Install a Sliding Door

Open up your space by replacing a traditional swinging door with a sliding door.

Good design takes time; the longer you live with a problem, the more thought you can give to working out an elegant solution. So it was with a small (5-ft.-9-in. x 6-ft.-3-in.) bathroom in our home. The tub, toilet and pedestal sink were lined up along one wall, and when the door swung into the room, it grazed anyone standing at the sink. The fixtures were so closely spaced that they wouldn’t pass today’s building codes.

Since the bathroom abutted a 7-ft.- wide hallway, we decided to open up the space by pushing out one wall and installing a sliding door. This way two people would be able navigate showers, hair drying, make up and shaving without stepping on one another’s toes. We chose a sliding glazed privacy door so the bathroom light would brighten up the windowless hallway; a fixed privacy door fills out the rest of the wall, doubling the illumination.

Shopping Tips
Ideally, you want a solid door without any nonstructural filler because it will be hanging from two roller brackets that must not loosen or fail. Be sure to protect the doors before and during installation. Though my doors came with protective polyethylene adhered to the glazing, one of them was damaged while it was stored in a hallway. I didn’t notice the scratch in the finish until after the door was painted and hung.

Our home has a contemporary style, so we did not want traditional barn-door hardware with large pulleys and iron straps. Fortunately, we found a contemporary stainless steel set online. Unfortunately, it didn’t come with instructions, but it’s a pretty simple system, so it wasn’t too difficult to figure out. When purchasing hardware, look for a set that includes stops. They clamp onto the rail and stop the door so it won’t bump into either wall. A guide is also helpful to keep the door from swinging too far outward.

Demolition and Framing
Demolition was messy but not difficult. (Note: Check whether the wall is load-bearing before you start; removing a load-bearing wall requires many more steps. Also make sure to turn off the circuit breakers controlling the bathroom receptacles and switches, and wear protective clothing, shoes, goggles, a dust mask and hearing protection.) We tacked and taped polyethylene sheets over the doorways to confine the dust and then removed first the old door, doorjambs and molding and then the walls.

Headers installed over door openings carry the weight of the sliding door.

Install the drywall after securing the fixed door with 3-1/2-in. 16d finish nails.

Framing was straightforward; I used 2x3 studs to get an extra inch of space in the bathroom compared with using standard 2x4s. I left a rough opening for the fixed door that was about 1/4 in. larger than the door at the top and at each side. In our case, the fixed door was 30 in. and the sliding door 36 in. I doubled the 2x3 studs at both ends of the wall and where the doors would meet. If I had it to do over again, I would have given up the extra inch of space gained from using 2x3s and framed the wall with 2x4s; they are a lot more substantial and easier to toenail.

The key when framing is to incorporate solid headers over both doors This will provide a solid substrate for securing the door-rail brackets and for attaching the drywall and trim. I made the headers by screwing together 2x6s and 1x6s with 1/4-in. plywood sandwiched between the two boards.

Trim the excess off the bottom of the door using a straightedge to guide a hand-held circular saw. Masking tape helps to prevent splintering.

Mount the roller assembly to the door top with the fasteners shown.

Installing the Doors
To install the fixed door, I trimmed it at the bottom, shimmed it plumb in the rough opening and then nailed it in place with 3-1/2-in. 16d finish nails. Remember to drill pilot holes to make nailing easier and countersink the holes to hide the nail heads. Most of the trim boards had to be ripped to the correct widths; I used 1/2-in. stock for the jambs and 1x stock for the case molding. Because I don’t have a table saw, I used a straightedge to guide my circular saw when making the rip cuts. (If you choose this approach, spring for a new blade to minimize sanding.)

Be sure to properly align holes for the roller brackets in the center of the door top.

Use an Allen wrench to drive inserts with both internal and external threads into the top edge of the sliding door. The roller brackets are fastened to the nuts with supplied machine screws.

The hardware I used is designed to hang above the case molding on the wall. I didn’t realize this until I had trimmed the bottom of the door and hung it on the molding. Of course, rehanging the door a couple of inches higher meant that the gap at the floor was going to be too big, so I had to create an extension for the door slab.

The hardware came with plastic shims that allow you to adjust the depth of the brackets. With two shims in place behind each bracket, the doors have a perfect 1/8-in. gap between them.

Use a screwdriver as a pry bar to maintain a 1/4-in. reveal while nailing the case molding in place.

The door travels via supplied post-and-bearing hardware, and the guide prevents the door from swinging out too far when sliding. Mark holes in the flooring with an awl and hammer to prevent the drill bit from skipping.

Our door didn’t come with a lock. I’m still deciding what to use for that; it will likely be a chain and hook, as it would work well for this situation. But knowing that good design takes time, I’m going to wait a bit longer for the best idea to surface.

Want more?
Learn how to build cabinet doors like a pro here.
Paint your cabinets and transform your kitchen here.