Plumb Perfect Prehung Doors
Believe it or not, you need the level only once, and that’s before you ever touch the door.
Synopsis: Hanging doors can be a tough, tricky process, but veteran Arkansas builder Gary Striegler has developed a straightforward technique that requires the use of a level only once. Striegler begins by marking the rough openings and making sure they are big enough for the door; he also writes the size and swing of each door on the trimmer stud of its corresponding rough opening. As doors are delivered, he checks each one for damage, then stores them in a climate-controlled area. If possible, Striegler installs doors before finished flooring has been put in place. He finishes the job by tipping the door into place, attaching and plumbing the hinge side, then using shims and nails to get the door located perfectly in its rough opening.
Several years ago, I walked onto a job site to find one proud employee. On his own initiative, he’d hung all the doors in the house alone — in less than three hours. Initially, I was impressed, but the 20 years that I’d been building houses tempered my excitement with skepticism. A little voice in my head said that I would regret not having given him a to-do list before I left — one so easy and so short that when I got back, I might find him in the pasture behind the house, practicing his Frisbee throw with a dry cow patty.
The first door I checked was sufficiently nailed, opened freely, and didn’t swing on its own when I let it free from my hands. But the rest of the doors had plenty of problems. Besides the fact that my proud employee didn’t once use a level, he also failed to put shims in all the key places. What got me most, though, was that more than a few of the doors were swinging the wrong way. I’m all for getting things done fast, but accuracy is key when it comes to hanging doors. To minimize such mistakes in the future, I developed a door-hanging process that I could easily teach to my crew. It starts with making sure the right door ends up in the right opening.
Mark the rough openings
Ordering doors doesn’t take much effort on my part because my salesman does it. But it does warrant a couple of hours of my time and attention to ensure that the doors show up without incident. That’s why my salesman and I walk through the house room by room with the floor plans in hand before the electrician starts his rough-in. I like to get door orders out of the way before the drywall is installed to allow enough lead time for the order. At this stage, the walk-through is a good opportunity for me to catch any errors in rough-opening sizes or locations that my framers might have made. It also lets me visualize potential errors in door swing on the plans and to correct them as needed.
During this walk-through, I measure the rough openings to make sure they’re 2 in. wider than the door size; this leaves 3⁄4 in. for each jamb leg and 1⁄4 in. of shim space on each side of the door. The door sizes usually already account for a 1⁄8-in. reveal around the door (for example, a 36-in. door will measure closer to 35 3⁄4 in.).
I write the size and swing of each door in permanent marker on the trimmer stud of its corresponding rough opening. This becomes the final size. I mark the plans if the size or swing has changed, and I make sure that my salesman makes the final list so that if a door shows up that doesn’t match what’s written on the trimmer, it’s his problem to fix, not mine.
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