Problem-Free Pocket Doors
Hang pocket doors so they work for a lifetime.
Synopsis: Pocket doors are sometimes a great solution to a space problem. Unfortunately, they can be tricky to install and to align precisely. In this article, finish carpenter Jim Peterson provides a step-by-step lesson in making sure that your pocket doors are installed securely and accurately, and that they remain free of problems for years to come. He discusses how to choose hardware, prep the opening, build the pocket, and prep and hang the door.
Because they’re a great space saver, pocket doors are often the only way to make small rooms accessible. A tiny half-bath carved from an existing floor plan is a perfect example. But pocket doors aren’t just for tiny baths and town-house closets; they’re also a classy way to separate larger living spaces, such as the pair of biparting doors separating the library or dining room in a large manor house. Unfortunately, pocket doors have a well-deserved reputation for being finicky. Sometimes pocket doors don’t line up with their jambs, sometimes they rub on the floor or pocket, and sometimes they just fall off the track.
Some of the frustration builders have with pocket doors is caused by the setup they’re using. Most builders either use a fully assembled prehung pocket door supplied by a door shop, or a pocket-door kit from a lumberyard or home center. Unfortunately, both types have flimsy stud walls made from cheap wood and sheet metal. This makes them susceptible to flexing and bending, which causes the door misalignment and rubbing that builders and homeowners complain about. Rather than deal with these problems, I build my own door pockets and use high-quality European hardware. In the more than 10 years that I’ve been installing pocket doors this way, I have yet to get one callback related to pocket-door problems.
Match the hardware to the door
My first step for a pocket-door installation is determining the size, weight, and thickness of the door planned for the pocket. This is important because the hardware I use is determined by the width and weight of the door. The size of the pocket is also determined by the door dimensions. Once I’ve matched the door to the hardware, I can get the rough-opening requirements from the hardware manufacturer. The hardware packaging and the manufacturer’s website contain detailed installation instructions and measured drawings for sizing the rough opening and door pocket correctly.
My favorite pocket-door hardware comes from Häfele and is available in two versions. The lighter-duty version, the HAWA 40, can handle doors up to about 80 lb. The HAWA 80 is rated for doors up to 176 lb. If a door weighs 70 lb. or more, I get the HAWA 80, as maxing out the lighter-duty hardware eventually bends the track or wears out the rollers. The stronger version also makes it easy to hang really heavy doors. The secret is the hanging hardware, which allows the door to pivot during installation and removal and lets you connect the top of the door to the rollers and the track one set of rollers at a time.
Another big plus of this hardware is that both versions have only 1⁄8 in. of space between the bottom of the track and the top of the pocket door. That’s just enough room to fit a 1⁄16-in.-thick wrench for removing the door from the rollers and hanging hardware. These tight tolerances allow me to set a pocket door’s head casing at the same height as the head casing on other bifold, sliding, and swinging doors, rather than setting it above. It’s the only hardware I’ve found that can do this.
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