This post is a project from the book: BUILDING WITH SECONDHAND STUFF: How to Reclaim, Repurpose, Re-use & Upcycle Salvage & Leftover Materials. Photos courtesy of Cool Springs Press. This post may contain affiliate links which means I receive a small portion of the sale if you make a purchase.
Adapting a door, especially an antique door, to an existing opening can be tricky. The older the door, the more likely it is to be an unusual size and the greater the chance that the door will be out of true.
Doors are inevitably used in high-traffic areas that stress the wood and structure on an almost-constant basis.
Doors get slammed, we run things into them, and gravity is forever pulling a door away from its mountings. Add to that the fact that exterior doors are subject to the elements, and it’s almost amazing that there are actually older doors from which to choose. But there are, and they can be magnificent.
A vintage door may have unusual panel configurations, exceptional glass treatments, or a spectacular aged finish. Any of these can add a truly unique look to the home, in or out. Unfortunately, they are subject to another consideration after you get them home—actually fitting inside the opening. It’s not just a matter of size, although that’s the key issue. The problem is that the opening itself is affected by the same stresses that plague a door.
Houses settle and shift. Water damage and physical abuse from day-to-day wear and tear take their toll, and eventually any opening can become distorted to one degree or another. That’s why we’ve used the most accommodating way to mount an old door in a newer opening for the project that follows.
The process outlined is designed to remove the least amount of door material, maintaining the character and style as much as possible. It’s also an easy process to follow—you don’t have to be an accomplished woodworker to achieve a solidly executed, easy-to-open retrofit. You should have, however, a helper, who will make the work much easier and less frustrating to do. Old, solid wood doors can be heavy, and trying to stabilize one while taking measurements or lining up a hinge can be a real challenge. A couple extra hands can make all the difference.
How to Hang a Reclaimed Door in an Existing Jamb
Use a helper to hold the door against the jamb from the inside. Shim the bottom of the door approximately ½” so that the door is level with the jamb, not the floor. Center door in the opening.
Mark the top and side cut lines on the door, along the inside edge of the doorframe. Mark the front of the door with colored masking tape.
Lay the door across sawhorses, or on a flat, level work surface with the tape side facing up. Use a pencil compass and straightedge to transfer the cut lines on the front of the door to the back (adjust the compass for several points along the line to make equivalent reference points on the back). Then scribe the lines, front and back, with a utility knife and a straightedge.
Trim the top of the door with a circular saw equipped with a fine-cutting blade. Use a clamped straightedge to guide the saw base, and keep the cut ¹/16″ on the waste side. If the edges of the door need more than ¼” removed, trim the edges in the same way.
Use a power or hand plane to plane down all the edges to the actual cut line. Set the door in position to check fit, and plane more as needed. Use a file or sandpaper to bevel the cut edges slightly to prevent splintering.
Position the door in the opening and mark the hinge locations. Use a combination square to outline the new hinge mortise on the door edge. This may entail enlarging an existing mortise. Score the edges of the new mortise or modified outline with a utility knife and use a sharp chisel and hammer to modify or cut the new hinge mortise.
Option: If an existing hinge mortise overlaps the new mortise, the existing mortise may be too deep, creating an uneven bed for the hinge leaf. In this case, you’ll need to install cardboard or scrap wood shims under the edge of the hinge leaf that overlaps onto the deeper, older mortise
Screw the hinges into place on the door and hang the door by having a helper tip it into position against the door jamb so that the top hinge leaf sits in the top jamb mortise. Drive one screw into this leaf, then set the other hinge leaves into place and install all the remaining screws.
If you are using the reclaimed door’s lockset, or one that fits its holes, chisel a new strikeplate mortise or modify the existing mortise to take the new strikeplate. Install the lockset and strikeplate.
For more projects like this pick up a copy of BUILDING WITH SECONDHAND STUFF: How to Reclaim, Repurpose, Re-use & Upcycle Salvage & Leftover Materials.