Wooden Screen Door - Design & Build Considerations

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Project by MJCD posted 05-03-2021 09:59 PM 1300 views 7 times favorited 5 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Wooden Screen Door

I am posting this as “an approach to wooden outdoor furniture’ – the wood selection, design considerations, wood movement issues… all incorporated into something functional. If you are uninterested in Outdoor Wood Projects, and their unique considerations, your time may be better spent elsewhere.

Often, I am asked by neighbors and fellow woodworkers about building or buying something in wood for outdoor use. When I accept a commission for an outdoor project, I carefully consider whether I can deliver something that meets both the requestor’s and my criteria.
That said, this project lacks most of the considerations I use when choosing to post a project. My work is not meant to be museum quality… I have neither the skill nor the patience; for that matter, also I lack the inclination to do this type of work. I am very focused on functionality, and try to have some fun with the design along the way.
Wood Selection
Jatoba is my go-to outdoor wood choice. Previously, I built a Japanese-style outdoor bench that has withstood 10 years of 24/7/365 exposure to Northeast waterfront weather. Also in the past, I have successfully utilized (Rhodesian) Teak and Mahogany; and have had dismal experiences with White Oak – I’m sure that others have had many successful efforts with other species.
Jatoba is both excellent to work with, and a pain – dense, heavy; it holds a razor edge and will dull anything short of carbine-tipped. My shop routines increasingly include hand-planning, and the Jatoba will test your sharpening skills.
My Jatoba projects were left unfinished… from final sanding to outdoor placement: same for my Teak projects. Somewhere… there is an outdoor finish that withstands the light of day, 3 years and running.
Design Considerations
The majority of outside screen doors are side-hinge-suspended, with the full weight of the door trying to pull the door out-of-square. I knew that I would use M&T (Dominos, made of Jatoba) for all corners and cross members. Also, I wanted to shun the obligatory “X” bracing pattern used in most wooden doors to minimize sagging. I opted for an 8-sided (think ‘Stop Sign’) pattern, that is very tight… the 4 non-diagonals are domino-ed into the adjacent piece; then, the 4 diagonals are precisely dimensioned to pressure-fit… held by glue, only. In this manner, any long-grain movement (most wood movement is along the side-grain, not long grain), serves to tighten the fit.
The main gripe with the exiting aluminum screen door… other than it being out-of-character with the enclosed porch… was difficulty affixing the vinyl splines used to pinch the screens tight. It seems they’ve ruined one too many screens during the installation process. I used a 1/4” dado-ed trough running along side the screen area; with ¼”(light) Jatoba strips inserts. Secured by SS offset clips to pinch the screen. In this manner, the wood strips act as one-piece (each side) securing mechanism.
All hardware (handles, hinges, clips and screws) is Stainless Steel (SS)… meaning that their accumulated cost becomes a consideration.
Regarding Hardware, you need to select this prior to completing the design, as Door and Gate hardware can overwhelm an otherwise fine design… the hardware tends to be heavy-duty, to handle the stresses and strains of daily usage and weather exposure. You need to ensure that the hardware has sufficient wood surface to capture (on a door, you may be limiting yourself to the top and bottom horizontal rails, and, a mistake I made was that the hardware over-laid the screen trough.
Gross Dimensions and Build
The door is 80” x 36” x 0.75” nominal – primarily, I work in metric, and I’ve converted my dimensions to Imperial for this posting; with 3.0” left and right stiles – the top and bottom rails are also 3.0”, with each of the two internal rails being 1.5”.
The internal octagons (8-sided) are comprised of two cut-types: the horizonal and vertical pieces are centered 10” by 1”; the diagonals are 14.14” by 1”, set at 45-degree miters. The diagonal length is calculated as follows: Given that the top and bottom Internal Squares are 30” by 30”, with 10” on each side already take-up by the 1st cut-type; that leaves each diagonal piece spanning a triangle that is 10” by 10” (I had to draw-out this cut, in order to get it in my head) … therefore the Pythagorean theorem gives us the Square Root of ((10^2)+(10^2)) = 14.14”. Given the factors involved, cut long, and sneak-up on the exact fit.
First, I glued the horizontal and vertical 10” strips to their adjacent piece; and glued the overall frame; and let this dry overnight – I checked for overall square prior to letting it sit.
Second, I made each of the diagonal pieces – dry-fitting each one before moving onto the next. Then, I dry-assembled each of the two octagonals. Once satisfied with this, I glued each of the octagonals, relying on the pressure-fit.
Third, I pre-fit the now single-piece door to the door opening; and brought along the hinge hardware… taking into account the gap created by the hinge swing mechanism – the hinge I chose had a 5/8” gap between the door frame flange and the starting edge of the attachment point on the new door – this required that the door be at least 5/8” narrower than the door opening, plus about ¼” for the spacing on the non-hinge side. Regarding height, I had to contend with unevenness of the stone walkway (the lower part of the door would swing onto a rising stone walkway), and the door’s top needed to clear the door frame by ¼”. Also, I checked to ensure that the door hinge hardware could mount on both the Door’s rails (top and bottom) at a point on the Door Frame.
Fourth – to the Table Saw, for final dimensioning and squaring.
Fifth – rout the dadoes for the spline holders – single Jatoba strips approximately the (2x) length and (4x) width… one for each stile and rail, respectively.
Sixth – sand to 100 grit… anything finer is overkill for an screen door.
Seventh – make the spline holders. This starts on the Bandsaw, with the cut width set to 8mm (about 1/3”), from here I go to the jointer to sneak-down to 6mm or ¼”. Dry fit and mark each strip. Eighth – at the door frame, attach all hardware.

5 comments so far

View swirt's profile


7669 posts in 4427 days

#1 posted 05-04-2021 01:29 AM

There was a lot of thought and consideration put into the door. Well done. I can see both the beauty and strength of the octagonal patterns. Well done and thanks for explaining your design so well.

-- Galootish log blog,

View BigAl98's profile


310 posts in 4494 days

#2 posted 05-04-2021 05:17 PM

Thanks for the detailed build description. Also, the on site conditions (and there’s always onsite conditions aren’t there?) was of particular interest.

I like the octagon bracing, but to me, for something like this, function and durability is of prime consideration…and I think you certianly achieved that.

Good stuff!

-- Al,Midwest -To thine own self be true

View MJCD's profile


624 posts in 3826 days

#3 posted 05-04-2021 11:22 PM

Thank you for the fine comments…

I have long thought – perhaps from the beginning – that we participate to learn, as well as to contribute to the overall knowledge pool.

With my postings, I hope to initiate conversations, perhaps civil debates. For outdoor projects, I see precious little – truth be told. I guess we need more glass-smooth overly-glossy desks, or something; rather than the ‘how and why did you do that’...

for the record, the fine woodworking folks will enjoy that the door is perfectly square (within 1/25th of an inch over an 88” diagonal); within a non-square door frame, the door is plum to within 1/2 a degree; and that it will remain that way, given the design. That if I wanted to, I could have spray coated it with gloss polyurethane, sanded it to buff shine and smooth texture, so that the Chesapeake Bay could be seen in its mirror finish… for one or two days when the sun, the brackish wind and sideways rain starts to take their toll. Often, I think woodworkers have become slaves to finish rather than a function.

Thanks, again, for the time you took to read my narrative—- it was written for individuals like yourselves.

View HowardAppel's profile


160 posts in 4489 days

#4 posted 07-02-2021 09:07 PM

Very very nice, and excellent explanation. Much appreciated. I think too many people focus on putting in a nice door and then adding in a screen as an after-thought. A couple of questions: how much do think the overall door weighs and did you decide that standard ss door hinges were not strong enough or just too much cost?

View MJCD's profile


624 posts in 3826 days

#5 posted 09-21-2021 02:23 AM


Please excuse my delayed response…
The door is about 20lbs… I’m guessing… I had no trouble lifting it or hanging it. Other than being in Jatoba… a very dense, heavy wood… the design is fairly light. The octagonal bracing allows the use of thinner wood sections, relative to an x-bracing.
The hinges and associated bolts and nuts are SS… this is the only way to go… anything else will weep rust. Also, most of the ‘exotic’ woods have natural tannins that react poorly with mild steel.
I went with the over-wrap hinges, as these provided through-holes (and the use of bolts, rather than screws) and spread the support horizontally, rather than via screws pushed into the door sides. As a rule, screws will not hold firm over time… the jarring from frequent closing, and slamming; as well as wood expansion, contraction and movement throughout the seasons, year-after-year eventually defeat the holding power of screws… actually, it is not the screw that fails, rather the wood fibers that hold the screws.

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