Do It Yourself: Tip For Building Barn Doors

Many people like the appearance of a hand-crafted rustic door. With a little pre-planning and imagining the finished product, you should be able to start and finish within a few hours.

There are various types of barn doors you can put onto your structure. If it has an average-size opening, you can purchase garage door hardware and put on a sliding overhead door. Or, you could put on a custom-built track door. Unfortunately, most barns have odd-sized openings and need to have custom-sized doors to fit, and track doors are very solid and could be very heavy. Track doors are very expensive as well, with just the tracks costing over $100 in some places. Also, many people like the appearance of a hand-crafted rustic door, so building their own is the only option.

For ease in opening and handling, two doors that meet in the middle are the best idea, and can be built with several two-by-fours, some two-by-sixes, hinges, lag screws and nails.

For hardware materials, you'll need a hammer, 3" carpenter nails, 2" lag screws, a ratchet wrench, a level, a drill, a tape measure (preferably a metal, non-bendable one), a protractor if you're mathematically inclined, a circular saw, a large sheet of paper for designing the plan, and a carpenter's pencil.

You will need to measure your door opening and find out if it's square or not perfectly sized. On older barns, the opening may be a couple inches higher or wider on one side or the other. Generally, it's not a problem. If your sides are relatively level, and have a solid support on each side, there will be no problem. If they are off quit a bit, however, you will need to put up a new support system, shimming it so that it's level. A tilted door frame will equal a tilted door, and you will have trouble opening or closing it, and it won't line up with the other door.

If the sides of the opening are not level, you will need to purchase two-by-six-inch boards and cut them to the height of the opening from ground level to top. If the opening will be exposed to the elements, you'll need to get pressure-treated lumber. If the opening is higher than eight feet, or higher than you want the door to be, you'll have to put in a cross soffit perpendicular to the side framework for your door to butt against.

Once the opening is level, you can begin to plan the doors. You will need to decide if you want them to hinge outward or inward. If you live in the north, where snow will accumulate outside the door, or the ice will make the ground swell, you'll want them to open inward. In southern climates, an outward opening would be better. In either case, you'll want the bottom of the door to be at least two inches above the ground level in case the barn settles or the ground rises so you wouldn't be trapped inside a barn unable to open the doors.

Measure the entire opening. For this example we will say the barn door opening is eight feet square. You will want two doors, a little less than eight feet high and a little less than four feet wide. Draw your sketch on the piece of paper how the finished doors will look. Each will be about four-by-eight feet, and will be attached by a frame on the top and bottom, with a diagonal frame board cut at an angle and slanting from one side of the door frame to the other. The frame will be in the shape of a Z. The frame boards will be on the inside of the barn, and the outside will be flush with all up-and-down boards. You will need to figure how many up and down boards you will need.

Two-by-fours are not really four-inches wide, so you'll need to accommodate that equation. If you have mild winters, you can space the boards apart so the space they take up is exactly four inches. For a 48-inch door, that would mean twelve four-inch boards for each door, or eight six-inch boards per door. Six-inch boards are a little more expensive, but it would require less cutting and measuring. For the framework, you will need four two-by-six-by eight-foot boards. You will also need to buy six heavy-duty hinges, and two-inch lag screws for each hole of each hinge. You can find these at major hardware stores, building supply houses, or tractor stores.

Cut all the upright boards to the length you will need. In this case, about seven-feet, ten-inches each. Line them up on a flat surface and arrange them to be about three-feet, eleven-inches wide, maybe a tad wider. You'll need to accommodate the space made by hinging, and you don't want your door to hit the other door, or they won't be able to close.

When the boards are lined up and leveled square, nail in the top and bottom boards, about four inches from the actual top and bottom of the arranged boards. These boards should be cut to the width of the door. In this case, about three feet, eleven inches. Nail the boards using one nail per board. When the door is completed, you'll turn it over and nail it again from the other side. When both frame boards are nailed, take your cross member and either cut two 45-degree angles from both ends so it butts against the boards on the door, or lay it over the door at the angle it will be anchored, and use a straight line and your pencil to mark how it should be cut. Cut that and nail it to the frame, just like you did the top and bottom boards. Then turn it over and nail from the other side. Use two nails per board on the smooth side. Make sure no nails are poking through at the other side, for people to be cut. Generally, this won't happen using three-inch nails.

Do the other door the same way. Now your doors are finished and hinges will need to be put on. Put a hinge at the top and bottom, and one in the middle. Lay the hinge on the door and use a drill to start holes for screwing in the lag bolts. Screw them into the doors first, tightening them with a ratchet. You might want to leave a couple lag screws out in case there is a problem when you attach the door to the framework and need to move the hinges. It happens. Two people will be needed to attach the door to the barn frame, as the doors will be heavy. Also, you may need to put a board under the bottom of the door when you line it up, to keep it off the ground. Make sure your hinges are put on the doors before you try to hang them to make the door open out or in, depending upon your choice.

Once both doors are put on, you will want to put a latch on to hold them together. There are many types of closures for this, including large metal brackets on which you can drop in an eight-foot board to secure the barn in windy weather. It's a large chore, but not really difficult. With a little pre-planning and imagining the finished product, you should be able to start and finish the doors within a few hours of beginning. Just remember that the barn door frames need to be almost level and very solid and the doors will hang there for the life of the structure.

© High Speed Ventures 2011