Project Coraline: Build an Attic Door W/ Skeleton Lock





Introduction: Project Coraline: Build an Attic Door W/ Skeleton Lock

For the past 6 years that we’ve been living here our daughters room has been blasting hot in the summer and freezing cold in the winter. The reason why is because she has an attic door in her closet wall that lets you reach the first floor attic space. And by door I mean a piece of crud left over 1/2″ plywood board with a plastic handle in its center held in place by scrap trim work. Don’t take my word for it see for your self below in the condensation buildup.

I really wanted to build something special but didn't want to spend to much on it. Instead of building a real door I decided on using two pieces of scrap plywood and making a fake door facade.

Step 1: Get Stuff Together You Need

The first thing I did was sketch out my ideas, buy some wood and setup my “wood working” area. You don't need a whole lot of fancy tools really. Just a chop saw, an pneumatic nail gun helps (not even a framing nail gun just trim is good) and assorted hand tools. I also have a dremel multimax that I'm going to use for hinges and probably the slot for the lock bolt.

So at this point I’ve decided I’m going to use some 3/4″ scrap plywood and buy some cheap poplar wood to use for the box and the faux door panels. I ended up only buying about 18″ of 1×4 poplar. So my plan of attack is basically very simple:
1. Build a box to fit in my measurements
2. Build door, stuff in box
3. Stuff completed door in attic hole

Step 2: Build a Box and Make a Plywood Sandwich

So the first thing I did was build a box that fit within the measurements from my sketch. I didn’t do anything fancy with it. No wood glue or notching I just simply dropped a few nails into it. The idea behind this is that it would be more “flexible” when I put it in the attic rough in. If there is anything I have learned it’s that there is no such thing as a straight line in a house. So I built the box, then put it on my 3/4″ plywood and traced out the inside. I did this twice and then joined them together with wood glue and a ton of nails. Although I'll have to trim it up later I'm sure I made sure there was at least 1/8" clearance when I traced out the inside of the box. After all the door will need room to swing.

Note: After I got the plywood sandwich put together I used a circular saw to clean up the edges a bit. You'll probably want to do the same eventually anyways to make sure the door has enough clearance to swing freely.

Protip: For the love of god make sure you put plenty of wood glue along the edges you think the hinges will go. That way when you screw the hinge in you won't have to worry about splitting the sandwiched boards. I messed that up and had to drop some screws in to reinforce it. :(

Step 3: Lay Out the Fake Door Panels Using Poplar Wood

Once that was done I dropped it back in the box and did some rough sketches on how I wanted the “panels” to appear. After that it was just a matter of cutting and putting them in place with my nail gun. Remember that every nail hole you put in this thing at this point you have to fill later, so don’t go to crazy.

When I got done with the panels I decided that a little quarter round would really help with the look so I added it in the panels. I ran out of raw wood and had to dip into some pre-painted stuff towards the end so don’t let the white throw you.

Step 4: Hinges of Evil

Hinges. God how I hate hinges. You think I’d be good at them after hanging so many doors over the years but damn if they never come out 100% for me no matter how I try. Forget trying to chisel plywood either I ended up using my Dremel Multi Max. Do it however you want to really it doesn’t really matter exactly where you put them. I just kind of eyeballed it honestly and made sure they were the same distance in from the ends (like 5" I think).

Step 5: The Cool Part...adding the Skeleton Lock

Now for the whimsey. I was thinking about what kind of lock to put on this door and I was originally going to go with a standard slide bolt but after thinking about it I decided I wanted a skeleton lock. I really wanted the door to look a little mysterious and magical if possible. Now it turns out there is quite the market on ebay for replica skeleton locks (search for L-2 or M-1852) so I ordered one despite the lack of schematics online. Anyways it all worked out but first I had to deal with the fact that it’s a double throw when I only needed the lock bar to go one way. Enter my dremel cutting wheel.

In the end even though cutting off one side made the lock a little crooked everything worked out fine.

Step 6: Damnit...more Hinges

So the door is mostly done and the flush mount lock is installed. At this point the only thing to do is get the hinges attached to the box we made. Now at this point the door ended weighing like 30lbs or something so keep in mind the weak little box I built isn’t going to really support it well. The end strength will come from when it’s installed. So I just took the door and gently placed it in the box and marked off where the hinges lined up. After that I just popped the hinge off the pin and traced it out on the box or the jamb as you’d call it. Have I mentioned how much I hate hinges lately? All I can say is take your time especially if you are working with a soft wood like I am. Although the good thing about that is you can use a razor blade to clean up the edges.

Step 7: Painting....yay Painting!

The next step is kind of the boring one….paint. I filled all the nail holes and sanded them down with 120 grit paper. No magic there really. I then setup the painting area in the house (garage was 30 degrees) and enlisted some “helpers”. I still had a can of paint from when we painted the room 7 years ago and amazingly it was still good! When it comes to painting doors don’t go the foam brush route….they work great on the door jamb and trim but they will leave streaks on the door itself.

Step 8: Shove It in the Hole

So now the door is built and the frame is ready, painting is done and all we really have to do is stuff it in there. I recommend you use finishing nails and a centerpunch to sink them so you can fill it with wood filler of course. If your really thoughtful of where you put them they’ll be covered by the door stop trim and you won’t even have to mess with them at all. First thing I always do is make sure I shim and align the hinge side of a door however I’ve recently learned that the first thing I need to do is make sure all the cats are accounted for. One thing to keep in mind on the lock side of the door is that you want to get as close as possible to the door while still letting it swing freely. if you look at the pictures you can see I had shims in three places that I adjusted as I went. Close as possible while still being able to swing freely is the goal.

Step 9: Add Door Stop Trim

Now it’s time to deal with the lock. I don’t have a fancy strike plate or anything like that. I certainly could go through the trouble of making one but I didn’t see the need for it honestly. All you need is a slot to make sure the door doesn’t open randomly and nobody is going to see it. So what I did was swing the door closed, made sure it was in the proper place by measuring both ends and making sure they were the same distance from the edge and cut a notch with my Dremel Multi Max. I cleaned it up a bit with a razor blade knife but that’s about it. After that it’s time for the door stop trim. What I did was take the weather stripping I was going to use (self adhesive, 3/8″ tube) and cut little bits of it off to make sure I didn’t put the door stop trim to close.

I cannot repeat this enough…do not DO NOT go crazy with compressing the weatherstripping. You are building an attic door not a bulwark to contain the ravenous zombie hoards! Otherwise you’ll get all the door trim in and wonder why it takes the force of a hundred He-Men to close it.

Step 10: Almost Done Just Added a Little Trim

The next step is pretty easy just put on the door trim to clean it all up. Again I recommend a help to hold the longer pieces as your cutting them. Once your done installing them just fill all your nails holes, paint and you’re pretty much done! Oh probably helps to ad a handle to the door so you can pull hard enough to get a seal against the weatherstripping you put in. I actually ended up using 1/4″ along the hinge side of the door and 3/8″ along the rest of it.

For this part you can feel free to use a disposable foam brush if you want. And if anyone was interested the paint color is "vintage taupe" by Behr. You can feel free to do it anyway you want but a side benefit of painting it to match the wall is that the latex paint seals all the nooks and crannies so I don't have to worry about leaks.

That's it! Hope it gave you some ideas on how to make your own!

update 2/8/2012: I added an update to my personal site talking about why I didn't put insulation and with some pictures of my infrared temp gun measuring the door.



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    Hi! I bought this beautiful book online (it's a replica book from ABC's Once Upon a Time) and being a avid writer and collector of skeleton keys...I thought it would be awesomeee* to add a lock on it and use a skeleton key to unlock it. Do you think it is possible? I figure the back of the book you'd screw in what's needed or whatever and then top of the book is the 'lock/clasp' part where youd need to insert the skeleton key to open it. Do you think this is possible? if it is I'd pay for someone to make it for me bc I am definitely not a handy one. Skeleton keys are so hard to come by nowadays let alone a lock AND a skeleton key .. so i know people will look at me as if i had 5 heads if i ask them at a Home Depot, Michaels, Loews. etc. So if you or anyone you know think this is possible I'd gladly pay for it! E-mail me if you think you can?


    i like this idea alot but i do think that it is dangeres for her if if she goes in there but it should help her stay out with the door

    Are you going to add insulation on the other side of the door, or would that be overkill in your climate? If you were getting condensation before, it seems like it would be worthwhile to put at least an R-10.

    3 replies

    I thought about doing and might still but so far I haven't seen any condensation on it and the temperature in the closet is much better than it used to be.

    I think that with two 3/4" sheets of plywood I might not have to do anything more. Fingers crossed. :)

    1" of plywood is R-1.3, 1" of foil backed polyiso foam is R-7. Even the cheap expanded foam board is R-4. It'll make a HUGE difference to replace on of those sheets of plywood with foam board.

    that said, I like the look of it, and that's half the point :)

    Well I'm not against tacking some on the back....and if I had some I totally would have, but I wouldn't replace the plywood since I need the additional width for the hinges to fit.

    Of course that's because I used hinges left over from turning a door into a pocket door so if you were using other ones you might be able to do it. or maybe even cut out the center and replace it with foam.

    The whole project was under $30....half the price was the skeleton lock :)

    You really shouldn't have your daughter in a room with the attic. Yea, shes definitely going to be lured in there, bad things like the cool attic.

    4 replies

    I should say, I know what lives in my attic, and now that I've typed this, you might actually want to move your daughter if you care for her.

    if you don't believe me, message me and I will show you what I mean, but it won't mean anything unless you believe. Attic with a skeleton key? Hahaha, come on, you believe don't you

    Somebody has been watching Paranormal Activity recently.

    hahahaha, thats all I gotta say.

    PS, Ghost Adventures is WAY better

    This is a really thick door, 3/4" x 3... 2 1/4"! Interior doors are typically 1 3/8" and exterior are only 1 3/4". No wonder it weighs so darn much.

    Good work! I've been a great fan of enhancing such attic spaces, BUT often find door clearances & logistics too tight to be practical. Fingers can get pinched, heads knocked & items may be knocked over by the swinging door! Instead I've gone for lift off/out ply panels, secured with sturdy brass slide "baby catches".

    My approach was somewhat inspired by service panels noted on ships my marine engineering dad once served on,& allows panel removal as needed. A smaller one suits simple storage, while removing several (& placing them away from the work area) gives totally clear access. Check pictures at

    This particular attic has VERY tight ergonomics, making swinging doors a liability. The room's 4 such hideaway areas are instead lift off/out panels, & are a real feature of the magical space !

    Excellent work!!! looks great

    Fantattica! Awesome Instructible....this door is so cute and your instructions and photos are so easy to follow.Thanks!

    Very nice. Almost looks like a dumbwaiter should be hiding behind there. :D

    1 reply

    This is straight from a facebook update I did about it:
    "A magical land called Attica where the righteous pink fiberglassians battle the evil brown mouse poopians in eternal struggle for the first floor dominion. Or as I call it the first floor attic."

    but yeah i'm always worried i'm going to wake up and find her in there some morning. :)

    u got some of your comment boxes covered by bigger ones :S

    you cant put a small comment within a larger one the larger overrules the smaller and u cant get it to show.

    1 reply

    I did not know that....thanks I'll get around to fixing it.