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How to Install an Antique Pocket Door

Carpenter Nathan Gilbert and his father help a homeowner install a salvaged pocket door in her 1881 house, adding a period-correct touch that it’s been missing.

Note: Cost will vary depending on the hardware necessary and its availability.

Carpenter Nathan Gilbert takes us on a house call to help a homeowner with a pocket door. After salvaging a pocket door that will work perfectly in one of her doorways, she asks Nathan and his father to help source missing hardware, prepare the door, and hang it. The trio works together to give this classic home a fittingly classic touch.

Older homes have a charm that can’t be beaten. Many folks look for design touches like stained glass, wainscot, and pocket doors.

When the owner of this home, built in 1881, noticed that her neighbor was removing a pocket door that would work in her home, she couldn’t wait to salvage it and hang it in a pocket in her home. With carpenter Nathan Gilbert and his father’s help, the trio handles the project beautifully.

How to Install an Antique Pocket Door

  1. Source the hardware necessary to hang the door. If the home was originally built with a pocket door, look for hardware from the era of the home’s construction. This may include rollers, tracks, and locksets. This hardware can be difficult to find, so be resourceful and patient.
  2. Inspect the door entry to ensure there is room for the new door. Proper pocket door openings have what are known as “demi pockets” behind the latch-side jamb. This pocket allows the user to maneuver the door into place easily. To access this pocket, drive the finish nails holding the jamb through the wood with a nailset and hammer. After cutting through the paint seal with a utility knife, remove the jamb. This could consist of 2 or 3 pieces. If they’re in good shape, put them aside to reinstall later.
  3. Install the pocket door hardware. Remove the door plate from the roller assemblies and install the rollers in the tracks. Cut a piece of sill seal to fit underneath the door plates, and install the door plates on the top side of the door.
  4. Carefully maneuver the door toward the opening in the upright position. Solid doors are very heavy so it’s best to have an extra set or two of hands for this part of the project.
  5. Tilt the top of the door into the door opening. Position the rollers to attach them to the tops of the door plates and insert the screws or pins that hold the two hardware pieces together. Note: Tilting the door in place but positioning it so the rollers reach the door plates may require shimming underneath the door.
  6. Place a level on the edge of the door. Use the adjustment screws on the rollers to lift or lower each side of the door until the door is level. Slide the door into the pocket to ensure that it rolls correctly.
  7. Reinstall the jamb over the demi pocket. Use finish nails to reattach the jamb pieces, fill any holes left with wood filler, and touch it up with paint or a stain marker.

Resources

Nathan and his dad, Bill, help a homeowner install an antique 1880s pocket door with its authentic hardware.

To replace the original pocket door hardware, Nathan sourced Richards Parlor Door Hangers from 1881.

To punch in the trim nails, Nathan uses a hammer and nail punch. Nathan scores the paint around the seams of the trim with a knife. Then, he carefully lifts the trim using a pry bar, putting a small piece of wood between the pry bar and trim to give the pry bar leverage and protect the wall surface. Nathan uses an oscillating tool to cut into the bottom of the trim pieces anchored into the floorboards. To remove the damaged door plate, Nathan unscrews the set screws with a 6.5mm slotted screwdriver.

To fill the gaps in the door plates, Bill cuts strips of thin foam cushioning, and Nathan reinstalls the door plates over the foam to create a kind of gasket that will absorb the shock to keep the old wood on the door from splitting. After lining up the door inside the pocket and attaching the hangers to the door plates, Nathan and Bill reinstall the trim. To secure the trim, Bill uses a finish nailer and trim nails.

Finally, Nathan applies white lithium grease to the wheels of the hanger hardware to ensure smooth operation and reduce corrosion.

Expert assistance provided by Steven Thorp of Fixpocketdoors.com.


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