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Do It Yourself

Pocket Change

Installing a disappearing door (or working out the kinks in an existing one) is a very manageable project.


Now you see 'em, now you don't. But that's what makes pocket doors so useful. They disappear into a slot in the wall until you need them. They make sense because they don't take up the 8 to 10 square feet of floor space swinging doors require. They create instant privacy for rooms that usually aren't closed off--say, when you need to use the living room as a bedroom. And they're easy for people who use wheelchairs or walkers to open and close.

We'll show you what's involved in the installation of a new pocket door. And for those of you who have an older pocket door that's misbehaving, there's information on how to diagnose and fix the problem.

How They Work

A pocket door is a system that includes hardware, special framing and, of course, a door. It's best to buy the frame and hardware as a kit; you purchase the door separately. Any door--flat or paneled, hollow or solid, even glazed--will work if it's 1 to 1 3/4 inches thick. Most hardware can handle doors as tall as feet and weighing 150 pounds. Bigger than that, and you'll need a specialty kit.

Today's typical hardware kits are a vast improvement over older models. A kit contains a steel-reinforced frame, or cage, that includes studs and wheel track; six to eight nylon wheels in a "hanger assembly" or "truck"; hanger plates that screw into the door top and attach to the hanger assembly; anchors for attaching the pocket frame studs to the floor; plastic bottom guides for aligning the door as it slides into the cage; and a bumper to cushion the door when it's pushed back into the wall.

Though some kits fit only specific-size doors, most--including the L.E. Johnson Products 1500 ($74; [800] 837-5664, http://www, the Sterling 1430 and 1650 ($75; [800] 367-5726, http://www.johnsterling .com), the Lawrence Brothers PF617 ($75; [800] 435-9568) and Stanley PDF units ($74; [800] 782-6539, http://www.stanley .com)--are universal. They can be sized for any door up to 3 feet wide by cutting the premarked frame.

These units can be also used to create double-door pocket units. You install two single pocket frames and join the two tracks with a specialty connector (about $5).

Maintenance is also easier now. Most wheel hanger tracks are equipped with keyhole slots so they can be taken out without ripping into the wall, and a quick-release mechanism on many hangers simplifies door removal for painting or repair.

Installation Basics

Installing a pocket door isn't difficult if it's a part of new construction in a major remodel or addition. The real problems come when you retrofit a pocket door. It's messy and expensive to open up an existing wall and replace studs.

Remember, you have to tear out more than twice the width of the new pocket door to accommodate the cage. That means nearly 7 feet of wall has to be removed for a 3-foot finished door.

If wiring or plumbing is in the way, it must be moved--another costly proposition. And if the wall is load-bearing, a header has to be installed across the top of the entire opening to take the load from above that the studs used to carry.

Whether you're retrofitting the door or building from scratch, the rough opening will be the same. It's crucial that the header is level and that flanking studs are plumb, as you'll be screwing the cage directly to the framing with no shimming.

Begin installation of the door by attaching the nailing flanges at the ends of the cage near the top to the adjacent framing. Next, screw up through the track into the header, and then screw the metal-jacketed studs of the cage to the floor, making sure the cage is straight and plumb.

The next step is to slip the hanger assembly into the track (if it hasn't already been installed), and pull the assembly out into the open. This way you'll have access to it once the cage is covered by drywall.

Prepare the door by screwing the hanger plates in position at the top, but before installing it, position the floor guides at the split jamb so they provide a smooth entry when the door is pushed back in the pocket.

When you first install the door, you might have to adjust the height so it doesn't scrape. Don't buy a kit that requires you to remove the door to adjust it; that's a frustrating process.

With the door in place, nail up the finished split jamb (where the door disappears into the wall) and the receiving jamb (the leading edge of the door contacts this jamb when it's closed). Some manufacturers sell jamb kits. Or you can make them out of 12-inch pine.

There are several configurations for the receiving jamb. It can be left plain so the door merely contacts it when closed, dadoed to receive the leading edge of the door or trimmed on each side with doorstop molding to receive the door edge.

Pocket doors present unique problems when it comes to handles because they must be recessed.

A passage lockset for a pocket door (around $13) has a recessed handle and strike with a catch to hold the door closed. A locking pull latch ($15), or privacy lockset, is simply a pull latch that you can lock.

Nonlatching options include an oval- or rectangle-shaped recessed handle and an edge pull (each $8). These types of handles give something to grab on to when the door is open, yet they don't get in the way of you're operating the door.

Finally, be sure to match finishes, such as brass, antique brass and silver, with other hardware when buying a lockset.

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