DEAR TIM: The house I grew up in had magnificent pocket doors that disappeared into the walls. In several rooms, the two doors would slide out and meet one another so the two rooms could be closed off from one another. What’s the secret to installing a pocket door? How do you create the cavity? Is this a task a do-it-yourselfer can tackle or is it far too difficult? How do the doors stay on the track? - Leslie S., Columbus, Ohio
DEAR LESLIE: While none of the homes I’ve owned had pocket doors, I had the good fortune to visit and work in many large, older homes that had these practical and space-saving doors. Some of the doors were massive but still glided easily on the overhead tracks.
The good news is that modern pocket doors use far better technology than those installed 120 years ago. If you buy high-quality new hardware, you’ll discover it’s more durable and the doors will never ever jump off the track. That’s a common problem with old doors and with modern ones that have an inferior suspension design.
If you have simple tools, you can install the pocket door frame and hardware with little difficulty. Installing the door into the pocket is also fairly easy to do. As with many home improvement jobs, much of the trick is having the proper attitude, taking the time to do the job right and reading the instructions before you get started.
The most important part of installing a pocket door is making sure the rough opening is square, plumb and in the same plane. The rough opening is the wide and tall archway created with regular framing wall studs that houses the pocket door track and thin studs.
Rookies frequently underestimate the importance of this and don’t take the time to ensure the rough opening is not twisted or a helix. To keep the rough opening in the same plane and not a helix, it’s important for you to chalk two lines on the floor that represent the invisible wall that might take the place of the pocket door. Think about it: If the pocket door was not there, you’d have a regular wall.
At the ends of these chalk lines you have regular full-height wall studs that must be perfectly straight and plumb. While it may take some time to find straight wall studs, it will be worth it for this opening.
The instructions that come with the pocket door will guide you as to the dimensions this oversized opening should have. The high-quality pocket door frames and hardware I’ve always used have precut wall studs that connect with the overhead track and special clips that screw to the floor. If you just follow the instructions, you’ll discover it’s child’s play to get the track installed at the correct height.
The cavity the door hides in – once the walls are finished and all the trim is on – is created with thin wall studs that are made with preformed steel channels that are filled with a wood core. The metal channels ensure the wall studs will not bow at a later date, causing the door to rub against them as it slides in and out of the pocket.
The metal also prevents the drywall installer from installing screws that are too long that could also create scratches on the door as it glides back and forth in and out of the narrow cavity. Believe me, the inferior pocket door frames that are just made from thin wood strips don’t prevent these problems.
The pocket door hardware and track I prefer has a unique trolley design that makes it impossible for the door to come off the track. Cheaper pocket door frames cause countless headaches for homeowners, and I routinely get questions on how to get pocket doors back on their tracks.
The trolleys that I use have three nylon wheels. This tri-wheel design is the secret: Two of the wheels travel in one channel in one track and the third (single) wheel travels in a parallel track. Because the tracks have solid walls and a tight tolerance, it’s impossible for the trolleys to move sideways, thus prohibiting them from ever jumping the track. You install the trolleys as you install the track and wall studs; once the door itself is installed, the trolleys stay on the track.
Metal brackets are screwed to the top of the door after the pocket is covered with drywall, plaster or paneling. These brackets have a slot that allows you to permanently connect them to small metal studs that hang down from the trolleys. It’s extremely simple to connect the door to the trolleys. The studs are threaded and a small wrench allows you to adjust the door so it’s perfectly plumb.
You can watch a quick video showing the components of a pocket door once installed but before the drywall hides everything at http://go.askthebuilder. com/pocketdoor.