Dear James: I was raised in an older house that had pocket doors, but they never worked smoothly. I am building my own house now, and I would like to use pocket doors. How can I avoid the problems with those old doors? -- Pat G.
Dear Pat: Pocket doors were very popular in the Victorian homes built at the turn of the 19th century, and for about the next five years. The designs, materials and track technology have been vastly improved since those old sticking pocket doors that you were familiar with. Many of the newest, high-quality kits can easily be installed by the average do-it-yourselfer.
There are several advantages of pocket doors over swinging doors. A swinging door typically requires about 10 square feet of floor area for clearance to open and close it. A pocket door requires none. Pocket doors do not block painting or other wall hangings or decorations when the door is opened. Pocket doors are also convenient for the elderly or the physically impaired to open and close.
As with most home projects, proper preparation and the use of high-quality materials makes the difference between a good job and a "homemade" job. The pocket doors in your parents' home probably stick because of door warpage due to moisture changes and just wear of the rollers over time.
Unless you are a very experienced carpenter, you should use a pocket door hardware kit to mount your door. Actually, most carpenters use these kits themselves to save time. These kits literally include every piece of hardware and materials, other than the door itself, to hang a pocket door.
When you are comparing various kits at your home center store to determine which is best for your needs, look for ones with these features: 1) large (1-inch or bigger) nylon wheels, 2) removable and a jump-proof roller track, 3) access to adjustments without removing the door casing, 4) hangers with three wheels that are self-leveling and 5) side split jambs (narrow studs) wrapped in steel for stability.
If you have trouble finding high-quality pocket door hardware kits, check with these manufacturers for the names of local retail sources of their kits: Johnson Hardware, 800-837-5664, http://www.johnsonhardware.com; Lawrence Hardware, 800-435-9568, http://www.lawrencehardware.com; and John Sterling Corp., 800-253-1561, http://www.johnsterling.com.
The first preparation item in your project is to seal the edges of the door that you will be using. Once it is installed, you will not have access to all of the edges. Even if you did a perfect job of creating the pocket and aligning all the hardware, it will rub if the door warps.
A plumb rough opening, where the pocket door will be placed, is key to a smoothly operating door. The rough opening in the wall is usually slightly over two times the width of the door that you will use. It must also be level and not twisted. If the floor is not level, always measure from the highest point. Stretching strings from corner to corner will indicate how plumb the opening is.
The next step is usually installing the track that supports the pocket door. Each hardware kit manufacturer has different instructions, so read them carefully, TWICE. Snap chalk lines below the top plate to make sure that you locate the pocket uprights properly.
Install the narrow side split jambs to create the actual pocket that the door will slide into inside the wall. Complete the wall and finish it with drywall or plaster. Be careful not to drive the nails in too deep or they may pass completely through the side split jambs and scratch the door.
The final task is to mount the pocket door hardware, rollers, etc. and hang the door in place. Install the finishing side jamb and then the top jamb. Use finish screws so that they are easily removed for later access to the door hardware.
James Dulley's weekly column, "Here's How," can be found at creators.com.