Introduction: Timber Frame Sliding Barn Door
Where to begin...
I've been going down a bit of a rabbit hole of Japanese timber frame joinery lately. This started with a few zoom classes with Dylan Iwakuni and the Florida School of Woodwork but it's definitely gone into a deep dive where I'm trying to find unique joinery to attempt and even modifying certain joint to fit my purposes for furniture making.
If you're not familiar with Japanese Joinery, it's a style of timber frame construction that is used for building houses, temples, etc. It's typically not used in smaller scale furniture. However, I wanted to try something unique and make a barn door for my pantry that incorporates some classical style joinery. In the interest of really spicing things up, I drew some inspiration from Greene and Greene furniture, using some unique lines and the classic square ebony plugs.
Japanese joinery is not for the faint of heart. It requires discipline in the marking as well as the processes to get to the final product. However, when you're watching the video, I'm sure you'll notice that the processes are quite repetitive and similar. Saw close to the line, chisel waste, and then refine.
This build took me about three months of on and off work. Some days I'd spent a full day in the shop on it and others twenty or thirty minutes. It frustrated me, it gave me satisfaction, but at the end, it gave me something beautiful.
As I write this article here for you all on Instructables, I'm seated next to the door at my dining table, and the stories that this piece bears and the time invested I wear as a badge of honor.
So let's get to it.
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- Mike Farrington Double Taper Sanding Disc (Non-affiliate): https://www.mikefarrington.com/dt-disc/double-tape...
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Step 1: Roughing Frame Components to Size
I think it goes without saying that every project begins with sizing and breaking down lumber. This is going to be built in frame and panel style, reminiscent of a cabinet door, so I’m using 8/4 ash for the frame portion, and later will be working with 4/4 ash for the panel.
One of my boards still had a bit of a bend in it despite being jointed, so I’m going to use my no. 8 to joint it by hand and get that hip out. How did it end up with that hook in it still? Well these were jointed at a friend's shop and the two of us had jointed essentially what felt like a billion board feet of ash so by the end, we forgot when pushing these 8/4 boards through that if you're pushing through with force on both the front and the back of the curve, that you can essentially follow the curve and not properly joint the board. The jointer plane, entering at the start of the bend and exiting before the end of the board, will take that out.
These boards are over six feet long, so I can’t cross cut them to final length on my table saw, so the track saw is a great alternative. I should have gang cut them side by side but for some reason thought it was a good idea to stack them instead. So to line up my track I used the blade of my square in the kerf and then pushed the splinter guard to the blade to duplicate the cut.
A spritz of denatured alcohol softens the end grain to make it easier to flush up with the low angle jack.
I don't get too crazy about the ends of the boards being perfectly square here because marking my joinery will help me keep my components square and they can be flushed up after assembly.
Step 2: The First Joint: Eriwa Kone Hozosashi
To join the upper rail to the vertical stiles, I’ve designed a modified version of Eriwa kone hozosashi, a collared haunch mortise and tenon in joint. The traditional joint is found in the book The Complete Japanese Joinery, which I’ve linked along with a number of tools and products used below. The collared and haunch portions are extremely structural and if this was a weight bearing structure the topography of the tenon would prevent twisting or racking in any way.
Since I’m still quite a rookie to Japanese carpentry, I take a little extra time with the layout and use a pencil first to mark my lines before going over in 0.1 mm pen. Don’t worry about the pen lines in your final product as these will be planed off when finished.
I also use western saws primarily, and that’s just a matter of comfort as opposed to function. The basic when cutting these joints by hand, is to take small bites and relief cuts from both sides, staying close yet away from your marking lines, and then paring down with a chisel to final dimension. Japanese saws are great too. They cut on the pull stroke and a lot of folks seem to be extremely comfortable with them in terms of staying near the line. I like the way that those get started with ease. However, in my opinion, western saws seem to hold their line better overall.
The way this joint differs is that it is in fact flipped from the traditional joint. The idea being that I know to accommodate the panel, I'm going to have to either dado or rabbet the panel in (I ended up doing a rabbet), so I can't have the majority of the tenon seated toward the frame. I also liked the idea of having the through tenon exit through the higher part of the frame, in conjunction with the accent lines I add later, to be more in line with Greene and Greene Style.
So as far as paring, I still have a terrible habit of taking off more than I can chew. You really should only be taking paper thin shavings at a time to get to your final line and that’s just more of a long term goal for me in this practice.
Also, while I break away from it from time to time during this build, you want to pare end grain before slicing down your edge grain to ensure a cleaner result.
In another break away from Japanese tradition, I’m using a marking gauge to mark some lines first before tracing over them in pen. The Japanese do use marking gauges but typically for breaking down boards and not for the purpose of joinery. The western dovetail habits die hard.
Also if you’re not waxing your saw plate you’re really blowing it. This gulf wax is just a few dollars for what feels like a lifetime supply and it’s great for saw plates and plane bottoms to help reduce friction and increase glide.
In case you’re curious about proportions here, the tenon’s thickness is just one third of the overall thickness of the board. The non-haunched portion of the tenon is also one third of the board's width.
A router plane is a nice accessory here because it’ll ensure that my tenon is directly parallel to my outside surfaces. I don’t have a rabbeting block plane which will get me all the way to the edge, so this will get me that trued surface before I use a low angle plane cross grain to get to final dimension.
If you’ve got a keen eye, you’ve probably seen two spray bottles on my workbench for the most part. One bottle is denatured alcohol, which I previously explained is for helping soften wood grain, but the other bottle is just tap water. The water is sprayed onto the bottom of these right angle jigs to prevent them from sliding around when clamped to the work piece. As a more disgusting aside, I don’t change the water too often and here in south Florida where it’s nice and humid it’ll start growing stuff in it, so you should probably dump the water after every session.
Step 3: The Second Joint: Jaguchi Hozosashi
I’m going to cut the tenons for a modified version of jaguchi hozosashi, a rabbet and half blind mortise and tenon joint. Once again, the original version of this can be found in the complete Japanese joinery. This joint is designed to join the lower rail to the vertical stiles.
Initially when I started cutting this joint I had the idea of doing a through tenon instead of a blind, but after picturing the amount of work required to hog out that waste for the mortise, I decided against it.
Prior to getting into Japanese joinery, I never really spent a lot of time using a chisel to chunk out waste. Here, I’m going bevel up, but as I later learned, when blasting through large chunks of waste, going bevel down actually makes for quicker work.
Once again, the router plane proved vital. I have to say, I do struggle a lot to sharpen the iron on this sucker. This is a turn of the century plane and the iron is equally as old. Eventually, I’m planning on getting some veritas router plane irons for it, which are compatible with the vintage Stanleys.
If you’re not working with right angle jigs for your joinery, you are really missing out in all honesty. This was something that I only got into when I started with Japanese carpentry but even for western woodworking, 90 degree jigs are essential. I can’t think of many things that make my life easier and my work more accurate. For each project I’ll have a couple in different sizes and lengths to tackle the unique situations I’m encountering.
The slicing technique is helpful too. It’s a bit difficult to see in the shot but I’m actually anchoring the butt of the chisel into my chest, almost like those outlawed chest putters in golf and then using the corner to slice, in this case with the grain.
And with any components that have access from both sides, pare from both sides to ensure the component is even and square.
Much like middle school math, it’s a requirement to go back and check your work. Since there’s a lot of topography on these joints, you want to make sure that all your components, in every dimension, are square. A good way to do this if you're new to this is to mark with tape every surface you've checked. Honestly, this took me a lot longer because I found myself doubling back and checking the same component multiple times. I was already getting tired at this portion of the build.
Step 4: Cutting Mortise for Eriwa Kone Hozosashi
It’s worth mentioning here that unlike in most western woodworking, Japanese carpentry is done in a tenon first method. I’d previously always done mortises first because I’ve learned that it’s easier to trim a tenon to fit a mortise, than to trim a mortise to fit a tenon. Interestingly enough, I’ve always done tails first with dovetails, aka the tenons, so this Japanese concept has actually been staring me in the face for quite a while.
Now, expertly trained Japanese carpenters for the most part operate by splitting the 0.1 mm line. There’s a saying: “The line is life”. I however, still kind of suck, so when I work on a mortise component, I check the tenon and depending on my marking, and tenon size, make a decision to either leave, half, or take the line. Again, getting to a point where I consistently split the line is my end goal.
And yes, I’m using a domino to hog out the bulk of my mortises. This can be done with a drill press if you have a lot of wing support. You can also do it with a drill and chisels. I own a domino so in my mind, this is just a really expensive slot cutting drill. Also, it was pretty convenient in that the domino runs off metric measurements, and I mapped out my joints using the metric system.
Since the domino only goes so deep, the rest is drilled and chiseled out.
I only own a couple mortise chisels, but this project definitely got me jonesing for some larger ones. Perhaps a half inch. If you don’t know the difference between a mortise and bench chisel, mortising chisels have squared sides which makes the shape a lot more stout to resist the adverse effects of heavy pounding.
Bringing the joint together proved to be a lot more challenging than anticipated. The fit is extremely tight. So tight in fact that I had to use pipe clamps to bring it together since pounding away at it wasn’t effective at all. After speaking to my buddy Dylan Iwakuni, a Japanese Carpenter, he mentioned that a lot of times they’ll actually wax the tenons to help bring them together and use clamps, similarly to how I did, or ratchet straps to draw very tight joints together. I wish I had 3/4 inch pipe clamps instead of 1/2 inch. By the end of this project, the forces had trashed my 1/2 inch clamps by bending the ends of the pipe nipples.
Step 5: Cutting Mortise for Jaguchi Hozosashi and Bringing the Frame Together
After fitting the first joint, it dawned on me that I’m not going to be able to fit these joints and pull them apart the way I would with previous projects. Initially, the idea was that I wanted to dado the panel into the frame. However, I decided, that since this barn door was for a pantry, and would really have only one show side, that I would go ahead and rabbet the panel in, which turns this door into what is essentially a giant picture frame.
The rabbeted tenon needs a dado to nest into. If you have a domino, you may notice these spring flaps. I believe they’re to help with alignment, but they can get in the way and sometimes cause the domino to misalign when working close to the edge. If you tighten these set screws, you can lock them away and ensure that your reference fence is 90.
Now attaching the opposing stile was a bit scary since it means that both opposing joints need to be perfectly aligned with their respective tenons. This is where marking becomes vital to your process because if you’re not aligned, there’s not really too much margin for error here when bringing this stile on. I was alternating between each joint, moving them equal distances at a time to ensure that everything came together at once.
I trimmed the excess tenons to final length, using a guide block which I clamped to the frame.
Step 6: Frame Embellishments
If you’re familiar with my work, you might know that I love hybridizing woodworking styles and this project is no different. I wanted to put some Greene and Greene influence into this door, so I’m doing some angular cut outs on all sides.
The top and bottom are pretty self explanatory, but the cutouts on the sides meet in an apex in the middle, which will obviate the need for this pantry door to have a handle.
Mapping these out took a few tries with pencil to get something aesthetically pleasing. But eventually I found a shape that I liked.
The width of the door maxed out my workbench which is only 27 inches wide, so I used my hold fasts and some scraps to give me some wings to support the frame while I worked. This required some gymnastics too be able to work on this door effectively in such a small space.
As I said before, I’m going to rabbet the panel in, so I’m busting out the router and routing from the back side. I went ahead and did two passes to get to my final depth.
The corners end up with a radius because of the guide bearing, so I’m just gonna hack that out with a chisel. If we’re talking wish list items, a corner chisel would be nice too.
To do those cut outs I’m plunge cutting with the track saw and a small track. A jig saw may have worked here too but I wasn’t confident I could get as straight an edge as I wanted. However, it does leave a little apex of material since it is a circular saw blade, and I used my hand saw in some awkward positions to finish the cut.
Again with the wish list, a chisel plane would be great here to get right into those tight corners. The card scraper however was a worthy alternative.
The rabbet on the bottom of the frame needs to accommodate for the cut out, so I’m going to re-run the rabbeting bit at the same depth and then cut out the excess.
Step 7: More Frame Work and Edge Milling for the Panel
just needed to flush the end grain up to the top rail but finding a comfortable place to run my low angle jack was challenging to say the least.
This dado is to accommodate a guide tab for the barn door that’ll keep it plumb with the overhead track.
Once again, in the spirit of Greene and Greene furniture, the exterior of the frame will be hit with a roundover.
The interior edge of the frame will be done with an 1/8 inch chamfer and to eliminate the rounded corners, I’ll hit that with a chisel.
This is my first time using wood bleach and this formula is a one to one mix, which makes things nice and simple. I applied it using a regular sponge and just sop it on and wipe the excess off. The wood bleach does pop the grain a bit so running a scraper or light sand paper after the fact is necessary. You’ll start seeing some instant results and removal of some of the red, pink, and brown tones, but the bleach isn’t fully neutralized for 36 hours, which is when maximum results are achieved.
For the panel, I’m using 4/4 ash and rip everything down to pre-glue up dimensions.
And of course I forgot that I needed one extra board so I’m trimming that one up before breaking out Mike Farrington’s double tapered sanding disc to clean up the edges.
The sanding disc attaches to my table saw in lieu of a blade and creates a glue ready edge that’s great for panel glue ups. I’ll link Mike’s video up in the corner, which should also have links to his website if you’re interested in the disc. I will say, that while it’s a great tool, it’s definitely a bit tricky for a first time user, so get some practice reps in on some scrap before you attempt larger operations.
Step 8: Assembling the Panel
I’m not just feeling up my wood here, but rather feeling the surface to map out grain direction. Since the construction of my workbench, I’ve become more cognizant of trying to run grain direction as best as I can in one direction to make finish planing easier. If the wood feels coarse in one direction and smooth in the other, the smooth direction is the direction the grain is running. This is a bit of a departure from the smiley face-frowny face end grain theory that’s been popular over the years, but I think the aesthetically pleasing flow of the final product, and the ease in finishing, speaks for itself.
The boards are brought together with the domino. Again, if you’re familiar with some of my other work, when I’m gluing up panels I use the wide mortise setting on one side, and the tight mortise setting on the other, to allow for some lateral adjustment and faster assembly during the glue up. It’s rather cliche, but in a panel, the strength is from the glued edge, not necessarily the floating tenons, so the domino is mostly for alignment in this instance as opposed to strength.
If it’s not obvious from looking, I’m doing this glue up in two separate sections, each consisting of three boards. I’ve started drifting away from larger glue ups done all at once because it’s so hot here in south Florida that the glue begins setting up a lot quicker than I’d care for. Taking smaller bites at the finished product allows for me to have a stress free glue up and a better quality glue up in general.
After the two panels are glued up, I’ll fold it down like a book, clamp it together, and run the no. 8 jointer plane on the edge. While I am aiming for square here, if I’m off a touch it’s not the end of the world, as when reassembling the sides together, the imperfections will correspond and create a seamless glue up.
If you’re having trouble picturing this in your head, think of the boards when sitting next to each other as as two backslashes in a URL. When sitting beside each other, they are congruent, but when unfolded out, they are askew. So picture [ // ]. If you unfold it like a book that line while continuous is crooked. The same is the opposite direction [ \\ ]. It makes for a great margin for error here.
Then both halves are joined together once again with the domino for alignment.
After the glue is dried, I’ll rip a straight line with the track saw and then very carefully run the whole panel through the table saw to zip the remaining edge off.
Then the ends are trimmed to final dimension.
And the whole panel gets planed.
Ash is known for having some pretty wacky and wild grain, so when I’m using the low angle jack, I’ve got the 55 degree iron in to plow through those trouble spots and minimize tear out. What little tear out I do get, gets taken care of by the card scraper.
And before getting back into some more router work, I’ll clean up the edges again with the jointer plane.
The rabbet will be done on the show side of the panel, that way the panel will actually sit into the frame further, setting the panel a bit more towards the front of the frame.
And the bottom rail detail on the panel is cut to match the frame.
And wood bleach also goes on the panel.
Step 9: Greene and Greene Style Ebony Plugs
To go further Greene and Greene, I’m going to put some ebony plugs in the corners. This is not just aesthetic, but these plugs are actually long enough to gently pin the tenons in the corners of the frame in place.
This little device is something I got from lee valley tools and is a 5/16 inch square hole punch for drilling square holes. It’s a nice alternative to a holly chisel mortiser, and a hell of a lot cheaper. You just punch it in, drill, punch a little deeper, drill, rinse and repeat, and then clean out the bottom with a chisel.
The exposed end of the plugs is pillowed using a piece of 220 grit on a flat surface, in this case, my table saw surface. This was largely just done by feel and I would rotate the end until it got the desired shape I was going for.
Then a touch of 2:1 epoxy before pinning the tenon with the ebony plug.
Little acetone to clean up.
Step 10: Finishing and Installing the Hardware
The finish is surprisingly uncomplicated. I’m using real milk paint company’s soft white wax followed by their clear carnauba wax.
The white wax will act as a pore filler, to whiten the overall look, pop the grain, and give a silky smooth underlayment. This is done in a wipe on, wipe off application with a rag. This finish visually is very reminiscent to Rubio cotton white and gives the wood almost a white washed accent, that doesn’t appear painted like some finishes can. A buffer would have been easier to remove the excess but I was able to do it by hand.
The clear carnauba wax has a similar texture and feel to paste wax and again, is done in a simple wipe on and wipe off application. The final product is a soft gentle finish that needs to be felt to be explained.
To attach the panel, I’m going to pre-drill for z-clips which will pin the panel in place. I’ll also mark for center and pre-drill for the barn door hardware.
Then the frame is waxed like the panel.
These z clips were part of my pivot when I decided to not dado the panel in place and this application is only good for a door that’s going to have one show side. I’ll be honest and say that I considered using figure eight fasteners, but the z-clips by happy accident, happened to be at the perfect depth for the frame and panel.
Step 11: You're Done!
If you followed the directions on the barn door hardware in regards to installation of the rail and how to hang it, then you're all done.
What else is to be said about this creation. The end product really speaks for itself. This was a three month build, give or take, that had nineteen shirt changes. There were days I’d spend hours on it, and days I’d spend a half hour or forty five minutes. The soul of this build though is in the joinery, taking traditional Japanese joints for home construction, and modifying them to create something new. The Greene and Greene look just felt aesthetically congruent to this style and I’m proud to be able to look on this ridiculously overbuilt pantry door and tell it’s story to those who get to see it.
The steps in the article are directly how I approached it. However, it is feasible to do them in other logical orders. Because I wanted to make sure that the panel was fully finished before mounting in the frame, it did sort of make for a cumbersome, fit-pull-fit-pull, and then two separate finishing steps for both the panel and frame.
Hopefully you'll watch the video to get the full feel of the build. It's very dense with a ton of technique. There's a lot going on and the work is worth the product.
If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments below. Or shoot me a comment on YouTube and/or find me on Instagram!