How to Upgrade an Entry Door – Bargain Style

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front doorI was over our front entry door. Not only was it ugly (dark brown aluminum with one, small window), but the jamb was shot. We wanted a glass paned, solid wood door – something more appropriate for the main entry, but were a little low on funds. And nine out of ten times, that type of door falls into the “special order” category, to the tune of anywhere from $800 to $1,200 bucks. Wasn’t happening. So, we came up with a pretty sweet way to get what we wanted for a total cost of around $420. Here’s what we did:

First, we went to Home Depot (could have been Lowes or any other building supply store; HD happened to have the best price at the time – though not by much) and purchased an aluminum, exterior/fire door which included the jamb, weather stripping and adjustable threshold for $120. Right in the same aisle, we also bought a beautiful (unfinished) Jeldwen 1 ½”, glass paned, exterior wood door “slab” for $198. (NOTE: Had we opted for a finished, pre-hung wood door and jamb of the quality we wanted; the price would have jumped to around $800.) door hardwareWe picked out some nice hinges and the doorknob set we wanted (a real splurge for us at $100 extra for some cool looking hardware).

We pulled out the old door and beat jamb, and replaced it with the new unit (crappy fire door and all), so we could adjust the frame and jamb to the existing space. Once we made sure these were set, we removed the aluminum door to use as a template in determining proper measurements and placement of the knob and hinges for the wood door we ultimately intended to install.

Using the template door, we marked the corresponding spots for the hinges and knob on the wood door. The openings for the hinges were mortised in using a router and the hole for the knob was drilled out with a 2 ¼” hole saw. At this point, we used the old hinges (you DO NOT want to wreck the new ones at this stage) on the new wood door, and rough fit it into the jamb to make sure everything lined up and the mortises were good. The template door had served its purpose. It can be used to replace an old basement door, offered for free on Craig’s List or donated. It was time to final fit the door to the jamb, and I must caution everyone: HERE IS WHERE YOU WILL NEED TO GRIT YOUR TEETH AND DIG DEEP TO FIND THE PATIENCE OF A SAINT. THIS PART OF THE PROJECT SUCKS ROCKS AND THAT’S NO LIE.

Next, we measured for length and determined that roughly 3/8″ had to be shaved from the bottom of the door. That was done with a circular saw and the door was hung back into the jamb. Still not quite enough tolerance. We took it back down and shaved another 1/8″. Re-hung and checked again. A little too tight. Took it down…see where I’m going with this? It took us four “tweaks” to get just the right swing tolerance. And once that was done, we went through the same process with the width.
We took off just over ¼”, also using a circular saw. BUT FIRST, we clamped on a straight edge to use as a guide because of the length of the run.

Then, using a belt sander (a hand planer is often used for this too), we made a shallow bevel (typically three degrees) on the exterior edge of the door (knob side) to create the clearance needed when opening and closing. We hung the door to double check clearance and everything worked great. (You may have to mess with the angle of the bevel. Same process: shave, hang, check swing – we got lucky the first time – the only break we got. (Being a miser is a bitch.) I know this part of the process is screaming “ANAL”, but it was important for a weather tight seal. We get brutal winters around here, and one of the reasons for the new door and jamb was heat retention purposes.

Finally…light at the end of the tunnel! Now that the door was swinging properly, we made sure the hole for the door knob lined up with the plunger hole in the jamb (any necessary adjustments should be minor, if you’ve taken the time to do everything else up to this point) and installed the door knob kit.

The door was taken down one, last time (I swear!) to be twice coated with a tinted, marine polyurethane for protection against weather. (We used Minwax brand – great stuff because it holds up to the “elements”.) Once completely dry, we hung this PIG for the final time using the new hinges. And all of a sudden, all the effort was really worth it.

The upgraded door is a marked improvement, both inside and out. It looks 100% better and the glass panes brighten up the entire front, interior of the house. There was a noticeable difference on our next utility bill too. (NOTE: The door we purchased is ¼”, tempered glass so we do use an additional, storm door during the winter months. You can also find similar doors will dual pane glass if your budget is a little looser than ours was).

This was not an easy job; it took two people the better part of a day to get it done. Rocket science? No. Labor intensive? Clearly. All said and done, we got the higher-end look we were going for, and figure we saved a good $700 by going this route. The only drawback to choosing a solid, wood door is, it will have to be recoated with the poly every other year to extend its life. And when that time comes, I can guarantee I’ll be taping off the jam and coating it right where it hangs.

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About Liz

Liz is a professional, custom picture framer based in Central New York. She and her contractor husband are currently renovating their second home together. At the time of this writing, they are not on speaking terms. Her love of making stuff with wood and DIY home projects began by watching her Dad. (It was also around this time Liz's incessant use of "colorful language" took root.) She's an avid gardener, stellar cook and doesn't throw like a girl: an all-around rad chick.

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4 thoughts on “How to Upgrade an Entry Door – Bargain Style”

  1. so… your door’s windows are about 1/8″ off center? 😉

    seriously though, brilliant job on combining products to get what you wanted out of it.


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