Mastering the Art of French Door Finishing

It’s been way too long since I shared an update on our progress. Between our daily responsibilities, social events, vacations, and work, we’ve struggled to find time to focus on the final stages of our french door project. But today, I am thrilled to report that everything has changed.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve dedicated pockets of time to address the smaller details on the doors. My primary focus has been on completing the meticulous glazing process and allowing the doors to cure for a week or two. Finally, it was time to move on to applying the initial coat of primer.

With the glass expertly installed, my attention turned to the remaining components: the astragal and the drip edge. Now, you may be wondering, “What exactly is an astragal?” Well, it’s the little piece of wood that sits on the fixed side of a french door, preventing the other door from closing too far. Essentially, it acts as a bridge, covering the gap between the doors. Surprisingly, this piece is commonly referred to as an astragal (not to be confused with the bone in your ankle that shares the same name).

To my dismay, searching for this specific term yielded few valuable results. Thankfully, I turned to the catalog of Mad River Woodworks, one of my favorite mills with an excellent online presence. Lo and behold, there it was – the astragal.

While I’m using the term “astragal” generically to describe the molding on our doors, it is actually a broader term that encompasses any piece of bead molding. Take a look at the basic fitting of the door, and you’ll notice the noticeable gap between the doors – a clear absence of an astragal.

Now that I knew what it was called, I needed to create one myself. After studying various astragals on doors throughout Old Town, I noticed a common design – a cove of 1/4″ to 1/2″ on each side, with a 1/2″ bead in the center. Other flat and minimally detailed astragals were also available, but they lacked the attractive appeal we desired. With the design concept in mind, it was time to put my skills to the test.

Sure, I could have easily purchased an astragal from a local lumber yard or mill shop, but where’s the fun in that?

Crafting the Perfect Astragal

Considering that this astragal would be exposed to the elements, I wanted to utilize high-quality wood we already had in our basement. Opting for stock finger-jointed pine was out of the question if I wanted this piece to stand the test of time and avoid potential rot. So, I set to work, cutting an astragal from a leftover 1 1/2″ x 1 1/2″ fir piece that remained from a previous door widening project.

To begin, I used a 1/2″ cove bit on our trusty router to create the desired cove detail on each side of the astragal. Mindful of the future requirements, I refrained from ripping the piece to its final size just yet.

With the coves expertly cut, I switched the router bit to a 1/4″ round over detail. Employing two passes, I skillfully formed the bead that gracefully runs along the center of the astragal. Though delicate, this endeavor proved effortless.

The final step in my astragal creation entailed ripping the piece to the appropriate thickness. By setting the fence and cutting with the detail positioned to the left of the blade, I successfully crafted my very own custom astragal.

After cutting the astragal to the precise length, it was time to make final touches. I slightly angled the bottom to create a pitch that prevents water from seeping back into the door – approximately a 4-degree angle.

Safeguarding Against the Elements with a Drip Edge

With the astragal complete, my attention turned to the equally vital drip edge. Thanks to a thoughtful recommendation from a blog commenter, I recognized the necessity of installing a drip edge. This component is essential in protecting against potential water infiltration, as I witnessed firsthand with our old door (thanks JC!).

While I was determined to include a drip edge, I wanted to ensure that it complemented the doors aesthetically. After careful consideration, I concluded that a wooden drip edge would perfectly preserve the desired look. I wasted no time putting my skills to work once again.

Fortuitously, we possessed a piece of tight grain pine that was over a century old – the ideal material for this purpose, as it is less susceptible to water absorption. However, it needed some transforming before becoming functional.

To start, I took the rough-sawn lumber scrap and carefully transformed it into a refined piece using our trusty table saw (since we lack a planer or jointer). While this method sufficed, having a planer would have been a welcomed luxury.

Once I had the wood properly shaped into a usable block, I proceeded to rip it into several thin pieces that were wider than necessary but had the correct thickness. These pieces then navigated the router with a 1/4″ bit, delivering the desired edge detail.

With the edge detail perfectly executed, I further reduced the size by ripping the small pieces into the final drip edge trim.

The final step involved cutting a small groove on the underside of the drip edge to ensure any water that wraps over the edge promptly drips off before reaching the door.

Priming and Assembly: The Homestretch

Following the precise cutting of the drip edges to the appropriate length and a meticulous priming process using a high-quality oil-based primer on all components, it was time to assemble everything.

Glue and nails secured the drip edges and astragal to the doors, marking the moment of completion for the major work involved in this months-long endeavor. Almost done, but not quite. I couldn’t resist test hanging the doors to bask in the fruits of our labor.

You may notice some fingerprint smudges from the glazing process on the glass – rest assured, those will be gone once I’ve completed the cleaning. Although the glass has a charming wavy appearance, it’s not as dramatic as it appears. Also, keep an eye out for Lulu inspecting our efforts from the bottom left window.

While there are a few more tasks on our to-do list, such as painting the doors, finding specific hardware, installing said hardware, and finally hanging the doors in their designated spot, we can confidently say we’re getting closer. The major construction elements have been completed, the glass is in place, and the doors are primed and ready.

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