Tuesday, February 15, 2011

How to install a pocket door

Yes, I believe I've now earned the right to write a "how to" post on pocket door installation. One install and you know it all. Er, maybe not. But here is what I learned, in case you want to tackle one!

1. Buy the proper sized kit from the hardware store, preferably one that was not previously opened. Yes, even if it means you have to ask an associate to bring a ladder over to get an unopened kit off the top shelf.
2. Prepare a great comeback for the associate who asks, "Where is HE?" as you pepper him with questions about pocket door installation. He who? "He...the one who should be doing this project." Oh, no, this is MY project, not HIS. So there.
3. Get your rear view mirror set straight so you can laugh as you drive home with the hatch open on your car and the pocket door kit hanging out the back. It's amusing to see all the cars behind you keep their distance.
4. Those warnings you read on how-to sites about making the rough opening **perfectly** square? They're right. But I found a way around it in case you can't (for the life of you) get a square opening.
5. Take the time to fill up your air compressor and use your nail gun. I forgot how tough it is to use a hammer and nails well!
6. If your opening is impossible to get square, don't follow the directions on the bag of hardware. Use your instincts -- they're probably smarter. And then get creative with trim.
7. Oh, and about those instincts? If your instincts say, "Use screws even though the directions say nails," go with screws. Screws are much easier to remove and re-adjust.

My pocket door kit came from Lowe's and cost me about $70. It included a frame that goes inside the wall to make space for the door, a header with a roller track from which the door will hang, and a door jamb. It also had all of the hardware needed to hang the door from the track (two rollers and two hangers). It did not include the nails needed to put the kit together or to attach it to the studs and floor. I re-used the louvered door that was originally on the other side of our utility room, so I was spared the cost of buying a new door. There will be some elbow-grease involved in refinishing it, though.

First, using the chart on the bag of hardware that comes with your pocket door kit, create your rough opening. This means removing the drywall from at least one side of the opening, plus cutting the hole for the door in the drywall on both sides. For our 30" door, the opening needed to be about 7' tall by 5' wide. The opening should be square.

Since we only have a sub-floor in the area where the door was going, I added a 1x6 to the bottom of the opening to act as a threshold and to make future floor-laying go more smoothly. We'll see how that pans out...

Next, get your pocket door kit and attach the header to the frame and then the jamb to the header. Do it on a large, flat surface in order to get everything as flush as possible. The directions on how to do this or what kind of nails to use were vague to say the least. I used finish nails and they seemed to work okay. I considered using wood screws but thought I would probably split the wood and was too lazy to pre-drill.

Once your kit is put together, put it into the opening and see if it fits. This is when I decided I needed to add a threshold to the floor. The directions on the bag are confusing here. The first thing you're supposed to do is nail (I screwed) the metal plate on the bottom "into the sub-floor," which makes it sound like the door should go directly onto the sub-floor. I think what they mean is to use nails long enough to go through the floor and into the sub-floor. I used screws because I had a feeling I'd need to pull them up and re-position this plate. I am SO glad I followed my instincts on that one.

After you attach the bottom plate to the floor, you're supposed to nail the jamb into the rough opening. Our jamb just wasn't getting plumb (vertically level), even though the rough opening was plumb. After troubleshooting with a carpenter at Lowe's, we decided that the jamb was probably milled badly and was not the same thickness throughout. I could have pulled the whole thing out and taken it apart and returned it for an UNopened kit, but that was a bit more than I could handle. I will tell you my solution in a bit.

I got the jamb in as plumb as possible and then went to attach the other end of the kit (the frame that goes in between the drywall) to the other side of the rough opening. We had a good 1" gap between the frame and the opening, so I filled it with a 1x4 and lots of shims and then put in one 3" screw to hold everything in place temporarily.

This is where I departed from the directions. I just knew I wasn't getting the frame in totally straight -- I could tell it was warping out a bit. So, I followed the directions to attach the hanging hardware to the door and I hung the door inside the unfinished frame. Once I was able to slide the door back and fourth a bit, it was easy to see how to tweak the frame to get it flat and straight in the opening.

Once the frame was screwed in and straight, I closed the door to see how it laid against our slightly un-plumb jamb. With a few adjustments to the hanging hardware (to make the door tilt a bit to match the jamb), the door was hanging parallel to the jamb and opening and closing smoothly. All of these adjustments made the opening in the frame slightly bigger than the door, so I added a couple of trim pieces to the frame to make it all work.

With a little creativity and lot of instinct-following, here is what we've got (unpainted and untrimmed, of course).

Looking down the stairs at the new louvered pocket door.

Yep, it even opens!

View from the other side. The unfinished trim you see in this photo is where I had to add an extra strip of trim to decrease the width of the opening, thus keeping the trailing edge of the door in the pocket when it is fully closed.

Peaking inside...the giant black bookcase that didn't sell on Craigslist has a new home and a new purpose. The rest of the giant black furniture (double desk and two short bookcases) is gone. Thankfully.

Here it is from the inside. You can see the threshold I laid, the frame to the right, the header on top and the jamb to the left.

Clearly, the door needs to be painted and needs some hardware in place of the original doorknob. It also needs to have a cat flap added to the bottom so that Anna can access her litter box. Er, um...boxes. Lucky lady.

That little nook to the right of the bookcase? I'd like to make it ski storage. But that is up to Scott. This is HIS gear closet.

And, my two shelves in HIS gear closet...pickles, anyone? Yep, we do love pickles.

And, in unrelated news, a photo of my sweet, super-smart Brynn giving her "famous American" speech at school yesterday. Each kid had to gather information about his or her famous American, create a doll to represent that person, and show the doll to the class during the speech. Brynn chose Ansel Adams for her famous American. She now knows how to spell Yosemite and understands how art can influence people's attitudes as well as public policy. I'm so proud of her!


Laureen said...

Hillary you rock! That door is awesome! Wait a go Brynn!

Hillary said...


Fulton said...

I got some questions, did you remove the studs in order to put the door in? How did you know it wasn't a load bearing wall?

Hillary said...

Yep, I had to take out a few studs before I put in the door header. I just guessed whether it was load-bearing or not and the house is still standing...I guess I better send Scott down to hold the house up.

No, just kidding.

It was pretty obvious that all three of the walls that create the utility room were nothing more than partitions. The studs are toenailed in at the bottom, most cut way too short, some not even attached. I could see over the top 2x4 in a lot of places. I had the benefit of the inside of the utility room being unfinished which made all of this easy to see. It would have been harder to tell if it were all drywalled, I think.

Patrycja said...

Hi Hillary!
I have to admit that the article you posted is simply amazing and of course instructive as well as interesting. I want to thank you because due to Your advice I can install a pocket door by myself now, without any men's help:)

Anonymous said...

Laureen said...
Hillary you rock! That door is awesome! Wait a go Brynn!

Wait a go? Wait a go?!?!? Sheesh. Think she meant "Way to go". I'm going to go throw up now.

Antonia@ANBSR.com said...

That pocket door you’ve just installed is absolutely just right for that place. And with regards to space, it won’t block the path from the stairway!

Anonymous said...

Beautiful work, that's sweet of you to post this imfo to help others facing this project. Did you have to get a man to post this on the internet?

Building my Home said...

Great post! Been looking at ideas for this recently. Thanks for the info!

Replacing A Patio Door said...

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