PHOTOS BY ERIC AGNEESSENS, SCOTT JACOBSON, AND MANUFACTURERS
Closing the hinged door on some small bathrooms can make you feel like an overweight ballet dancer as you grab the knob and pirouette through the narrow space in front of the sink or toilet. But it may not be too late to replace an awkward hinged door with a pocket door that won’t compete for center stage.
Pocket doors are a lot like bypass closet doors that hang from tracks and slide to the side on rollers. The difference is that they feature a single door that disappears into the wall. When you’re in a hurry, it’s easier to reach for the large knob on a hinged door than the tiny finger pull on the edge of a pocket door. But if you have trouble squeezing around the end of a hinged door in a small bathroom or mudroom, a pocket door may be the answer. Often you can replace a narrow hinged door with a broader pocket door and achieve even greater access. We opted to keep the same size so we wouldn’t have to patch the ceramic tile floor.
Before you cut
Retrofitting a pocket door is fairly easy, although each application will require some unique adjustments. For all pocket doors, you need wall space to one side of the existing door that’s slightly more than twice the width of the door. This space must be free from obstructions such as HVAC ducts, plumbing pipes and electrical lines. It also should be a partition wall — not a load-bearing wall. In general, walls that run parallel to joists and do not support headers are partition walls, but consult an experienced carpenter to be sure.
Sometimes you can spot obstructions from the basement or attic, but it is better to remove the baseboard, drill a small (1/8-in.-dia.) hole and explore each wall cavity with a bent coat hanger before you invest in pocket door hardware and a new door.
The first step in replacing a hinged door with a pocket door is to remove the existing door and jamb and to enlarge the rough opening. If you are careful removing the old casing and baseboard, you may be able to reuse it. Just punch the nails through with a nailset and pry the casing forward using a flat pry bar and a block of wood for a fulcrum.
Understand going into this project that you are going to have to remove the drywall on at least one side of the wall to install the track and split jamb for the new door. When you finish, you will have to patch the area with new drywall and refinish the surface. The temptation is to remove as little drywall as possible to minimize the disruption. Ultimately, the job will go faster and easier if you remove the drywall on both sides and give yourself plenty of room to reframe the new rough opening.
You will frame the pocket door rough opening like one for a hinged door except that the header (the horizontal framing) is longer and higher. Depending on how your old door is framed, you may have to replace your existing header or rip it in place, like we did, to make way for the new one.
Start by marking the rough opening on the wall with a chalk line or pencil. The width typically is twice that of the door, plus 1 in. For example, our 24-in. door called for a 49-in.-wide opening. Cut the drywall flush with the first stud beyond the rough opening. This will give you a place to nail the jack stud that sup- ports that end of the new header.
The split jambs for pocket doors are designed for use with standard 80-in.- tall doors and require a header at 84-1/2 in. to allow room for the track. Since this was a retrofit installation, we measured the 84-1/2-in. height from the finished floor. If this were a new-construction installation, you would have to allow for the thickness of the flooring when measuring for the header height. Otherwise, you would probably have to trim the bottom of the door once you installed the flooring.
Try not to remove the drywall all the way to the ceiling. You’ll have a difficult time getting a crack-resistant joint at the ceiling without taping it, and you will appreciate not having to paint, and possibly retexture, the ceiling. Leave a 4- to 8-in. lip of drywall in place for easier finishing.
Before you remove the drywall, score the chalk lines with a utility knife. You’ll get a cleaner edge, which makes installing the new drywall easier. Cut away the obstructing studs and lower plate.
Some walls have short lengths of 2x4s (called cripple studs) above a single 2x4 header. Our location had a 2x10 on edge with a 2x4 below. We removed the 2x4, trimmed about 2 in. off the bottom of the 2x10 and installed a new header. We were able to reuse the old jack stud on the latch side to support the new header.
Position the other jack stud as needed to achieve the required rough opening. However, because the new header’s height was higher than the old jack stud, we had to install a small piece of 2x4 blocker on top of the old jamb stud between it and the new header.
We made our new header from double 2x4s laid flat. To install the header, we slipped one end over the old latchside jack stud and blocker and raised the header into position. Then we screwed it to the cutoffs of the old wall studs and the bottom of the trimmed 2x10 with 3-in. drywall screws. To support the other end of the header, measure from the floor to the header and cut and install the new jack stud.
The Johnson Hardware 1500 Series Pocket Door Frame we used includes the door track, door-hanging plates, rollers and the metal-wrapped wooden studs (split jambs) that form the pocket. You must purchase the pull and locking latch separately.
Begin by cutting the track frame header as directed to fit your rough opening. The header is marked for standard door widths. Then cut the metal track 1- 3/8 in. shorter than the rough opening header.
The Johnson kit requires that you temporarily support the track header while checking it for level. To do this, measure up from the floor 80-3/4 to 81-1/2 in., depending on how much clearance you want under the door, and drive a flathead nail (we used 1-3/4-in. roofing nails) into both trimmer studs at that point. Leave the nail heads protruding about 1/8 in. Slip the track’s end brackets over the nails, check for level and then set the nails.
Installing split jambs in our retrofit situation was unusual because the subfloor was about 1-1/2 in. lower than the ceramic tile floor after we removed the wall plate. However, the split jambs were long enough to extend between the header and subfloor. You can cut the jambs with a hacksaw if they’re too long. We secured the split jambs to the subfloor in the footprint of the old plate using 1-1/2- in. drywall screws. The door requires no support from below when it’s in the pocket.
Installing the door
Before attaching the door-hanging plates, inspect both sides of the door. Our door looked better on one side than on the other, so we installed the better side facing the hallway. Attach the hanging plates so that the locking tab is on the bathroom side of the door. After you mount the door, install the top inside stop with screws rather than nails so it is easy to remove and replace in the event you want to remove or adjust the door.
We finished around the jamb with bifold stop because it matched the existing stop around the closet doors. We also coped the joints so they would look tight and stay that way.
We couldn’t use the bottom door guides that came with the door because of the angled contour of the bifold stop. Instead, we installed a small cabinet door bumper on the lower inside edge of each side of the pocket jamb to guide the door.
Locking latches vary. Since our doorway was narrow, we used a latch that would not protrude from the door when it was in the pocket.
Attach new drywall to both sides of the pocket. Then finish each side to match the surrounding decor. Finally, when reinstalling the base trim, don’t nail through the trim into the pocket! Install the trim with the door closed (out of the pocket), making sure to position the nails low on the trim and angled toward the subfloor.
Once the base trim is in place, slowly slide the door into the pocket. If the door binds, don’t force it — it may be rubbing on a nail. Check the location of all the trim nails and remove and renail as needed.
L.E. Johnson Products, (219) 293-5664, www.johnsonhardware.com;
Stanley Hardware, www.stanleyworks.com, (800) 622-4393.
PREPARE THE OPENING
Step 1: After removing the old door, trim and jamb, mark the new rough opening on the wall.
Step 2:. Remove the drywall on both sides of the wall inside the line and trim the studs as required.
Step 3: Secure the new header to the cripples with 3-in. drywall screws (not nails).
INSTALL THE JAMB
Step 1: Trim the pocket door track and top jamb as marked for your 24-, 28-, 32- or 36-in. door.
Step 2: Temporarily hang the door-track header with protruding nails in the end plates. Adjust, if needed, to level it.
Step 3: Finish securing both end plates to trimmer studs with two more nails. We used 1-3/4-in. roofing nails.
Step 4: Install one split jamb at the width of the door opening and the other midway in the pocket.
INSTALL THE DOOR
Step 1: Install the two hanger plates on the top edge of the door 2 in. from each end.
Step 2: Install the finished jamb on the latch side of the opening. Shim if needed so it fits tight against the door.
Step 3: Hang the door from the roller assembly and secure it by closing the locking tabs