Replacing Bulkhead Doors
Master carpenter Norm Abram discusses the best materials for new basement doors
Our house is in dire need of new cellar doors. We've replaced them several times, but nothing we do seems to hold up for long. Can you recommend something that would look good with our 120-year-old house? —Nancy Schley, Forest Junction, Wisconsin
Norm Abram replies: Your letter reminds me of a situation my father had to deal with at our summer cottage many years ago. When he built the cottage, he built bulkhead doors very much like yours. I think they were made with pine. They required a lot of maintenance, but they lasted about 30 years.
When the fieldstone foundation was replaced with concrete, he took a couple of salvaged steel entry doors and turned them into bulkhead doors. That worked pretty well, though the wood framing rotted after many years of being in contact with the concrete. I replaced everything with some custom-made steel doors a few years ago, and they're holding up pretty well.
If you want to build new doors out of wood, you'll have the best results using tongue-and-groove cypress, cedar, or mahogany held together with stainless-steel fasteners and hardware. Also, make sure any wood in contact with stone, mortar, or concrete is treated with a preservative. I'd protect the wood with a primer and a solid-color acrylic stain, because stain is easier to maintain than paint and won't peel. Be sure to coat all sides and edges. With diligent maintenance, those doors should survive for many years.