Introduction: Build a Dutch-Door!
Why a Dutch Door?
For starters, I've always thought Dutch Doors were just plain pretty cool! Not only that, but they are extremely functional to let air and light between rooms, while still preventing movement of people and animals. In our case, we had a toddler who liked to wander out of her room at night. Rather than adding a "baby-gate", which never works well, we decided to build a Dutch Door, and just close the bottom half of it. This is also great if you have pets that you need to keep in or out of on part of your house. And for children, the open top of the Dutch Door can also make a great Puppet Theater!
The basics of this project are adding a hinge, cutting the door, adding trim, and painting. It's really that easy.
Basically, it's a one-day project for the wood-working, and then however much time required for painting and letting wood putty dry.
In this case, I used a recycled, second-hand door and hardware that I already had, making this a very affordable project. I only needed to buy some paint and sandpaper!
Tools and materials are fairly basic. You will need a good crosscut saw and ideally, a router.
Safety Glasses, work gloves, hearing protection
cross-cut saw (Corded Circular Saw)
Hammer and punch (for removing hinge pins)
Rotary Tool such as Dremel brand
A second door - hollow-core
an extra hinge
door knob (can be reused from existing door)
door halves latch (safety bolt, etc.)
1-1/8th" cedar length is width of door
Masking tape and Marker
I already had nearly all the materials on-hand. As a home-owner, I have a box of assorted knobs and door-hinges in the garage. By asking around, I was able to find a second-hand hollow-core door at no cost. I bought new some paint, sandpaper, and few other materials, which I spent about $20 on.
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Step 1: Plan & Visualize
Let's plan out this project.
I like to bring things into the real world through temporary materials, like marking things with removable masking tape. I can write on the tape, make notes to myself, and actually see what the results may be.
This is a solid-core, interior, four-panel bedroom door. The door swings into the bedroom, so the hinges are on the inside of the room.
I put masking tape on various parts of the door so that I could indicate where the cut-line would be, where I would add the hinge, and other notes, like a reminder to spin the knob around so that it locks from the hall side.
I originally thought it would be a fairly simple project to just cut the original door. However, I also wanted to take this back to being a regular door in the future if I wanted to. I checked at the home-improvement store to see how much a door similar to mine would cost (in case I wanted to buy a replacement in the future.) I was surprised to see that four-panel doors are not the current popular style, so it would have cost extra time and money to buy one.
Instead, I thought it would be better to save the original door, and replace it with the one I would cut down to a Dutch Door, even if it was a different style. That's the approach I ended up taking.
Step 2: Place and Mark New Door
Besides being affordable, a hollow-core door is also very light-weight and easy for one person to handle and transport.
I positioned the new hollow-core door directly into the door-frame, without first removing the existing solid door. In this way, I was able to compare the two, and see exactly where the knob latch and hinges line up.
Both doors are made by a local manufacturer. When made, they are built on jigs, so the positioning of the hinges and latch were exactly the same on both doors! The new door was a perfect replacement for the original one!
Step 3: Remove Original Door
To remove the original door, first remove the hinge pins.
Use a hammer and a punch, a heavy nail, or similar tool to drive the pins up through the bottom of the hinge and remove them. Once all three are removed, you can remove the door from the frame. You may want to have an assistant help you. Be careful of both the door and your walls and woodwork.
The door can be stored so that at some point in the future, the Dutch Door can be swapped back to a standard one.
I wrapped the door in construction plastic and a packing blanket, and stored it in my garage. Tacking a piece or two of scrap wood to the bottom of the door allows me to store the door upright, without scuffing up the bottom edge.
Step 4: Adding the 4th Hinge
When the door gets cut in half, it will need a total of FOUR hinges, two for the top half, and two for the bottom half.
On a typical door, the middle hinge is half-way up the door, but that's higher than the door knob. So, I planned to cut the door horizontally in half, with that cut line ABOVE the knob, but BELOW the middle hinge.
I added hinge halves temporarily to the hollow core door, and put it into the frame with just on of the hinge pins part-way back in. That way, the door would align properly, and I could figure out the best location for the fourth hinge.
With the door in the frame, I marked (on masking tape) the position of the bottom of the middle hinge, and the top of the door knob. That way, I decided that the cut line would be just above the top of the door knob, and I would position the fourth hinge the same distance away from the cut-line as the middle hinge was. That was mostly for looks. The finished project would look nicest with some symmetry.
With the hinge held in place, I traced it with a pencil onto both the side of the door AND the door frame. I also marked the holes on the hinge as well.
Next, I removed the door, and took it to the garage, where I had sawhorses and a router waiting. I set the router depth to the thickness of the hinge, and used a stop on the router to prevent me from cutting all the way across the edge of the door.
I set the door on edge, (with some foam on the floor to protect the door) so that it's "spine" was up, allowing for best working height and position.
I figured that I only had one chance to make a nice clean cut, so I practiced a bit on some scrap wood until I was confident that I could do a good job routing the spot for the hinge. Once I was, I routed the door for the hinge, and was very happy with the results.
I also needed to router a pocket on the door frame for that half of the hinge. However, the door already had trim on it, which would get in the way of the router. Removing the trim, which was painted on, would have been quite some work, and I might even damage the frame while trying to remove it.
So, instead of using a router, I cut the hinge space with a Dremel rotary tool. After cutting an outline, I used a wood chisel and hammer to remove the extra material.
Once space was made on both the door and the frame for the hinge, I set the hinge on, pre-drilled holes for the hinge screws, and temporarily mounted up the door.
At this point, I had a door that properly fit the frame, only it was held on by FOUR hinges instead of the usual THREE!
Step 5: Cut Door in Half
I supported the door on two 2x4 boards across a pair of saw-horses. With the approximate location of my cut-line in place, I confirmed it by using a tape measure to confirm that both ends of the cut line were the same distance from the bottom of the door.
I clamped a framing square (which doubles as a straight-edge) across the door. This insures that the line is both straight and square. I clamped the square four inches from my cut-line, because that's the width of the base of my circular saw to the blade. By holding the saw against the square, I would make a nice straight cut exactly where I would want it.
Before making the cut, remember that hollow-core doors are MOSTLY AIR! There is solid wood at the edges, the interior is only cardboard and two layers of 1/8th-inch veneer. The veneer can splinter very easily. To prevent that, either make sure the cut-line is covered with masking tape or pre-score the veneer with a razor blade. Which ever method is used, it should be done on the BACK side of the cut. Since a circular saw cuts in the upward direction, it's the top surface that needs to be taped or scored.
Once the door is prepared, the cut is very easy. A power-saw will go through a hollow core door like the proverbial hot knife through butter.
At this point, I was excited enough about the project just to mount the bottom half of the door in place to see how it looked!
Step 6: Frame in the Cut
The only problem with cutting a hollow-core door in half is that there is NO STRUCTURE to the cut edges.
To fix that, I installed a board sized to fit directly into both halves of the door on either side of the cut.
The interior width of the cut cross-section of the door is 1+1/8th inch. I had a 1" by 1+1/8th" cedar rip, that was 8 feet long. It would be perfect to fill in both sides of the door-cut.
I cross-cut the piece to just short of 27", the interior length of the door.
I used a razor-knife to cut between the cardboard and the veneer in the top inch of the door, and then pushed it down and out of the way.
Next is to get out the wood-glue, clamps, and brads.
I ran a little wood glue down the two sides of the filler piece, inserted it into the door so that the top of it was flush, and then nailed it in place with a few wood brads. I clamped the entire width of the door, until the glue dried.
Once this was done on the bottom half of the door, I did the exact same thing on the top half.
Step 7: Mount Door, Knob, and Test
Next, it's time to reinstall BOTH HALVES of the door!
Because the fourth hinge was already installed before the door was cut in half, everything lines up perfect.
I next installed the door knob. The difference is that this time, I arranged it so that the locking mechanism was on the OUTSIDE of the door (the hallway side.) This allows for the bottom half of the door to be locked from the outside, making the bottom half of the door into a baby-gate or animal door.
At this point, I tested the door, and everything worked well. However, the TOP half of the door can pass up the bottom half. I would still need to install some wood trim that would prevent that from happening. Also, there's nothing to hold the top half of the door open either.
Step 8: Add Trim
The door needs some trim on the back of the top half of the door. This will hang down so that it overlaps the bottom half. That will prevent the top half from "passing up" the bottom half of the door.
I had some trim around that was left-over from my house remodling, so it matched the existing wood-work in the house. I cut a piece a few inches shorter than the full width of the door, because I would still need some room for a latch that connects the top and bottom halves of the door together.
After cutting the trim to length, I attached it with several screws.
I cut another piece for the hallway side. While not required, I thought the door looked nicer with a piece of trim running across the front covering the seam.
Step 9: Magnetic Door Stop
The door already had a door stop, but that only worked for the BOTTOM half of the door now.
I wanted to add a way to hold the top half of the door all the way open, but still be easy to release, and close from out in that hall. That meant that something like a hook-and-eye wouldn't work.
I had some small magnets around, and thought that a MAGNETIC catch would work well.
I got together a long drywall screw, a cork, a small magnet, superglue, and a plain wood screw and washer.
I ran the long drywall screw through the cork until the head of the screw was countersunk about the depth of the magnet. I drove the drywall screw and cork into the upper corner of the door. Once in, I glued the magnet right over the head of the screw.
Next, I put the wood screw through the washer, and placed its head on the magnet, which held it in place. I swung the door all the way open, so that the wood screw pressed lightly into the wall. This marked the exact position for the screws and magnet to perfectly align with each other.
I drove the wood screw through the washer into the wall.
Now, when I open the top half of the door all the way, the magnet on the cork sticks to the screw and washer mounted on the wall, holding it open. A gentle pull on the door releases it.
Step 10: Door Pull and Upper/Lower Latch
Install the pull-knob and the upper/lower latch.
The pull knob is just to let the adult pull the top of the door shut from the hallway side when the bottom is already closed. It's a simple knob, such as a recycled drawer pull knob.
You will also need to install a latch that connects the top and bottom of the door, to allow it to act as a full, solid, door. There are several types of latches at the hardware store that would work for this, such as a vertical bolt, an apartment door safety, or other similar latches.
I had a brass latch that would work fine for this.
Install with screws. Make sure both halves align. Shim if needed. This step and the trim step sort of need to go together. Trim needs enough space for latch. Latch needs to be snugged up with the trim, so it doesn't rattle.
Step 11: Putty, Sand, and Paint
Once you've tested that everything works - nothing rubs, the knob turns, the latches close, etc, you can then remove all the hardware, and pull the door from the frame.
Then, putty, sand, and paint the door.
Any place that has a low-spot, got a ding, or just somewhere that got messed up can get a little putty. Wood putty is easy to work with. Just put some of the filler where you need it to go, and smooth it out with a putty knife, or piece of flat plastic. Once it has dried, it can be sanded and painted over, just like wood.
Sand down any rough edges. Since this door was already varnished, the whole door needed a little light sanding to make sure the paint would stick.
Paint the door with an interior latex paint that matches the existing wood-work. If you do NOT need to match existing colors, "OOPS" paint from the hardware store is always a good way to save money.
The step that I forgot about until it was too late was to USE A PRIMER FIRST. Painting a light color paint over a dark stain doesn't go so well. If I did this again, I would make sure to use a primer designed for wood and light colors. Use as many coats of paint as you need to to make the door look good.
Label your paint can with your project name and date so that you can identify it for touch-up in the future. You will most likely want to keep the putty and paint handy for some detail work after the final assembly.
Step 12: Final Assembly
Once the door is completely painted and dry, mount the door to the frame, and reassemble all the hardware.
You now have a Dutch Door!
Enjoy your new ability to contain animals or toddlers, and host puppet shows!
In the event that you ever need to return the door to it's original state, simply remove the Dutch Door and reinstall the original door.
Now you make one! If you do, send me a photo and let me know how it turned out!