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Bespoke Architectural Joinery: Door Within A Door

29th July 2012

Last year I designed and built a a really exciting glass house in Chester. One of the best parts was a huge door which opened up the whole West facade of the glass house. Contained within the big door was a smaller door for everyday use.


Constructing, transporting and installing the big door was a logistical challenge, but it’s one of the pieces of work I’m most proud of in the 3 years that I’ve been in business. It required the use of a few specialist components, and construction methods which I hadn’t used before. It also needed 3 extra people to provide the muscle to move the door and get it installed. Here’s how it all happened…



The door is constructed from European Oak, with each stile and rail made from a sandwich of two pieces of timber. This process of lamination was used for two reasons. Firstly, the door is over 100mm thick, and timber this thick is very very expensive (much more than two equivalent lengths of 50mm stock). Secondly, timber that thick is liable to warp, so by laminating sections together, the natural warping tendencies of each piece cancel the other out so the door is more stable.


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Construction drawing for the big door. Designed and made by Hugh Miller at HM HandMade


The laminated construction was combined with a double tenon at each joint. In other words, each piece of each laminated section had a tenon cut into the end. This double-tenon construction made for a really strong and rigid door frame – essential with such a huge piece of joinery hinged from a single pivot.


Because the big door would be impractical to open every time the client wanted to exit the glass house, a smaller door was built into the larger one. The thickness of this smaller door was calibrated so that it fit into the rebate created by the sandwiched construction of the larger door.


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The smaller door on the left hand side is intended for everyday use.


The door, including ironmongery and glass, weighs in around half-a-tonne. This would have been far too heavy for the timber framed conservatory to withstand had the door been hinged with standard hinges. Early in the design stage, a jockey wheel was incorporated which would take the weight of the leading edge of the door.


Vibration in the door during opening could have cause damage, and the surface which the door is opened over is riven paving. To avoid the door bouncing around on the paving a track was made from a 75mm square-section of steel which was rolled into a huge arc. This, along with the wheel bracket, was made by Pete Wilson at Bartington Forge. The wheel bracket was an interesting element to detail. It is essentially a right-angle of 10mm steel which attaches to the big door’s leading edge, and to which the 100mm castor wheel is then bolted. However, if the wheel was attached perpendicular to the door, the wheel would not be at the angle that the arc of the opening door would follow. To get around this issue, the bracket was angles at 3 degrees which turned the wheel to follow the arc of the door.


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The jockey wheel bracket is angled at 3 degrees so that it follows the arc of the track.


Normal hinges, even the heavy duty varieties, wouldn’t be able to take the weight of the big door, and so a pivot was employed which transfers the forces through the frame more evenly (a hinge relies on the strength of the screws and wood which it is fixed to, where as a pivot carries the weight from underneath). A good quality pivot, as I used here, also allows adjustments in where the door sits inside the frame. It is, however, the most difficult piece of ironmongery to cut in. It requires a huge amount of material to be removed with the router, and lots of different depths and shapes within the cut-out.


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The top-centre of the pivot, which allows adjustment of the door, being cut into the top rail.



To make the installation of the big door easier, it was delivered to site without the glass installed. This made it lighter to handle and gave more places to get purchase when moving and lifting the door into place. The first job of the installation was to fix the steel track on to it’s foundations. This was done by, first, fixing the conservatory-end of the arc at the correct height and distance from pivot. A spirit level was then used between the two ends so that these two points were absolutely and totally level. The centre of the arc was then raised on packers until in to was perfectly level with the ends.


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Fixing the track in place was a time consuming job but, once completed, allowed the big door to be installed quite quickly


Next, the door was rested onto the pivot and the top-centre (this is the adjustable pin which holds the top of the door in place) was attached and the door was adjusted so that it sat correctly in the frame. At this point, the wheel was attached to the bracket and the packers which held up the leading edge of the door were removed. A quick test, and a couple of extra adjustments to the top-centre, and the job was pretty much done. After glazing and attaching the ironmongery and smaller internal door, the door-within-a-door was complete.


All in all, it went in considerably easier than I had anticipated. I was particularly please that the track and wheel worked beautifully, allowing the door to roll open devoid of friction and almost silent when in operation due to the bearings in the wheel. Testament to this is that when we had the opening party for the glass house another of my clients brought his 3-year-old son, and he was able to open the half-tonne by himself.


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Karin, the client, opening the big door.


HM HandMade specialises in bespoke hardwood cabinetry, interiors and architectural joinery. If you would like to see more of the projects completed by HM HandMade, check out the website at Alternatively you can get in touch with Hugh directly on 07789 768 302 or email


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