Soon warm evening breezes will fill the air, crickets will chirp, and sweet-scented flowers will bloom. And that'll mean it's time to fling open the door and enjoy summer's delights. Just be sure there's a screen in place or you'll have critters under the sofa.
A wooden screen door is the most elegant choice for keeping out unwelcome guests. However, lumberyards carry only a limited number of designs, and having one custom made is prohibitively expensive.
Your best bet is to buy a door kit and assemble it yourself. Millwork companies make the parts from your measurements, and have designs for every house style. You just need to provide the glue, screening, and a little time. When finished, you'll get to hear the best summer sound of all: the squeal of a hinge spring followed by the distinctive slap of a wood door hitting its stop.
Screen Door Overview
Wood screen door kits aren't difficult to assemble, will save you a few bucks over buying a completed door, and provide a very practical, period complement to your home. The kit contains everything you need for the door itself: mortised-and-tenoned rails and stiles, screen-frame inserts and trim, and decorative brackets. The kit does not include glue, screening, spline, hinges, and latchsets—some of which may be available from the same company that sells the kit.
Glue the door together
Check the door's fit by dry-assembling the parts without glue. If a tenon doesn't fit its mortise, pare it down with a chisel.
With the door assembled, lay out the center stile so it butts the center of the middle and bottom rails. Make two marks on either end of the stile that overlap onto the rails. Using those marks for reference, drill two centered, ¼-inch-diameter by ⅞-inch-deep holes into both ends of the stile. Then drill corresponding holes in the two rails, making sure those holes are also centered.
Take the door apart, then glue ¼-inch-diameter by 11/2-inch-long hardwood dowels into the holes in the stile and fit it together with the middle and bottom rails.
Apply glue to the tenons on all the rails, then reassemble the entire frame.
Clamp the door frame
Use 4-foot-long pipe or bar clamps to draw the parts together horizontally. To prevent bowing, put some clamps on the front face and some on the back face of the door.
Working quickly before the glue sets, check the door for square by measuring diagonally from corner to corner in both directions. Loosen the clamps, rack the frame until the measurements are equal, then reclamp. Wipe off excess glue with a damp rag.
Lock the joints with dowels
Drill ¼-inch-diameter holes through the stiles wherever there's a mortise-and-tenon joint. The holes should be ½ inch in from the inside edge of the stile so the bit passes through the tenons.
Apply glue to 11/2-inch-long dowels and tap them into the holes you drilled. Allow the glue to dry overnight before removing the clamps and sanding the dowels flush.
On the front face of the door, glue and nail frame molding inside the screen-opening perimeter with ¾-inch brads.
Assemble the screen inserts
Assemble the screen-insert frames, using glue and brads at the corners.
Paint, or stain and varnish, the frame parts. Allow to dry fully.
Cut a piece of screen 2 inches larger all around than the insert. Use the convex wheel on the spline roller to gently push the screen into the groove on the insert.
Turn the roller around and use its concave wheel to push the rubber spline deep in the groove. Use a utility knife to trim the excess screen close to the spline.
Shim the door in opening
Stand the completed door — minus the screens — in the doorway opening. Align its face flush with the face of the door casing.
Tap in wood shims around the door to hold it in place. These should maintain a 1/8-inch space along the sides and an approximately 3/16-inch space at the top and bottom.
Install the Hinges
Measure 5 inches up from the door bottom and screw a hinge directly to the door and casing.
Attach the second hinge 5 inches down from the top of the door, and position the third hinge in the middle.
Install the Screens and Hardware
Open the door and slip the screen inserts into place, then secure each with wooden turn buttons mounted to the back side of the door.
Install a no-mortise latchset centered on the door's middle rail. Line the latch case up to the edge of the rail on the inside of the door, then mark the spindle location. Drill a 9/16-inch-diameter hole at this mark.
Hold the latch case on the door, thread the lever's spindle through the hole, then screw the case down.