The $10 door
What do you do when a neighbor asks you to replace the rotted-out man-door to her garage? You check out the door, measure it, see which way it swings, how it’s hinged, and how it locks. You should also check if it’s “square” or warped, and how square the opening for it is. Here’s a picture of the door, after removal.
Notice how someone has attached a couple of strips of vinyl siding to the bottom to cover over the rotted section. Although this particular door wasn’t very much out of square, the opening was, leaving about a ½-inch gap at one corner of the top and a similar gap at the bottom. My neighbor also wanted me to re-use the door lock and knobs if I could. In addition, power to the garage was supplied via a wire run right through the framing over the door! New doors can be bought “prehung” (jamb attached) or as a “slab” (door only). Either way, it could be expensive, I’d need to make a lot of adjustments, shimming things and re-wiring the electric. I decided to take this project in a different direction.
There’s a group in my town, and possibly yours, that promotes the re-use of items that many people discard. These even include such things as 2x4s from framing when a house is torn down. In addition to making useful things like benches out of the old wood (after pulling out all the nails, of course!) they supply unique things like salvaged rafters and flooring, sometimes making it possible to repair/restore something with nearly exact-replacement items. Guess what else my local place has? Doors! I specified that it needed to be close to the size of 32x80, solid, and without any windows. I was also hoping to find one that had hinges on the left as viewed from the outside, but the door would swing inward, as the old garage door did. What I found was this, which more-or-less fit the bill (but swung outward) and looked like it had seen better days. This picture is of the inside of the door.
I could see that the door had potential, but would take a lot of work. The price was only $10 – a deal I just couldn’t pass up!
Remember, I don’t endorse any particular product line but only show you what I own and use. I have a Wagner power stripper, basically a heat gun, that does a nice job of melting the paint away from the wood, allowing it to be scraped off with a putty knife. If you’re using such a tool, you’ll be surprised how quickly things go, but you need to be super careful to avoid getting burned, setting the tool down and unintentionally melting something, or scorching the wood from going too slowly or holding the gun too close. You need to use this tool outdoors or with forced ventilation, as it’s likely the old paint was lead-based. Don’t laugh at me for wearing a 20-year old “dirt shirt” to work in!
The 3rd picture above shows the smaller putty knife on which I’ve rounded the corners. I find that “sacrificing” a cheap tool like this is well worth the cost, if it enables me to efficiently get into curved areas or similar architectural details.
Here’s the door (inside) after stripping. By the way, the other side of the door had some gouges and scrapes but was lightly painted and would only need sanding, some filler, and repainted.
One of the challenges I faced was removing the hinges from the old door, as they had been painted over many times. (Ed’s rule: NEVER paint hinges. In addition to making it difficult for someone to remove them later, it marks you as too lazy to have taken them off.)
I never removed the other half of the hinges from the door jamb. My plan was to VERY ACCURATELY relocate the old hinges onto the new door such that it would fit onto the other half of the hinges already on the jamb. First, however, I had to make the new door fit into the out-of-square opening. It’s hard to show that step, but essentially I used a square and estimated how much “off” things were. Then I purposely cut the top of the door “crooked” to fit the shape of the opening. I measured from my new top and cut the bottom to fit as well. Here’s the door being test-fit into the opening. (You can see the other side of the door in this photo, too.)
To convert the door from outswing to inswing, the hinges had to go on the side opposite the current location. As noted above, I very carefully marked the new hinge locations. Pro carpenters today use fancy routing tools to make mortises for hinges, and the old-timers just used a chisel. I used a sharp chisel to clean things up a bit, but actually used an oscillating multi-tool to “cut out” the new areas. Know why? Because they are perfect for flipping 180 degrees and re-inserting into the old space to fill up the void, as shown here:
I used a scrap of paper and marked the location of the locking mechanism on the old door so that the exact spot could be found on the new door. Thus, the re-located door section would mate correctly with the still-in-place part attached to the jamb. By attaching the paper template in place with the correct screws, I easily located the spot where the large hole needed to be drilled through the door.
The “hardware” aspect would have been much more complicated, requiring a serious mortise into the door edge, if the original knob-controlled mechanism was to be made functional. However, since it has been broken for years, it was acceptable to simply re-attach the doorknobs to give something to hold onto, but to let the mechanism shown above do the actual locking. The door could be opened from the outside with a key, and from the inside by twisting the oval knob on the lock.
One final test fit was done, making sure hinges were located properly, door would seal adequately, that the lock worked well, and then all hardware was removed so the door could be painted. I took care to leave the inside pieces like the knob plate unpainted, but the outer pieces were rusty metal painted over years ago, so I just repainted the outer knob/plate again.
I used a skim of filler to lessen the depth of several gouges, gave it all a sanding, and then painted everything with a good primer and paint.
1st coat of paint
It looks more like a new door than a $10 discarded one! Probably counting sandpaper, electricity for the heat gun, new screws, and a little paint, I’d bet the whole project didn’t cost more than $15. Obviously, a lot of work went into it, but isn’t that part of the fun of restoring something?
I hope all your projects go well. Thanks for reading, and happy restoring!
PS: If you want to save or print this, click below to download a copy of the above as a pdf file.