 5

Staining the door.  I tried to find a stain that matched the old stain as closely as possible.  Chestnut is the color of stain I found.  It has a dark, rich color that I think will compliment the wood.

An unfinished door will always need stain to protect it from the weather.  Warping and other weather damage can occur if left untreated.  Staining is much better than painting the door because the stain is oil-based, while most exterior grade paints are water-based.

In a perfect world, it’s easier to stain the door on the sawhorses.  But due to time constraints, I’ll stain it while it’s hanging from the hinges.  That way I can stain both sides without having to wait and flip the door, when it is dry to stain the other side.

I began this part of the project by removing all the hardware I installed on the unfinished door.  The main reason I installed the hardware was to make sure it all fits.

Now I need to remove it, because I want to protect the door as much as possible from the weather — and that means brushing stain on all parts of the door surface.

Besides, blocking off the hardware with blue painter’s tape would have taken longer than just removing the fittings, believe it or not.  And with tape, there’s also a chance of the wood stain bleeding past the edges, getting on the parts.

Before applying the stain, I gave both sides of door a light sanding with fine-grade sandpaper, using my palm sander.

Blow-outs from drilling the holes earlier received wood putty, and also were sanded flush.  I wiped the door with a dry rag to remove residual sawdust.

sanding wood door

I then prepared the stain by stirring it.  I began at one end of the door, brushing stain onto the door going with the grain.  It’s very important to maintain a wet edge, to minimize obvious brush strokes.

stain applied to door

The picture below shows the inserts I set in the top of the door, where the tension closer goes.

screw inserts for doorA thin layer of stain is all that is needed, then I let the door absorb the finish for roughly 5 to 6 hours, depending of temperature and humidity.

I only put one coat of stain on the door, but the manufacturer recommends two or more coats.  It’s really a matter of preference.  I may come back to add another coat.

Finally, I re-installed all the door hardware when the door was dry.  I found decent-looking weatherstripping for the bottom of the door to install.  It’s a L-shaped piece of PVC that is a dark brown color with fins on the bottom of it that prevent air from getting into the church.

finished custom exterior door

The weatherstripping is held in place by five small screws.  I cut a small piece off the end, because the piece is a little longer than the door, and then fastened it to the bottom.

After checking for proper closing, it no longer lets light into the building!  The fit is pretty darned good.  Done and done.

Published on November 5th 2016 by Darwin, in DIY Diaries.

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