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Preview: Making a Pilot House Door, Part 1 – Flush Panel Construction

February 18, 2016

Woodworking techniques abound as Tony Grove puts together a frame and panel constructed pilot house door for a Northwest Fishboat.

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– Hi, my name is Tony Grove, I’m a shipwright by trade and a woodworker, and I’m going to be building a door for a West Coast fish boat. Now this is an exterior door for the wheelhouse, it’s the main door they come in and out of. This is very typical of the type of door that’s on a West Coast fish boat. It’s called a Dutch door because it comes in two pieces, they can open it up, and still have one bottom half closed. This is a slab construction, meaning it’s just boards that have been stuck together. The slab construction, it works well for a quick door, but this one, it’s bowed just like the one on my client’s boat, and this one has lots of cracks in it which is very typical of the slab construction. I’m gonna do a frame and panel construction, which will last a lot longer. So after I was asked by the client to take on this job, first thing I needed to do was go down and take a pattern of the opening, which I did with using door skin plywood. I have gussets here to stop it from any wracking at all, and I’ve also put on some notes where things were, where the doorknob was, where the lap was, and the measurements as well. From there I drew it out full size on a piece of door skin plywood to show me all the dimensions that I’m going to be working with. Then I can take this and then build a cutting list. This is the piece of African mahogany that I’ve chosen to build the door with. It’s a wood that is still plentiful, it has some good rot resistance to it. I also chose this piece because it has some weight to it. Picking through the pile, that’s a desired feature to have a little more substance cause I know it’s going to be a harder wood in the end. It’s two inches thick, the finished door I want to be an inch and a half thick, and when it’s varnished and gets some patina in the sun, it’s going to be a beautiful looking door when we’re all finished. So before I put this wood through the thickness planer, I have to have one side that’s flat, so what I’m going to do is take off some corners before I can finish it off in the thickness planer. Also after I plane this, I’m also hoping to discover some nice grain underneath there, which is typical in African mahogany. The customer that I’m building this door for wanted me to copy the type of door that he had, which is a slab door construction. I explained that if we’re going a mahogany, that we’re going to have do a frame panel construction. The principle behind a frame and panel for a door is you have a framework that stays solid, and you have a panel that floats within that space. I’ve made this panel, it’s gonna be a flush panel, it’s gonna have a one eighth gap all the way around it, and now this panel will float within that space. So basically when a piece of wood about this wide, can expand up to an eighth of an inch, and if it doesn’t have a place to go, it will literally blow these joints apart, or crack or break or, something will happen to it. This allows this to have free motion within that space so that it can move. Now it’s mostly gonna move in the opposite direction of the grain, and the grain length is not gonna move that much. So now that I’ve done my dry fitting, I’m gonna have to do some sanding of the panels before I do my finished assembly. These are areas of the door that are usually in the dark. There’s always going to be a shadow in this frame panel construction, but there’s some marks in here, I’d like to just clean that up a little bit, and these are areas that I won’t be able to touch later on, so I’m gonna do that all now. Now I’m just coating the areas that I can’t get at once the door’s all glued together. This is going to be an exterior door, and on a boat, so the varnishes I like to use are the proper marine spar varnishes. In this case I’m using an epifane, which is one that I prefer to use quite a bit, because it’s never given me any problems. I’m gonna use epoxy on the joints. Now epoxy works really well for a few different reasons. I have a pretty snug fit with this mortise and tenon, so if I use a traditional water base adhesive, then I’m going to have some problems with that wood swelling up, and I’m not going to be able to get these together very well. Another thing with epoxy is, it has great gap filling abilities, so if I did make an error in, with the mortise and tenon, it will take up that space, and fill it up for me and be a strong filler. Plus the epoxy gives me a long open working time while I assemble. I’m putting silicone rubber in the bottom of this groove where the door panel fits into. You’ve got to be careful with this silicone, because it is considered a contaminant in the sense that if you get it on anywhere you don’t want it, then nothing will stick to it, including glue or anything else so, it can make quite a mess really fast. So I’m really careful when I use it. It’s not a glue, it’s being used as a positioning for the panel. When the panel wants to shrink and expand, the silicone rubber will maintain a memory and keep that line even all the way around. What I wanna do is have wax paper under each joint because if I don’t I’m gonna end up gluing it down to the table, and the wax paper will stop that, prevent that from happening. Now I’m gluing it onto, laying it down on this torsion box that I have that I build my doors on, because I know it’s dead flat. I’m putting my clamps at the end like this, and the reason I’m doing at the end instead of on top, because I know if I was to put this type of clamp on top, it could actually evilly buckle up the door. So I hold it out like this, and luckily it’s a small door so I only need a couple of clamps, hold it together, bit of squeeze out happening which is good. Make sure things are lined up. So now what I’m doing is I’m positioning my panel so that the line is even all the way around. And that silicone rubber will set up quite quickly, and will hold that panel in position after everything’s set. So now after I’ve made this one panel, in the clamping process I noticed it had a bit of a wane to it, so I want to clamp down the corners to make it flat. And so, after the epoxy sets up, then the door should stay flat, and hopefully that epoxy will have taken up any gaps that have been causing it to have that wane in it. So I’m gonna let that set up overnight, and tomorrow I can start sanding.


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