No sound is quite as nostalgic as the slam of a traditional wooden screen door. When you hear it, you can't help but think of warm summer evenings and tall glasses of lemonade. The problem is, they just don't make 'em like they used to. Store-bought screen doors are often lightweight and unsubstantial, prone to warping and deterioration.
You could pay hundreds of dollars for a high-quality custom-built screen door. But why spend that much when you can build one for a fraction of the cost? The screen door shown is made from rot-resistant cedar and can be built in a weekend. Its design allows easy modification to match almost any structure, and the parts are sturdy enough to withstand years of use.
Mill the parts
One of the nice features of this screen door is its simplicity — it's nothing more than a few lengths of dimensional lumber. Start with three 8-ft. cedar 2x4s and one 4-ft. cedar 2x8. (If your local lumber supplier doesn't stock 4-ft. dimensional lumber, just buy a standard 8-ft. length and save the extra wood for a future project.)
A few passes over the jointer and through the planer is all that's needed to mill the stock to the required size. (See "Milling Lumber," January/February 2002, p. 16, for more information on milling rough stock.) Then cut the milled lumber to the lengths described in the cutting list, p. 15. Our door was made to fit our screened-in deck (see "Screened Sanctuary," p. 34). Although this door is a common size, you should check your space requirements and make any adjustments before building.
Assemble the frame
Another nice feature of this door is its simple joinery — a dozen or so 3/8-in.-dia. x 2-in. dowels hold it together. Start by temporarily clamping together the frame parts. Using a square, mark the locations of the dowel centers (photo 1). To ensure that you don't get the parts confused, also mark each joint with a reference letter.
After you've marked the dowel locations, you'll need to unclamp the frame and drill the necessary 3/8-in.-dia. x 1-1/8-in. holes. To keep from drilling too deep, wrap a piece of tape around the drill bit at the appropriate depth to serve as a drilling index (photo 2).
It's critical to drill these holes accurately, so use a self-centering doweling jig such as Rockler's No. 49221 (see SOURCES). If you've never used a doweling jig before, you'll be surprised at how simple it makes this process. To accommodate drill bits for multiple dowel diameters, holes of various sizes run along the top of the jig, and index marks along the jig's body align with the desired hole location. When you tighten the screw, each side of the jig closes in equally, leaving the drilling hole exactly centered over the width of the stock.
To assemble the frame, apply polyurethane glue to the dowel holes in each of the rails; then insert the dowels. Next, apply glue to the dowel holes and to the joint surfaces of the stiles and clamp the assembly. As you work, tighten each clamp slowly so the workpieces are drawn together uniformly. Double-check that the frame is square by measuring from corner to corner (photo 3).
To assemble the lattice panel, use 2-in. stainless steel ring-shank nails to attach a 31-in. panel support to both the top and bottom of the lattice. Use three nails for each support, and predrill all nail holes to prevent splitting the narrow latticework. Check the fit by temporarily attaching the assembled panel to the door frame with four 2-in. stainless steel wood screws (photo 4). Then remove the panel in preparation for screening.
Once the glue has cured, apply an outdoor-rated stain or finish of your choice — we used Natural Choice transparent finish from Okon.
Attach the screening
Allow a few days for the stain to dry and for the door to acclimate to its environment. This will prevent the door from warping after the screen is attached.
Before you add screening, remove the lattice panel to allow the frame more flexibility. Lay the door flat and slip a 2x4 under each end of the frame; then clamp the middle of the frame to the work surface, thus bowing the entire assembly.
Next, cut the screening to length (allow a few extra inches), and staple it every 6 in. to the top and bottom rails (photo 5). Then release the clamps — as the frame straightens out, it will stretch the screening taut. Finally, staple the screening every 6 in. to the stiles and middle rail (photo 6). As you work, try to place the staples close to the inner edge of the rail and stile faces.
Once you've attached the screening, conceal the staples with strips of decorative screen molding fastened with 1-in. galvanized wire brads spaced every 8 to 10 in. (photo 7). Then trim away any excess screening with a utility knife. All that's left is to choose hinges and handles. Classic brass or rustic black hardware would look equally at home on this traditional-style door.
Step 1: Clamp the rails and stiles together, and mark the location of the dowel centers on all adjoining parts.
Step 2: When boring the dowel holes, use a doweling jig to keep the holes straight and true. A strip of tape around the drill bit serves as a depth gauge.
Step 3: Following the glue manufacturer's directions, apply glue to the dowel holes and to the joint faces; then assemble and clamp. Check diagonal measurements to make sure the door is square.
Step 4: After attaching the panel supports to the lattice, test-fit the panel by toe-screwing it to the door. Once you're sure it fits, remove it to add screening.
Step 5: Slip a 2x4 under each end of the frame, and clamp the middle of the frame to the work surface. Staple the screening to the top and bottom rails; then release the clamps.
Step 6: Staple the screening to the stiles and the middle rail. Keep the staples close to the inner edges of the rail and stile faces so that the screen molding will hide the staple heads.
Step 7: Attach screen molding to the frame to conceal the staples. Use 1-in. galvanized wire brads, and set the heads with a nail set.