Joinery is the art of cutting out, dressing, uniting and framing wood for the external and internal finishing’s of buildings. It has been broadly distinguished from carpentry by this, that while the work of the carpenter cannot be removed without affecting the stability of a structure, the work of a joiner may. The labours of a carpenter give strength to a building; those of a joiner render it fit for habitation.
In joinery the parts are nicely adjusted, and the surfaces exhibited to the eye are carefully smoothed.
The goodness of the work of the joiner depends first on the perfect seasoning of the materials, and second, on the care of the operator. All surfaces must be perfectly out of winding and smooth. The stuff must be square, the mouldings true and regular, and all must be so fixed as to bring out the beauty of the wood. The moving parts must work with ease and freedom. From The Carpenter & Joiners Assistant 1860.
A good piece of furniture or a successful project is the result of a discussion between me the craftsman-designer and you the client.
Sometimes it is a vague idea or a ‘picture in your minds eye’, or perhaps you have a precise design. Often a provisional design is arrived at based on sketches or images from the web or magazines and the exchange of ‘what about’ ideas.
Measurements are taken.
Once a final design is agreed, a drawing and an estimate are worked out, and finally terms and delivery are agreed.
I have written this in response to the number of enquiries I receive from home owners who say’ the door is only x yrs old and its falling apart’ and I take a look at a door tired before its time, rotten at the base with joints coming apart.
Wooden exterior doors must be adequately protected from both rain and direct sunlight other wise they will either warp, swell, rot or become ‘ill fitting’ the veneer on composite doors can split and peel particularly around the joints between the stile and rails, unless adequate protection is applied. A coat of undercoat and a final coat of gloss is not adequate protection. Nor are just a couple of coats of stain or varnish. If you are going to paint your door do it properly, I recommend that you use oil based paints not acrylic if you are not sure read the section on the tin that refers to clean up if it states that brushes can be washed out in water its acrylic if they need to be washed out in white spirit or turpentine then its oil based. Do not mix the two some say you can paint oil over acrylic why risk it?
In order to protect your door one must prepare all faces including the top and bottom along with all the cut outs, so the locks, any handles and hinges to the door need to be unscrewed and taken off, with a primer I use a marine product giving 3 coats with the first coat being thinned with thinners by 20% or so, the aim is not to apply a coat of primer so thick as to cover timber, primer should be applied sparingly enough as to only just hide the timber by the third coat. You may need to sand down after the third coat with a 120 or 180 grit paper the number 120 or 180 will be on the back of the paper, that refers to the number of particles per square inch the higher the number the finer the grit. I suggest two options because some paints may clog the 180.
The door can now be rehung and the locks refitted. It is not a good idea to leave a door in its primed state for weeks before embarking on the next stage, over coat time of primers should be kept to a minimum but it must however be not only dry but hardened off so no more than a week or so and you should be alright.
Next the undercoat, two coats, not forgetting the bottom and top of the door, to make life easier a swan necked brush is best for getting under the door and using a small mirror you can make sure that you cover all of underneath. In between coats rub down with 120/180 grit paper. There is no need to undercoat the lock housings or behind the hinges. Don’t leave the door for too long with undercoats on before final coats, over coat times should be kept to a minimum of no more than a week, undercoats can absorb moisture over time.
The final coat can be gloss, satin or matt that’s your choice but if the above has been adhered to then you too can have a door that looks as good as the front door to 10 Downing st. bear in mind though that particular door is not wood but a bomb blast particulate, probably plate steel of some kind.
With the final coat you may find that only one coat is required that is often the case because all the preparation has been done but if a further coat is required wait a while for it to harden off, a week or so, and a final rub down with a 180 grit before applying the second final.
If you paint your door in the sequence above it will last many years you will need to revisit this project in 5 yrs perhaps to check the integrity of the paint work but all the hard work and effort would have paid off and it may be a case of a touch up only.
When it comes to staining the same applies regarding the lock housings and behind the hinges for the first three coats, thin coats only, and build up with each coat having a rub down with 120/180 grit, between sanding and applying the next coat also lightly rub down the door with a rag dampened with white spirit if its oil based or dampened with water if its acrylic, this is to remove the dust that may linger in the background and show through to the next coat but do make sure that it has evaporated or dried before applying the next coat. The same goes for varnish I avoid polyurethane varnish if you break the skin of this varnish with a sharp knock water can get behind, and over a short period of time it can start to peel. The final number of coats depends on how true you want the final shade to be but at least 4 and what I do is a further coat after a period of say 6 months which seems to finish off the job nicely.
Varnish can really set off a main entrance door but you need to consider using a satin rather than a gloss, gloss varnish has the habit of showing every defect left from applying the stuff and unless you are employing a seriously good painter satin would be the finish of choice. There is a marine product I use from time to time that is a two part varnish system the first being a oil that sits in the wood and the second part being the varnish that sits on top the idea being that water cannot get into the wood because of the barrier presented by the oil and the varnish is the skin. It works well but is time consuming.
There is a correct method of applying paint ,stain or varnish to a door whether its an internal door or an external one please refer to the diagram the numbers show the logical sequence of application 1, being the mouldings 2, the panels 3, the centre verticals (muntins) 4, the cross rails 5, the stiles and 6, the edges.
If you can, consider staining the door from start to finish lying flat the end result is superior as wetting –the pooling of stain that can lead to darker patches- is avoided, but the message of this blog is about protection rather than fine finishes in stains.
I am often asked what’s the difference between Hardwood and Softwood and will Hardwood last longer?
The first part of that question is fairly straight forward to answer; Hardwood is timber from broad-leaved usually deciduous trees, that is, a tree that looses its leaves each year and belongs to the botanical group angiosperms. Not all hardwoods are hard though, most British species are; exceptions that come to mind are Yew, classed as softwood but nearly as hard as Oak, and Larch, classed as softwood but in fact deciduous. Softwood is a timber mainly from conifers that is a tree that keeps its foliage or needles all year round and belong to the botanical group gymnosperms. But again exceptions do exist, Balsa wood classed as a hardwood is in fact the most soft of timbers.
The second part of the question is not so easy to answer. You certainly would not construct a boat out of Redwood, but Larch a softwood is suitable, I once had a boat constructed out of Larch on Oak that is to say Larch planks on Oak ribs, and the yacht featured on this site was made with Pitch Pine a softwood and 90 years on it is still going strong, on the other hand, a boat constructed out of Sapelli a hardwood would not do at all.
Conversely I have come across timber windows and doors constructed out of softwood that are well over a century old and suffering no adverse effects of rot or decay, and hardwood cills on conservatories maybe 15 years old and rotten through out. There is also aesthetics to consider. So what’s best?
There are certain timbers that seem to be almost bullet proof to what ever situation Teak, Pitch Pine, Green Heart, Oak, four woods that will last, there are others, the first two mentioned are difficult to obtain and certainly very expensive the most readably available durable hardwood has to be Oak, and the most durable softwood that I know of is Pitch Pine.
But the durability of more commonly used woods for exterior work comes down to the paint or stain used and the application of that paint or stain. Its no good giving a door or window that is new wood a coat of one coat gloss and expecting it to last as long as those mentioned earlier it has to be ‘ a built up layered system of paint’ that is primer x2 coats, undercoat x1 coat, and gloss x1. Or for stains at least 3 coats and a further 2 coats after a period of 6months. There after a 10 yr cycle of refurbishment of the paint system applied should suffice.
There are pre paint preservatives that can be applied, a clear wood preservative can be used, and for serious period joinery projects, circular joinery, or carvings the option of ‘vac vac’ or ‘double vac’ as it is sometimes called should be considered this is a clear pressure treatment of preservative that renders the timber rot proof for many years.
So the conclusion is certain hardwoods are by far longer lasting but common softwoods i.e.: Redwood will last many years so long as the correct system of preservative/paint is used.
When you go to a timber merchant to buy your timber, please bear in mind that each merchant may be using different suppliers, so what’s available in one may not be available in another. Also, each can have a distinctive character about them; they are not, and thank god they are not, like the big DIY chains. The first impression might be the fact that the timber is lying flat, not stood on end. This is how wood should be stored. The next thing to notice is the range of sizes available. To begin with, lets assume that you want softwood with a smooth finish – that is timber that has already been planed on all four sides, known as faces, and referred to as PAR (planed all round) or PSE (planed square edged) or simply ‘prepared’ rather than ‘sawn’. At this stage bear in mind the following: if you order 50×100 (4” x2”) prepared, you will get 46×96. That is because all prepared timber is sold ‘Ex’ sometimes referred to as ‘Nominal’, which means the size it was sawn to before it was prepared. One other point to remember is that lengths are sold in multiples of 0.3 of a Meter so its 0.3, 0.6, 0.9, 1.2, 1.5, and so, on up to about 6 Meters. However, you may not be able to buy a minimal length of any given size as the timber merchant doesn’t want to be left with a 0.9 length after selling you the other piece that’s 2.1m, so you may have to buy the whole 3m length.
If your’e buying sawn, then the general rule is that you buy the whole length and they usually come in at 2.4m ,3m, 3.6m, 4.2m, 4.8m depending on the dimensions (width and thickness). Unless specified, sawn is usually 5th grade and unprepared, so if you ask for 50×100 you will get the full 50×100.
Common hardwoods, that is Oak, Sapelli, Meranti, Ash and such like, also come prepared and sometimes sawn. Again, merchants may only sell you the whole length unless they can be left with a reasonable length that is sellable, so be prepared to pay for the off cut (the bit you won’t use but have to pay for and take away).
For more exotic hardwoods such as Teak, Walnut, and so on, you will certainly have to purchase the whole board and possibly put in a minimum order. The common sizes available for prepared softwood are as follows (and remember this is Ex/Nominal so what you are presented with is undersized by roughly 4mm each way):
Thickness x Various Widths (mm):
12 x 38 or 50
16 x 25, 38, 50, 75, or 100
19 x 19, 25,38,50,75,100,125,150, or 175
25 x 25, 38, 50, 75,100,125,150,175,200, or 225
32 x 32, 50, 75,100,125,150,175, 200, 225, 250, or 275
38 x 38, 50, 75,100,125,150,175,200, or 225
50 x 50, 75,100,125,150,175, 200, or 225
75 x 75, 100, or 150
100 x 100
The common sizes for sawn softwood are as follows (and remember this is actual sizes):
25 x 50, 75,100,150, or 200
38 x 38, or 50
50 x 50, 75,100,125,150,175, 200, or 225
75 x 75, 100,150, 200, or 225
100 x 100, 150, or 200
The Common sizes available for prepared common hardwoods (again remember this is Ex/Nominal) are as follows:
19 x 38, 50,100, or 150
25 x 50, 75,100,150,175, 200, 225, 250, or 300
32 x 150, or 225
38 x 38, 100,150, or 225
50 x 50, 75,100,or 150
75 x 75, or 100
100 x 100
From these pieces, I machine to specific measurements for specific projects using a circular saw and planer thicknesser. It’s worth mentioning that with some hardwoods you may find the merchant uses the imperial system for measurements and will give you a price per cube, referring to a cubic foot and the length in feet as well, even if it’s machined to metric widths and thickness. This is a very general overview of what’s available off the shelf; other sizes may well be in stock. The big retail stores will have nowhere near this range of sizing. Other species of timber will be off-the-shelf as well, and a rummage through may well bring up some surprises. Older established merchants may well have stock going back years, so have hardwoods and softwoods that are no longer available – one that comes to mind is Brazilian Mahogany
Please also consider the issue of using timber that is not under threat from exploitation and does not have a vulnerable status. We may all wish to have fancy flooring or solid hardwood items, but there is a growing environmental cost. A most worthwhile campaign group and charity that protects native woodlands in the UK is the Woodland Trust, which aims both to preserve the threatened remains of our ancient forests, and to plant new forests and woods. Also, do please think about using reclaimed or recycled timber from reclamation yards and timber banks, or even skips. I once built a small kitchen from Pitch Pine found in a skip. Southampton has a wood recycling project, and Friends of the Earth have a publication called The Good Wood Guide, which gives you information about using sustainable timber products and recycling. With the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council), all timber will now have a traceable chain from felling to the merchant, thus ensuring sustainability.
The softwood that I use for most joinery and repair projects is redwood (Pinus Sylvestrus). This usually comes from Scandinavia or Russia. Because it grows in a northern climate, its growth is slower, hence closer grained, which leads to a stronger denser material. This will be kiln dried. I know of no naturally seasoned softwood suppliers; to season wood by air takes between five and seven years and the process are reserved for some hardwoods used in historical projects.
Redwood comes in different grades, from one to six, one being the best quality and six being used for packing cases. If you go to a timber merchant and take a look at the ends of the timber that they sell, you will usually see a stamp; a crown donates ‘unsorted’ (grades 1 to 4), a star donates 5th grade, and a ‘plus’ sign donates 6th grade. These will be amongst various shipping marks and mill codes.
So what’s unsorted? And if it’s unsorted how it can be graded?
Simply, a stack is taken apart before it reaches the timber merchants and the 6ths are taken out then the 5ths, and what you are left with is unsorted grades one to four.
So ‘unsorted’ is the quality pieces, free from waney edge (bark and most recent growth), large knots, or resin pockets, to name but a few of the defects one can find. These four grades can be broken down further with the 1sts and 2nds going to high end joinery manufacturers, so what you will be offered is usually unsorted 3rd or 4thgrades. These four grades of timber come from the bottom half of the trunk of the tree. Next comes 5th grade, usually from the middle third of a tree. This is commonly used for dado rails, architraves, and skirting boards. It has a larger knot content and may have small resin pockets.
Finally, 6th grade usually comes from the top third of a tree where most of the new growth is taking place, hence defects, knots and wider growth rings. This timber is fit for low end uses such as packing cases, shiplap, and exterior rough carpentry.
It is important at this stage to mention whitewood (Picea Abies).This is a fast-growing cash crop, felled after ten to fifteen years. The growth rings are wide and it can be quite knotty. It is lighter in colour and weight and has a tendency to warp and twist, so is definitely not to be confused with Redwood. Its uses are similar to 6th grade redwood.
If you are going to buy softwood, I recommend that you go to a timber merchant (not to be confused with builders’ merchants). Not only do you get better quality for your money, and expert advice, but also you are also supporting local businesses. I very seldom buy timber from the big DIY retailers, as I have found the quality to be inferior. If you feel inclined, take a piece of wood purchased from a DIY retailer and compare it with a similar sized piece purchased from a timber merchant. Look at the growth rings and compare the weight. The heavier, closer-ringed timber is the superior one.
A quick note on moisture content:
Two things are sure: if it’s too high, the timber will shrink, and if it’s too low, it will expand. The timber bought from a merchant should come in at about 14-16% moisture. Your home has air of about 14% moisture. An air-conditioned office or a property with central heating running continuously has air about 10% moisture. These figures will fluctuate depending on the time of the year, so expect some movement of the wood. On quality joinery projects, if it’s practical to do so, I leave the timber for a few days in the environment it is intended to be used in. This is particularly important for engineered flooring which can have moisture content as low as 4%. For painting and varnishing, the moisture content should be no higher than 16%.
I sometimes hear older people say “you cannot get the wood these days”; by that they are referring to quality. You can get quality wood, but not from the DIY sheds; you need to go to an independent merchant and look for the crown sign.
Changing your interior doors will have an immediate impact on the ambiance of your home. Hallways or landings may well be more door than wall for example, where there can be up to six doors in a relatively close space. If you have a dull or darkened hallway, changing the doors will transform this space.
The main entrance door, that is your front door, will be your first line of defence against the outside world. Your door’s style and choice can say to the world “welcome” as well as “we are secure”. A quote from ‘The Poetics of Space’ by Gaston Bachelard conveys this perfectly: ‘With their furniture of lock and key, handle and hinge, letterbox and knocker, doors open to communicate and embrace, close to protect and hide’.
Back doors, according to recent statistics, are the first choice of attack by would-be intruders, if access to the back garden can be obtained, and that doesn’t necessarily have to be via a side gate either; a neighbour’s back garden that adjoins onto the target is often used. Burglars prefer this as the back garden is often hidden and out of sight. Having robust security on the main entrance door and compromising on the back door is a false economy. ]
So where do you start? Let’s say you wish to replace your internal doors. You may have an idea of what you would like. You’ve even been along to a supplier and taken a look. Briefly, start with measuring what you have – the width and the height and the thickness. There is no such thing as a standard door size; there are common sizes, however. These are 27”,30”, 32” and 33”. Most doors are probably 78” high or thereabouts, apart from the 32” which commonly is 80” high. Bathrooms and kitchens commonly have 27” doors, whereas 30” are common to living rooms and bedrooms. Because the majority of the housing stock in this country is pre 1971 (pre metric), the door industry still adopts the imperial measurements when it comes to supply. However, many suppliers adopt imperial sizing for width and height but metric for thickness, so you could end up having a conversation where you order a 2’6” x 35mm door, 35mm being the thickness of most internal doors.
If your doors are not 35mm but 40mm thick, this usually means that you have metric doors. These are commonly 626, 726, or 826mm wide and 2040mm high, although other sizes are available. An exception to this rule would be imperial width fire doors that come in the sizes stated previously, but which are 40mm thick. On the other hand, a few years ago internal fire doors became available in a 35mm format.
At this stage, bear in mind that the actual door you are replacing maybe under-sized. An example is a nominally 30” door which now is actually 29.5” by 77”. This is not unusual. Most doors need to be shot-in (cut to size when fitted). That’s where it starts to become apparent that you need a carpenter.
If you live in a pre-1930s property, you may have a 28” door that is 72” high and maybe only a 1” thick. To date I know of no supplier that has these sizes off the shelf, so a handmade version of what you need may be your only option; this is something I can advise you about.
Often I hear householders say that they would like to keep the door but it’s a bit tatty. They are usually referring to previous locks that have been fitted and subsequently removed again, leaving holes. In most cases I can sort this kind of problem out by letting-in (fixing an insert) using reclaimed timbers to match.
When it comes to styles, the choice seems never-ending, but bear in mind the function of the room when making your decision. If it’s a bedroom, then maybe the hollow 6 or 4 panel doors are fine, but you may wish to consider a ‘safe and sound’ (filled-in) format as this gives a certain amount of acoustic protection and feels more solid. A kitchen door may need to be part-glazed or maybe a fire door. Living room doors should be ‘safe and sound’ to keep the noise from the TV out of the rest of the house. You may be pushing the boat out and considering oak veneer or hardwood internal doors. These can look fantastic against sympathetic décor, but bear in mind that commonly these have only a 6mm lipping (the edge), so if more than 5mm needs to come off the sides they may require a suitable veneer. Whatever your requests or ideas, I am happy to advise you on suitability.
If you want to change your main entrance door or back door, consider please the old adage: quality endures long after price has been forgotten. It usually costs no more in labour to fit a quality door than an inferior door. Look out for ‘M&T’ on the label which stands for mortice and tennon; this is the method of construction that is both traditional and strong. Cheaper doors are doweled and will not last. A quality hardwood door, properly painted or stained and periodically maintained, will last for many years. Main entrance and back doors are usually 32” or 33”, and always 44mm thick. Again, older properties may have narrower or wider doors, the 3ft Regency or Victorian being examples.
Should you go for solid or veneered hardwood? Most hardwood doors are veneered. They are engineered with particulate stiles and rails, and the panels are often plywood with a veneer overlay. This is a perfectly acceptable method of construction. You could choose solid hardwood but I can see no clear advantage. Softwood for a back door is often the choice people make, but it will need a bit more in the way of maintenance. A typical back door design is the half glazed and half panel design. Beware – the panel may be only 6mm plywood: one kick and they’re in! Remember, intruders prefer privacy as they go about their business and that 6mm panel is no defence. I always remove this type of panel and fit a replacement 18mm one glued and fastened in place.
With regards security, the main entrance should have a dead-locking night latch, so that if some one breaks the glass they cannot operate the latch without a key, and an insurance-rated mortice lock. These should be fitted as far apart as is practical to spread the locking points, and if it’s an outward opening door, there should be hinge bolts as well. I went to a customer once who had been broken into; they had an outward opening front door fitted with 3 locks, but the intruder had simply removed the hinge pins and the door had literally fallen out! They had no hinge bolts.
Similarly for the back door, there should be at least an insurance-rated mortice sash lock and a top and bottom surface mounted bolt, but ideally a mortice sash and a mortice dead lock. All this security is great, but remember “it aint no good if you don’t use it”.
I am able to visit and advise you on any aspect of door maintenance, repair or replacement and am happy to supply and fit, or fit only.