How to Make a Custom Exterior Door

A well-crafted exterior door adds aesthetic appeal and provides security and energy efficiency. While it may seem daunting to tackle such a project, with the right tools and techniques, it’s possible to create a beautiful and functional custom door that perfectly fits your home’s style and needs.

In this article, we’ll walk you through how to make a custom exterior door, from designing and selecting materials to installation and finishing. Whether you’re an experienced woodworker or a DIY enthusiast, this guide will help you create a custom door that will make a lasting impression.

Custom Exterior Doors

Did you know that exterior doors can play a significant role in improving the energy efficiency of a building? Custom exterior doors that are adequately designed and installed can help prevent air leaks, leading to substantial energy savings and enhanced comfort levels. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, reducing air leaks through doors and windows can save homeowners up to 30% on their energy bills!

In addition to energy efficiency, custom exterior doors can also enhance the overall aesthetic appeal of a building. With a wide variety of materials, finishes, and designs, you can create a unique and eye-catching entryway that perfectly complements your personal style and the architecture of your home or building.

Whether looking to improve energy efficiency, boost curb appeal, or both, investing in custom exterior doors can be a wise and rewarding decision for any homeowner or business owner.


How to Make a Custom Exterior Door

Designing the Door

A custom exterior door can be designed to fit your unique taste and style. Here are the steps to designing a custom door:

A. Choosing a Design Style

Before designing your door, it’s essential to consider the overall style of your home. Are you going for a modern look, a traditional feel, or something in between? Look at other homes in your area or online for inspiration. Some popular design styles for exterior doors include:

Craftsman: characterised by simple, clean lines and natural materials such as wood

Victorian: ornate and detailed with intricate patterns and decorative glass

Contemporary: sleek and minimalist with geometric shapes and metal accents

Rustic: natural and earthy with knotty wood and textured details.

B. Measuring the Doorway

Accurately measuring your door frame ensures your custom door fits appropriately. Measure the width and height of the opening, as well as the thickness of the wall.

C. Drafting the Design

Once you have chosen a design style and measured the doorway, it’s time to draft a design. This can be done by hand or with the help of computer software. Some popular software options include SketchUp, Fusion 360, and SolidWorks. The design should consist of the following elements:

Overall shape and size of the door

Number and size of panels (if any)

Placement of any glass or decorative elements

Profile and thickness of stiles and rails

D. Creating a Materials List

With the design complete, it’s time to create a materials list. This should include the type of wood you plan to use and any additional materials such as glass, hardware, or weatherstripping. Be sure to factor in any extra wood needed for mistakes or testing finishes.

Preparing the Materials

Selecting wood species and purchasing lumber: Choose a wood species appropriate for your climate and style preferences. Some popular choices for exterior doors include mahogany, oak, cedar, and teak. Purchase lumber from a reputable supplier and ensure it is properly dried and stored to prevent warping or twisting.

Milling the Lumber to the Correct Dimensions: Use a table saw, jointer, and planer to mill the lumber to the correct thickness and width for the stiles, rails, and panels. Double-check your measurements to ensure accuracy.

Creating Stiles, Rails, and Panels: Use a router or shaper to create the profiles for the stiles, rails, and panels. Cut the stiles and rails to length and make tenons on the ends for joinery. If desired, cut the panels to size and shape them with a panel-raising bit.

Cutting Out the Door Shape: Use a jigsaw or bandsaw to cut out the door shape from the milled lumber. Use a template or pattern to ensure the shape is accurate and symmetrical.

Assembly and Joinery

Once you have prepared all the door components, it’s time to start assembling them. One of the most critical steps in this process is joining the various parts together in a strong, durable, and aesthetically pleasing way. Here are some essential considerations for this stage:

Choosing Joinery Methods: There are several to choose from, including mortise and tenon, dowels, and biscuits. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages, depending on factors such as the type of wood, the design of the door, and the level of skill required. Mortise and tenon joints, for example, are known for their strength and durability but require precise cuts and careful fitting. Dowel and biscuit joints are easier to make but may need to be stronger.

Creating the Joinery: Technique and precision are important when creating the joints, regardless of your chosen method. Use a sharp chisel, saw, or router to make clean, accurate cuts that fit snugly together. Avoid using too much force or hitting the joints too hard, as this can cause them to split or crack. Test the joints as you go to make sure they fit together well.

Glueing and Clamping the Door: Once the joints are ready, it’s time to glue and clamp the door together. Apply a generous amount of wood glue to the joints, covering all surfaces evenly. Then, use clamps to hold the door in place while the glue dries. Make sure the door is flat and square while clamping, and wipe off any excess glue with a damp cloth.

Trimming the Door to Size: After the glue has dried, you can remove the clamps and cut the door to its final size. Use a saw or planer to remove excess wood, keeping the edges straight and even. Sand the door lightly to remove any roughness and prepare it for finishing.

Sanding and Finishing

Sanding the Door to Remove Any Roughness and Create a Smooth Surface

  • Start with coarse sandpaper (80-100 grit) and gradually work up to finer grits (120-150, 220-240) 
  • Sand with the grain of the wood to avoid scratching or damaging the surface. Pay attention to edges and corners, which can be easy to overlook


Applying Wood Stain or Paint to Enhance the Appearance of the Door

  • Choose a stain or paint that complements the door’s design and style and the home’s overall aesthetic.
  • Apply the stain or paint evenly with a brush or roller, following the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Allow the stain or paint to dry completely before applying a second coat (if necessary).


Applying a Protective Finish to Seal and Protect the Door

  • Choose a finish appropriate for the climate and exposure to the elements (e.g. polyurethane, varnish, oil).
  • Apply the finish with a brush or rag, following the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Allow the finish to dry completely before applying a second coat (if necessary)
  • Sand lightly between coats with fine-grit sandpaper to create a smooth, even surface.

Final Inspection and Touch-up

  • Check the door for any imperfections or missed spots in the finish
  • Use fine-grit sandpaper to smooth out any rough areas or drips
  • Touch up any areas with additional stain or paint as needed

Adding Hardware and Glass

Choosing Hardware That Complements the Design and Style of the Door

  • Consider the finish, size, and function of the hardware (e.g. handles, locks, hinges)
  • Choose hardware that is appropriate for the climate and exposure to the elements.

Preparing the Door for Hardware Installation

  • Mark the location of the hardware on the door using a template or measurements.
  • Use a drill and hole saw to create holes for the hardware.
  • Use a chisel to create recesses for the hardware if necessary.


Installing Hardware on the Door

  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for installing the hardware. 
  • Use screws and anchors appropriate for the type of door and hardware. 
  • Test the hardware to ensure that it functions properly and securely.


Choosing Glass That Complements the Design and Style of the Door

  • Consider the size, shape, and type of glass (e.g. precise, frosted, stained, textured)
  • Choose a glass appropriate for the climate and exposure to the elements.

Preparing the Door for Glass Installation

  • Measure and mark the location of the glass on the door 
  • Use a router or chisel to create a groove for the glass.
  • Apply a bead of silicone caulk or glazing compound to the groove to hold the glass in place.


Installing Glass in the Door

  • Carefully place the glass in the groove.
  • Apply additional caulk or glazing compound to seal the edges of the glass.
  • Clean the glass with a glass cleaner and a lint-free cloth.


Final Inspection and Touch-up

  • Check the hardware and glass for any imperfections or missed spots.
  •  Touch up any areas with additional paint or stain as needed.


Installing a custom exterior door can be challenging and time-consuming, but it can be done successfully with the right tools and preparation. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to install a custom exterior door:

Measure the Opening: Measure the height and width of the door opening to ensure the new door fits appropriately. Make note of any irregularities or obstructions in the opening that may affect the installation.

Prepare the Frame: Remove the old door and prepare the frame by removing any debris or obstructions. If necessary, repair or replace the frame to ensure it is level, square, and plumb.

Install the Hinges: Attach the hinges to the door according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Then, hold the door up to the frame and mark the hinge locations on the frame.

Attach the Door to the Frame: Carefully lift the door into place, aligning the hinges with the marks on the frame. Secure the hinges to the frame with screws, ensuring they are flush and tight.

Install the Door Handle and Lock: The door handle and lock follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Make sure that they are properly aligned and functioning correctly.

Check for Gaps and Adjustments: Once the door is installed, check for gaps between the door and the frame. Use shims or weatherstripping to fill any gaps and ensure a tight seal.

Test the Door: Test the door to ensure that it opens and closes smoothly and that the lock and handle function properly. Make any necessary adjustments or repairs.

Frequently Asked Related Questions

Is It Cheaper to Make Your Door?

Making your door can be a cost-effective option for those who are handy and have the necessary tools and skills. However, it’s essential to factor in the cost of materials, such as wood, hardware, and any finishing products, as well as the time and effort required for the project.

Depending on the complexity of the design and the quality of materials used, making your door may not always be cheaper than purchasing a pre-made door. Additionally, if mistakes are made during construction, it may cost more in the long run. Ultimately, weighing the costs and benefits before deciding whether to make your door is essential.

What Type of Door is Most Efficient?

The type of door that is most efficient depends on the specific needs and preferences of the homeowner. However, insulated doors are generally considered the most efficient as they are designed to reduce heat loss and improve energy efficiency.

These doors are typically made with a core of insulating material, such as foam or fibreglass, and are covered with a layer of metal, wood, or composite material. In addition to insulation, a door’s efficiency can also be improved with weatherstripping and high-quality seals. Overall, the most efficient door is designed and installed with energy efficiency in mind.