How to Build a Wood Screen Door
Simple wood screen doors are not difficult to build. The average woodworker can complete the task in one afternoon. You have multiple options for thickness, wood species and construction methods.
Other than using a miter saw to cut boards to length, the process can be completed using only hand tools and proper breathing and eye protection.
Fir is a good choice for screen door material. The wood is resilient, durable, straight-grained and affordable. You have other affordable options such as pine and poplar, but they lack fir's strength. Hardwood options include oak and mahogany, which are stronger than fir but more expensive, more difficult to work with and more likely to split or crack. Weather-resistant options include redwood and cedar. Both are more expensive than fir and not as strong. If properly sealed and cared for, fir holds up just as long as any other wood species. The resiliency of fir makes it a good choice for exterior use because it adapts well to contraction and expansion due to changes in humidity.
Build the door to fit inside the jambs if possible. If there's not enough room, measure the distance between the trim pieces on either side. If there's no other option, it's usually possible to add spacers or additional trim pieces to the existing jambs or trim. Once you've established the door opening measure it. Subtract 3/4-inch from the height and 1/2-inch from the width for the door size. This allows a 1/4-inch clearance on the sides, 1/4-inch at the top and 1/2-inch clearance at the bottom.
Medium or Heavy-Duty
You'll need five pieces of lumber to build the door. Use 1 1/4-inch-thick lumber for a a heavy-duty door. Use 1-inch thick lumber for a lighter door. It's fine to build the entire door from 4-inch wide planks, but for a more substantial door, make the horizontal pieces 5 inches wide. Cut everything to length and lay the door out on a flat surface. You can use a hand saw to cut the pieces, but for accurate, square joints use a miter saw.
Most doors are built using mortise and tenon joints. Everyday woodworkers typically don't have the equipment make this type of joint. Two other options work just fine using hand-held tools: dowel jigs and pocket-hole jigs. You can pick them up at any home supply store. Dowel jigs allow you to dowel the door together using the ordinary butt joint. Use 3/8-inch dowels for a 1-inch thick door. Use 1/2-inch dowels for a 1 1/4-inch-thick door.
Clamp the jig to the individual pieces, drill the holes, add glue and dowels and clamp the door together. The second option for building the door -- the pocket-hole jig -- is easier to use but leaves exposed holes. Clamp the jig to the horizontal pieces and drill the holes for the screws at an angle. Apply glue, and then clamp the door together. Drive 1 5/8-inch screws into the holes to secure everything tightly. The screw heads should bury beneath the surface, but you'll still be able to see them. Use the side with holes and screws on the inside so you don't notice them from outside.
Screen options include measuring and ordering the screens from a glass shop, or installing the screen by hand. Do it yourself by attaching 5/8-by-5/8-inch strips of fir around the inside perimeter of the openings with a pin nailer. Stretch the screen material around the inside, and staple it to the 5/8-inch strips. Staple additional strips of 5/8-inch fir beside the first row, sandwiching and tightening the screen between them. Optionally, build the screens into a wood frame similar to a picture frame, and install the frames inside the opening with screws. Install as you would a standard screen door.
Use an appropriate sealer on the door after sanding it smooth. Natural oils like linseed oil or tung oil work well for exterior use. Danish oil offers an option that contains stain and natural oils to give the door some character. When the stain is dry -- natural oils can take up to 72 hours to dry -- add a topcoat of exterior clear finish such as polyurethane or spar varnish. If you don't want to stain and topcoat it, exterior paint offers another option.
Specializing in hardwood furniture, trim carpentry, cabinets, home improvement and architectural millwork, Wade Shaddy has worked in homebuilding since 1972. Shaddy has also worked as a newspaper reporter and writer, and as a contributing writer for Bicycling Magazine. Shaddy began publishing in various magazines in 1992, and published a novel, “Dark Canyon,” in 2008.