This is the drawing of what the door will look like finished. I spent a few days working and reworking designs for this project and was not happy with any of them. Then one day I sat down and drew this design in about two minutes and I knew instantly that this was it. Originally it was all glass, but the customer wanted the lower section to be solid wood panels. The horizontal beam that intersects the glass circle was designed to accommodate an existing beam in the house.
As much as I like designing, it was now time to get to work in the shop. Milling rough wood down to the desired thickness is always the first step. The proper approach to planing wood is to face joint one side first. This creates a totally true face to start with. If you go straight to planing, the planer will simply follow the waves and warp in the wood. It will all be the same thickness, but not at all straight. It is a step that some skip, which can cause major problems later on.
After face jointing the wood, the next step is running the wood through the planer to bring it down to size.
At the beginning of the project, I made a full scale template of the design out of 1/8" hardiboard. It required patience, as I was anxious to get on with the "real woodworking", but it paid off big time. For example, I mapped out the curve of this clamping jig on two sheets of plywood using the template and a full scale compass to trace the curve of the arch. After building the jig, I milled strips on the bandsaw from two pieces of jamb stock, keeping the strips in the same order as they were cut on the bandsaw. This kept the grain matched. I then glued and clamped the thin strips of fir together by pulling them tight to the curve of the jig.
The piece is now out of the clamping jig, dadoed to house the thermal units, sanded and almost ready to fit into the jamb. A common sense tip when it comes to surface preparation is to do as much as possible before assembly. For this project I finish sanded all the pieces before they were assembled. There were so many hard to reach places that sanding it after would have been a nightmare.
Here I am test fitting a curved molding piece that will be applied to the jamb, after the glass thermal units are in. Once again the template proved invaluable, as the molding had to match the curve of the jamb exactly.
There were a lot of tense moments when putting the arch together. I used the same plywood clamping jig, but it took two tests to determine how thick I could make each strip and bend them into the jig without breaking them. They had to be thinner than the previous strips because the pieces were much longer and the pressure much greater as I pulled it into the jig. I moistened all the pieces and clamped them in the jig for a whole day to give them a new "memory" before actually gluing them. A favorite woodworking expression I heard somewhere is "everything was fine till glue up". Gluing in these situations can sometimes feel like a war zone, even with the best preparation.
A detail shot of the lamination for the arch. I was happy, for the most part, with the continuity of grain, given that it was a 12 ply lamination and I could not get it out of one piece of jamb stock.
Of all the things I enjoyed figuring out on this project, getting the arch and jamb to line up was the most pleasing. Because the circle did not carry all the way through, but was broken by the intersecting beam, the diameter of the arch was smaller than the diameter of the jamb. Getting the vertical posts to line up while also getting the two outside points of the circle to line up, with the proper gap between them, was a real challenge. In this photo I am lining up the vertical posts so that I could check how the edge of the circle looked.
When I took the compass out to test the curve, the pencil stayed in contact with the very edge of the arch and the jamb all the way around, forming a perfect circle. This was very satisfying indeed!
I stood the unit on edge for this shot in order to show how this part of the circle was designed. Notice how it fits in the jamb rather than forming part of the jamb, as was the case on the other side. Because there was no square point to work from, getting an accurate cut was tricky. When working with a curved piece like this, I always take the time to cut and fit the template first and then use it as a guide when making the real piece. I would rather rework the template, than make a new piece all over again.
With the arch and main jamb finished, I started to fit other pieces into the jamb. Marking wood on wood (instead of measuring) is extremely helpful for accuracy. I sharpen my pencil with a pencil sharpener and then roll it on sandpaper to bring it to a fine point. I then "split the line" when cutting so that a tiny bit of the line is still visible.
An important step in all woodworking is dry fitting to make sure of a proper fit - not too loose and not too tight. Accurate cutting brings everything into alignment, and ensures that the unit stays square and true.
A lot of woodworkers use bisquits or splines when edge gluing. The main advantage is ease of alignment. In my opinion, good edge preparation is the real key. I was influenced by Tage Frid on this front. Moisture moves out the ends of boards, and over time can cause the joint to open up at the ends. To solve this problem he jointed a very slight arch in the board and then clamped them together. The pressure at each end allows for wood shrinkage without the joint opening up. It also requires less clamps - one in the middle can often bring the whole joint together. A properly jointed board creates a stronger joint than bisquits or splines.
After using the template to make up the arch and jamb, I cut the template up to make all the smaller individual curved pieces. I traced out each shape on the wood and rough cut it first. I then fastened the template to the piece and used a router with a straight bit and top mounted bearing guide to bring each piece to the exact shape of the template. Unfortunately I cut up the full size template before getting photos. The white hardiboard sitting on the jamb in this photo is one section of the template.
In this photo I am dry fitting the finished curved base section before gluing it in.
The piece is now glued in and I am placing a mock trim piece on the unit to make sure I am happy with how it is all fitting - and I am.
This front entrance was definitely a jigsaw puzzle, and required a lot of lumber. In the interest of being both economical and conscious about the destruction of our forests, I tried to make use of as much material as possible. This meant laminating up a lot of smaller pieces. I was able to use a lot of cut offs from the milling of the curved pieces. Edge grain fir is forgiving this way, as it is fairly easy to match the grain and tone of the wood to get a seamless look.
There should always be a little bit of glue squeeze out to ensure the glue has had full contact. I wait till the glue has set up to a hard gummy texture and clean it off with a scraper or chisel. I like the titebond waterproof glues for exterior door applications, but they are quite runny. If you apply too heavy a glue spread, you can get glue running out all over your wood. In that case, use a cloth with warm water to wipe it off right away, but only after lifting off as much as possible with a scraper. Wiping it risks pushing glue deeper into the pores of the wood and then it can act as a sanding sealer, leaving a light blotchy spot.
Which comes first, the mortise or the tenon? When producing a mortise and tenon joint with hand tools, an important rule of thumb is to make the mortise first and then the tenon. A mortise gauge is used for marking the mortise and is set to the width of the chisel. This setting is used for marking the tenon as well. It is, however, much easier to fit the tenon to the mortise rather than the other way around. When dry fitting the joint, if the tenon is a little fat, you can shave it with a chisel. All of this is less crucial when using machines, but it is still good practice. Even very accurate machining can require small adjustments to the wood here and there.
A good rule of thumb for a mortise and tenon joint is for the tenon to be one third the thickness of the material so that neither the tenon nor the mortise shoulders are too weak. The stiles and rails for this door were 2 1/4" thick which meant that my mortise needed to be 3/4" wide. I was using a mortising set attached to my drill press and did not have a 3/4" bit, so I used a 3/8" bit and took two passes. You may have noticed that the mortice in this shot is for a twin tenon. This is for the bottom rail and is important to do when the rail is wider. The middle will be morticed down about 3/4" to create a haunch, linking the two tenons.
When using a mortiser, there is a fair bit of shavings left in the mortise that need cleaning out. I do this after I have drilled the entire mortise so as not to keep setting up and taking down the work on the machine.
Here I am dry fitting the tenon. There should be good contact all the way, and you should be able suspend the joint in the air and shake it a little bit without the tenon slipping out. At the same time you should not have to ram it in with a sledge hammer. If I can push it in and have to give it a slight tap, I am happy.
I was not quite happy with the fit. It was a bit snug. I tend to err on the side of cutting my tenons a little fat, knowing I can shave them down with a chisel to get the exact fit I want. Further in the back of my mind is also the awareness that if the tenon is somehow cut too thin, I can always laminate a thin veneer onto it and re-mill it. After all, modern glues are stronger than the wood itself. I try not to let this happen as it feels like cheating, but I have done it once or twice in the few hundred mortise and tenons I have done.
Here I am checking to make sure that the tenon has stayed true after shaving it down with a chisel.
It is also acceptable to take sandpaper and a block of wood to make minor adjustments to the tenon.
The design of the door called for offsetting the shoulders to account for glass and applied mouldings. It is tricky to get both shoulders to fit cleanly. Here I am checking to see if the top and bottom shoulders line up. The shoulders lined up but there was a small bit of wood at the base of the tenon which I had not cleared out properly and it was holding the tenon up off the stile. Good thing I caught this as this would have interfered with the tenon seating fully into the mortise. Another example of the importance of dry fitting to make sure everything comes together properly.
Mortise and tenon fit nicely now. When marking and cutting a mortise at the end of a stile, it is wise to leave excess waste material (known as a horn) to help stop the stile from splitting when the mortise is being cut, as well as when fitting the tenon if it happens to be a little snug.
In this shot I am checking to see how the centre template fits in the door. Only the slightest adjustment to the template was needed. I could not glue the door together until all of the centre pieces were made, otherwise I would not be able to join them to the door. I was aiming to glue up everything all at once, but in the end I had to do a three step gluing process. There was just not enough open working time with the glue to do all the pieces at once. This was a bit nerve racking, wondering if in the end they would all fit properly, after being glued up independently.
The whole centre piece of the door was made in three sections. Each section was glued up in rough dimension and then milled using the template. They were then marked and fitted to each other using bisquits on the top and bottom of the joints (rather than just one in the centre). This was a quick and simple mortise and tenon joint. Because the door was already very structurally sound, I felt comfortable with this approach and it saved a lot of time. Later, I realized that using biscuits this way meant a lot of gluing and contributed to the need for the three step gluing process. Oh well - gain something here and lose it there - such is woodworking.
In the end it all came together fine. You can see the horns at the top and bottom of the door. The top curve is joined to the stile and rail of the door. The other two sections are joined to the door and to each other at the neck in the middle. Routing these pieces using templates was extremely nerve racking, because in two spots the pieces came to a rather thin point. This was, I confess, a small design flaw. It was unavoidable that there would be some tear out. After getting them securely glued into the door, some sanding was necessary to reshape them at the ends to bring them back into alignment. It still came out beautiful.
The final stretch. The horns need to be cut, the door hung, and all the trim and casing pieces need to be made. Templates have been made for all the thermal units, the glass ordered, but the applied moldings still need to be fitted. Stay tuned.
The organic, fluid lines of this edge grain fir front entrance is my tip of the hat to the nature inspired Art Nouveau movement of the late 19th and early 20th century.
Inside view of door.
My 6-foot tall son Jonathan completing the circle. The door is 8' tall and the entryway is approximately 11' tall by 6' wide from the outside points of the circle.