I’ve been hanging doors for over thirty-five years, and writing about it for nearly twenty-five. For many years, I approached door installs differently every time (like most carpenters). After all, there are so many steps, and there is a lot you need to watch for! It’s tough to do it the same way every time. But a door is a door is a door. Which means unless you’re doing exactly the same thing every time you install one, you’re wasting valuable energy and time.
In this article, I’ll break down door installation into the most important steps—the first five fasteners. But always prepare the opening before you attempt to set the jamb.
Prepare the Opening
Rough openings are exactly that—rough openings—especially today when framers often frame them more than 2 in. over the size of the door. And floors are almost always out of level, too. And walls are frequently cross-legged. Before you attempt to set a jamb, be sure to correct all those problems or they’ll become bigger problems later.
Correct Cross Leg
If you set a jamb into an opening with cross-legged walls, the door won’t lay flat against the jamb and the door stop. You might even think the door is warped, when it isn’t. There are two ways to check for cross-legged walls.
Drive a nail or screw into each corner of the rough opening, then run a string around the four screws, creating an X at the middle of the doorway.
|The two strings should touch each other at the X. If they don’t, try to move the walls at the bottom of the opening—just a little.|
(Note: Click any image to enlarge)
Use a small sledge hammer and a block of wood, and tap the bottom of each wall lightly. Before banging on a wall, check to be sure there’s no plumbing fixtures or electrical outlets. And look around the back side of the wall for tile, too!
|You want to move each wall a little at a time until the strings touch or are close to touching.|
Don’t worry about getting it all. You can correct for cross-legged walls when you set the jamb, too.
You can also check for cross-legged walls by cross sighting a jamb. If the jamb isn’t at the end of a narrow hallway, stand to one side of the rough opening and sight across the edge of the jamb nearest you to the opposite edge of the jamb farthest from you.
|You’ll need to move your head in order to sight along both edges. Once your head is positioned, look up and down the edge of the nearest jamb. The edge of the farthest jamb should remain parallel. If it doesn’t, the walls are cross-legged; you can see how much the walls must be moved in order to correct the condition.|
Level the Floor
Don’t wait until the jamb is in the opening to level the floor. It’s too difficult and awkward to hold a level over your head while you’re trying to nail the jamb flush with both sides of the wall. Instead, place a level on the floor and shim it until the bubble is centered in the vial.
If you’re installing the door on a finished floor—like stone, tile, or hardwood—you can measure the thickness of the shim and cut that amount off the opposite leg. If the flooring isn’t installed, leave the shim in place and set the jamb on top of it.
Shim the Rough Opening
Most rough openings are framed too big and must be shimmed in before setting the jamb, otherwise piles of shims must be inserted between the jamb and the framing. Use plywood squares to shim in the rough opening so that the ‘corrected’ rough opening is 1/8 in. wider than the o.d. (outside dimension) of the door and jamb.
|If the door is in a hallway or other critical location, be sure to center the corrected rough opening, so that casing and drywall reveals will be equal on both sides of the finished door.|
But do not shim behind the hinges. Shimming behind the hinges before setting the jamb will prohibit you from making critical adjustments to hinge gaps and will prevent you from making necessary adjustments to strike gaps.
|Notice my level has blue tape at each hinge location so that I won’t shim behind the hinges.|
Pin the Door in the Opening
Place the jamb in the opening, then remove the fastening screws or temporary latch. Insert two shims at the top of the jamb on opposite sides of the head jamb.
These two shims will safely secure the jamb and the door in the opening.
|Adjust the top of the jamb so that it is flush with both sides of the wall—or as close to flush as possible—so that installing the mitered casing will be easier.|
The First Five Fasteners
Install the first five fasteners in precisely the correct locations and in exactly the right order. Otherwise, you may not be able to adjust the door properly.
In this instructional example, I’m driving screws through pre-drilled counter-sunk holes in the face of the jamb. Instead, drive 15ga finish nails at each location, or drive screws close to the shoulder of the lower rabbet, where the kerf-in weatherstripping will hide the screws.
|Fastener #1: Drive fastener one up near the top of the hinge jamb—as high on the jamb as possible. Do not shim behind Fastener #1. Shims are already installed at the top of the jamb.|
|Fastener #2: Drive fastener two up near the top of the strike jamb—as high on the jamb as possible.|
Fastener #3: Fastener #3 must be driven at the very bottom of the hinge jamb, as close to the floor as possible. But before driving fastener #3, correct any remaining cross-leg.
|Move the bottom of the hinge jamb in or out of the wall until the door is lying flat against the strike jamb. If the jamb is severely cross-legged, don’t try to correct it entirely on the hinge jamb—you can still correct cross-leg before driving fastener #4 (this is especially important with pairs of doors). You may need to insert an additional shim to back up the jamb before driving fastener #3.|
Fastener #4: Fastener #4 must be driven at the very bottom of the strike jamb, as close to the floor as possible. But before driving fastener #4, correct any remaining cross-leg.
|Move the bottom of the strike jamb in or out of the wall until the door is lying perfectly flat against the strike jamb. If you’re installing a pair of doors, be sure that both doors are flush from the top to the bottom before driving fastener #4.|
In order to maintain a consistent and acceptable strike gap approximately 1/8 in., you may need to insert an additional shim to back up the jamb before driving fastener #4.
Fastener #5: This last fastener corrects a serious issue with prefit doors—especially heavy prefit doors. The weight of a door will pull down on the top hinge, placing the top hinge under tension.
|That tension will increase the hinge gap above the top hinge. If the hinge gap above the top hinge is not corrected, it maybe not be possible to correct the strike gap and the door may rub against the strike jamb.|
To relieve the tension on the top hinge and jamb, replace one of the top hinge screws with a screw long enough to penetrate the jamb and the wall framing. Do not torque this screw too much or the door will be jamb bound. A slight amount of pressure on that screw will correct the top hinge gap.
And in the future, that screw can be loosened or tightened to correct the fit of the door in the event the home settles.
Correct the Bottom Hinge Gap
Most heavy doors will apply pressure and compress the bottom hinge, which will close the hinge gap beneath the bottom hinge. Frequently, prefit doors are not installed correctly and the bottom of the door touches the jamb, leading to the door being jamb bound.
To support the bottom hinge and adjust the bottom hinge gap, install a shim just above the bottom hinge. Insert the shim until the hinge gap is equal at the top and the bottom of the door.
Support the Hinge Jamb
Insert pairs of shims—one from each direction—above and below each hinge, and every 12 in. on center (o.c.).
|Drive fasteners below the shims, not through the shims. The shims may have to be adjusted in order to improve the fit of the door.|
Shim the Strike Side and Head
|Insert shims every 12 in. o.c. behind the strike jamb, and shim behind the lockset and dead bolt locations, too. Drive fasteners below the shims, not through the shims.|
Do not drive fasteners near the lockset or deadbolt locations.
Shim the head jamb so that the head gap is even across the top of the door.
Click here to read a related article, “Installing Sidelight/Door/Sidelight Units.”
1. From inside, use a utility knife to slice through the old paint along the outer edge of the stop beads, and in between the stop beads and sidelight sash.
2. Then, use a stiff-blade putty knife and flat bar to carefully pry the stop beads from around the sidelight sash.
3. Move outside and use the utility knife to cut through the paint bead around the exterior of the sidelight.
4. Use your fist to gently tap the wood frame of the sidelight to free it from the opening.
5. If your front door has two sidelights, repeat Steps 1 through 4 to remove the second sidelight.
6. Trim the new sidelights to fit the existing openings. Cut them to length with a circular saw, and trim them to width with a hand plane.
7. Brush a coat of exterior-grade primer onto all four edges of the sidelights.
8. Apply a continuous bead of acrylic-latex caulk around all four sides of one opening and press the sidelight into place.
9. Reinstall the original stop beads around the inside of the sidelight. Secure the stops with a pin nailer and 1-inch pins.
10. Repeat the previous two steps to install the second sidelight.
11. Prime and paint the inside and outside surfaces of both sidelights.