Building a Passage Door Using Loose Tenons

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Using your woodworking skills to enhance and beautify your home is a win-win for almost every woodworker. Here is a project that is fun to build and lifts your home's decor to the next level. The use of loose tenon joinery takes this door from hard-to-build to hard-to-resist!

Back when most woodworkers were simply carpenters and carpenters were also furniture makers, one of the true tests of how good a carpenter was lay in how fast and how well they could hang a door. And those were real doors! Not the hollowed-out, flimsy and pedestrian pre-hung products you will find at your local big-box outlets today. This passage door harkens back to those days. It is solidly built, beautiful and fun to make.

Start out by cutting your stock to width and length. Find those details in the Material List below. When you get down to basics, this door consists of the solid stock frame (Figure 1) and the plywood panels (Figure 2). When you cut the parts, make sure their ends are dead-square (Figure 3).

Stiles and Rails Figure 1.

Panels Figure 2. This passage door is essentially frame-and-panel construction. In this case, solid cherry frames surround cherry veneer plywood panels.

Square Figure 3. Use a chop saw to cut the ends of the stiles and rails perfectly square. In this type of construction, if a piece is not square, a gap will show at the joint.

When the stiles and rails have been prepared, some of them need a groove plowed down the center of their edges. Set up the router table with a router bit that is sized for plywood. (These bits are called plywood bits and are sized approximately 23/32" — because 3/4" plywood is usually a bit thinner than a full .75 of an inch.) Set the bit to cut a 1/2"-deep groove (Figure 4) — a good way to do that is use a piece of stock to help set the bit's height above the table. The long stiles have stopped grooves; the rest of the grooves go right on through the length of the piece.

Router Figure 4. Set up for a 1/2"-deep cut by matching how high the bit extends above the table to a piece of scrap lumber cut to exactly 1/2" thick.

With the grooves taken care of, it is now time to cut the mortises for the loose tenons. The large and long Domino loose tenons were perfect for this job. The joints they form are rock-solid and long-lasting. Clamp the workpieces to the tabletop and cut the mortises, locating them via centerlines marked on the stiles and rails (Figure 5).

Leg template Figure 5. After the grooves have been plowed into the stiles and rails, cut the mortises for the loose tenons.

After a dry fit (without the Domino loose tenons, because they fit so tightly that pulling them out of their mortises was nearly impossible …), the door was ready for glue-up (Figure 6). Use a rubber mallet to drive the Dominos into their mortises and the door components together. At the end of the day, everything fit tight as a drum and the whole assembly only required three clamps to close the joints (Figure 7).

Knots Figure 6. Apply glue and then assemble the pieces together.

Knots Figure 7. A rubber mallet is a useful tool if the joints are really tight.

When the glue had cured, the glue squeeze-out was removed from the door with a sharp chisel (Figure 8). Then the whole door was sanded up through the grits until the 180-grit pass was completed (Figure 9).

Bondo Figure 8. Get rid of the glue squeeze-out with a scraper or a sharp chisel. Get all of the glue off before starting the sanding process.

Bondo Figure 9. Sand the entire door smooth. Hand sand the plywood panels with 180-grit paper and get rid of the sanding dust before applying the finish.

With the sanding completed, I applied a coat of Watco® Natural oil finish. Linseed and Watco oil on cherry pops the grain and makes for a much richer-looking finish. When the Watco had cured, I applied two additional coats of an oil-based polyurethane to increase the overall durability of the finish.

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