Designing, Building and Installing an Interior Barn Door
By Mark Clement
Do You Live in a Barn?
We’ve all seen them. You can probably picture one in your mind’s eye—if not your backyard. Or, on your TV: Norm has one on the New Yankee Workshop. A barn door is a door slab that slides left and right on wall-mounted hardware—stout rollers suspended from a steel bar—in front of the door opening.
However, barn doors aren’t just for barns.
We built and installed one as the finishing touch of a kitchen remodel and we love it. And, I can tell that it’s not the last place we’ll use this idea. The door makes the space private, helps to deaden noise coming into and going out of the kitchen, and works great with kids. From a design standpoint it adds color, texture and function to an otherwise empty doorway.
Plus, it’s a fun project. Fabricating a door on site/in the shop requires a little attention to detail and layout, but it’s a great excuse to use lots of tools. The hardware (hard-to-find stuff) came from www.BarnDoorHardware.com. The lumber for the door slab itself is actually flooring: Lumber Liquidators Eastern White Pine 1-by-10 T&G flooring to be exact.
Other parts include a site-made Z-brace, lag screws (which we painted), and a fruitwood stain we used to mimic assembly details of a door you’d find on an actual bar.
Here’s how we did it.
The first thing to figure out is how wide to make the slab. The existing opening was 32 inches. Four pieces of flooring butted together is 34-3/4 inches. That’s wide enough to cover a little casing on either side of the door, but thin enough to slide fully open.
To test that my calculations would work, I laid the rail on the floor in the door opening and positioned it left/right as it would hang on the wall. I opened my tape measure 31-3/4 inches (plus 3 inches for the body of the tape equals 34-3/4) and moved the tape along the rail. This showed me how the reveal at the end of the rail intersected with the door casing’s site lines, exactly where I needed to position the rail and door stop (an L-bracket bolted to the rail), and how my ideal door width of 34-3/4 inches all worked in unison without building or installing anything.
Next step is to lay out the rail backer. The rail backer is a piece of 1-by and its job is to project the rollers and door slab past the existing door casing. Having the rail 6 inches above the head jamb looked great, and projecting it 3 inches proud of the rail on each side worked nicely, too.
On the wall in the backer location, make a small mark showing the center-line of the backer on the right side. Measure up half the width of the backer (in this case, 3 inches) and make a second mark. This marks the top of the backer.
Finally, strike a level line from the top mark.
There’s really nothing that says “I did this” like making all the pieces to a project such as a door—something people touch and use everyday. Since it must both look good and work, I take a little extra care making it.
Success starts with the tool setup. Having the right tools, bits, blades and clamps before you start working is key. I mainly used:
• Miter saw and cut table
• Table saw
• Router with cove and 3/8” dado bits
• Jawhorses and squeeze clamps
• Impact drivers
• 2 x 4s
• Circular saw with straight edge
• Random orbit sander
• Socket set
Making the Rail Backer
I cut my rail backer 3 inches longer than the rail to get a 1-1/2-inch reveal on either end. I ripped the backer on the table saw out of 1-by-10 flooring stock to a full 6-inch width.
Next, I sanded the backer on the show face and on the edges with 100- and 120-grit sand-paper. Beyond smoothing out imperfections, sanding does three things. First, sanding the face of the pine opens the grain, enabling the wood to accept stain better. Second, it makes the color of the wood—which can amber a little over time—more uniform. Third, working the edges eliminates saw marks from ripping. Note: You may want these saw marks. They add a nice rustic touch. The take-away here is that they’re hard to see in bare wood, but if you add stain, they really jump out. This is also good to know if you ever make your own floor thresholds—sand ‘em before you stain ‘em.
I used a cove bit to rout all four edges. Then, I pre-stained the backer and let it dry so I didn’t have to fuss with it on the wall.
Note: While the stain was drying, I ripped and sanded the pieces for the door’s Z-brace (also 6 inches wide), then sanded, stained and set them aside.
Once the backer is dry, lay the steel rail flat on top of the backer and mark the hole locations for the rail fasteners along the centerline of the wood, then remove.
On the wall, locate and mark the studs. Test that your marks are accurate by driving an awl or screw through the drywall to make sure you hit lumber; this connection needs to be very solid. Hold the backer to the level line and tack in place with finish nails or screws. It helps to have an assistant for this.
Install the Rail Hardware
I drilled all the pilot holes (3/8 inches, just slightly smaller than the 1/2-inch shank of the lag screw I used) and then installed the stand-offs and rail using an impact driver and a Stanley Black Chrome socket. The backer and BarnDoorHardware-provided stand-offs hold my 1-1/2-inch door slab out past the casing with a little room to spare, enabling it to slide without obstruction.
However, it’s always a good idea to test how your door will roll on the hardware to make sure it clears everything and doesn’t leave too big of a gap. I did this with a block of wood as thick as the door (you don’t need to build the whole door).
Fab The Slab
With the backer and rail pieces installed, I could get exact measurements for laying out the length of the slab. I measured from 1 inch above the top roller’s bolt-hole to 1/2 inch above the floor. In my case, this delivered an 87-3/4-inch door length.
Because I used T&G flooring, I trimmed the groove off one end-board and the tongue off the other to get square edges. Note: For wider doors, there’s no reason you can’t use a fraction of a piece of flooring as your end pieces—equal widths on both sides looks best. You don’t need to use a full board as I did; my door width just worked out this way.
At this point, do not cut to length yet. Leave everything at least 6 inches wild.
Instead of bar or pipe clamps, I used two JawHorses as both a work station and as my clamping system. First, I set the JawHorses up on a flat surface. (We used not-so-flat grass as a contrasting background color so the photos would be clear; a garage slab is ideal. If you set up on a not-so-flat surface you may transfer a warp into the door.) A couple of 2-by blocks on top of the JawHorse body evens out ridges on the tool. A straight 2-by-4 rail on each side of the slab delivered uniform clamping pressure along both edges of the slab.
With those pieces in place, I gently snugged the boards together in the JawHorse jaws.
Next, I clamped a 2-by block on edge to the top and bottom side of the slab—on each end. This keeps the individual parts flat and prevents buck-ling when you really clamp them hard with the JawHorse. The tool exerts a ton of force (literally) and really squeezed the open boards tightly together.
Sand, Stain & Paint
With the door pieces clamped securely, I hit them with 100- and 120-grit paper using my 6-inch random orbit sander. One-hundred grit is enough to smooth out uneven spots in the soft pine, and 120 is ideal for a nice polish.
Next, I blew the dust away with compressed air and applied wood stain. After that, I flipped the pieces over and repeated the process on the opposite side.
To add a rustic look to the door we wanted black hardware, which we made by simply applying several coats of flat black spray paint to the lags and washers. To make it easier, we drilled a bunch of holes in a block of wood to hold the screws while we painted them.
Install the Rails
A few inches down from one end of my clamped slab assembly, I marked a square line across using my framing square. This represents the top of the door and the top rail location. I then measured down the door length (determined above) and repeated.
I installed my rails—the horizontal pieces—making sure to do so on the correct side of the square line. You can use anything from cut nails to drywall screws to fasten. Note: For nailing applications, a little construction adhesive couldn’t hurt to hold everything together over time. We used 1/2-by- 1-1/2-inch lags (they required two washers to keep from piercing through the other side of the door).
Layout and Cut the Z
The next step is to connect the top and bottom rail with a diagonal brace I call the Z. This is finicky, so it pays to be careful, patient, and to use a few test pieces before cutting the final piece.
Use a piece of scrap lumber the same width as the Z material to make the pattern piece. Note: A thinner piece may not translate the angle as accurately.
Cut the pattern piece a few inches long and then lay it on top of the rails in the orientation you want it. We laid the outside edge of the Z flush to the out-side corners of the rails.
With the piece in place, map the angle. I use a Starret ProSite protractor for this maneuver.
Cut the pattern on the miter saw. If you’re lucky—and good—it’ll fit and you can simply trace it on the finish piece. If you need a second pass (guess how I learned this trick) you can use another scrap or otherwise tune the angles until you get a pattern piece that fits.
Once the Z is tuned, fasten in place.
Cut, Rout and Touch-up Stain
Using a straight-edge and circular saw (in this case I used a DeWalt TrackSaw—awesome tool) to cut the slab flush to the rails, top and bottom.
Then, using a 3/8-inch router bit I cut a dado along the bottom of the slab—in the center of the slab to accept the floor guide.
Because the edges of the slab are either trapped in the clamp or not cut to finish-length during assembly, the edge- and end-grain need to be sanded and stained. If you’re looking for a really dialed-in stain job, make sure you work neatly and have a rag ready to wipe away any excess drips that might work their way around to the show-sides of the slab. And, don’t overlook this step either: The edges and ends—as with any door—must be sealed to prevent major swelling and shrinkage with changes in temperature and humidity.
Install the Rollers
I installed the rollers 3 inches inward from the outside edge of the door on each side. Measure in, draw a square line, place the hardware and mark the holes. I positioned the rollers so the center of the top hole was 1 inch from the top of the door. This leaves about 1/2-inch gap between the door and the rail, which looks nice. For what it’s worth, I had to get new through-bolts to accommodate my 1-1/2-inch door slab and cap-nuts. The bolts that BarnDoorHardware.com sent accommodate a 1-3/4-inch slab. No problem, but it’s better to know this ahead of time and save a trip to the store.
Hang the Door & Install a Floor Guide
Bring the door inside and hang the rollers on the track. The door and hardware is longer than a regular door, and it is easy to misjudge the length and balance, meaning it’s easy to bump into things. Be careful and/or recruit a helper to avoid accidental dings in the wall.
With the door on the rails, close it such that it covers the opening. It’ll roll, but without the floor-guide it’s not yet totally secure, so be careful.
Our door opens right-to-left, which means the floor guide goes on the floor on the left side of the door. Having the door plumb is ideal here, but it might not work out exactly. Also, a consistent reveal along the door casing is extremely important- more so than dead-on plumb in my opinion.
Long story short, I position the door by eye and then marked how far off the base moulding to place the floor guide. Next, I removed the door and screwed the floor guide to the floor where it cannot be seen when the door is fully open or fully closed. Then, I replaced the door.
Install the Handle
The last step is installing a handle. On our door the handle does two things. First, it’s a handle so we can open the door. Second, it’s a stop. The handle contacts the casing on the left and right, limiting the door’s travel such that it doesn’t come off the floor guide.
If you don’t want the handle to touch the trim, you can install a small block on the door and then the handle on top of that.