Runner-Up of the 100th Milestone Contest

Col. Bala with Family

Col. CV Bala of Mhow, Madhya Pradesh, is the runner-up in our 100th Milestone contest for his frame and panel door, a masterpiece in construction. Col Bala is perhaps the best equipped woodworker in this country, ever ready to try new equipment, tools and methods of work in his ceaseless pursuit of excellence. He also freely shares his knowledge on woodworking as well as his considerable enthusiasm.

His frame and panel door is an example of superb workmanship and focus on finessing details. It deserves a permanent place in this blog to help and inspire fellow woodworkers in the pursuit of their craft.

Col Bala retired from the Army in 2006 and settled down in Mhow, a military town near Indore.  His choice was motivated by several factors. His wife, a Gynaecologist, has a thriving practice in the town and their house is close to their Alma Mater, the Military College of Telecommunications Engineering.  "Living close to a Cantonment is sheer bliss", he says.

Col Bala took to woodworking while he was babysitting his son in Delhi, who was in senior school.  "Today my son has become an Architect and people wonder what had happened to me", says Col Bala. "I was a hard core programmer and my turf was Software Development. I was about to join Satyam at their Hyderabad HQs as a consultant, when my wife dropped a bomb shell, saying, since my son's education and career took priority, and I have to be stationed at Delhi for the next three years. Women are always very wise. But once the Woodworking bug bit me, things changed. "

Thankfully for our small woodworking community Col Bala did not move to Hyderabad and remains a committed woodworker.

Col Bala explains in his words how he made the door and a frame to go with it:


1.    After fiddling with hand tools and power tools for a couple of years, I thought the time had come to test my skills on something of real value. One of my earlier endeavours was making a workbench. That too was a huge task, considering moving all the parts single handed, and assembling was a daunting task. But why did I do it?  Well I was enjoying each and every moment of it.  This is where I really honed my skills. A large project, risky though, allows you to use a variety of tools and you become proficient in handling them.  The best part was even if, there are mistakes, nobody is going to see them and you can always patch it up. I did have few issues in the end, but then it does not bother me and the bench works as it is supposed to.

2.    But on the other hand making a door and door frame for our front entrance was a different ball game. Not only it had to look good and flawless, it also had to operate smoothly and had to be real strong. At the outset it appears to be a very easy task, but remember in a door if you do a mistake, it will not operate as desired. There could be too large a gap between the Door and the Door Frame, or the hinges may not sit properly, the joinery has to be strong and you have to ensure the wood does not split over time. One has to cater for the wood movement specially the raised panels. So, necessary gaps have to be ensured for the panel to expand and contract depending upon the weather conditions. Then there is the hardware to be fitted. Especially the automatic door lock has to be precisely put for smooth operation.

3.    So here, I am going to pen down the various considerations, which led to the making of this door. Here I am going to make a huge investment; anyway if I mess it up there are always small projects where the material would be put to good use. And I can sell them on  I will be avoiding mentioning dimensions, as this particular door was specific to our doorway. Only the method of construction and design is discussed. You would also notice lot of pictures are missing. That is because I did not make enough efforts to record every detail.

Basic Considerations

4. I examined the existing door, took measurements of the door, the door frame and the inner wire net door.

5. Having done that, I thought of a design for the door. Here the considerations were, It should look simple, sturdy, and beautiful to look at. I drew a basic design on a sheet of paper and me and my wife sat with google to check out various designs. There were thousands of images. There were elaborate complicated designs. They all looked elegant and beautiful, but I had to consider my skill level. I had to settle for something simple, which I can put together with the tools I had.  So I looked at this particular image (Shown below) and Chose the first design. A two panel door with an arch top.

Door Design Options

Designing the door

6.    Once the design was locked, I spent a little time measuring the doorway and translating the rough work into a sketchup drawing. I watched several videos on the youtube on joinery and how to cut them. This is the design I came up with. So actually what I did was to build the door and the door frame in sketch up including all the joinery ( Though I made some changes in the joinery in the actual construction).

Door Design in Sketchup

A.  The Door Frame was designed to accommodate a door 1.5" thick on both sides.  I also wanted to do away with the traditional Mortise and Tenon joints and instead decided to join it using dovetails.

Door Exploded View

B.  The Door was to have two raised panels between rails and stiles. The top rail would be arched.  The rails would be joined to the stiles with Mortise and Tennon. In fact, I ended up with a haunched double tennons on the top and bottom rails. There are some variations between the drawing and the actual door. In the drawing you would notice in Fig-2, I had made stopped moritise. This was changed during construction to a through mortise, as I got the 4" long  16mm straight router bit.

Selection and Milling of Wood

7.    I visited the GNT Market (Guru Nanak Timber Market) in Indore and found a shop selling genuine Burma Teak. Bought a whole tree trunk and had it milled to rough dimensions for the door frame, door stile and rails, and for making the raised panel, Inner wire net double doors. The wood was wet, when I had it cut and not in a suitable condtion for a project. I measured the moisture content and found it had a whooping 27% moisture.  So the project was indefinetly postponed, till the wood dried up.

8.    It took almost four months for the wood to reach 10% moisture content. Over this period as it was drying, I could see cups and twists forming on the wood. My shop was converted into a kiln and had a air blower on at night and the wood would be brought out to the terrance during the day.

Preparing the stock

9.    I took the print out for the plan, and proceeded to mill the stock to sizes. Since the all the wood had been cut to rough dimensions , with large margin, it took a while to straighten the stock and bringing it correct size. I must say the Metabo planer thicknesser, shined through. I employed another hand to help me handle the stock as it was very heavy.   Fig 5 shows the sketchup plan, with all the dimensions.

Door Dimensions

10.    It took me three days to completely mill all the parts. I then proceeded to mark all the mortise and tenons. It took me a complete week to carefully cut all the joints. I had used my Dewalt 625 router with a 5/8" router bit to cut the mortises.  The photo below shows.  The tennons where cut on the table saw  and a hand saw. I did not photograph every  detail as there was so much dust and I did not want my camera catching all the dust. Some of the important aspects, I did capture. Here on you can see most of the things in photographs.

Dry Fit of Rails and Stiles

Boards glued up to make the panels for the door.

Arch cut with a Jig saw for the raised panel.
Panel Raised, with a router and panel raising bit. The bit was big and did not go through the hole in the router. It was inserted from bottom into the collet. The cuts were made in several passes, in small increments to avoid burning of the wood. This was the most exciting part of the project.

Both panels were raised thanks to the Dewalt 625 which did a magnificient job. This time I was really feeling proud of myself.

Time to glue up: The moment of truth was here. Thankfully the panel fit into the grooves as planned. I had left the door stiles longer to flush cut it later.

Door assembled

I assembled the door outside on the terrace. Some of my large bar and pipe clamps came in handy. There were some gaps in the Tenon joints. This was corrected with the help of a hand saw. This I had learnt from a local carpenter. You take the hand saw and run it through the gap till you hit the Tenon on both sides. Presto there is a snug fit without any gaps. It is as simple as that. I drawbored all the Tenon to make the joint stronger. For the top and bottom rails there are four pins offset from each other, only two are drawbored.

The door completed. After the glue dried, I carefully ran the belt sander with a 100 grit Silicon Carbide belt and sanded it smooth. This was a tense moment. One mistake with a belt sander, you had it. Fortunately no gremlins were hiding anywhere.
I stained the wood with light brown colour to start with and ended up with dark chocolate as you will see in the final door installation. I used oil paint with thinner to act as stain. I then coated it with four coats of melamine rubbing in between coats.

Door installed
The door finally installed. I hired a mason to install the door frame, which was installed with holdfasts and completely cemented. After about a week I installed the door both inside and outside. The hardware was finally put. I installed a Godrej auto lock system. Works great.

Clearly, this is one project anyone should be proud of. Col Bala has executed a difficult project with great finesse and deserves our heartiest congratulations.

Keep it up, Colonel!

Indranil Banerjie
13 November 2014


  1. Congratulation Bala sir for your great work.
    It is simple yet very elegant. Who says its an amateur woodworker's job ? More perfect than a professional can do. Neat work of staining and routing with panel bit.
    Wish you all the best for future projects. - Kishore

  2. Brilliant workmanship, great attention to detail and perfect finish. More details of the process would be greatly appreciated.

  3. Brilliant work Col. Bala Sir, and Congratulations on the win!

    Nothing less than a masterpiece! Great design, great execution and perfect finish!

    Truly inspiring!

  4. Congrats Sir. It is beautiful!


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