How to build a custom door from scratch

Hanging a new door — interior or exterior — can change the entire look of a space. While there are plenty of options available at your local hardware store or online, none of them will give you the kind of unique look that you’ll achieve by building your own custom door from scratch.

If you’re not sure where to start, here are some tips and tricks to nudge you in the right direction.

Choose Your Pattern

Your first step will be to choose your door pattern. There are three common door patterns that you can choose from, depending on your application.

Batten doors are often found on barns. They’re very simple, made up of a single row of parallel boards held together by vertical and diagonal braces known as battens. These can make for a rustic addition to any home, but you generally won’t want to use them in cases where security is a necessity.

Joined doors look like something you might see on a castle or dungeon — a wooden frame with wooden or metal bars running through it. While it can look great for aesthetic purposes, it’s not terribly practical if you’re trying to keep out bugs or burglars. 

Your best option for a custom door, whether you’re looking for interior or exterior doors, is going to be a layered pattern. This uses three thicknesses of wood, tends to be a lot sturdier than many of the doors you can buy at your local hardware store, and gives you endless options for customization. 

Choose Your Design

Step two is to choose your design. Figure out the kind of door you want to hang. Do you want something simple and sturdy, or something more elaborate with carved designs and layers of delicate stain? Do you want to inlay glass into the door to give yourself a window? 

Take measurements of your doorframe and use that to build your design. Having a plan laid out makes building a custom door easier and will keep you from making costly mistakes that could cause you to scrap the entire project.

Once you know what you’re going to build, feel free to move on to the next step.

Collect Tools and Supplies

Now you’ll need to collect all your tools and supplies to ensure that you have everything on hand when you’re building your door. No one wants to stop in the middle of a project to make a mad dash to the hardware store because they forgot something.

The things you’ll need will include but aren’t limited to:

  • Lumber
  • Saws (hand or electric)
  • Clamps
  • Wood glue
  • Drill
  • Drill bits
  • Hole saw
  • Screws
  • Hinges
  • Door hardware (handle, lock, kickplate, etc.)
  • Tape measure
  • Square and level

If you’re going to paint or stain your door, you will also want to get those supplies. If you want to let the beauty of the natural wood grain shine through, consider picking up some painted screws that will match your chosen wood, and some varnish or other sealant to protect your finished project from heat, humidity and rain.

Build Your Frame

Once you have everything collected and a design in mind, it’s time to start assembling.

With a layered door, the first thing you’re going to want to start with is the frame. This is what is going to support the majority of the door’s weight while preventing warping. Build your frame, double- and triple-checking your measurements to ensure that it will fit securely in the existing doorway.

One trick is to build your door slightly larger than the frame. That way, when everything is assembled, you can use a plane to take down the edges one layer at a time to get the snuggest fit possible. If you’re concerned about air leakage, this is a good way to prevent that while creating the perfect door for your frame.

Build Your Panels

Once the frame is complete, it’s time to cut and place your panels. These are usually made of lighter plywood and can be affixed to the frame with either nails or high-grade construction adhesive. You’ll want to ensure that your glue is waterproof, especially if this project is for an exterior door.

This is where you can have some fun. Carve designs into your panels, and add windows or paint until your heart is content. This is the surface that everyone will see, so if you want to make a splash, customize things a little.

Hang Your Custom Door

Finally, all that’s left to do is hang your new door. It is often easier to attach the hinges to your door first. Then, lift it and hold it in place while you mark the holes for the hinges in the door jamb. Then remove the pins, install half of the hinge on the jamb and hang the door.

Swing it open and closed a few times and make adjustments with a plane as needed to ensure a perfect fit. 

From there, just sit back and enjoy a job well done. You’ve earned it!

About the author

Scott Huntington is a writer who lives in Vermont and loves all things DIY. You can find him outside no matter how cold it gets. 

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