Build your own door and ascend to a higher level of DIY

Let us open your mind to handmade doors.
handmade exterior doors on a handmade shed
The doors on my shed are nicer than the ones on my house. Courtney Starr

Building something yourself that you would ordinarily buy changes your perception of the object forever. I experienced that recently when it came time to install doors on a shed I’d just built. I thought, “Why not build them myself?” I’ve walked through doors thousands of times without thinking twice about them, but after building a set of my own, I’m constantly stopping in doorways to inspect the door, hinges, and lockset.


  • Time: 20 hours
  • Material cost: $125 (wood only)
  • Difficulty: moderate/hard


  • 3 (6-by-2-by-86-inch) boards for your stiles and mullions
  • 3 (8-by-2-by-36-inch) boards for your rails
  • 4 (1 ¼-inch-thick) boards for your panels
  • 16 (⅜-inch) wooden dowels for drawbore mortise and tenons
  • Exterior paint
  • Hinges
  • Lockset


Build it

a person drawing plans for an exterior door in a notebook
Drawing detailed plans will help minimize mistakes. Courtney Starr

1. Plan out your project. While I’ve walked through many doors, I had never built one before this project. I found myself studying lots of pages like the “Anatomy of an Exterior Door” or this downloadable PDF from FineWoodworking. As with any project, you’re unlikely to find a single resource that answers every question. I recommend splitting your searches between written articles and YouTube videos to find the sweet spot. Take notes along the way and carefully plan out your doors before buying and prepping your wood. I even used Adobe Illustrator to lay out my door design to make sure my handwritten measurements made sense before getting to work.

2. Prepare your materials. Now that you have a clear idea of what you want to build, it’s time to cut your rails, stiles, mullions, and panels to the dimensions specified in the materials list. These can be customized to suit your needs—my doors are standard-width, but a little taller than usual. Either measure the existing door you’re looking to replace, or measure the doorway you plan to hang the door in. Once you have your rough materials cut to size, make them flat and square using a jointer and planer.

  • Note: You can determine the size of your panels by laying out the other components and measuring the spaces in between. Add 1 inch to the width and height of each panel so there’s enough wood to slide into the grooves you made in your rails, stiles, and mullions. The final fit of the panels should allow each one to expand and contract along their width as the seasons change.
  • Tip: It’s a good idea to make your door slightly oversized, so you can trim it to final dimensions when it comes time to put it in place.

3. Cut a groove in your rails and stiles. Rails are the horizontal pieces on a door, stiles are the vertical boards on the outside edges, and mullions are the vertical boards in the center of the door. I used a router to cut a ½-inch-wide groove about 9/16-inch deep along the full length of all my rails and stiles. Be sure to cut these grooves in the center of each edge so that they all line up once assembled, and avoid cutting grooves on any edge that will end up on the outside edges of the door. These grooves will hold the four panels used in a traditional frame-and-panel entry door. These panels are not glued in place, which allows them to float freely as the wood expands and contracts between seasons.

a person fitting a mortise and tenon joint as part of building an exterior door
Getting the final fit on the mortise and tenon joints. The mortise is the hollowed-out portion, and the tenon is the piece that slides inside. Courtney Starr

4. Make the mortise and tenon joints. While a door may seem intimidating at first, it’s a surprisingly straightforward project. Unlike many types of furniture, a door only has one main type of joinery—the mortise and tenon joint. This is one of the oldest ways to join two pieces of wood together, and it’s one of the strongest. If you’ve never made a mortise and tenon joint, there are many approaches to creating the joint, and you’ll get lots of practice building a door. You can choose to use a router, hollow chisel mortiser, or chisel to create your mortises. Once you have your mortises cut, you can use a table saw or hand saw to cut your tenons. I love using a hand router to get the fit right on my tenons, no matter how I choose to rough them out.

5. Use drawbore joinery. If you want to build a seriously strong door, employ drawbore mortise and tenon joinery. It’s a technique that uses a wooden dowel to greatly strengthen a mortise and tenon joint, transforming it from a joint that relies only on glue adhesion into one that has a permanent and mechanical interlock. It works by drilling a hole through the tenon that is slightly offset from a hole in the mortise, so when you drive a dowel through the two holes, it pulls them into alignment, thus tightly joining the pieces of wood. I used two dowels for each mortise and tenon joint.

a person assembling a traditional frame-and-panel door
Inserting the panels into the frame during assembly. If you dry-fit everything beforehand, this step will be much easier. Courtney Starr

6. Assemble the door. Before assembly, be sure to dry-fit the pieces of your door to make sure everything lines up. It’s helpful to use clamps at this stage even though it’s a test fit, just to ensure your clamps are long enough. Once you’re confident everything fits, glue the mortise and tenon joints together in the center portion of the door first—the pieces that form a lowercase “t.” Then insert the panels into their grooves, being sure to avoid getting any glue on the panels. Remember, each one needs to float freely within its groove. Then, glue on the outer stiles to complete the door.

  • Tip: You’ll notice that I painted the edges of the panels before inserting them into the door. This ensures that unpainted wood on the panel edges doesn’t get exposed when the panel contracts during drier seasons.

7. Paint the door. I painted both sides of my doors with two coats of exterior paint to protect it from the elements. I found it best to paint the panels first, then the inner rails and mullions, and finally, the outer stiles.

8. Install the door. I choose a beautiful set of strap hinges for my doors, to give my shed a distinctive look. Be sure to check that you’re buying hinges that support the particular weight of your door. My doors weighed around 100 pounds each, so I found hinges that could support a bit more than that just to be safe. I started by attaching the hinges to my door. Then I moved them into place, using shims to get the door centered in the door jamb. Once I got things set, I marked where the hinges met the jamb. I then removed the pads from the hinge and fastened them in place using the supplied screws. Lastly, I put the door back in place and drove the pins through the hinges.

9. Install a lockset. Once you’ve got your doors hung, you can install a lockset. You can buy helpful guides to drill the holes, and most locksets come with clear instructions and a template that’ll help you make sure everything goes in the right place.