How to build your own garage door

January 2, 2012


There’ve been several hits on this blog on the subject listed above, so I decided to put up a page dealing with the process.  A copy of the text lies below, but it will fall off the edge of the posts after a month or so.  A permanent copy is up as a page to be found in the list down the right hand side of the page.  One of these days I have find a way to organize the posts.  This one is number 367, and I confess I often use Google to find things on the site.


I bought the first door, a 10′ wide by 7′ high, “stain grade, mahogany” raised-panel model.  It was in storage in a builder’s locker after a mixup in plans for a new house.

The “mahogany” was the  meranti panels, 1″ material.  The remainder of the door turned out to be western hemlock.  To discover this I called the builder, Stewart Garage Doors, then an obscure factory in Toronto where I spoke to the subcontractor:  “We use hemlock because it’s strong, holds fasteners, and it resists rot well.”

The hardware had come with the door, and it was complete, except for the weather stripping, which was advertised but not available at the time of the sale.  That was a $150. mistake.

I spent two weeks of evenings staining the door with an off-white latex stain, the current state-of-the-art product from a home centre.  It was expensive, but good enough that I used it for the siding on the garage and the next garage door, as well.

Fitted with a cheap Sears opener, this door has served very well in the workshop.  To my relief, splashes from the eaves haven’t seemed to bother the door thus far.  The stain seems to be worth the money.

For my son’s taller garage I resolved to build a copy of the door (only 9′ high), so I ordered 1 3/4″ stile-and-rail cutters for my shaper which would provide the appropriate pattern for rails and stiles.  I already had a good cove cutter for the raised panels.  Ordering from Freud was a comedy of errors.  After three tries from different vendors, each of which mysteriously disappeared from everyone’s records, a Freud employee rather arrogantly suggested that online vendors aren’t very smart.  For example, a part named EU-264 must be typed “EU-264″ and not “EU 264″.  I privately thought that perhaps it was the Freud programmer who wasn’t the sharpest chisel in the drawer, but at length I received my cutters.

A pile of 1″ walnut had sat outside too long, so I planed it up and trimmed the good parts out of the rather scrubby boards to make twenty four, 26 X 14″ panels.  To save time at the gluing stage I tongue-and-grooved the parts, then just clamped them together with a bit of Gorilla Glue.  Before cutting the panels to final dimensions I ran them through my double drum sander to produce a consistent texture for staining.  Then came the coves.  The heavy cut required three passes per surface, but I ended up with 7/8″ boards with deep coves cut entirely on the front side (leaving the back surface flush) with just under 1/4″ to fit the stiles and rails.  This was the hardest my old Poitras/General 3/4″ shaper with its small power feeder had worked in a long time.  I gave it a new set of bearings soon after.

Earlier in the year I had bought locally 220 bd ft. of eastern hemlock 2 X 6″ planks about 11′ long to air dry for the rails and stiles.  After planing the stock I found six months in the sun hadn’t dried it well enough, so I put it into the greenhouse for a month to reduce the moisture content.

I quickly discovered that the best hemlock is good wood.  The rest is useless for garage door building as it tends to split and shake unexpectedly.  It will twist, too, though this might have been because of a lack of seasoning.  Another time I would order double the amount the plan calls for.  The wood is cheap and available;  it just needs sorting.

Planed to 1 3/4″, the hemlock ripped and machined very well.  For example I was able to cut the end-grain pattern for the stiles freehand, using only the fence as a guide.  This is not a trick for the uninitiated, but the cutters were sharp and hemlock machines very well across the end grain.  Knots tend to be hard, but workable.

I remembered to cut a 5/16″ rabbet into each of the rails to allow for overlap with the door sections above and below.  Be careful at this stage:  top and bottom sections are not the same.

With limited space in my shop I found the easiest way to assemble the six, 10 foot door sections was to clamp one rail in my bench vice and then assemble the section above that rail, gluing as I went.  (I have built a lot of doors over the last few years, so this went quite easily.)

I noticed that the professionally-built door is only 1 3/8″ thick, but has tenons and rabbets which extend an extra 1/4″ beyond the face of the rails and stiles.  My amateur cutters left me with no extra tenon, so I hedged my bets with one #10, 6″ Robertson screw carefully driven through the rail into the end of each stile.

Some shakes or splits in the frames threatened to degrade the quality of the project, so I bought a litre kit of WEST System epoxy (a holdover from my old boat days) and had at anything which needed patching.  This worked well.  A bit of sawdust mixed in provided a good filler for the odd imperfection in the panels, as well.  The beauty of WEST System is the wax in the epoxy which makes the surface touchable before it is completely set.

Some of the coves were fuzzy on the walnut so from Princess Auto I bought a refurbished Dremel sonic vibrator multitool (?) to sand the corners and the coves.  It turned out to be a fine little machine, much more effective than I had expected.  My PC 6″ random orbital sander finished up the sanding.

Staining went as expected, though I had some trouble with rails warping.  Clamping the six panels to scaffolding used as shelves helped a bit, but I couldn’t get the hinges on quickly enough to ensure continued straightness.

I approached a commercial door vendor for a materials kit for the installation.  He took an interest in the project and for a bit over $600 provided me with a heavy duty hardware set.

What turned out to be a critical question didn’t get adequate attention from me.  “How much does the door weigh?”  He wouldn’t order the springs without that weight.  I provided an estimate by weighing the panels on my bathroom scale and adding the weights up.  246 pounds turned out to be too much spring for this door.  So we backed it off two quarter-turns so that it would stay down.  Now it won’t stay up.  Looks as though we’ll have to screw some brake rotors to the door and then reset the spring to its proper tension to enable the mechanism to work properly.

Pay attention to the door’s weight when talking to the hardware guy.

More later, after we get the spring situation worked out and the shaft-type garage door opener installed.

UPDATE December 30, 2012:

This week I’ve been using the garage to make repairs to my snow removal tractor and blower. This has involved many trips in and out with the returning vehicle covered with snow which melts in the heat. The surprise has been how much a difference in humidity in the garage affects the weight of the large door. At its current spring settings, after a night of heat and water on the floor the door is almost too heavy to lift above the 9′ height of the 2X6 I’m using as a prop.. If it is allowed to dry out with the same heat, it’s not bad at all to lift above the 9′ height.

No doubt this will have to be a factor when determining proper spring settings, whenever we get around to installing the electric opener.

UPDATE 3 January, 2013:

We finally got started on the garage door opener project after a week of arduous pushes to raise the door against an imbalanced spring as the wood absorbed more and more humidity from the slush on the floor inside. Charlie counted the coils on the springs and discovered the left was at 189 coils and the right at 188. So I turned them both to 189 and tried it. A bit more lift was needed. Another 1/4 turn on each did the trick. No additional weights were needed and we were back to factory specifications for the springs.

If reduced humidity makes the door want to float away on the springs, we plan to fasten counter-weights to it to level it out, but at the moment it is well-balanced.

The garage door opener also turned out to be our New Year’s Day project this year. It fell to Charlie and Roz to sort out the various wiring and electronic tricks involved in making the thing function. So I tried to stay out of the way while they ran the wires, set the spring tolerances, and taught the remotes how to interact with the power unit. The final touch was to teach the Lexus to announce its presence to the door.

The shaft-drive power unit is very quiet and systematic. The smooth start and finish surprised me at first, but this unit is a far cry from the simple Sears in my workshop. The only trouble now is that the Sears remote somehow has learned both codes, and opens both doors at the same time. The Lexus, on the other hand, hasn’t yet deigned to notice the new Chamberline. Instructions call for the home owner to press the program button on the opener, then dash to the car and hold down on a couple of buttons until it learns the code. But the power unit is 12′ up a wall, with the only access by a ladder leaning against the garage door, and I’m not as quick as I used to be.

I’m sure we’ll figure something out.


Turns out the Lexus had the Chamberline all figured out. It’s the humans that were the problem. I asked my assistant to press buttons 1 and 3 to cancel the codes prior to learning the new one. The door calmly rose. “Bet, would you press 1 and 3 again?” Down went the door. The adjoining workshop showed no activity from its door, so I’m prepared to go with that. To open the wood shop, press 1. To open the auto shop, press 1 and 3.

Time for my afternoon nap.


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