Thursday, September 02, 2010

The Front Door Blog Entry

I suppose I should be thankful that the front doors are still there at all. All too often you see these original double doors removed and replaced with a modern single door and side lights. My doors have really been through a lot though, and it shows. In the picture above, one door and part of the other still need to be stripped of shellac.

I can find no less than 5 places where there was some sort of automatic door closer attached. What remains are the screw holes, which can be dealt with with putty and “micro faux graining”, as I like to call it.

At some point there were dogs with long, sharp claws that lived here. They liked to scratch at the door to get out. The grooves are deep in some places. If I sand them out I risk thinning the door where the bottom mortise is, so they will stay.

The original lockset is long gone and there is a much smaller one in its place. The original doorknobs are there, but the plates and escutcheons are gone. I will need to get a whole new vintage lockset, plates, knobs and escutcheon to replace what is there. There is quite a selection to choose from on-line, and prices are reasonable. It also looks like people have jimmied the door a few times over the years, so I will need to build areas back up around the lockset.

Because they are double doors, one door is stationary and held in place with a bottom and top slide bolt. Parts of the original bolts were still there, but they were both missing pieces – not parts, but pieces – and are broken beyond repair. Mine are both mortised in to the door so I must find replacements that are of the exact same size. They were cast iron with a nice Eastlake design, like the other hardware in the house.

The real issue here is that the top one is 24 inches long. I have found every size from 4 inches to 22 inches in a similar style (cast iron, Eastlakeish design), but the only 24-inch one I've found is brass. I'm going to buy it just so I can get something in there that works, and then keep looking for a more suitable replacement. It took 3 years to find the right pocket door rollers, so I'm not holding my breath.

Someone cut out a slot in one of the panels for a modern mail slot. I think this was done very recently. I've purchased a really nice period one, but it is not as wide as the modern one, so I will need to fill in at either end. On the outside, this will not be an issue. I can fill any seams with putty, sand smooth and paint. You will never know the difference. The inside is a different story because the wood will be a clear finish. I'm thinking of making a very thin redwood backing that mimics the design of the mail slot. I'll add the wood to the door and then mount the mail slot on the wood.

The glass is not original, but that doesn't really bother me. What does bother me is that someone broke some of the wooden stays that hold the glass in and did just about the worst repair you could possibly imagine. I will need to make new ones on the router. It might be easier to just replace all 8 instead of trying to make 3 to match the remaining 5.

I think the 3-light transom has been replaced. It always looked a little odd to me. It does not seem to fit the space as well as you would think. There is an extra half-inch piece of wood along the top to fill a gap. Also, it is not really behind the trim like it should be. Rather, it is placed in the opening and then toe nailed in. When I stripped the shellac it was actually painted white originally and then had a deep maroon tinted shellac over it. The white paint was very thin and seemed to have been sanded down first. Nothing else in the foyer had this sort of finish to it. It is redwood though, and it has old wavy glass in it. My guess is that it was broken early one and replaced with something the builder had laying around in the shop.

The outside of the door has rusty staples in it around one of the windows where it looks like the glass broke and someone covered it with plastic. This is the same window that had the crappy repair on the wooden stays that keep the glass in. For some reason there is plywood along the bottom of both doors. I'm afraid what I'll find when I take that off. I never stripped paint or repainted the front doors when I painted the house 3 years ago. Even then they seemed like too much work and I just needed to keep going with the house painting. I'm kind of thinking like that now.

I can't stop work on the inside of the foyer to deal with all of this right now. Even if I had all of the parts I need these doors easily represent 4 weeks worth of work. For now they will get stripped with shellac and oiled and then I'll just leave them be for awhile. I'm going to shop for locksets and door bolts and when I have all of that I will revisit them. Sooner rather than later this time. When I painted 3 years ago I had every intention of getting back to the doors as soon as I was done with the house painting. Obviously, that never happened.

Some neighbors a few blocks away told me that for years before I bought the house the front doors were propped open 24/7. This was the apartment days, obviously. That is probably the best thing that ever happened to the doors. Prop them open and leave them alone.

This old front door is just a long time of waiting and forgetting, remembering the coming back, not crying about the leaving. And remembering the falling down and the laughter of the curse of luck from all those son's of bitches who said we'd never get back up.


Anonymous said...

a beautiful post, sort of archaeological, or forensic woodworking. i am happy to think you're going to let them stand to tell their story.

St. Blogwen said...

Good diagnostic.

Is the green stuff between the doors and the trim weatherstripping or paint? I hope the former.

Kate H.

Greg said...

It is green paint from when the house was painted by the former owners. The painters pretty much sprayed over anything that wasn't nailed down. It is paint over shellac, so it should not be too hard to get off with a heat gun. I just need to have the doors open to do it.

Bones said...

And what a lovely shade of green, too!

The stairs really look nice, mister.

About the mail a mailma'am, I can't resist putting in my two cents worth. How 'bout a nice, external mailbox that accepts all sorts of magazines and oversize bills (hello, AT&T!) and boxes of checks, not to mention the odd parcel. Or if you need the inside slot? If you go with the door-slot option, please make the slot the same size as the opening!

I could go on, but professional courtesy is finally kicking in.

Did I mention how nice the stairs look?

Greg said...


I'm glad you like the stairs. They really did come out nice. As far as the mail slot goes, most of my mail goes to my PO Box. If there wasn't already a slot cut in the door I would never cut one just so I could mount the antique mail slot. What's done is done though. I either put on the antique mail slot or stick with the new one that is there.


slateberry said...

D@#n that song makes me so homesick. And the mention of the sons of hermann hall at the end--final twist of the knife.
I got dragged out to more family reunions out in LaGrange and Giddings when I was a tyke. Always at some sprawling clapboard dusty victorian era vfw or sons of hermann hall. With the local band, the local barbecue, and all the old folks sitting around talking up a storm about "boring stuff". Sand on the dance floor. I thought the parties were kind of lame--what a rube I was! I will probably never again get to go to a more authentic texas country german barbecue party, the food, the music, the dancing. But maybe to be a kid, and be surrounded by all that, and not even know how good I had it, was the point. Ahh.

At least I got a love of dusty old victorian buildings out of the experience.