Installing A Pocket Door
We recently attended a social function at the new home of an acquaintance. The home was lovely – spacious, lots of natural light, high ceilings with many nice appointments. During our visit, we had the occasion to use the powder room. It was then that we realized that the architect who designed the home had made a grave error. Our attempt to get in and out of the powder room was hindered by a smaller than average swinging door that bumped up against the toilet when opened 90 degrees. Adding insult to injury was the width and depth of the room, which was so narrow that it required straddling the door to get in and out.
After negotiating our way out of the space, the first thought that came to our veteran remodeling contractor minds could be expressed in two words; pocket door! While we maintain that the room is functionally too small, the convenience of getting in and out of the space could be vastly improved by replacing the swinging door with a pocket door. As the name implies, when in the full open position, a pocket door slides into a pocket that is hidden inside a wall. When closed, the door looks essentially like any other door. Space limitations aside, a pocket door can help to unencumber traffic space, improve decorating space and enhance privacy.
A pocket door consists of the door, the pocket frame, the jamb and stops, the casing and the hardware. When it comes to installation, unlike its pre-hung swinging counterpart that requires a rough opening that is just a few inches wider than the nominal size of the door, a pocket door needs a rough opening that is slightly more than double the size of the door to accommodate the frame which will eventually be hidden behind wallboard. The opening must also be a couple of inches higher to make room for the J-shaped metal track that is mounted to the underside of the head jamb. The pocket door hangs in the track with rollers that are fastened to the top of the door. The rollers glide along the track as the door is opened and closed.
In contrast to a pre-hung door, which is installed during the “finish carpentry” phase of construction, a pocket door is installed in two phases – framing and finish. The pocket frame and jamb are installed during the framing stage and the door, stops, casing and hardware are installed in the finish. In order to achieve the smoothest operation the jamb side of the frame should be installed plumb. The head jamb and strike jamb (the one that the door closes against) are usually just tacked into place and the wallboard has been installed and finished. This will simplify hanging the door and allow for adjustment once the door has been hung on the track.
Use a combination of shim shingles and construction screws to securely anchor the door frame into the rough opening. Be sure to select a jamb with a width that corresponds to the wall thickness (studs and wallboard). With the frame securely installed the wallboard should be hung and finished. One common mistake is to use drywall nails to fasten the wallboard to the pocket door frame. Driving nails can weaken the frame and can protrude beyond the inside face of the frame (into the pocket area), preventing the door from sliding in the opening. To avoid both of these problems, we suggest first applying an all purpose construction adhesive to the slats on the pocket door frame and then fastening the wallboard with one inch drywall screws (for half inch wallboard) and 1 1/8 inch screws for 5/8 inch wallboard. Finish the wallboard and match the existing texture to conceal the patch.
After the wallboard has been finished, the next step is to hang the door in the opening. This will require attaching a set of rollers to the top of the door. The rollers can be adjusted with a small flat wrench appropriately called a “pocket door wrench.” The door should be adjusted down in order to facilitate the ease of installation. In addition, the bottom of the door should be held out of the opening at about a 30 degree angle to allow the rollers to seat in the track. With the door in place the head jamb can be leveled and permanently installed. The door guide, which keeps the door centered in the pocket, can be installed at the base of the mouth of the pocket. The stops (trim pieces) can be installed on the frame side of the jamb and the door can be adjusted so that, when open, the edge of the door is flush with the stops on the frame side of the jamb. The strike side of the jamb should be shimmed and fastened with the pocket door in the closed position. The strike side of the jamb can be adjusted in and out to ensure that there is no gap between the edge of the door and the face of the jamb by moving the shim shingles in and out. Once the jamb is complete, the casing can be installed at both sides of the opening using finish nails. Be careful not to use nails that that are too long at the frame side of the opening as they can end up going right through the frame and into the face of the door.
Next, install the stops at the head jamb and the strike jamb. Stops at the strike side of the jamb are rare, but can be installed where additional privacy is a concern.
Complete the job by installing the hardware on the door and mortising the catch into the jamb.