DIY Blogger House Tutorial: Vintage Door Arbor

DIY Blogger House Tutorial: Vintage Door Arbor

The DIY Blogger House is located within the Daybreak development in South Jordan, Utah.  Daybreak strongly advocates the concept of “sustainability” and are big believers in using recycled products.  Knowing this, I decided to test that resolve by creating an arbor for the home from vintage recycled doors which I purchased at “George’s Architectural Salvage“.  

If you have time and you’re patient, you can likely pick up the doors for this project over time at a cost somewhere between cheap and free. However, I’m not patient nor did I have time to wait so I bought a well-matched pair from George.  Here’s what they looked like when I bought them:

Vintage Doors "Before"

Although they look rough, they are close to the same size and shape to make a nice structure.

The doors you use for this project MUST be solid wood- not modern ‘hollow core’ or plywood materials. I wanted the sides to have openings so I chose doors which previously had that but you could just use a solid door or remove panels from a solid door to create a similar effect.  Doors of slightly different widths are okay but the height must be the same.  We actually used the table saw to remove 1/2″ from one of the doors to make them equal.  Since the doors are solid wood, this should be an easy adjustment if your doors are slightly different heights.

Before starting the clean up process on the doors, check for lead paint. Kits for this are available at home improvement stores. Luckily, the original finish on my doors was varnished wood (the white one above is a botched more recent paint job). If the doors DID have lead paint, I would have called my local disposal agency to ask what the local regulations require for mitigation. It’s really best just to avoid using lead-painted items.

Once you’ve verified whether or not there is lead paint involved, you’ll need to prep the doors. In our case, this involved scraping off the 80-year old varnish!

removing old varnish

We found that a sharp planer blade made short work of old varnish. We didn't use it in a planer- just hand scraped with it.

One of the doors had sustained some damage in the past and the mouldings around the 3-lite windows were missing and replaced with some sort of putty-like window glazing. I went ahead and removed the glazing and we placed some new wood strips in that location.

removing window glazing

Carefully remove the existing glazing with a chisel, replace with new wood strips, nail on and fill holes with putty.

Next, you’ll want to apply exterior grade, paintable silicone caulking to any place where water could infiltrate and potentially rot the door. Fill the crevices created where glass is missing or has been removed. Our doors were missing all the glass except one little panel. I waged a little internal battle as to whether or not to remove that really cool piece of old glass and opted to leave it- I’m not trying to hide the fact that they’re old doors. You could absolutely remove the glass in your own doors- it’s a personal decision. Obviously any damaged glass SHOULD be removed.

To determine the length of your rafters, measure the width of your path then add an 2 inches to provide clearance.  Our path is 38″ wide so the doors will be spaced 40″ apart.  Given these measurements, we were able to use 2- 2 x 6 redwood boards, cut in half, for the rafters.  Each board measures 48″. This yielded 4 rafters. The ‘leftover’ on either end is 4″ so we created a rafter tail design that would fit within that space.  We then created a pattern out of a scrap piece of wood, cutting it out with the same tool we’d use for the real rafter tails to make sure we could cleanly cut the design before we started cutting the more expensive lumber. Cut each board in half then use a jig saw, bandsaw or scroll saw to cut the detail for each end.

creating a pattern for a rafter tail
Use a scrap piece of wood or paper to design the rafter tail then transfer it, mirror image, to the ends of each rafter.

 Measure the thickness of your doors.  Draw the notches on the rafters then remove them.  We used a saw to cut the perpendicular cuts and a chisel to remove the remainder.

Remove 2-3" of material inside the notch area. Use a saw to cut the perpendicular lines then remove the rest with a chisel.

 If your arbor will be free-standing instead of attached to fence posts etc., use a 2 x 4 to create ‘skids’ or feet which will attach to the bottom of each door and extend beyond the door to provide extra stability.  This will also keep the doors themselves from coming in direct contact with the ground which increases the longevity of the structure by reducing rot potential.  We left the skids for our door as natural wood to better disguise them then covered the skids with bark mulch.

Prime and paint the arbor.  Now, I know that the sunshine yellow we used here is a little scary for some BUT it matches the front door color of the house and draws attention to the arbor- which was our intent. 

Vintage Door Arbor- Paint

Prime and paint all parts of the arbor.

 It’s also less vivid in the overall landscape- see?

Vintage Door arbor mimics front door

The front door is a new version of an old classic door style. The arbor IS the old classic doors creating new style.

Once the paint is dry, attach the skids to the door or attach the doors to the fence.  Add the notched rafters, using an outdoor 2 1/2 inch screw to attach each rafter to the top of the doors.  Add triangular corner blocks to increase the strength of the arbor.  In hindsight, ours were too small.  We should have made them a little bigger to improve the stability of the whole unit.  Do that part better than we did!

We also attached some vintage hardware that had a very cool patina.  I considered stripping the hardware back to the original brass but decided against it- I didn’t want to risk making it look ‘new’.  Instead, we left the hardware exactly as it was when we bought it at George’s Architectural Salvage and we’ll let Mother Nature decide how and when to strip the paint.

Recycled Vintage Door Arbor Tutorial

Originally, the arbor was intended to be attached to a picket fence but the fence was not installed so that left it hanging out there a bit. We added a gorgeous pot from Home & Yard Pottery planted with dark-leaved and flowered plants to contrast against the bright yellow and help the arbor visually meld into the landscape better.

vintage door arbor
Dark plants show up well against the sunshine yellow paint.

Turn old doors into a new garden arbor

 This is a “DIY” project that anyone with basic skills and tools can complete.  I would like to acknowledge my Dad, Terry Nielson of Terry Nielson Design (whose website I started and may someday even finish), for his help on the project.  He allowed me to invade his precious shop, taught me how to notch the rafters, double and triple-checked my math and didn’t even roll his eyes when I said “and I will paint it yellow!” 

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About cynthiab

Cynthia is a landscape designer who recently ditched her consulting biz for the opportunity to work for a local botanical garden where she gets to teach others about all the things she loves and connect with people of similar interests. She believes the joy of a garden is not in the product but in the process- and sometimes her process is messy!

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