How to Build Dutch Barn Doors
If you have a shed or a barn, a well-built set of Dutch-style barn doors can provide not only unique functionality but are quite attractive and very durable. This classic door style features a two-part design, in which the two halves of the door are hung and hinged independently so that the upper half can be opened for ventilation while the lower half remains closed to keep livestock secured.
Barn doors are traditionally sheathed with tongue-and-groove stock, but our approach takes a little bit of a different approach: using T-111 siding for the sheathing. This makes for a much easier construction method, especially for novice carpenters.
These doors are relatively simple to build, provided you have access to a table saw, miter saw, circular saw, pneumatic nailers, and a drill. One could get by without the pneumatic nailers, but they make the job go by much quicker, particularly if you have a few of these doors to build.
Keep in mind is that these doors are relatively heavy. Our project door is designed for a door opening that is 4070 (4 feet wide by 7 feet tall), and the lower half weighs well over 50 pounds, so make sure that the hinges you choose to employ will handle the weight. The bottom half of the door is 4 feet tall, while the upper half is 3 feet tall, so the upper half is definitely lighter, but that's not a lot of concession when you have to hoist it up and in place to position the hinges. While one person can easily build the doors, you'll want a couple of extra sets of hands for positioning them.
The benefit of that weight is that these doors are stout enough to be used in a horse barn, where the horses like to lean against the door with their necks to try and get to whatever they see outside. When hinged properly, these barn doors will be durable enough to stand up to such abuse and last for years.
You should plan on this project taking a total of 10 to 12 hours, including finishing. It is best to devote a weekend to building each door.
Note: Our cutting instructions provide dimensions for a pair of Dutch-style barn doors for a door opening 4 feet wide and 7 feet tall. If your door opening is different than this, you will need to carefully sketch out the rough opening and calculate the dimensions of the frame parts (the horizontal rails and vertical stiles) and siding pieces based on your dimensions.
What You'll Need
Equipment / Tools
- Table saw
- Circular saw
- Compound miter saw
- Random orbit sander
- Pneumatic stapler
- Pneumatic framing nailer
- Pneumatic finishing nailer
- Countersink drill bit
- Woodworking clamps
- Layout square or framing square
- Chalk line
- 6 boards 2 x 6 lumber, 6 feet long
- 1 4 x 8 sheet 3/4-inch T-111 siding
- 4 boards 2 x 4 lumber, 8 feet long
- 6 boards 1 x 4 lumber, 8 feet long
- 3 boards 1 x 2 lumber, 8 feet long
- 4 heavy, barn-style strap hinges
- 1 1/4-inch treated deck screws
- 2-inch treated deck screws
- Handles and latches of your choice
To begin building these barn doors, the first thing to do is to measure the door opening and determine if you'll need to build door jambs—top and side pieces that line the rough opening and provide an anchoring surface for hinges and hardware. If the raw framed opening is sufficient (since this is a barn or a shed), you likely won't need to build a door jamb.
Also, for this set of doors, we're making an assumption that the building has a raised concrete floor (or at least raised piers along the perimeter) that extend a few inches above the ground. This is common in barns, and it will allow us to have the bottom portion of the door flush with the outside of the bottom concrete threshold of the door opening.
As noted, this project creates a door for a 4070 door opening (4 feet wide by 7 feet tall). It allows for a 1/4-inch gap on all sides, allowing the door to fit within the opening. If you are adapting this project for a different-sized door opening, make sure to allow for this.
Also, make sure to check for square by measuring both diagonals of the opening. (Equal diagonals means the opening is perfectly square.) If the opening is not square, you'll need to make some adjustments to the dimensions and layout of the pieces as you construct the door.
Cut the Pieces for the Frame
After verifying measurements and calculating the dimensions of the door pieces, the first step is to rip a 45-degree bevel along one edge of an 8-foot long 2 x 6, using a table saw. This beveled board will be cut to the width of the door and will form the top rail of the bottom door and the bottom rail of the top door. The bevel will allow the doors to come together with a flush fit and will block the gap between the door to keep the weather out.
- After ripping the 2 x 6, cut it to length. If your opening is 48-inches, cut it to 47 1/2 inches in length.
- Set the remainder of the beveled board aside until later.
- Next, cut a 47 1/2-inch length of 2 x 6 for the bottom rail on the bottom half of the door.
- Cut two lengths of 2 x 6 to 37 inches for the vertical door stiles on the bottom half of the door. (The horizontal rails will overlap stiles at top and bottom)
Note: In the project, we'll focus on building the bottom half of the door first. The top half will repeat the steps, only with minor adjustments in sizing.
Position the Frame
- On a flat working surface, align the rails and stiles into position.
- Measure the frame diagonally from opposite corners to make sure that the frame is square.
- Clamp the corners together with woodworking clamps.
Note: Keep in mind that the high-edge of the beveled 2 x 6 you cut in the previous step will be on the inside portion of the door. This will allow the top half of the door to open independently and allow it to fit flush when it closes against the bottom half.
Connect the Frame
With the rails and stiles of the door frame clamped in place, it's time to connect the frame members.
- Diagonally "toenail" a few long screws through the frame members as shown here. Some 3-inch screws driven through counter-bored pilot holes work best to hold the members tight and keep the frame members from splitting, but another method is to angle some long framing nails with a framing nailer.
- Once all four corners have been toenailed, remove the clamps and check again to make sure the frame is square.
Cut and Attach a Diagonal Brace
With the four corners of the barn door frame toenailed and checked for square, the next step is to attach a diagonal brace to add strength to the door frame and keep it from racking when in use. This diagonal must be custom measured and cut to fit the frame and should extend from high on the hinge side to low on the latch side of the door.
- To begin, measure diagonally from the inside corner of the frame on the top—the hinge-side edge of the door frame to the inside corner of the low, handle-side edge of the door frame.
- Cut a 2 x 6 to this length.
- Next, mark a center line on each end of the board, approximately 2 3/4 inches from each edge.
- Position the board on the frame, aligning each center line with the inside corners of the frame.
- After aligning the board, use a pencil to make a mark on each side of the board to denote the miter angle you must cut to make the brace fit into the frame. You'll need to make four mitered cuts, one from each mark to the center line.
- Use a straight edge to mark cutting lines on the face of the brace board.
- Use a miter saw to cut the ends of the brace along the marked lines.
- The brace board should now fit snugly within the frame, but not so tightly that it causes the frame to bend. Attach the diagonal brace to the frame by toenailing, as you did in the previous step.
Cut the Siding
With the frame complete, the next step is to cut the siding. The siding should be cut so that it is set in 2 inches from the edges of the door frame on each side, down 2 inches from the top of the frame, and flush with the bottom of the frame. For the 47 1/2-inch wide, 48-inch-high lower door we are building, that means that the siding should be cut 43 1/2 inches wide by 46 inches high.
- Measure and mark cutting lines on the siding, using a framing square.
- Cut out the door panel using a circular saw or table saw
Note: Be sure to note from which side you cut the siding for the bottom half of the door so that you can make sure to cut it the same way for the top half—ensuring that the grooves in the siding line up from top to bottom.
Attach the Siding to the Frame
With the T-111 siding cut to size, the next step is to attach it to the frame.
- Position the lower door frame on the work surface so the "outside" face is upward. The outside portion of the frame is the one that has the beveled face of the top rail. In other words, position the frame so this beveled edge of the rail is facing up.
- Position the siding piece over the frame so that the bottom is flush with the bottom of the door frame and the sides are set inside the frame by 2 inches on each side.
- With the siding positioned properly, attach it to the frame using a pneumatic stapler with 1 1/2-inch-long staples. Keep the staples within one inch of the edge all the way around the perimeter of the door.
- Using a chalk line, mark a line on the siding from the top, hinge-side corner of the door to the opposite, bottom, handle-side corner of the door.
- Drive staples along this line to attach the siding to the diagonal brace of the door frame.
Note: By positioning the staples within 1 inch of the four edges, and along the diagonal line, you ensure that all staples will be covered by trim and none will be visible on the finished door.
Prepare the 2 x 4 Edge Trim
Because the edges of the T-111 siding on the face of the door are a bit unsightly, we will mask these edges with 2 x 4s that are ripped to include an L-shaped rabbet along one edge. When installed, these trim pieces will look like 1 x 4 trim when viewed from head-on but will look like 2 x 4s when viewed from the side. These L-shaped trim pieces will protect the edges of the siding and add structural integrity to the door.
- To prepare the trim pieces, begin by measuring and cutting four pieces of 2 x 4 to match the four sides of the bottom door. The top and bottom trim pieces should be the width of the door, which, in our project is 47 1/2 inches. However, the two side pieces of trim should be two inches longer than the height of the door. In other words, if the door measures 47 1/4 inches from the lower portion of the beveled top rail to the bottom of the door, cut the two side pieces of 2 x 4 trim to 49 1/4 inches. Cutting the sides longer than the door gives the bottom of the door a 2-inch wide lip that will overhang the bottom of the door. This overhang will protect the barn or shed from wind, rain, and pests.
- Next, set up your table saw so that the blade is 1 3/4 inches high, and the side of the blade opposite the fence is 3/4 inch from the fence.
- Rip each of the four pieces of 2 x 4 along one edge, with the boards fed upright against the fence.
- Next, reset the table saw for a 3/4-inch-deep cut, 1 3/4 inches away from the fence.
- Lay each board flat against the saw and rip to complete the L-shape rabbet. This method leaves you with trim boards that have a 3/4 deep x 1 1/4-inch wide rabbet notch along one face.
- Test-fit the trim pieces on the door. You should find that the boards will lay comfortably over the siding and door frame, with the siding fitting neatly into the rabbet grooves. Viewed from the front, they will look like 1 x 4 trim moldings over the siding.
Miter-Cut the Edge Trim
With each of the four side pieces cut with the appropriate L-shape rabbets, the next step is to miter the corners and attach the trim to the door. The trim pieces will be cut and attached "picture-frame" style, with 45-degree mitered ends that fit together to make perfect corners.
- Cut the ends of the top trim piece at 45 degrees, with the rabbet groove facing down and against the fence on the miter saw. The long edge of the finished piece should be exactly the same length as the top rail on the door frame.
- Test-fit this first trim piece on the door, making sure the tips of the mitered ends are exactly flush with the overall width of the door frame.
- Cut 45-degree miters on the ends of the vertical trim pieces and test fit them on the door. The edges should align exactly with the outside edges of the door frame, and the bottom ends should overhang the door by 2 inches. If the mitered corners do not meet exactly, you may need to slightly adjust the miter angle of the saw.
- Miter the ends of the bottom trim piece and test fit along the bottom of the door, between the vertical trim pieces. Correctly cut and installed, the rabbet grooves on the bottom of the trim pieces should fit neatly over the raised edge of the siding.
Attach the Trim Pieces
Carefully align the trim pieces over the door, making sure the top and side edges are flush with the door frame. Attach the four trim pieces to the frame using a pneumatic framing nailer. Be certain that the nails are slightly countersunk so that the holes can be filled before finishing.
Attach the First Piece of X-Trim
Traditional Dutch barn doors have an X-shaped face design. For the outside of our door, we will make this design using 1 x 4 lumber.
- Begin by measuring the distance between one top corner and the opposite bottom corner of the trim. Cut a length of 1 x 4 to this length.
- Mark a center point on each end of the 1 x 4. This mark should be about 1 3/4 inch in from each side.
- Position the board so that the centerlines line up with the corners.
- Mark the points where the edges of the 1 x 4 meet the existing trim. Mark cutting lines along these edges.
- Use a miter saw to make angled cuts along these lines. The trim piece should now fit snugly between the door trim, from corner to corner.
- Attach the first piece of X-trim using 1 1/2-inch screws, a finish nailer, or by hand-nailing with finish nails.
Complete the X-Trim
To complete the X trim on the outside face of the bottom door, you'll use a similar process.
- Begin by marking a line at the midway point in the first long piece of the X trim you already installed. Be certain that this line is square, and precisely positioned at the midway point on the board.
- Next, cut a piece of 1 x 4 trim a couple of inches longer than the distance between this center line and one of the remaining corners.
- Add a center line to each end of the board.
- Now, place the board so that one end's centerline matches up with the corner of the trim, and the center line on the other end matches up with the centerline on the existing X-trim board.
- With the board in place, you can now mark for the miter cuts on the end of the trim.
- Make two angled cuts at the end of the trim piece, using a miter saw. The piece will now fit snugly into the corner.
- Repeat this process for the other piece of X-trim running to the remaining corner of the door.
- Attach both pieces in place using 1 1/2-inch screws, a finish nailer, or by hand-nailing with finish nails.
Attach the Hinges
The basic woodworking on the bottom half of the barn door is now complete. The next step is to attach the hinges to the door. The hinges you choose should be strong, strap-style hinges that are capable of holding at least 75 pounds each, preferably more.
- Position the hinges so that they will be flush against outer trim, but so that the mounting screws will to go all the way through the trim, the siding and into the 2 x 6 door frame. You might even choose to use hinges that require bolts and nuts with washers for added strength.
- Align and attach a hinge at both the top and bottom of the door, preferably about 6 to 8 inches from the top and bottom.
Trim the Door Jambs and Hang the Door
With the hinges attached to the bottom half of the barn door, it's time to install the door. Before installing the door, though, we need to trim out the door jamb on the outside of the building.
- Measure from the top of the door opening down to the bottom of the door opening, and add any additional length below the opening to suit your taste. Keep in mind that the barn door will extend 2 inches below the opening, so although you can trim to suit your needs, it would probably look best to match the height of the door by adding 2 inches to the door opening height for the length of your side trim boards.
- Cut two pieces of 1 x 4 to the determined length, and attach them to the door jamb on the outside of the building, using screws or nails. The trim should be flush with the edges of the door jamb, but you may need to compensate slightly if your opening is a bit out of plumb or square.
- Once the two side pieces of trim are attached, complete the trim by adding a piece to cover the top of the door. The length of this piece should extend from the outside of each of the two side pieces, to cover the top ends of the side trim boards.
- Once the trim is installed, you can move onto installing the bottom door. First, use some shims to position the door within the opening so that the bottom of the door is about 3/8 to 1/4 inch above the floor.
- Hold the door in place with shims driven along the sides of the door.
- Adjust the shims along the sides and bottom until the door is plumb, level, and perfectly centered in the opening.
- Attach the hinges to the door jambs using long screws or lag bolts as needed by your hinges. Make sure that the fasteners are driven deep enough to anchor them to the framing members below the trim.
Note: It is best to attach only one screw or bolt per hinge to start with, then check to see that the door opens and closes properly and maintains plumb throughout the swing of the door. This is critical to having the door open and close smoothly, but also to allow the top and bottom doors to open together. Once any adjustments are made, complete the installation of the bottom door by adding the remaining screws or lag bolts. Do not attach the handles or latches at this point.
Repeat Steps 2 to 15 for the Top Door
Now return to the beginning and complete the process for the top part of the door. Keep in mind that the top half of the door will be shorter than the bottom half, but you can easily measure from the existing bottom door to the top of the door opening and compensate accordingly when building the top half. Make sure to work out the math fully before beginning construction.
Finish the Doors
With the top half now installed, you have a completed set of barn doors. The doors should both close with an even gap along both sides. You should be able to open them cleanly, either together or separately
The next step is to install doorstop molding.
- Close both the bottom and top doors so that they are flush with the outside trim.
- Go inside and measure from the top of the door opening to the floor on one side of the door.
- Cut a piece of 1 x 2 to that length for a doorstop, and attach it to the door jamb using finish nails. This doorstop will keep the door from over-extending the hinges if blown shut, and it will cover the gap around the door
- Repeat the door stop on the opposite side of the door, followed by a piece of door stop across the top of the jamb between the two side pieces.
Finally, you can install the handles and latches of your choice, followed by your choice of wood finish. Most people choose to paint the barn doors, but staining is also a possibility. If you paint, be sure to caulk all joints and fill nail and screw holes with wood filler. Because barn doors are typically rustic in nature, you may choose to bypass sanding altogether, but that is a matter of taste.
Note: If you are using your barn doors to keep animals, such as horses penned inside, keep in mind that some of these animals try to chew on the top of the bottom door when the top is open. To protect your animals, you may want to choose a low-VOC paint.