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Door Threshold/ Sill Replacement

July 8, 2011
Day 1:  elapsed time – 4 hours
During the repair of the french screen doors on the dining room, I realized that the sill was rotten and had been filled in with wood filler and repainted several times in a makeshift attempt to fix it. It needed to be replaced before the rotten wood attracted carpenter ants.
rotten sill
Now, I can do a lot of things, but this made me a little nervous. It probably made the previous home owners nervous too, that’s why it’s never been replaced! This is definitely the original sill to the house. It is 2.25″ inches thick! Sills on new homes are just over an inch thick, so this was a monster.

I really had no idea on how to remove the sill so I did a little Internet research and came across this link:
This Old House Threshold Repair. It seemed straightforward, but I don’t have a reciprocating saw or a table saw and I really didn’t want to mess it up. So……..my Dad, who has a wide range carpentry skills offered to help and bring some of his tools.

reciprocating saw

I can’t dedicate this post to the reciprocating saw, because the miter saw would be jealous.
It still was a really impressive power tool and although I didn’t get to use it, it looked pretty kick ass and I can’t imagine accomplishing the job without it.

I am going to go through what we did step-by-step. I borrowed the text for these steps from the This Old House link. My comments are in red.

STEP 1:
Cut out the old one
Fit a wood-cutting blade, at least as long as the old threshold is deep, into a reciprocating saw. Then slice across the wood in two places, about 10 inches from each jamb. Hold the blade so its teeth are nearly parallel to the surface, and watch its tip so you don’t cut the flooring. Stop sawing as soon as you feel the blade cut through the threshold. Wait until the blade stops moving before lifting it out of the kerf.

There’s my Dad (and my Mom), ripping through the sill with the reciprocating saw. The sill was so thick it took several passes. We made two cuts, one near each jam as the instructions said.

STEP 2:
Remove the pieces
Stick a flatbar between the threshold and the subsill and pry up the center section. Wiggle the ends away from the jambs, if you can, or split them with a hammer and chisel and take them out piece by piece. Use patience and finesse, not brute force; you don’t want to damage the ends of the door stops.

The threshold was very large and was nailed in place while the house was being framed so there was no wiggling it out. My Dad made two more cuts, right next to the jams so that he was able to chip away the remaining strip of wood with a hammer and the end of the crowbar.

Dad chipping away the remaining pieces of the sill under the jams (above). You can see how the threshold was nailed from the inside in the picture below. Those are the end of the nails sticking out of the jams. We had to cut these off with the saw and hammer the remaining ends back into the wood.

There is something else in the photo above/below. Do you see it? A GIANT GAPING WHOLE THAT GOES STRAIGHT INTO THE BASEMENT. What the hell? So we were finally successful in getting all of the pieces of the monster threshold hold out and noticed that the floor joist under the door slopes in towards the house (probably the moisture that was hitting the sill caused it to warp) and then it just ends. Leaving a long gap that ends in a hole opening up into the basement ceiling. I went down to the basement and could see daylight streaming through. This explains why the basement is full of spiders all the time. There was a whole letting them in through the ceiling for the last 80 years. The other crazy thing is that there is plumbing just a few inches into the wall from the whole under the threshold. I am really surprised the pipes didn’t freeze this winter since they were just a few inches away from open air. The only thing between the open air and the basement was the sill.

Well what to do about this! Close it up the best we can I suppose. My father cut down a 2″x8″ board and filled in the majority of the gap, I used spray foam to make a air/water/bug tight seal around the whole opening. I spray foamed the other side of the jam also. I couldn’t see where this went, but there was a good chance it was open at the end also.
Threshold with sill removed

In the photo above you can see the original concrete step from the threshold into the backyard. When the previous owner built the deck they laid it right over the concrete steps.

rotten sill removed and in 3 pieces

The photo above is a picture of the sill cut into three pieces after it was removed. The poor condition is evident. We were not able to buy a replacement sill before starting the job because it was so thick and partially hidden by the deck boards. Once it was out we took down the measurements:

51.5″ in length
7″ in depth
2.25″ in height

This is a hefty piece of wood that big box stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s do not carry. Thankfully there is a lumberyard right in Ann Arbor called Fingerle Lumber. The lumber yard was established 1 year before my house was built, so there is a good chance that the would used to build my house, even the sill was from Fingerle. The yard is only 10 minutes from my house, can’t get more convenient than that. We took a section of the old threshold with us for reference.
The salesman at the yard were very helpful. They actually know what they are talking about too! So refreshing. Most of my trips to Home Depot are frustrating, I end up talking to idiots who know nothing about anything, especially home improvement.
The yard had to order the replacement sill from the mill because the height and length are unusual. They also indicated that we need to replace the sill with white oak. The original sill was also white oak.

Why is white oak so important? I found the information below at the Old Wood Co. website. To summarize, white oak is more water resistant than other types of oak. Using oak is important because it is a very hard species of wood and car take a lot of wear.
________________________________________________________________________________

White Oak

White Oak is a long-lived oak, native to eastern North America, from southern Quebec west to east Minnesota, and south to northern Florida and eastern Texas. Specimens are known to have lived over 600 years. Normally not a very tall tree, typically 65-85 ft tall at maturity, it becomes quite massive and its lower branches are apt to reach far out parallel to the ground. The tallest known white oak is 144ft tall. It is not unusual for a white oak tree to be as wide as it is tall.

White oak is relatively rot resistant. It was a signature wood used in mission oak furniture by Gustav Stickley in the Craftsman style during the Arts and Crafts movement. White Oak’s have cellular structures called tyloses, which does not allow water to pass. The white oaks, with tyloses, are used in making wine and whiskey barrels which prevent leaking. Other uses for white oak include interior construction, and ship building; most notable the USS Constitution build in 1794 and known as “Old Iron Sides”.
_____________________________________________________________________________

The replacement sill is running ~ $160.00. I could have ordered a less expensive laminated threshold as described in the This Old House Step 3 below, but I liked the idea of replacing the threshold with something I know will be there for another 80 years, and I don’t know if the laminated sill would last that long.

Day 2: Elapsed time – 6 hours
STEP 3:

Buying a Threshold

Originally, most entry thresh­olds on old houses were milled from a solid plank of oak. These days, the stock replacement thresholds in lumberyards and home centers are usually laminated from oak strips. That’s fine with Tom Silva. “Laminated stock is often stronger than solid stock,” he says. “And if the wood color and grain of the lamination’s are closely matched, you can use a clear finish.” If you can’t find the profile you need at a home center, check with a shop that does custom mill work.
Fingerle Lumber Company
As I said before, I ordered the replacement sill at Fingerle Lumber in Ann Arbor, MI. it took approximately 10 days to arrive. It had to be hand milled due to the thickness of the board we ordered – 2.5″. When I picked up the order the board was massive, very heavy and had a beautiful very tight grain. Much tighter than the oak you would normally see.
The board was supposed to be 51.5″ inches long, the order sheet confirm that we ordered it in that length….however…..when we checked with a measuring tape it was 52″ inches long. My Dad had the pleasant task of shaving 1/2″ off of the end of the massive board. The mill must not cut boards in 1/2″ lengths – which would have been good to know so that we had the appropriate tools to cut it down. Table saws are not the most mobile tools, so of course my Dad didn’t haul it all the way to Ann Arbor. A table saw is exactly what we needed though. Dad and Geoff made due with a a jig saw and hand saw. The list of tools that we need to buy to complete these projects is lengthening.
Home Depot gift cards make great gifts ::wink::wink::

STEP 4.
Install sill flashing

A layer of flashing on the subsill prevents water from reaching the framing below. Tom uses Vycor Plus, a rubbery, self-adhering membrane that he cuts to fit between the jambs and a few inches wider than the subsill. The flashing goes over the subsill, ad­hesive side down, with just enough overhang in front to cover the top edge of the toe kick. After smoothing out the membrane, Tom grabs the edge closest to the inside of the house and rolls it over onto itself, forming a small dam against water infiltration.
We started the second day of this project around 10:30AM. Due to adjustments, and working through problems and issues as they arose (in the 90+ degree heat) the project extended to ~4:00PM. I had no idea this was going to turn into such a long project, with out the group effort (Mom, Dad, Geoff and myself) this would have taken forever, so I am very appreciative that everyone helped out.
I filled the gap between the floor joist and the concrete step with “great stuff” expanding foam. The name is very appropriate – I always feel like saying “this stuff is great!” after using it. ha ha. It can be messy if it gets on your hands though, you will need turpentine or paint thinner to remove it.
I covered the threshold opening with flashing as a waterproof barrier. I went to Home Depot and purchased “Protecto Wrap”. Another “creative” brand name…..that’s how it is for these products I suppose, they don’t keep you guessing about what it’s for or what it does. Protecto Wrap is a impermeable membrane used for window’s and doors.
I applied several layers of membrane from the interior door threshold out onto the concrete steep. The membrane also covered the sides of the jams.
We did a rough fit of a temporary threshold piece. When the door closes there is a large gap underneath unless the threshold piece is in place. My father made a temporary threshold to go over the sill so we could close the door securely while he worked on the finished threshold which he made of a white oak. The temporary piece was made from pine.
The temporary threshold fit, so we moved on to notching the sill.
STEP 5.
 Lay out the notch
The ends of the new threshold have to be notched to fit around both door jambs. This creates a “horn” that extends under the cas­ing. First, measure the width of the right-hand cas­ing, then hook the tape on the thres­hold’s back right-hand corner and transfer that measurement to the thres­hold’s back edge. Next, measure the width of the jamb and stop, hook the tape on the same corner, and transfer the measurement to the end of the stock. Use a square to draw a per­pen­dicular line from each mark until both lines intersect.

STEP 6:

Cut out the notch
Cut along the layout lines with a jigsaw or circular saw; finish circular-saw cuts with a handsaw. To mark the cuts for the left-hand notch, measure the width of the opening from jamb to jamb, then hook the tape on the cut-out notch and transfer that measurement to the threshold’s back edge. Mark the width of the jamb and stop on the threshold’s left end, join the marks with a square, and cut out the notch, as above. Trim the horns flush with the edges of the casing. Sand the threshold with 120-grit paper and spray it with borate.

The sill was so thick that the jigsaw blade was barely long enough to cut through the board. The oak is also very dense and the combination of the thickness and density made it very difficulty to cut. Geoff ended up using a hand saw because the blade was longer and the larger teeth allowed the saw to move through the board more quickly.

 

 

The notch came out pretty well considering all of the effort and man-power that went into making it.

STEP 7:

Coax it in –hahahahaha right…..
Slip the notched threshold into position under the door stops, then nudge it into place by tapping a hammer on a wood block against the threshold’s edge. Change the block’s position so neither end of the threshold gets too far ahead of the other. When it’s tight to the sub floor, slide pairs of shims—ones cut from cedar shingles are best—under the center and both ends of the threshold, but not under the horns. Arrange the shims so the thin end of one rests on the fat end of the other. That way, as you tap on the fat end, the threshold will lift without tilting. When the threshold is tight against the door stops and casing, snap the shim ends off flush with the sub-sill.
This is a warning to any replacing a sill in an older home – there was absolutely no “coaxing” it in. After 2 hours of tapping it into place, pulling it back out, trimming the jams, tapping in it, pulling it out, chiseling the cement step, tapping it in, pulling it out….etc… we realized that the original slant the sill was sent on made it impossible to slide it back into place at the same angle without ripping out the jams and rebuilding the door frame. The deck is covered and so a steep aangle on the sill to direct away water isn’t necessary. After several attempts to slide the sill in, we ended up cutting the jams level to the floor height and pushing the sill in so that is sat level with the floor and perpendicular to the jams.
Geoff and Dad chiseling out uneven concrete on the original house step. The flashing had to be pulled back.  The un-level concrete was preventing us from sliding the sill back in at the original angle.
FINALLY after cutting the jams we were able to slide the sill into place. We were all holding our breath that it would go in. We were all exhausted by this point, and just wanted to put it in place so that we could close the door, stop the bugs from flying inside, take a shower and pass out.
It worked!
In order to protect the sill from damage we used a block in between the sill and the hammer. By hitting the block and not the sill, the sill wasn’t damaged during all of the attempts to knock it into place.
The temporary threshold we test-fit earlier was put back in place.
Now because we installed the sill at level instead of the original angle there was a large gap under the sill that need to be filled. In the photo below we have temporary blocks holding it in place.
follow the final steps of the project on the new post:
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16 Comments leave one →
  1. Madge45 permalink
    February 15, 2014 11:11 PM

    Any decent lumber mill would have this lumber, but box stores only have basic lumber,, and the reason they cut it a little long is for fitting. Gorilla glue is an awesome waterproof glue and works great for laminating. Nice job, and nice choice of stain and poly, will wear a lot better than paint.

  2. April 9, 2013 11:41 PM

    Wow, fantastic blog layout! How long have you been blogging for?
    you made blogging look easy. The overall look of your web site is wonderful, let
    alone the content!

  3. steamer permalink
    March 31, 2013 8:55 AM

    For others that have to do this. If you can’t find the right thickness board, glue 1/2″ or 3/4″ boards together with gorilla glue (its waterproof and will not come apart after gluing) just screw together until the glue sets because the glue expands as it dries. Also if you cut a 1/4″ deep grove, set back 1/2 inch from the front bottom side of the threshold board, it creates a drip edge that gravity makes water drip off of the board instead of it being wicked into the wood and causing rim rot. in the front bottom side of the threshold board

    • April 9, 2013 7:48 AM

      I don’t know about gorilla glue for laminating wood. You can purchase laminated boards ( multiple boards stacked together to create one large board) if you are not able to find a solid piece.

  4. James permalink
    September 9, 2012 6:18 PM

    This was great and exactly what I have been trying to find online. The pictures actually are exactly what I am facing with my rotted sill. Thank you! Now I can use this site to fix it myself

  5. Ken Carter permalink
    March 19, 2012 5:01 PM

    This is the best. It was more informative with more visuals than all the other sites that I visited. Your site is thorough but easy to follow. Thanks!

  6. August 21, 2011 3:21 PM

    This has totally help me with my project! thank you!

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