Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Screen doors

As I've explained, there are long pauses in my woodworking and my blogging as I work on the very nice but sadly neglected 35 year-old house we bought last year.  Ralph (The Accidental Woodworker) commented that he is interested in my efforts to rehabilitate it, so here goes.

One of the things that attracted us to this house is that it has decks on the upper two stories which have seasonal views of Mt. Hood.  There are three sets of outside double doors leading onto them, two on the main story and one on the upper story.  All three have full length, double french doors and screen doors.  We hoped that opening them would provide natural ventilation and cooling during the summer months, with cool air being drawn in on the first floor and rising to exit the house on the second floor, and this has proved to be the case.  We used heating or air conditioning only 3-4 days from May through September.  I like the daily increases and decreases in temperature and the fresh outside air. 

Unfortunately, the french doors stick and the screen doors are in bad shape.  The latter sag badly, the screens are in bad condition and they need painting (I painted the house last summer).  Here's an example:

When I got this one off and into the shop, the joinery was so broken down, that I nearly decided to build a new door straightaway.  This is some sort of cope and stick joint reinforced with dowel(s), but when they trimmed the door to size they brought a dowel very close to the bottom.  As the door sagged and stuck, the joinery failed and the dowel cracked the stile and the face of the bottom rail:  

Pretty ugly.  Except for the joinery, the doors were in good shape and the wood is clear vertical grain douglas fir, so I decided to take a shot at fixing them.  I had some scraps of half-inch thick white oak left over from the desk project, which is a great outdoor wood.  Given the need to fix the sag, reinforce the joinery and compensate for the split rails, I decided to add triangles to the corners.  I thought the triangles would look better than rectangular patches and would use the properties of wood to best advantage:

My Nicholson bench with the twin screw vise on the end worked great for this.  Basically, I could take out the sag and square up the corners as well as hold the door secure, making it easy to glue, clamp and nail the triangles onto the corners.  (Yes, OK Guy, I realize you don't need an end vise for this; two long wedges spanning a pair of dogs would work fine.)  I didn't take a picture, but I also filled the broken out and cracked end grain in the joints with epoxy.

Here's what it looks like before paint and screen replacement:

I am not saying that I would add these triangles purely as an architectural detail, but I don't think they will look bad after paint and they do seem like a solid repair.  It was the best I could think of anyway, given the failed joinery.  I also made a push bar out of cvg douglas fir that will hopefully prevent the screen from being broken out again, but I haven't installed it yet because I am going to use spar varnish instead of paint so it will match the insides of the french doors, which are also cvg douglas fir.  I can understand the desire not to obstruct the view out of the full length glass, but a screen door with nothing but a narrow stile to push it open with just won't hold up, especially when carrying trays, etc.  Still thinking about dog-proofing.  I saw a movie recently with really neat full-length screen doors.  They had a series of slats across the screen arranged to look like the rays of the sun.  They looked good and added strength against sagging, as the bottom ray was pointed down at almost a 45 degree angle.

One of the takeaways for me is that this machine-cut joinery was just not adequate for a heavily-used screen door.  The joints cried out for stout mortises.  An experienced joiner could have quickly made a custom door like this on site that would have been far superior.  I could do the same thing, except that I would be ridiculously slow.  If this repair doesn't hold up, that is what will happen.  

One door down, five to go.


  1. Nice fix on the doors. Did you give any thoughts to a floating tenon? I agree on the horizontal bar - I fixed way too many busted out screens that didn't have something like this. I would also change out the hinges to butt ones and add one more mid way between the top and bottom one. That will help some with the sagging.

  2. Ralph,

    I think floating tenons would be an excellent choice for screen doors, but given the condition of the rails and stiles at the joint I didn't think it would be a good choice for this repair.