Fabricating Unique and Oversize Custom Bullet-Resistant Doors

Organizations are often given the impression that, when it comes to a bulletproof door, it's either a 36-inch-by-80-inch gray steel slab or it's nothing at all.

That might be the case if you're looking for something that can be drop-shipped from China. But full-service bulletproofing companies have much more to offer.

“Custom doors have been a cornerstone for TSS for years," explains Total Security Solutions CEO Jim Richards. "We’ve done 10-foot bullet-resistant steel doors before. We've done off-sized and oversized bullet-resistant doors in steel, acrylic, and aluminum. But," he adds, "just because it can be done, that doesn't make it worth doing."

Standard sizes exist for a reason. As you move outside of those dimensions, you're going to need to manage trade-offs. For a contractor or builder, it can be challenging to explain this to an architect or end-user, especially when they have a specific look in mind and aren't accustomed to the added challenges that come with using bullet-resistant, blast-resistant, and other "hardened" materials.

Todd Ross has been with TSS since 2016. He's helped a wide variety of clients improve physical security in their buildings. That means he's seen a lot of designs—some more workable than others. He reminds contractors and others working to make an end user's ideas into reality: “An architect's dream doesn’t mean that it can be done. But at TSS, we can get 90% of it much of the time.”

Managing Expectations and Explaining Limitations of Bullet-resistant Doors

Todd has found that building owners and end-users increasingly approach their security upgrade process with a long wish list for each bullet-resistant door and bulletproof window. These include specific thermal qualities and U-value, alongside forced entry and blast-resistance ratings, fire ratings, hurricane-resilience, and sound-dampening qualities—on top of having a third-party verified ballistic rating.

"In talking to contractors and glaziers who've reached out to TSS for help bidding projects, it’s almost like they're being asked to furnish six separate doors for each doorway. That's because, in most cases, there simply is not a single real, rated product that meets all those criteria."

TSS has worked to fill these gaps, creating new products to meet what were previously divergent goals. For example, they pioneered "thermal break" ballistic framing for windows and doors, so that end-users could meet both LEED goals and security goals.

In Todd's experience, what's more important than trying to make every dream door a reality is being prepared to help the customer determine what it is they're really looking for. "Are you more concerned with someone blowing [the entryway] up or shooting at it? Hurricanes or insulation?"

By steering and focusing the conversation in this way, Todd often finds that he can successfully shepherd a project forward. Once architects and end-users start to prioritize their safety and performance goals, TSS can find the places in the design where they can make adjustments to balance costs, practicality, and feasibility.

That process often begins with making clear why a ten-foot-tall bullet-resistant steel door is a bit of a challenge to build.

What Challenges do Oversize Bullet-Resistant Doors Create?

First, end-users need to understand the basic material challenges to building bigger doors—whether or not those doors are bulletproof.

Anyone who has done a home improvement project has seen this in action: It's not hard to find a nice piece of trim if you only need 24 inches of it. But once you start going through a stack of eight-footers and looking down the length of each, you'll see almost every piece showing bowing, cupping, warpage, or other variance.

"Every building material is like this," explains TSS CEO Jim Richards. "Take aluminum channel, which we use in many of our door and window framing systems. When aluminum comes off the extrusion line, it has a little twist and bend to it. They run it through machines to twist it back before sending it out. But nothing is perfect. Their assumption, through their production process, is that [this aluminum channel] is going to go into standard building projects. So, in a seven-foot door, you might not notice that variance at all. But when you go bigger, that magnifies it. An eighth of an inch over ten feet is much more noticeable. Those little twists add up over distance and as elements stack and come together. So that’s always your concern, with anything, when you go bigger. Not being aware of it can result in a really messy installation or a final product that just isn't what they wanted.”

TSS has built its engineering and fabrication process around a deep appreciation for what it takes to translate a drawing into a real bullet-resistant door—one that fits with a real space where people live and work. TSS has systems in place so that they know every piece of material is within certain parameters before they start work at any station.

Being Prepared to Make Custom and Oversized Bullet-Resistant Doors

But it takes more than simply understanding materials. It also takes long-term investment in proper tooling and expertise. Over the years, TSS has invested and reinvested in technology, facilities, and craftspersons capable of precision custom fabrication.

“You've got to make sure you have big enough tables, and clamping stations, and fixtures, and tooling." Jim notes. "For example, with steel doors, when you’re welding them, if you have the right stations and fixtures, you can avoid getting any bowing or cupping or anything like that. In the end, it comes back to decades of experience. Over time, we've learned what you need to handle each of these materials not simply in 'standard' sizes, but in different situations where the demands are different."

Whenever possible, TSS likes to participate in the design phase for a project that will need bullet-resistant doors.

"For example, we've seen designs where they drew an especially tall and wide door—something like five-by-eight or -nine feet. That’s not impossible to build. But will the result be durable and something the customer really wants over time? That's an 800-pound door. It takes a lot just to build a door those dimensions that will stay together. You have hinge concerns and framing concerns. You often need a roller-guide assist on the doo, to avoid it sagging over time. Usually, once you start getting into the realities of what the door will be like, that customer decides to change the design. Those sorts of changes, that's not something you want to be doing late in the game.”

Design Sense Developed From Experience

While TSS is always eager to share their design expertise—and even meet with contractors and end-users or architects together to help sort out possible problems before they arise—that's by no means mandatory.

"If you’re dealing with someone in the design phase, you can try to ease them into a design that will be less costly for them to execute. But if we get plans and the whole building is designed and everything else has 9 or 10-foot doors, we aren't just going to say ‘these three doors out of 23 will be seven-foot doors with three-foot transoms.' We can still make it beautiful and practical, even if the doors are different. There are ways to create consistency across the design and maintain a visual rhythm so that all of these pieces come together and look good while providing that vital safety and security.”

Let TSS Loan Their Expertise to Your Next Project

TSS draws on decades of experience integrating custom bullet-resistant steel doors and barriers into comprehensive building-wide security systems. Contact our ballistic security experts whenever you're ready if you have questions or want to get started with a specific project.

“At the end of the day," Jim admits, "you can end up in a situation where an architect or the facility owner gets their heart set on something. They’re going for a look. You can walk them through the trade-offs. You can make sure they understand the limitations of what they want, in terms of day-to-day functionality. You can offer them alternatives. You can try and talk them out of it. But if that’s what they want, it's what they want. And usually, we can find a way to make that happen.

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