Installing Exterior Doors

Another night working on the house – installing door frame.

This is a follow-up post on building your own exterior doors, which was covered in my last post. Building doors is a satisfying project. It can be tedious and sometimes stressful, but only in the sense that you want to make sure things are exact. If done correctly, the end result will bring you satisfaction for years to come. In this post, I’ll discuss installing doors in door frames and some issues we ran into with hardware for custom doors.

Door Frames

A lot of videos I watched on door frames made it seem complicated. None of them covered exactly how to do it for a log home. An LHBA Butt & Pass log home is easier than most as will be seen below. Most folks just buy “pre-hung doors”, which include the frames. With pre-hung doors, mostly what you do is make sure the frame is square using shims and such. Since pre-hung doors are covered heavily out there in internet land, I’m not going to cover it.

With a custom-made log home, I decided everything – from how big to make the holes in the walls for receiving the frames, to how big to make the doors to fit in said frames. I decided to go with standard sizes – 36″ wide, 80″ high. Maybe down the road, someone else may want to replace the doors with manufactured doors (I have no idea why anyone would do this, but at least with my house, they could). But I also made sure that you can fully open my doors – meaning you can open the door to the point where the full 36″ opening is available to shove a couch through. Should be plenty wide. This was all covered in a previous post.

A note on the frame lumber: I noticed that outside of LogHouseNut’s 6″ wide frames for his doors, my 4″x16″ frames are quite large. Many log home builders go with 4″ lumber, but not many go with 16″ deep. I’ve seen a lot of 4×10, or 4×12. We had very crooked logs, and on each course, they don’t always sit exactly over the log below, so our walls are not perfectly plumb from row to row. Our logs average 17″ in diameter, but some are smaller or larger. We used larger logs near the ground, and the smaller ones near the roof, so the opening for doors might be anywhere from 20″ at the threshold to 12″ at the header, depending on the location of the door. I decided that a 16″ door frame ties all the various sizes of logs together and looks good at all heights. Plus, I like the “portal” effect of the entrances with this size lumber.

I saw a lot of folks on the LHBA forums saying large lumber is hard to install. I used pulleys and a crowbar to install mine, and it was not hard. Heavy, but not hard.

A note on installing the frame in a LHBA Skip style butt & pass log home: other types of log homes stack the logs right on top of each other. When the logs dry, they shrink. When they shrink, they settle, meaning the whole house will shrink in height. This can crush your door and window frames. To compensate for settling, other methods teach you to account for the settling by cutting extra space above window and door frames, and then covering it with a “false header” or trim.

With the LHBA method, rebar holds the logs in place. The logs shrink, but they shrink towards their own centers, and grab tightly to the rebar. This means there is no settling of the structure, so you can cut your door frames as tight as you like. I decided to leave a bit of space for insulation and also so the chinking looks uniform.

Once you understand this secret about why an LHBA home won’t settle, it opens up an entire world of possibilities. Stairs go right where you want them. No engineering work to calculate the amount of settling for a specific type or size of log. No special screw jacks. No slip joints or slots needed to allow for movement in your door frames. No “years of experience cutting copes”. No expertise needed. No planning on how to attach the roof to the house. No special hardware. LHBA is truly a style for “the everyman” (and woman) builder. It is an extremely advanced and genius method.

Why a LHBA Butt & Pass style home won’t settle

Door Hardware for custom made doors

Almost universally true

I believe I found an exception to the universal rule of “Good, Fast, and Cheap, but you only get to pick two.” I’ll explain: my doors ended up being 2.5″ thick – much more than a standard exterior door, which are usually about 1.75″ thick. I thought the doorknob would be able to stretch to accommodate the extra 3/4″ – but not the ones we bought. If you buy a schlage or a Kwikset, they sell extension kits for about $8 – you get extension posts for the screws, and a metal tube that extends the twisting post. I tried to fabricate my own fix for the ones we bought, but couldn’t find a 3/8″ hollow brass square tube. I presented three solutions for my wife to pick from:

  1. new hardware (good, but not fast (shipping) or cheap)
  2. jerry-rig the existing hardware (fast and cheap, but not good)
  3. use standard hardware and modify the door (countersink the doorknob) (surprisingly: cheap, fast, and good)

She chose to countersink the hardware into the door. I was a little nervous about cutting into the door, but it is a simple solution, and meant we didn’t have to rely on my hokey hardware solution that could possibly fail down the road. And if we ever change door locks, another standard set of knobs will still work.

Doorknob and lock countersunk into door

Since I had already cut the hole for the standard installation, it was difficult to cut a new larger hole. The standard hole was about 2 1/4″ diameter. To countersink the base of the doorknob, I found I needed a 3″ diameter hole to accommodate the base. It seems that you could just guess on the location of the new outer ring of the hole, but the eye has a way of noticing when things are out of whack, even by just a tiny amount. Incidentally, research has shown that human fingers can detect a change of depth just a few molecules thick between two surfaces.

Anyway, to ensure that the new secondary hole (which doesn’t go all the way through the door) was centered on the existing hole, I just used the scraps from the holes I had already cut – stuck them on the end of the drill and used that to center the new hole. On the second door, I drilled the 3″ hole first, then used the center to drill the smaller hole.

I ended up needing to cut about 5/16″ from both sides of the door (5/8″ total) to get the hardware to fit and function properly.

Summary / Next steps

I think they look good and will last a long time. The front door is almost installed, then we move onto windows (a new adventure, yay!). All of this is in preparation for chinking the outside.

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