Pocket Guide To Pocket Doors
Pocket doors have long been popular because they “disappear” into a wall, so there’s no swinging door in either adjoining room. The “disappearing” aspect of the doors presents a neat aesthetic option to a home, and for certain floor plans this feature is critical to avoid doors that interfere with the natural flow of foot traffic. The space-saving design of a pocket door can be a handy solution for small living areas, such as bathrooms, where a hinged door might occupy too much floor place.
A pocket door slides into a frame of metal and wood that is installed when the wall is constructed. In place of solid studs, the pocket-door frame utilizes “split studs”—one on each side of the door—which the door slides between to open and close.
These days, pocket door hardware is sold in kits with all the components you need for installation. You can buy a kit that includes the door, but the hardware will typically work on any door— solid or hollow core or flat or paneled—that is slim enough to fit between the split studs. Pocket door hardware kits are usually available for doors 1-1/8 inches to 1-3/4 inches thick by 6 feet, 8 inches high. Look for a high-quality pocket door frame with durable hardware.
If you’d like to repurpose an existing door as a pocket door—no problem. You can remove the door knob and replace it with a recessed handle in a wide array of styles and finishes. The recessed handles fold flat against the door to fit between the split studs. Instead of a door latch, you can remove the lock mechanism and replace it with a flip-out metal pull, so you’ll have a handle to tug the door closed when it’s fully recessed in the open position. You’ll also find options such as “soft close” actuators as well as kits that hide the door-guide hardware.
To order a single pocket door, first determine your door size (door width, door height and door thickness). Next, select a frame kit that accommodates your door size. Keep in mind that if you don’t see your exact door size, the frames can be cut down to accommodate a smaller size door. Just order the next larger frame size for your door and follow the instructions.
Although pocket doors are usually built when the wall is framed, you can always open a wall and reframe it for a pocket door, as shown throughout this article. When planning the project, keep in mind the various application options, particularly if installing two doors. For example: Will two doors butt together in the middle of the opening? Or will they be built as bypass doors that slide past each other on separate tracks? Your answer will determine the frame kit you need.
Generally speaking, pocket doors all install in the same way, but there might be discrepancies between the kits of various manufacturers, so read the instructions before beginning. It is critical for proper door operation, however, that the frame is always installed square, level and plumb to the wall studs.
For a retrofit project, you first must demolish the existing wall in an orderly fashion. If it’s covered in drywall, expect to generate a lot of dust, so protect the surrounding living area. Rather than bashing the drywall with a hammer, cut it out in large sections to reduce airborne dust. You’ll need to remove all the existing studs, plates and sills, as well as any electrical and plumbing.
Using 2×4 studs, frame a new rough opening to fit the dimensions for the door jamb indicated by the manufacturer of the pocket-door kit. Note that any load-bearing wall will need the ceiling above it to be adequately supported during remodeling, and a new load-bearing 2x header must be constructed above the rough opening.
To help guide installation of the frame, snap a couple of chalk lines on the floor even with the side jambs.
Next, install the pocket-door header (with track assembly) to the jamb of the rough opening by screwing the supplied end-brackets to the wall studs. As mentioned already, this may require you to cut an oversized kit header to length, then reattach the bracket on one end. Carefully level the header before fastening to the brackets to the studs.
The split studs attach to each side of the pocket-door header at the top; at the bottom, they’re mounted to the floor with a metal bracket that maintains the correct spacing for the door to pass through. Each stud comes wrapped in heavy-gauge steel for extra strength and rigidity. Carefully plumb the split studs and screw them to the header and to the floor. Your kit will contain at least two pairs of split studs. One pair should be located at the edge of (what will be) the door opening, and the second pair should be located halfway between the first split studs and the jamb of the doorframe.
With the studs in place, you can slide the wheel hangers into the metal track that’s inside the header. The solid nylon wheels attach to hanging hardware mounted on top of the door, so it rolls smoothly across the overhead track. Adjust the hangers until the door is plumb.
Note that if your door is not already finished, you will need to paint or stain all edges and faces to prevent it from warping.
A warped door won’t open and close properly inside the wall pocket.
Test the door to make sure it opens and closes smoothly, then remove it and install wallboard over the door pocket.
Use construction adhesive and 1-inch drywall screws. (If the screws are too long, it will interfere with the door’s operation.) Finish the wall to match the surrounding room.
Finally, re-hang the door and then install the door guides on the inside and outside of the door at the mouth of the pocket. The adjustable guides center the door in the opening with enough clearance for it to slide smoothly.
Install door casing to the jamb and split studs, and add a full-width strike jamb on the opposite side.
Complete the job by attaching any hardware accessories to the door, such as fold-down handles or decorative pulls.
Editor’s Note: Special thanks to professional remodeler Ritchie Hamilton for help with this project.