Years ago … Scratch that. Decades ago I read several books about building energy efficient homes. One of the authors said that if you don’t do anything else on your home yourself, you need to build your own front door. This led me to buy another book all about doors. Your front door is your greeting to the world; the real world. (For you computer geeks: It is analogous to the introduction to your blog in the cyber-world.)
I built two front doors for our last house, in East Greenville, PA. I built a door out of 7/8″ thick birch lapped and pegged at the corners making a 1-3/4″ thick door. I divided the middle space with the same type of construction from the bottom hinge side bottom corner to about door handle height, then 90 degrees back up to the hinge side. The outer boards were 1/2″ wider than the interior in order to receive the glass. I ordered three pieces of glass from the local, old style, independent hardware store on Main Street. I needed two right triangles and one right trapezoid. Gordy, the owner, said he didn’t know an hypotenuse from an aardvark; so I would have to come over and cut the glass myself. I set the glass in a small bead of clear silicone caulk. The pieces fit with just the right amount of expansion space. I tacked quarter round strips on the inside and varnished the door with three coats of marine spar varnish. It had too much glass for my wife’s comfort with our newsy neighbors. It sat in the basement for a couple of years until it ended up as the back door when we enclosed the back porch to be the new laundry room.
That house was brick and had 34″ wide doors. There are 32″ and 36″ wide exterior doors available commercially, but 34″ would be a special order. The front door continued to deteriorate to the point that it was no longer a question of style or principle that it needed replacing. It was just plain breezy. It was the early 1990s and a halfway decent looking door with glass in it would have cost about $2,000. And it still would have been a cookie cutter, manufactured door. And it would not have included the transom window above it.
So, I set about to design and build a new front door and transom window. It started with the choice of a native wood: poplar. I love the grain with its random green and darker areas. There was a wonderful, family run sawmill just six or seven miles away in Trumbauersville, Carl Hunsberger. Doug Hunsberger let me select the 2″ thick boards for the stiles and rails and the 1″ thick boards for the panel and the trim.