Let's Make a Door!

I know it's been a while since I've posted any project pictures, so I wanted to do a full update of the [what has turned out to be epic] entry door I've been working on. The commission was for a 4' x 8' arch-top entry door, in mahogany. The clients had a fairly good idea of what they wanted design-wise, which made the initial lay-out a little bit easier. The real challenge for this project has been scaling everything up: heavier pieces, stronger joinery. How do you translate the detail that goes into a jewelry box into a three-hundred pound door? Each new operation seems to present its own little logistical nightmare. Sometimes the shop starts to feel like one of those little puzzles with 15 tiles and one empty space, and you have have to switch everything around to get them in the right order. Anyway, here goes:
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The mahogany, all 150 board feet of it, arrives. I ordered the wood from my new friends at Irion Lumber in Wellsboro, PA. Myron was extremely helpful, and from the looks of it, picked out exactly what I was looking for: 10/4 thick, wide, straight, rift-sawn stock - yes!

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I love the shipping label. I was surprised to learn that I had, in fact, shipped this lumber from myself.

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Stacked in the shop, and ready to be stared at for the next month or so.

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I couldn't help planing a little section of one of the boards to see what was under all the dust. Very exciting.

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In order to accommodate the horizontal rails which will hold the door in tension (think of the tension cables on a fence door), each vertical stile was resawn, then routed with four grooves in each of the two bookmatched faces. When the pieces are glued back together, the two halves of each groove will form a square hole, which will in turn house one of four rails. (This will all make sense in the end, I promise.) In the picture above, you can see one of the stiles already glued up (with dummy-rails sticking out of it), and two halves of another stile, ready to be glued up. The dummy rails help register the two halves so the channels aren't offset.

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I used Unibond 800 with a short-nap roller to glue the stile-halves together. Brought to you by Starbucks and your local Yellow Pages.

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Clamping one of the stiles. The long boxes above and below the two stiles are torsion-box clamping cauls. I was worried that over such a long distance any curve or bump in the bench would translate to the stiles (essentially creating a bent-lamination), so I made the cauls to keep everything flat. They ended up working pretty well, but I won't use MDF for this in the future - I have a habit of overestimating MDF's inherent strength (heavy = strong, right?)

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Routing the tongue the will fit the bottom of each stile into the lower rail. If you look closely you can see each stile already has its own tongue-and-groove. The idea is that each piece will be able to "breathe" independently of one another, while keeping the door airtight.

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I'd like to take a minute to talk about shop safety. Sure, safety is great - it keeps you safe. More importantly, and what I think many people forget, is that safety equipment, if anything, is an opportunity to look your best. And isn't that what's really important, especially when you pretty much just work by yourself, with a bunch of dusty machines? I recently upgraded my protective eyewear from my sad old high school chemistry class goggles to these bad boys, and I can honestly say that I have never felt better about any purchase in my entire life. For six bucks and change you too can be the proud new owner of "Pathfinder" safety glasses. (A few other options, all with equally-great names: "Rendezvous", "Frostbite", "Law", "Fortress", and "Venture II"). I also bought some new masks, but that wasn't nearly as exciting.

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Cutting the mortises for the internal stiles on the lower rail. Each stile will have four loose tenons. You can tell from the smoke that the bit was starting to get tired and cranky.

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Setting up to rout the corresponding mortises in the stiles. With such big pieces, each move becomes an exercise in logistics. What should take two minutes takes twenty.

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Routing the mortises in the stiles.

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Six stiles, complete with mortises.

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I used a 1/8" round-over bit to ease the edges of all the mortises, in case there is any squeeze-out during glue up. The bearing fit the 1/2"-wide mortise perfectly.

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Planing the ends of the lower rail perfectly square in preparation of fitting the two outer rails. This is exactly the sort of task at which block planes excel, and Mr. Lie-Nielsen's model works exceptionally well. I feel likeI could go on and on about the virtues of this particular plane, but I'll leave that for another post. Anyway, the mahogany was a lot of fun to plane.

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Routing the mortises into the ends of the lower rail. I've already cut the tongue on both ends.

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Dry-fitting the lower rail to one of the outer stiles.

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Above, the lower rail, with loose tenons dry-fit. Below, the inner stiles with matching mortises.

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Fitting up the lower rail to the inner and outer stiles. The yellow strips are 1/16" spacers (actually just old veneer from a previous project) to keep the reveal between the stiles even.

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The door so far.