Our Greek Revival house stood garageless for the
first 150 years of its life, so I knew when it came
time to add one, it had to honor the character of the old
girl. I also knew I had a bad case of sticker shock after
shopping for a carriage house–style overhead door.
Wood doors of the style I was looking for started at
$2,800 and climbed to three times that amount. So I did
what any self-respecting do-it-yourselfer would do: I
built my own. And I did it using an inexpensive hardboard
door, cedar boards and tongue-and-groove paneling.
You can use the techniques shown to customize a new
door or update an old one. Note: The design shown on
the following pages isn't exactly like my door shown
above. I changed some details, especially about the arch.
Tools and materials
Since most “off the shelf” doors these days
are metal or fiberglass, you may have to
special-order your hardboard door through a
home center, lumberyard or garage door
dealer. Do your homework: I had some quotes
as high as $800—more than twice what I paid.
I purchased cedar boards, rough sawn on
one face and smooth on the other, for the rails
and stiles, and 1/4-in. x 4-in. x 8-ft. cedar
tongue-and-groove material—often used for
interior wainscoting or closet lining—for the
recessed slats. Choose material that's straight
with a minimum of knots. Cedar is ideal
because it's lightweight and naturally rot resistant.
In some parts of the country, you may
need to special-order it.
Use a pneumatic finish nailer. This will allow
you to work twice as fast as hand nailing, and
since the nail heads leave only tiny dents, the
primer and paint will fill them, saving you
hours of nail setting, puttying and sanding.
The nails are important, but it's the adhesive
that holds the boards flat and secure for the
long haul. I used heavy-duty “subfloor” adhesive
for that task. The caulk is equally important
since it keeps moisture from getting
between the boards and the door. I used white
silicone caulk—itself a tenacious adhesive—for that job. Some silicone caulk isn't paintable—and it's usually available in a limited
number of colors. If you can't find a silicone
caulk that matches the paint color of your
door, buy a “paintable” version.
To ensure accurate cuts, beg, borrow or
steal a power miter saw.
Structural and Safety Considerations
I actually built and installed my garage door 10
years ago—and haven't had a lick of trouble
since. Before you launch into your project, keep
these factors in mind:
- When you modify a door, you'll most
likely void the manufacturer's warranty, so
take pains to create watertight seals wherever
- Since you're adding 3/4 in. of thickness
to the door, the vertical garage door tracks will need to be set back from the opening
an extra 3/4 in. You may need oversize
jamb brackets for the job.
- Your door will be 40 to 60 lbs.
heavier once the wood overlay is added.
Figure out the total weight of your door
and install springs and a garage door
opener rated for that weight.
- Make certain each of the four hardboard
door panels has a heavy-duty horizontal
reinforcement bar along the back
to prevent bowing. Those bars are
installed when the door is hung.
- If you're working with an existing
door, make certain it's in good shape.
Remove any loose or flaking paint so the
glue and caulk have a solid surface to
Hanging a garage door is tricky—and
potentially dangerous—work. I suggest
you do what I did: Have a professional
hang the door. A pro will know how to
install the door, the track and the opener
safely. Plan to talk BEFORE you start your
project to get additional input into the
work you're doing.
Start with a game plan and a sketch
We designed our 16-ft.-wide door to
resemble a pair of smaller carriage house
doors, but you could come up with other
designs. You can increase or decrease the
number of vertical stiles, install a straight
top rail instead of an arched one, or install
crisscross battens for a barn-door look.
Measure the height and width of each
door panel, as well as the overall height
and width of the assembled garage
door, and sketch it out on graph paper.
Draw in the rails and stiles and how they
meet so you have a solid game plan.
Position your four garage panels on
the floor. Make sure they're in the proper
order (if they're new, they'll be marked
top, middle, middle, bottom) and that
the edge grooves overlap properly.
Temporarily secure them to one another
using 1x3 cleats and drywall screws
(Photo 1). Transfer the measurements
from your graph paper to the door, then
snap chalk lines to indicate the edges of
all the rails and stiles.
I first snapped lines for the horizontal
rails, then the lines for the two 1x4 outer
stiles and the 1x8 center stile. I measured
between the edge stiles and the center
stile to find that center point, then
snapped lines for the intermediate stiles
(Photo 1). When I was done, the four
spaces between the stiles were identical
Lay out the garage door design on the panels.
Rail and Stile Layout
Place the panels in the correct order and temporarily secure them to each other. Transfer your scaled drawing to the panels and snap lines to mark the position of the different pieces.
Install the rails, stiles and slats
Apply two beads of heavy-duty construction
adhesive and a bead of silicone
caulk to secure the bottom rail (Photo 2).
Install the caulk bead so it's just “kissing”
the bottom of the chalk line; that way the
caulk will smoosh out a little to help
create a watertight seal along the top of
the board. Set the bottom rail in place,
rough side up, and secure it with nails
every 12 inches.
Next install the edge, center and intermediate
stiles (Photo 3). Their ends
should be even with the seams between
the door panels. Use your chalk lines as
guides for laying down beads of construction
adhesive and caulk prior to
installing each board. Also run beads of
silicone caulk at the outer edges to create
a good seal. Install the 1x6 rails at the top
of panel 3.
Draw the arches onto the 1x12 top rails
(Photo 4) using a screw as a center point
and a tape measure as a giant compass.
Cut the arch using a jigsaw and smooth
the edges by hand or by power-sanding.
Install the arches using construction
adhesive and silicone caulk.
Measure the height for the tongue-and-groove slats for panel 1. Mark one of
the slats to length, position it on the
miter saw, then install a “bump block” so
all the slats you cut for panel 1 will be
identical lengths (Photo 5).
Nest a dozen or so precut pieces
side-by-side to create the test panel
shown in Photo 6. Center it in the
opening, then mark the two end slats
so the slats will be centered during the
actual installation. Rip the first piece
to width as indicated by your mark,
then install it with the tongue facing
out. Continue installing the other
pieces (Photo 7). Rip the last piece to
the exact width so it butts tightly
against the other stile. Install all the
pieces in panel 1, then move up to the
second panel. Your “starter pieces” in
each section of each panel should be
Back to Top
Once all your slats are installed, apply
more silicone caulk where they butt to
the stiles and rails (Photo 8). Remove the
1x3 cleats holding the panels together,
place the panels on sawhorses and
prime all the exposed edges and surfaces
with a thick coat of stain-blocking
exterior primer. Really work it into the
exposed end grain of the slats to prevent moisture from wicking in. Once the
primer has dried, apply two coats of
good exterior paint, again paying special
attention to the exposed ends of the
slats, rails and stiles.
Call your friendly neighborhood
garage door person to hang your new
creation. Expect to pay $300 to $500
for installation of the door and an