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How to Build and Hang a Custom Screen Door

Ask This Old House general contractor helps a homeowner build a custom screen door to fit her unique front entryway.

Steps for Building and Hanging a Custom Screen Door:

  1. Start by cutting the boards to size. In order to allow for the half lap joints on the rails, allow for an additional 2” for the length of the rails. This will allow for a 1” half lap joint on both sides.
  2. Cut the boards to size using a miter saw. Be sure to square up an end before making your cuts.
  3. Next, cut the rabbets and half laps on all the stiles and rails. Tom recommends doing this on a table saw with a jig so that the cutoffs can be saved and reused to cover the staple marks on the screen later on.
  4. Lay all the pieces of the door on a work bench in the configuration they’re going to be assembled in. Mark on the stiles and rails all the locations for the mortise and tenons.
  5. Once those marks are made, mortise out all the holes using a mortising machine.
  6. Assemble the door using wood glue and tenons. It should be a nice, tight fit, so you’ll probably need a rubber mallet and a shim to secure it in position.
  7. Clamp the door together and allow the wood glue to dry.
  8. Cut off any excess on the bottom of the door using a track saw.
  9. Install the corner brackets around the top opening of the door. Drill a pilot hole in the door, and then screw them in using weather-resistant screws and the drill driver.
  10. Once the glue has dried, attach the screen. To ensure there’s enough tension on the door, put a filler piece of wood underneath the top and bottom of the door. Then, on the middle section of the door, use two clamps the clamp the door to the workbench. This should cause the door to bow slightly.
  11. Unroll the screening and get it into position along the door. With it held tightly against the door, staple the screen in using a staple gun.
  12. Cut off the excess screening with a utility knife. Once the screen is tightly secured to the door, release the tension from the clamps.
  13. Use the cutoffs from the half lap/rabbet cuts on the table saw to hide the staples of the screen. This will require mitering the edges of each one using the miter saw.
  14. Secure the cutoffs to the door using a brad nailer.
  15. Hold the door in the opening and measure/mark it so that the door will fit tightly in the opening.
  16. Cut the door to size both width and height using the track saw. Tom suggests focusing on the width first, then carrying it back to the opening to get the height. He also suggests tilting the angle of the saw by a few degrees so that the door fits snug in the opening towards the outside, but is still easy to operate.
  17. Once the door fits, attach the hardware by drilling pilot holes and screwing it onto the door where appropriate.
  18. Hang the door and secure the other side of the hinges to the jamb.
  19. Once the door is in position, add a compressor to both the top and bottom of the door. The compressors can usually be installed by drilling in a few screws.
  20. Apply a desired finish to ensure it does well in the weather.

Resources:

To build the frame of the door, Tom used 5/4” x 8” x 8’ straight grain fir, which was provided by Baird Brothers Fine Hardwoods. For exterior doors, Tom finds it very important to prevent the wood from warping in any direction, which is why he recommended using a combination of a half lap and a floating tenon for the joinery. To make those cuts, he used a Domino Joiner, which is manufactured by Festool and a Jobsite Saw Pro, which is manufactured by SawStop.

To secure the boards together, Tom used wood glue by Gorilla Glue. To trim the door to size, Tom used a TS 55 circular saw, which is also manufactured by Festool.

The corner accent brackets and the antique hardware were either found or salvaged by the homeowner, but similar products can be found online, at hardware stores, at specialty woodworking shops, or at antique sales/salvage yards. The hinges and the screen door compressor can both be bought at home centers. In this case, Tom used heavy duty screen door hardware to handle the weight of the large door, and two compressors on the top and bottom of the door to control the swing of the heavy door and to ensure it closed tightly.

The screening material they used for the door can be found at any home center. Tom recommends using clamps to slightly bow the door during the installation of the screen to ensure a tight fit. To secure the trim pieces over the screen, Tom used a 20V Max Cordless Brad nailer, which is manufactured by Dewalt.


Shopping List:

5/4” x 8” x 8’ straight grain fir
Wood glue
Victorian corner brackets
Weather resistant screws
Screening
Brad nails
Surface mounted screen door hardware
Screen door compressors


Tools: