Old is New Again — Saltbox Door

Sometimes art imitates life and vice versa. Sometimes we make new products that look old, and during the late 20th and early 21st centuries often those new products don’t quite hit the mark — think pressed hollow core interior doors made to look like a 6 panel door.

My senior project at NBSS gave me an opportunity to take on my own revisionist history challenge when working on a circa 1700 SaltBox colonial home in Sherborn MA. The rear ell door (most used door by the family) looked like this:

The 'Before' picture. Original 20th century door to be replaced.
The ‘Before’ picture. Original 20th century door to be replaced.

Homes from that period would not have lights (aka window panes) in a traditional door, but most folks would not be consciously aware of that, and the family was used to having this more modern style door. Unfortunately for the green door pictured above it was at the end of its service life and a modern (20th century) factory made door not worth restoring. So the challenge to me was to build a  more traditional door that fit the opening, had lights in it, but better matched the style and molding profiles of the house.

I designed and built a more traditional door which you can see in progress below. It’s a 9 light (smaller panes), 4 panel door built in the traditional style from eastern white pine. The design was similar to a house found on the Wellington House in Waltham MA and some similar 6 panel doors of the period. All the major joints are draw bored and tenoned (so it can be repaired if need be 100 years from now), all the muntins were run by hand and coped, the lights were hand glazed, the panels were pre-finished so you won’t see raw wood as the seasons change etc. I also used a full size story stick when laying out the joinery and traditional hardware. (Period hinges and Suffolk latch). Other work included new door jamb and casing, oak threshold, leadwork flashing, touching up some insulation etc.

Door in progress. I pre-finished the panels so when they move with the seasons you will not see exposed unfinished wood.
Door in progress. I pre-finished the panels so when they move with the seasons you will not see exposed unfinished wood.

The result of all this work is a very nice door that looks like it was part of the house for a very long time.

Completed door
Completed door

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